Review: My Life Next Door by Huntley Fitzpatrick

9780142426043My Life Next Door by Huntley Fitzpatrick absolutely wrapped around my heart and turned me into a snowcone of happiness and sprinkles. It successfully kidnapped my attention and held it! And I am so impressed right now, because usually I’m a contemporary snob, but My Life Next Door ticked all the boxes of awesome.

It had a checklist of my favourite things in YA Contemporaries!!

  • Huge emphasis on large family (which you don’t see much in books!)
  • A slow burn romance that started off as a friendship.
  • All the secondary characters had personalities and lives, and no one felt like a cardboard cutout.
  • IT HAD FUNNY MOMENTS.
  • Plenty of food.

What I was most impressed about is how the book did big families RIGHT. Being part of a large family is like its own culture, truly. And yet this book got all the details right. Even to the point of going to the shop and having comments on “why do you have so many kids” and the prejudice towards big families. The Garrett’s have 8 kids. It perfectly captures the calamity of babies ditching clothes, toys everywhere, the sibling fights and love, and the chaos.
The story is about Samantha, who lives (OBVIOUSLY!!) next door to the Garrett’s. She’s spent most of her childhood “spying” on them. Her life is totally pristine, but miserable. They seem really happy, but such a mess. I loved the contrast! Sam wasn’t my favourite character though, because she seemed a bit bland. Calm, quiet, rich, capable…blah, blah. Even after the book I still don’t know much about Sam herself.

Jase Garrett was the 8th wonder of the universe.  He fixed things. He took care of the babies. He was sweet and yet tough and loved cars and pulled off the “bad boy” leather jackets while simultaneously cuddling little siblings and putting them to bed. He was so sweet to Sam! I shipped it! I loved their banter and yet their sensibleness when it came to relationships.

“It is as if everything else in the world stops as we lie here in the summer night.”

The plot took me on a whirlwind of emotions! The writing was quite detailed, so I had to go slow to get all the details…but it made me feel really inside the story. I also appreciated that there weren’t any wild drunk parties in this book. They seem the contemporary “norm” and I almost always zone out — but My Life Next Door focused on  studying, and work, and friendship. It also has a huge focus on politics, which wasn’t for me, but it didn’t overtake the story. And that finale?! Ohhh, wow. I flipped pages frantically and WAILED. It presents a massive moral dilemma and it was gut-wrenching.

Basically this is an astoundingly adorable and heart-warming contemporary. You need it in your life, okay? I’m entirely impressed that it delved into what it was like to have a big family and how the characters were responsible as well as fun and entertaining. I laughed, I squawked, I sniffled. It moved me.

 

[PURCHASE HERE]

The book or the movie? The Martian by Andy Weir or The Martian with Matt Damon?

The MartianThe Martian by Andy Weir by Andy Weir has a fabulous back story. Initially published chapter by chapter and made available for free on the author’s website, readers soon fell in love with the story. First, they asked him to make it available as an ebook, so they could enjoy it on their e-readers rather than having to read it from his website. Fans then asked Weir to make his novel available as a Kindle ebook on Amazon, and the rest is (as they say) history. The novel took off, and Weir sold the rights in 2013 for more than $100,000US.

The Martian is a science fiction novel inspired by the TV hero MacGyver and the fix-it scene in Apollo 13, and has now been adapted for the big screen in a film starring Matt Damon, directed by Ridley Scott. The movie is in cinemas now and having adored the book, I went to see the movie last week, hardly able to contain my excitement.

Matt Damon plays astronaut Mark Watney in the film The Martian, who is injured and left behind on planet Mars after a dust storm. He must overcome many obstacles in order to survive the harsh conditions and come up with a plan to ensure he doesn’t starve before help or supplies arrive.

The novel by Andy Weir is funny and clever, with complex science somehow made accessible to the average ‘layman’ reader, even for first time readers of science fiction. Sections of the novel are log entries recorded by Watney and are laugh out loud funny. Watney’s ingenuity and character really shine through in the book and Matt Damon did a magnificent job playing the character in the movie.TheMartian film poster

There were some marked differences in the movie adaptation that are worth noting though.
– The book contains quite a bit of scene-appropriate swearing, and without it in the movie, Watney’s character loses a little of his edge.
– One of my favourite scenes (where Watney spells out letters on the surface of mars with rocks) wasn’t included in the film and I couldn’t help but be disappointed.
– The names and nationality of several supporting characters were changed for the movie, and I have no idea why.
– The trip in the rover forms so much of the book (it’s over 3,000 miles) but in the movie, he seems to ‘arrive’ at his location without the audience being aware of the true perils of the journey.
– They changed the ending. I won’t elaborate so I don’t spoil it for anyone, but some of the changes in the movie improved on the original ending and some were a waste of time.

The Martian was one of my favourite books of 2015, and I knew it’d be hard to match on screen, but sadly the movie left me wanting more. At 141 minutes duration, the film is longer than the average block buster, but the time really flies. It was entertaining, and on its own, a very fine movie, I just thought the book was better. Such a cliche right?

So, what’s your opinion, which is better? The Martian movie or The Martian book? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.

Boomerang Book Bites: Slade House by David Mitchell

What a bonus it is to have a new David Mitchell book only a year after the incredible The Bone Clocks. David Mitchell started this story on twitter but became obsessed with the story he had started and needed to see it through. The result is a ghost story in the hands and imagination of David Mitchell with is scary, compelling and amazing.
http://www.boomerangbooks.com.au/Slade-House/David-Mitchell/book_9781473616684.htm
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Double, Double, Toil and Trouble – Picture Books for Halloween

Rather than terrifying the boots off you, these two gentle yet energetic picture books caper around the Halloween spirit whilst addressing themes of responsibility, friendship and teamwork at the same time. A perfect opportunity to share some magic, cheeky giggles and affection with your little ones.  

imageThe Witch’s Britches, P.Crumble (author), Lucinda Gifford (illus.), Scholastic, 2015.  

Raining magical underwear! Giant ice cream cones! Dancing squirrels! Sounds like the perfect concoction for a quirky, spellbinding Halloween story. Here is yet another marvel by classic funny-man, author P.Crumble and the talents of illustrator, Lucinda Gifford.

Chanted in rhyming couplets, the tale tells of the magic that comes from, not a wand, but in fact, britches! The undergarments of pixies, goblins and witches all have spell-casting abilities, but with two rules – don’t lose them, and keep them clean! Young witch Ethel goes to her biggest effort to retain their odour-free, magical freshness. Until one windy day Ethel faces a catastrophe as her britches are stolen by a gust of wind, and cause phenomenal havoc all over the town. Unsuspecting mortals are surprised by their sudden abilities to fly, encounters with abnormally-large babies and dog bones, and unforeseen visits to outer space. The whole park has turned into an exploding, edible and fantastical circus scene! But with the stamp of her foot, Ethel sets the town straight…and finds the perfect way to keep her britches in line, too.

More kooky than spooky, ‘The Witch’s Britches’ is a tale full to the brim with humour, fantasy and adventure. The watercolour and pencil illustrations are bold, vibrant and energetic, with plenty of details to take the reader on the imaginative journey with this diligent little witch.

Lots of fun for preschoolers this Halloween with a simple lesson in being responsible for your belongings!    

imageEmu’s Halloween, Anne Mangan (author), David Cornish (illus.), Angus&Robertson, 2015.  

Emu wants to organise the scariest Halloween party anyone has ever seen. But she doesn’t know how. Luckily her eavesdropping Aussie animal friends have the perfect plan. The hilarious scenes begin as they all roll up to Emu’s place, dressed in the spookiest of outfits the outback has ever seen – a zombie Kangaroo, a floating Tassie Devil angel, the scruffiest Frankenstein Koala, a Red-Back Spider (need I say more?), a ghostly Cockatoo and a frightening Dracula Echindna. But will Emu appreciate their efforts? Of course! That is just the beginning!

A wonderfully creative array of Halloween crafts, decorations, games and nibbles are beautifully integrated to allow readers the tools for setting up a themed party of their own. From paper ghosts to skeletons made from sticks, how to make a witches’ brew, sandwitches and bobbing for apples, the animals celebrate in frighteningly spooktacular style.

Written in rollicking, exuberant rhyme, with illustrations that clearly match the story’s energy and the warmth of this gregarious group. A mixture of pencil and Photoshop, scanned paper and cloth textures add depth, softness and familiarity to the adorable characters and their fun antics.

‘Emu’s Halloween’ is a brilliant read-aloud book for kids (and adults) of all ages that not only outlines the perfect scary Halloween party, but is also is a beautiful reminder of friendship, togetherness, creativity and spirit that can be celebrated at any time of the year.  

Review: Slade House by David Mitchell

Time is,
Time was,
Time is not

11221460_889655257754156_5258152833153975201_nWhat a bonus it is to have a new David Mitchell book only a year after the incredible The Bone Clocks. David Mitchell started this story on twitter but became obsessed with the story he had started and needed to see it through. The result is a ghost story in the hands and imagination of David Mitchell with is scary, compelling and amazing.

Some authors when they right shorter fiction can dilute themselves but with David Mitchell it is the opposite. Instead everything you love about David Mitchell is distilled into a story you will have to try very hard not to read in one go. Regardless of this book being a third of the length of The Bone Clocks or Cloud Atlas all the elements that make a David Mitchell novel something outstanding are all here. The four parts of the novel each have four distinct narrators and styles. Each part is set nine years apart and David Mitchell captures each different time as only he can. And despite there only being 233 pages David Mitchell’s imagination still soars.

Slade House is both a classic ghost story and a reinterpretation for the 21st century. Firmly set within the David Mitchell universe fans will love spotting all the different connections and there is even a hint of where David Mitchell will go next. If you haven’t read him before this is the perfect starter. All the wondrous flavours and tastes are here to relish and enjoy. I promise you you will be addicted in no time.

Buy the book here…

Review – Dandelions

Dandelions FCOne day, a little girl’s father does an inconceivably bad thing. Granted he is not even aware of the crime he has just committed, which for the girl makes it all the more unconscionable. She’s too late to thwart his mindless destruction and cannot save the dandelions he has just mown in their backyard. Thus begins the picture book, Dandelions by first time team, Katrina McKelvey and Kirrili Lonergan. Now this raises the all-important question; just what is so important about a dandelion? Are they simply not just bothersome weeds, as her father is quick to point out?

The girl attempts to elucidate the many and varied reasons she holds the dandelions so dear. They are in short, magical. So magical in fact, the girl knows that if she waits long enough, they will in time, reappear. Full of remorse, Dad observes his daughter’s sad and lonely vigil and sets out to cheer her up. Fortunately, for them both, a small clump of dandelions survives and together, father and daughter embark on a whimsical journey fuelled purely on joy and the wonderment of nature. As the dandelion seed-heads puff away, so too, do the imaginations of the girl and her father, wild and unfettered like the very wind they float on.

The next half a dozen or so pages spin and swirl readers on a truly breathtaking odyssey up and over, through and around the neighbourhood. In a flight of true unbridled joy, the words twist and twirl and spiral and whirl across the pages too, as though teased by a capricious wind, past flowers bigger, and brighter than the humble dandelion but never quite as free.

The subtle biology lesson from Dad serves to perpetuate the magic as assuredly as the breezy distribution of these puffballs ensures future dandelions and at last, our little girl finds comfort in her garden once again.

image McKelvey bravely uses verbal exchange to establish the bond between father and daughter but it’s the undulating sounds and colours of the prose used for the dandelions’ passage through the neighbourhood that I find most beguiling. Lonergan’s line and water colour illustrations enhance the dreamlike quality of this story and explore some interesting perspectives from both a small person’s and a tumbling dandelion parachute’s point of view. Together they paint a satisfying picture of fatherly love and the tenacity of nature, which parallels the importance of never giving up.

Dandelions spread # 2A dandelion puffball is in itself a beautiful thing. Blow on it and that beauty instantly multiples. McKelvey and Lonergan have taken this simple concept and exponentially increased its magic. Understated and as delicate as a dandelion in full flight, Dandelions is sure to fill the soft pastel and fairy predilections of many a young miss and make you want to seek out a puffball to set in a flight of fantasy of your own.

Want to learn more about this fascinating flower and the author behind Dandelions? Then drift over to Romi’s interview with Katrina McKelvey.

EK Books October 2015

 
 

 

Review – Molly and Pim and the Millions of Stars

Molly and PimSometimes, it takes a little while for things to change from what they were to something different. Imagine a new seedling nudging its head up through the earth for the first time, no longer a seed, not yet a tree. This miraculous transformation of being represents the way I felt reading Martine Murray’s new mid-grade fiction, Molly and Pim and the Millions of Stars. It took a little while for me to see the light emerge within this tale but when it did, it shone. I mean, who doesn’t love climbing trees? Aren’t we all a little attracted to the enigmatic silent types? And who hasn’t wanted to give it to their overbearing neighbours once and a while? These are some of the conundrums that claim Molly’s consideration, too.

Molly is an ordinary girl living a strange existence. She shares her strange life with a border collie named, Maude, an indifferent feline known as, Claudine and her Mama, who’s penchant for potions and picking herbs makes Molly cringe. She wishes for a life more run-of-the mill like her best friend, Ellen’s. Ellen’s mum puts food in packets in Ellen’s lunchbox and never picks herbs barefooted before breakfast. Ellen lives in a normal suburban brick home that in no way resembles the gypsy caravan that is Molly’s abode, at least that’s how she perceives the house she lives in.

Molly and Pim Claude collie illoThen there’s, Pim, the slightly left of field boy at school, whose aloofness and indifference intrigues Molly to the point of distraction. Molly is a little frightened and yet, truth be told, oddly compelled by his abstract ways but is unable to decide if he is friend or foe.

There is no time to find out because Molly and her mama are preparing for battle against ‘the world’s nastiest neighbours’, the ghastly Grimshaws from next door. In an effort to restore harmony, Molly’s mama suggests they grow a tree, a magnificent towering oak tree that will block out the beastly Grimshaws with its beauty. How does one grow an oak tree overnight, though? With the help of mama’s magic potions of course. Shockingly mama’s potion has devastating outcomes. A tree appears but is it all that it appears?

Following the loss of her mama, Molly must not only fend and feed herself and her small menagerie, often with hilarious results, but she must also come to terms with her own jagged dance of life. Through the pain of separation, the vacuum of loneliness, and the desperation of time running out, Molly discovers the beauty in the way her stars align and lets unfurl an inner power she barely knew existed.

This story is a series of beautiful realisations and discoveries as Molly climbs ever higher through her tree of life. You feel her mama’s presence fiercely in every inch of this story, which is both heartbreaking and reassuring. As Molly’s resources and resolve are tested, she finds solace in what was always her normal. Bolstered by Pim’s alliance and Ellen’s unyielding friendship, Ellen learns how it feels being part of the millions of stars that make up the world, her world and what power can issue forth from such awareness. With realisation comes heart and from within heart, courage is forged; ‘imagine if you were never scared of falling, how much higher you might climb’.

Martine Murray Murray uses generous doses of whimsy and magic to tell Molly’s tale of self-discovery and acceptance. The results are spellbinding. Weird but very wonderful, Molly and Pim and the Millions of Stars will sweep young readers away. The line-drawn illustrations and inclusion of Molly’s notebook on herbs are the end are fetching additions to a book that grows with you and allows you to reflect on its fantasticalness long after the last page is turned. Molly certainly lit up my world.

Molly and Pim and the Millions of Stars can be found in Boomerang’s exciting Kids’ Reading Guide 2015-2016.

The Text Publishing Company June 2015

A Breath of Fresh Air – Katrina McKelvey on ‘Dandelions’

imageKatrina McKelvey started life in a little country town in New South Wales, where she was fortunate to be able to soak up the charming facets of nature. Nowadays, Katrina is soaking up the well-deserved praise for her gorgeous debut picture book, ‘Dandelions’.
Having had embraced the pleasures and joys through her roles as mother, former teacher, CBCA Newcastle sub-branch president, committee member for the Newcastle Writers’ Festival, and now author, Katrina’s first book certainly reflects her creativity, dedication and passion for life and love for children.

image‘Dandelions’ is a whimsical, delicate story of the special bond between father and daughter, but also of the magic of the world around us. It is about resilience, hope, imagination, wonder and affection. Katrina’s text is perfectly poised, complimenting its storyline on every level. Graceful and tender, the story explores the life cycle of the dandelion as a little girl prompts her Dad to re-evaluate the beauty and simplicity that life has to offer, and together they allow their imaginations to take a wonderful flight.

The illustrations by Kirrili Lonergan are exquisite, with their watercolour fluidity that almost literally sweeps us in to this free and dreamy world. As the wind carries the dandelion seeds across town, we too, can sense ourselves swirling, twirling, spinning and turning on this fanciful drift.

Lyrically and visually stunning, ‘Dandelions’ will spread love, appreciation and curiosity far and wide, harvesting treasured bonds between the generations. Readers from age four will be blown away by its beauty!

I am delighted to have had the opportunity to find out more about Katrina McKelvey and how her ‘Dandelion’ wish literally came true.  

Congratulations on the release of your first picture book, ‘Dandelions’! What have you got planned for your upcoming book launch?  

Thanks! Kirrili and I plan to celebrate in a huge way with our family and friends. We will be launching Dandelions on Saturday, 31st October at 10:30am in the Lovett Gallery at Newcastle Library. We have planned some dandy treats, craft activities and a live reading of the story. We will be projecting the illustrations on a large screen as I read so everyone can feel like they are part of the book even from the back of the room. Kirrili will give a demonstration of how to draw a dandelion seed head. And of course we will be toasting all the people who have helped us during this long journey.  

image‘Dandelions’ is a sensitive and magical story of the beauty of nature and the loving relationship between father and daughter. What was the inspiration behind this story?

As my daughter and I used to walk to and from preschool, she would jump in gardens and gutters to pick dandelion seed heads. We found them growing everywhere. She enjoyed blowing them apart with me. After that, as my husband mowed the lawn, I used to get a little sad watching him destroy the dandelion plants that made those puff balls she loved so much and I wondered how she would feel if she ever found out.  

I have loved watching the relationship develop between my husband and our daughter. It’s a very special relationship – one I hope they cherish forever.  

This book also incorporates lyrical elements that are perfect for promoting dance and movement. As a former teacher, do you have any other teaching and learning ideas for children to engage further with ‘Dandelions’?  

Gosh, the possibilities are endless!  

Firstly, the story should just be enjoyed. I hope adults and children find a really comfy, quiet place to snuggle in and share the magic of Dandelions.  

But to extend this experience, here are some more educational based ideas.
1) Children could investigate the lifecycle of a dandelion and watch it happen in their own backyards. They could research the origin of the name ‘dandelion’. It’s very interesting! They could also investigate dandelion folk names. Some of these are very funny. There are great time lapse videos on YouTube showing how a dandelion flower turns into a seed head. Amazing!  
2) Children could investigate other uses of the parts of the dandelion plant. Every part of the plant can be eaten in some way. You’d be amazed. But I don’t advise you just pick it and start eating it! Children may also like to taste dandelion tea.  
3) Children could collect dandelion seed heads, leaves and flowers. They could use dandelion seeds to make pictures and collages, use dandelion leaves to stamp patterns, and use dandelion flowers as a brush or stamp to paint pictures.  
4) Parents and teachers could discuss the themes of Dandelions with children. The themes include forgiveness, resilience, hope, love, using your imagination, and the importance of the different types of family relationships.  
5) If teachers and parents have children with sensory needs, this book is an excellent companion or springboard to assist with enhancing their sensory learning experiences (blowing, touching, tasting, and seeing).  
And for more advanced children:  
6) Dandelions is full of prepositions and verbs. Children could try and find them. Children could brainstorm other prepositions and verbs to show how and where they think dandelions move and then write their own sentences using a similar structure to the sentences in Dandelions (e.g. … tumbling in the wind above …). They could publish and illustrate their sentences and form a class book.  

A full set of ‘Teaching Notes’ is available by clicking here.  

imageKirrili Lonergan‘s illustrations perfectly compliment the gentle, whimsical nature of the text. What do you like about Kirrili’s work, and how did you find the collaborative process with her?  
I’ve had the privilege of watching Kirrili’s style develop first hand over the last several years. I love how she layers colours, her messy nature and her signature stripes. The first time I saw a completed dandelion seed head I cried. (Hint: Look at the endpapers)  

Our friendship started many years earlier, but our collaboration for this book actually started back in 2011 – long before our contract – with a single dandelions illustration. That illustration travelling the country with my manuscript and accompanied many rejections all the way back home.  

Late in 2013, I found a writing competition I could send Dandelions to. The judge was a publisher and she wanted to publish it after we completed a few rewrites. Then I was asked if I would like to suggest an illustration style that would match my story (this is rare). Of course I put forward Kirrili’s illustration that travelled the country with my original manuscript. The publisher agreed and our official ‘Dandelions’ collaboration was born.  
I was so lucky to see the illustrations develop and grow during the next part of the publication process. Usually authors don’t have input into the illustration process – they just get in the way!  

I watched Kirrili enjoy developing her unique style for this book, develop her colour palette, and perfect her seed heads – sometimes by touch light (but that’s another story!). I saw her pride grow as she moved closer and closer to finalising every single illustration. She would send me photos of her work in progress at random times – which was always a delight.  

We had fun going on day trips to take photos of houses, trees, rivers and flowers. We looked at colours, angles, movement and style. I learnt a lot. She looks at things in a different way to me – with that artistic eye I don’t have. She designed and finalised the cover and sent it to the publisher before I got to see it. Kirrili wanted to keep it as a surprise until further through the process. When I finally saw it, I cried! – again.  

How would you describe your publishing experience with EK Books?  

We have been so lucky! We have worked with a beautiful publishing team. From the initial discussion about the possibility of publishing Dandelions to now, every member of the team has been helpful and lovely. Kirrili and I have felt we have been kept in the loop and guided and supported professionally through every step of the journey. Every word and every line has had the attention of several people. Everything went smoothly. We are so proud of the relationship we have developed with EK Books and we are proud of the book we made together.  

What were the most rewarding and challenging aspects of creating this book?  

I think the rewards are still coming. I can’t wait to see Dandelions in the hands of children and see how they interact with the story. I wonder what their favourite page will be? I wonder whether Dandelions makes dads stop and snuggle with their daughters on the lawn somewhere instead of mowing it!  

One of the biggest challenges was to find a publisher who believed in the story as much as I did.  

The second biggest challenge was to wait from the signing of the contract until I had the first copy of Dandelions in my hand. It took 2 years from getting my publisher’s attention to holding it. At least I got to watch Kirrili illustrate it during the long wait.  

Who or what inspired you to become an author? Do you have a preference for the type of genre you like to write? What is it about writing stories for children that you love?  

I was a full-time mum while my children were little. I read lots of picture books to them during this time and fell in love with them. I had given up primary teaching so when my children started preschool, I wanted to start a new career that involved children and was very creative. It had to be flexible too so I could do it around my family’s needs. Writing for children was the answer. I find writing hard work. It doesn’t come easy for me so I love the challenge. It keeps me feeling young.  

I love writing picture books but have dabbled with the idea of writing early chapter book in the near future. Writing a picture book is extremely hard!  Writing for children gives me permission to play with words. I get to play with the sound of them and the look of them too. I get to make up characters and journey with them as they do amazing things. I get to connect with children on a very deep level and have fun with them too.  

I admire Stephen Michael King’s writing style. I often reread the picture books he has written to see how he’s played with words. My favourites include, ‘A Bear and a Tree’, and ‘Henry and Amy’.  

Besides dandelions, what is your favourite kind of plant or flower?  

I have a few but I would have to say roses. I love looking at them and the way they smell. I grow them in my own garden and they get fussed over a little. They make an appearance in Dandelions too. I also love Lavender, Jasmine and Violets.  

imageWhat were your favourite books to read as a child? Any that have influenced you as a writer now?  

I have to honestly say I don’t have a favourite book from childhood. I was a reluctant reader as a child and I could be found climbing trees and playing Basketball instead. I found THE book when I was teaching in my twenties – Just Tricking by Andy Griffiths. I completely understand what it is like not to want to read books. I was a good reader but had no desire to jump into a book. Quite sad now I think about it. Hopefully I can help children who a reluctant readers with my books.  

What’s next for Katrina McKelvey? What can we look forward to seeing from you in the near future?  

I have lots of picture book ideas rolling around in my head and as many on my computer. I have a couple of solicited picture book manuscripts in front of publishers at the moment too. I‘ve been planning a new picture book manuscript which will have children turning books upside down. I plan to start submitting early chapter books to publishers next year.  

I’ll continue to work on the children’s program of the Newcastle Writers’ Festival. I enjoy being a Books In Homes Role Model. I love working with my ‘children’s writing group’ though the Hunter Writers Centre. I also participate in the guided reading program in my daughter’s classroom. I’m busy but I’m so fortunate.  

Thank you so much for answering my questions, Katrina! It’s been a pleasure!

*Dandelions will be launched on Saturday, 31st October at 10:30am in the Lovett Gallery at Newcastle Library.  See details here.

**For more information on the author, please visit Katrina’s website and facebook pages.  

***And for Dimity’s full review of ‘Dandelions’, click here.

Review: Fans of the Impossible Life by Kate Scelsa

Fans of the Impossible Life is an exceptionally magnificent YA contemporary and I AM SO HAPPY! I felt totally caught up in this book. I wanted to laugh and cry and maybe howl (because heartbreak) and I definitely ended up craving pizza. I am a fan of this book. (Get it?! Fan…because…okay, never mind.)

 

ABOUT THE BOOK:

9781509805143Fans of the Impossible Life is the story of love, loss, growing up and the magic – and terror – of finding friends who truly see the person you are and the person you’re trying to become. It’s a story about rituals and love, and of those transformative friendships that burn hot and change you, but might not last. Sebby and his best friend Mira together craft a world of magic rituals and impromptu road trips designed to fix the broken parts of their lives. Jeremy is the painfully shy art nerd who’s been in self-imposed isolation after an incident that ruined his last year of school. When he sees Sebby for the first time across the school lawn, it’s as if he’s been expecting him.

 

I really adored how it was written 3 styles! There are three narrators — Jeremy, Mira, and Sebby. And each one uses 1st, 3rd, or 2nd person! I’ve never read a book that used all 3 before and it worked so well.

The best part of contemporaries, for me, is how character driven they are. I loved all three of our messed up, emotional narrators. But let’s have a quick run-down on each, okay? Okay.

  • MIRA: She’s a completely relatable character and I adored her! She wasn’t skinny and struggled with her self-image, and she loved thrift shopping and she had chronic fatigue and depression. I wailed as people just dismissed her depression as “nothing” and left her to struggle alone. I feel like this book represented depression honestly and realistically.
  • SEBBY: He’s a broken, messed-up and completely sassy dude. I basically felt he was an adorable little…fool. He makes such bad decisions! I loved his sass and his quips and how he was an explosion of life and colour and glitter. He’s gay and a foster kid and has had a tortured past.
  • JEREMY: He’s the quiet one, who lives in his protective shell after Something Bad Happened. He did come out of his shell a bit, but he stayed quiet. Proof that you can have friends and a life and still be reserved! Yay for quiet people! Also he’s an artist and questioning his sexuality and basically just trying to survive highschool.

These three definitely go down as one of my favourite literary friendships.

Except, there was one thing that bothered me: Mira’s “chronic fatigued” just vanished from the storyline. NOT OKAY. Just because your life is going well doesn’t mean your illnesses will vanish. I felt it wasn’t a fair representation to those with chronic fatigue.

But that aside this was simply a magical book. It’s about growing up and sadness and struggling with figuring out who you are. It’s about love. It’s about confusion. It’s about FRIENDSHIP (which I think is incredibly important and always fabulous to read about).  This was everything I wanted in a YA contemporary — sassy, relatable, funny and occasionally heart-wrenching.

I AM A FAN.

(….I had to say it. I just did.)

 

[PURCHASE HERE]

This Changes Everything

This Changes EverythingI’ve been avoiding Naomi Klein’s This Changes Everything. Because the only thing that makes climate change-themed book harder to read than its already difficultly depressing subject matter is a climate change-themed book that’s the thickness of a brick.

Seriously, Klein has written War & Peace.

Coupled with the fact that her writing is fairly dense and, well, there is an impossibly long list of books I’d rather read before I got to it.

But I also know it’s a must-read book. The modern Silent Spring, if you like. So I cheated. I watched Klein’s just-released documentary by the same name.

‘Can I be honest with you?’ Klein asks in the opening moments of the film, because saying that she’s always looked away from climate change-related subject matter (and yes, I was like, what a relief it’s not just me). That’s because it’s too difficult, too overwhelming, too despair-inducing. Until she couldn’t look away any more.

But then she asks: What if the problem isn’t climate change? What if the problem is the stories we’re telling ourselves about it?

Her thesis, which is presumably the same across the film I’ve seen and the book I’ve been avoiding reading, is that if we change the stories we’re telling ourselves we’ll change the climate change outcome.

Silent SpringThat makes This Changes Everything difficult to watch, but arguably less difficult than I’d expected. But perhaps I’ve come to expect only bleakness with climate change subject matter and anything that offers an iota of hope is a pleasant surprise.

The hard-to-watch parts of the film include Klein traveling to Fort McMurray (AKA Fort Money), which is ground zero for tar sand oil extraction and is something of an environmental horror show.

They also include following the court case of a Canadian community and traditional landowners having to fight to even access the land to inspect the environmental damage that’s been inflicted.

But she also features people persevering in tackling contamination and a business empowering people to learn how to install their own solar power.

The latter are important reminders that it isn’t entirely hopeless. As one of the film interviewees says: ‘You have to keep going no matter what.’

The documentary sufficiently piqued my interest to make me pluck the book version from the shelf. I’ll confess I haven’t yet cracked the spine, but given that I’m housesitting and have it as the only book I’ve brought with me, I’m one step closer to reading it.

And who knows, maybe it’ll be like the film: less difficult to read and more full of hope-encouraging surprises than I would expect.

Review: Owning It

Owning ItIt seems weird to be writing a review of a book I haven’t yet entirely read, but I have a feeling I’ll be reading this book, and writing reviews about it, for some time to come.

Owning It: A Creative’s Guide to Copyright, Contracts, and the Law is the legal book I’ve been looking for for sometime (I’d also really love a tax equivalent, hint hint).

Independently published by Tess McCabe of Creative Women’s Circle fame (yet another reason to love and support it) and written by experience lawyer Sharon Givoni, Owning It is the kind of book I would put together had I the expertise and the skills to convey in lay terms that expertise to those of us who most need it and can often least afford it: creatives.

As in, the people who are often asked to work for free or who rarely get paid what we’re worth.

As the book’s opening pages note, a 2013 report estimated the creative sector is (unlike the agricultural and manufacturing sectors and despite what the government stripping funding out of the creative industries would tell us) on the rise. Out of the $90-ish billion of Australia’s turnover, the creative industries apparently generated around half.

Yet another 2013 survey showed almost 80% of respondents working in the creative industries earnt below the average Australian income, and more than half of those respondents cobbled together their incomes from multiple sources.

So yep, Owning It is a well-timed, much-needed resource.

The book is designed to empower creatives to protect their brands and intellectual property (IP). It includes information about starting and growing your creative business, enforcing your rights, using social media, working with lawyers, resolving disputes, and even achieving positive legal outcomes.

It demystifies copyright, trade marks, IP, moral rights, image use, design registration, contracts, your rights online, business structures, insurance, and more. It also gives concrete examples of what each one is and how it plays out.

Best, Owning It makes the law seem less scary and more understandable. For instance, it opens with an illustrative example of interpretation: Ask a child if black and white are colours and they’re likely to say yes; scientists not so much. And so it is with the law—it’s open to interpretation.

Owning It’s communication design is to be commended.

Colour coded along the bleed (I think that’s the term), so you can easily determine and flick to the section you need, it logically tackles key, practical questions such as: How is copyright infringed? Can I recreate a work in a different media? What do I do if someone copies my work? How do I trade mark my brand name?

It features Takeaway Tips too, including for writing and blogging, the interwebs and social media, contracts, creative commons, and more. Handily placed infographics help you work out your next steps should you need to take some action. Meanwhile the sidebars include links to useful resources, such as the IP Australia website. (Is now an appropriate time to admit I wasn’t even aware there was an IP Australia website?)

Owning It also contains lots of fantastic quotes, e.g. ‘Only one thing is impossible for God: to find any sense in any copyright law on the planet.’ (Mark Twain) and ‘Nothing in life is to be feared. It is only to be understood.’ (Marie Curie)

Given that I’m only a few chapters in and it’s the kind of book you need to dip in and out of, I have a sneaking suspicion I’ll be revisiting Owning It on this blog. In the interim, I heartily recommend it. It’s not cheap (read: in the vicinity of $80), but it’s a worthy investment.

Boomerang Book Bites: Soil by Jamie Kornegay

There is something about stories set in the American south, particularly those in and around the Mississippi. Whether they are classic American Southern Gothic, contemporary fiction, crime mystery or a combination the confluence of history, atmosphere and long-held beliefs makes for rich, dark, fertile storytelling. Jamie Kornegay digs into this tapestry with a debut about the environment, end-of-the-world paranoia and a family in break down.
http://www.boomerangbooks.com.au/Soil/Jamie-Kornegay/book_9781444782950.htm
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Whodunnit?! A List of YA Murder Mysteries

There’s nothing like a good, solid murder mystery to curl up with in the evening. After — you know — you’ve double checked all your doors are locked and armed yourself with with a deathly looking lampshade and a fearsome whisk for protection. (Sometimes books feel real, okay?!) And if you like the Young Adult variety, oh oh, have I got a list for you.

 

YA Murder Mysteries You Need To Consume

 

9781743316429EVERY BREATH by Ellie Marney

Not only is this by a homegrown Aussie author, it’s also a Sherlock Holmes retelling. (Can it seriously get anymore awesome than that?!) It’s set in Melbourne and follows Rachel Watts and her best friend James Mycroft as they solve a murder the police don’t seem to care about. It’s absolutely stuffed with Australian slang (!!) and humour and gallons of tea.

Best of all…it’s a trilogy! Don’t forget to check out Every Word and Every Move (the last one I haven’t read yet, but I am impatiently awaiting its arrival in the mail because I’m 90000% sure this series can do no wrong).

 

9781471119149DANGEROUS GIRLS by Abigail Haas

This is the kind of book that will leave you spinning. It was my first taste of a REAL murder mystery, where the protagonist is the “accused” and we watch her go through courts and trials to see if she’s guilty or not. The backstory unravels as you read. A couple of teens…off on a beach holiday…what could go wrong?! (Um, everything.)

I’m still in shock over the ending. It absolutely took my breath away and it’s masterfully written!

 

9781471402463

AS RED AS BLOOD by Salla Simukka

It’s about Lumikki who lives in Finland (!!) and becomes tangled up in a cacophony of blood soaked money. She’s like the Finnish Nancy Drew, basically. And she’s awesome. She loves liquorice and black coffee and comics, so basically she won my heart right then and there — and then she went on to be awesome at solving mysteries too.

Also this book is TINY. It’s like 240-pages and you won’t be able to put it down.

9781423168232

 

THE NATURALS by Jennifer Lynn Barnes

I was so so chilled while reading this. It’s about kids with supernatural abilities who track down murderers. And the narrator, Cassie, has the ability to “read” people (nearly in a Sherlock Holmes way, too…except hers is supernatural). It’s pretty gruesome and gritty and wow.

It also has a sequel: Killer Instinct.

 

9780755348817I AM NOT A SERIAL KILLER by Dan Wells

So the title sounds pretty incriminating, right? Um, yes. BUT ANYWAY! It is about John Wayne Cleaver, who is not a serial killer but is definitely a sociopath. His family business is a morgue (how fitting) and he gets caught up trying to solve a supernatural murder mystery. So think demons and monsters for this one, folks. And possibly you will find yourself hiding under the covers and suppressing a need to scream. I understand, I do.

9781782953463

 

THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHT-TIME by Mark Haddon

Okay, it’s only a dog that’s murdered…but it’s still a big deal for the narrator, okay?! Christopher is Autistic and super smart and determined to find the killer of his neighbour’s dog. This one is more about tugging at the heart strings, but it still involves mystery and family secrets and timeless coming-of-age story line.

 

 

Mini Reviews

I’ve been doing a lot of diverse reading. Comics. Novels. Short stories. Picture books. Fiction and non-fiction. Books for young kids, older kids, young adults and grown-ups. With this batch of mini-reviews, I thought I’d go for the four different age groups, with one review each. I’ll start with young kids and work my way up.

 

9781925272031Belinda the Ninja Ballerina by Candida Baker, illustrated by Mitch Vane (2015)

This is a really cute picture book about a young girl who would rather be a ninja than a ballerina. But Belinda is sent off to ballet class with her cousin Millie, where she spends her time doing headstands and cartwheels instead of jetés and pliés. When it comes to the end-of-term concert, the teacher comes up with the perfect way to utilise Belinda’s unique talents. This is a fun book with wonderful, colourful illustrations. Perfect bedtime reading. My six-year-old loved it!

 

9781925000955The Warlock’s Child 4: Trial by Dragons by Paul Collins and Sean McMullen (2015)
The Warlock’s Child 5: Voyage to Morticas by Paul Collins and Sean McMullen (2015)
The Warlock’s Child 6: The Guardians by Paul Collins and Sean McMullen (2015)A few months ago I reviewed the first three books in The Warlock’s Child series by Paul Collins and Sean McMullen (see review) — a serialised fantasy for older kids. The concluding books have now been released, and I’m pleased to say that they have lived up to my expectations. Each of them keeps the story rolling along at a cracking pace. There is so much adventure and action, magic and intrigue, that you can hardly find the time to catch your breath. And dragons! There are lots of really cool dragons. It’s such an engaging story, told in an accessible and entertaining way. Although the final book concludes the story, it certainly leaves room for more. I can only hope that these sell well enough to warrant further books in the series.

 

9781741758344Pink by Lili Wilkinson (2009)

This is a contemporary, humorous, young adult novel that is not quite a romance. In fact, I’m not 100% how to categorise it… which is good thing. I love a book that defies categorisation. Given that Wilkinson is known for her romcoms (Love-shy, The (Not Quite) Perfect Boyfriend and most recently Green Valentine), I guess I was expecting a traditional sort of comedy romance. Instead, I got a delightfully surprising read that I can’t quite explain. Ava, who is in a lesbian relationship at the start of the novel, has started to question her sexuality, her identity and how she fits into the world. So begins a journey of self-discovery for her. It’s a wonderfully character-driven story. The characters are the centre and the strength of this novel. They are weird and flawed and not always likeable and sometimes cringingly embarrassing. But they feel real. You can’t help but identify with them, and feel for them and hope that they will find happiness.

 

9781922101174Perfections by Kirstyn McDermott (2014)

This is a dark, unnerving, grown-up fairytale, beautifully written and emotionally complex. The central fairytale element is the ability to magically create a ‘perfection’ — a human being; a life from nothing. Of course, there’s always a cost. And it is the cost and consequences that form the structure of the story. But at the core of the story, are relationships — intriguing, familiar, wonderful, necessary, loving, dysfunctional, toxic relationships. It was a surprising read, the story never quite going in the directions I expected it to. I loved it!

 

Catch ya later,  George

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Review: This Shattered World (Starbound #2) by Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner

9781743319703Since I recently reviewed These Broken Stars in all its incredible starry glory, I feel like we need a follow-up review of the sequel: This Shattered World! Because these books are EXCELLENT. And the third book (Their Fractured Light) comes out in December! SO SOON. I am anticipating it greatly by flailing and also planning to be an astronaut. But anyway. Onto the review!

This Shattered World is about Jubilee Chase and Flynn Cormac. Jubilee is in the army and crushing rebellions and, um, Flynn is the rebellion. They make an unlikely duo and get caught by people who want to kill them and they’re sassy and the plot is exciting and — it’s basically all-round interesting. No dull moments! And you never quite feel safe reading it, with this military people with their trigger-fingers and the rebels who will do anything to get their freedom back. I loved that it kept me glued to the page!

I loved This Shattered World, but I loved These Broken Stars (#1) a little bit more. The first book set such a high standard and I connected to the characters so much. But that doesn’t mean the sequel wasn’t incredibly exciting and intense. This Shattered World had a strong military vibe, conspiracy theories, and dug into politics. I did miss all the banter that book #1 had though. Although Jubilee is utterly kick-butt and you would not want to mess with her. Not ever. It’s also diverse! Which is so glorious. Jubilee is half Chinese. Flynn is Irish.

Oh, and remember the dastardly “whispers” from book #1? How everyone was going crazy because of them? WELL. HERE THEY ARE AGAIN. There’s more explanations this time and the sickness was referred to as “the fury”. Which is nefarious and evil.

Everyone also acted very mature. It’s still YA and the characters are around 18, but gwash, I guess the army living in outer-space ages you? I loved their kick-butt attitudes and confidence and maturity, but they felt very too old.

The romance between Jubilee and Flynn was definitely adorable and didn’t take over the plot. It’s more about war.  Jubilee and Flynn have similar personalities and their relationship basically started out as, “HEY I HATE YOU, YOU LITTLE REBEL.” Then guns firing. Glares flying. All the good romantic stuff. I loved their character development and how their relationship changed.

“Letting yourself get hurt isn’t brave, love. Brave is protecting others from hurt.”

I loved this book and it’s one I definitely have plans to reread. It was so rich in detail and so packed with conspiracy and secrets and broken hearts. I loved the characters and I was engrossed with the ending. There are some serious twists that will leave you gasping for breath. (I’m beginning to rely on Kaufman and Spooner to deliver mind blowing twists! They haven’t let me down yet!) This series has definitely sold me on sci-fi and I’m absolutely dying for the next book’s release.

 

PURCHASE:

Taking Action – Fun Books to Get Kids Moving

The beauty of children’s books is that they lend themselves to so many further experiences beyond the reading of the words. These three books contain just the right mix of language and animation to have you and your little ones practicing a few moves of your own.  

imagePuddles are for Jumping, Kylie Dunstan (author, illus.), Windy Hollow Books, 2015.  

The first thing you’ll notice upon picking up this book are the awesome illustrations. Each spread is entirely created with bright, cut and pasted paper characters and scenes in primary colours, suiting its wet weather theme and straightforward storyline.

Kylie Dunstan cleverly takes her early primary-aged audience on this rainy adventure through the park, market, the neighbourhood and back home again to bed, simply by stating the actions in the words and demonstrating them in the pictures. Written in present tense, the short sentences are relatable and encourage young readers to focus on how different objects can be utilised in the most enjoyable way possible.

“Bottoms are for wriggling, Sisters are for laughing!” /
“Beds are for BOUNCING, Books are for sharing”.

‘Puddles are for Jumping’ is both visually and actively entertaining. This truly playful and joyous book is perfect for promoting experiences in the creative arts and movement areas, as well as supporting themes of friendship and citizenship.  

imageConga Dance, Amanda Tarlau (author), Jane Chapman (illus.), Koala Books, 2015.

Another book to get you on your feet is ‘Conga Dance’. As the title suggests, this euphoric story sashays from start to end with a toe-tapping, bounding, shaking and strutting line up of Aussie animals, progressively joining in the dance. I love how the language matches each of the characters’ traits and encourages dramatic play.

“Wombat’s next, whiskers shaking” /
“Cockatoo struts and squawks with laughter.”

Emu leads the rhythmic chant with six lively friends following on, until…someone gets in the way!
To match the rollicking, rhyming verse, the watercolour illustrations are gorgeously textured, soft and expressive, perfectly representing the warm and jovial atmosphere of these adorable, fun-loving creatures in the Australian bush.

‘Conga Dance’ exudes warmth, excitement and a totally care-free attitude that will have preschoolers shuffling, bopping and giggling along in repeated succession.  

imageOnce I Heard a Little Wombat, Renée Treml (author, illus.), Random House, 2015.

Inspired by the classic 19th century nursery rhyme ‘Once I Saw a Little Bird’ is Renée Treml‘s adorable Australian version, ‘Once I Heard a Little Wombat’.

This particularly sweet board book for toddlers is a beautiful read aloud story that will no doubt have your little one joining in the action. Cleverly interactive, the tale talks in first person, immediately connecting the reader with the audience. And it’s only at the very end that the mystery of the narrator is revealed. Great for fostering prediction skills!  

Energetic rhyme and repetitive verbs in clumps of three hook the listener in for the ride as an array of animals display their typical behavioural characteristics. Sugar gliders bump and jump, bilbies scratch, snatch and hop, and puggles splish, splash and plop. Attempts are made to convince each one to stay and play, but the little creatures have their own agendas. Until a little stomping wombat comes around and is ready to play and romp, and then it is time for the pair to stop and flop together for a nap. But who is this mystery animal friend? Read it to find out!

In her characteristically unique and stunning style, Renée Treml‘s artwork is soothing, yet playful with her adorable black and white scratch-art fauna, each assigned a different pastel-coloured background.

‘Once I Heard a Little Wombat’ is a delightful board book of perfect size and shape for little hands. With its exhibition of charming Australian animals and their habitats this lively romp has great learning potential, and is the perfect excuse for repeated read-alongs and role play action for all its early childhood readers.

2015 Qld Literary Awards Winner: Meg McKinlay

Single StoneI am thrilled that the news has now been released that Meg McKinlay’s A Single Stone (Walker Books Australia) has won the Griffiths University Children’s Book Award in the 2015 Queensland Literary Awards. I hope it becomes a contemporary classic. 

Thanks for speaking to Boomerang Books Blog, Meg.                I reviewed A Single Stone as YA lit for the Weekend Australian in August and chaired the QLA children’s book panel – with the wonderful Megan Daley and Maree Pickering, which it has just won. Why do you think it could be classed as either YA or children’s literature?

It’s an interesting question. When I started writing the book, I thought it would be YA, but along the way found myself resisting some of the tropes you might expect in a book of this genre for that readership. By the time I finished, I was thinking of it as more junior fiction, extending into lower YA.

The bottom line, of course, is that the boundary between children and young adults is not clear cut – either in literature or in life. Since the book’s publication, I’ve had positive feedback from readers as young as 9 and teenagers of all ages. As with most things, I think it depends on individual readers but there are certainly elements in the book itself that mean it can more readily straddle that range.

For example, the main character, Jena, is 14, which is sort of on the cusp of the two categories, and even though conventional wisdom holds that readers prefer to ‘read up’, I think that’s a generalisation. If a character is strong and compelling, a reader will want to follow them regardless of age. I also think the ideas in the book are complex enough for YA readers while still being accessible to younger readers, and at the same time there’s no content that might be considered problematic for that younger age group. That was in no way by design – it’s simply a function of what the story did and didn’t call for – but I do think it’s helped extend the book across a broader range. The only time that’s really a problem is when a firm classification is needed – for awards entries, library/bookstore shelving, and so on. I’ve been a little concerned about whether this might see the book fall through the cracks between categories, but so far that doesn’t seem to have been a problem.

Surface Tension by Meg McKinlay
Surface Tension by Meg McKinlay

Did you attend the awards ceremony in Brisbane? What happened?

Yes, I was fortunate to be able to make a flying visit to Brisbane for the ceremony. It was a wonderful evening shared with a room full of fellow writers and booklovers; there was a real sense of celebration across the whole event and I felt privileged to be part of it. I’m a fairly relaxed public speaker but as the announcement approached, I found myself feeling unexpectedly wobbly. There was something about the occasion that was quite overwhelming!

What is A Single Stone about?

A Single Stone is the story of 14-year-old Jena, who lives in a village which is enclosed within a valley; it’s encircled by an impassable mountain range and cut off from any notion of an outside world. In this closed society, which suffers very harsh winters, a mineral known as mica is essential for survival, but it can only be found deep inside the mountain.

Girls who are small enough, and skilled enough, will eventually join the line of tunnellers who harvest the mica from deep inside the mountain; this is work which is highly prized and for which every girl longs to be chosen. It is not an option for boys, who aren’t permitted inside the mountain.

For this reason, girls are kept as small as possible. There are various strategies for this, all of them closely monitored by the Mothers, a group of women who hold most of the power in the village. It isn’t always easy, but it’s the only world the girls know and they accept it as the natural way of things. That is until a tragedy leads Jena to a discovery – about the Mothers and the mountain – that leads her to question the world and beliefs on which she’s been raised, and sets in motion a chain of events that changes things in a fundamental way.

Meg McKinlay
Meg McKinlay

Have you based the characters on anyone in particular, or certain types?

None of the characters is based on anyone in particular, although on reflection I may have been thinking a little of Katniss and Rue from The Hunger Games in writing the relationship between Jena and Min.

I don’t think about character in terms of ‘types’ particularly, but I knew I wanted Jena to be someone who’s heavily invested in doing what’s ‘right’, in a way that threatens to blinker her to larger truths. Writing this now, I realise that there are some elements of my teenage self in her – conscientious and authority-pleasing, but with reasons for that, and also with a latent capacity to stand up and go against the grain if pushed to a certain point.

There’s a character in the book who’s a conscious counterpoint to Jena in some ways, and I’ve set this duality up in order to reflect a bit on the nature/nurture debate. I can’t say too much more on that without veering into spoiler territory, though.

The other characters I thought quite carefully about are the Mothers. I was very clear in myself that I didn’t want them to be simply antagonists; people are of course far more complex than that and I wanted the Mothers to reflect those ambiguities, the shades of grey.

You have created an intriguing, original setting and mood. How would you describe your writing style in this novel?

It’s very satisfying to hear these comments about the setting, because this is something I typically struggle with. I’m much more interested in the internal landscape than in where the action takes place in a physical sense, and often forget entirely about the literal setting.

In terms of style, I would describe my writing here as lyrical, measured and thoughtful, and hopefully all those things on the backbone of a compelling plot.

Could you tell us about the literary texts that helped inspire A Single Stone?Silver chair

There are two that I’m aware of, but undoubtedly others whose footprints I haven’t yet recognised. The gnomes in CS Lewis’ The Silver Chair, which is my favourite of the Narnia series, made me think about what it would be like to be so at home underground, in tight spaces, that you had a horror of being outside.

The other book was Franz Kafka’s The Zurau Aphorisms, which is a collection of fragments and pithy observations about life and the human condition. One such aphorism tells of leopards breaking into a temple so frequently that they are eventually co-opted into its ceremonies. As a teenager in an Anglican high school, I was taken by this notion of how something inherently random and meaningless might ultimately become part of sacred ritual. And from there to wonder what the consequences might be when that ritual becomes utterly removed from its point of origin.

These are both texts whose influence came a long time ago – at the ages of about seven and fourteen respectively – and laid very early seeds for the story that became A Single Stone.

What are your other books?

Definitely No Ducks
Definitely No Ducks! – one of Joy’s favourites

I’ve published 11 other books for young readers, picture books – No Bears, Ten Tiny Things, and The Truth About Penguins – and chapter books – Duck for a Day, Definitely No Ducks, Going for Broke, The Big Dig and Wreck the Halls – through to junior novels – Annabel, Again and Surface Tension. My latest release is Bella and the Wandering House, which is a chapter book for ages 5-9-ish. I’ve also published a collection of poetry for adults, entitled Cleanskin.

What have you enjoyed reading?

So many things! I like a book that makes me think, that shows me the world in a new or surprising way, and also one that treats language with care. I read a lot of literary fiction and poetry as well as children’s and young adult fiction. One of my favourite books in recent years is Ceridwen Dovey’s Only the Animals, a collection of startling short stories narrated by the souls of animals. On the plane home from Brisbane, I read Darren Groth’s young adult novel Are You Seeing Me?, which I really enjoyed, and I’m currently immersed in Margaret Atwood’s The Heart Goes Last.

Thanks for speaking to us, and all the best with this one, as well as your next book.

My absolute pleasure, and thank you right back!

Boomerang Book Bites: The Wolf Border by Sarah Hall

Rachel Caine is an expert on wolves. For the past ten years she has been working in Idaho studying wolf populations on the reservations. Keeping as far from home and her upbringing as she can manage. She is also distant from her colleagues, forging as little close relationships as possible. However she is drawn home by an ambitious plan to reintroduce the grey wolf to Britain. The plan is not without controversy, opposed by the local population.
http://www.boomerangbooks.com.au/Wolf-Border/Sarah-J-E-Hall/book_9780571299553.htm
FREE SHIPPING. Save $6.95 whe you use the promo code bookbites at checkout

Original books for all ages from NZ

changeoverThere is an incredible depth of literary talent in New Zealand ranging from Booker Prize winner Eleanor Catton to Kate di Goldi, Lloyd Jones, Janet Frame and the incomparable Margaret Mahy. NZ is also the base for amazing publisher Gecko Press, which publishes books from around the world for children.

We should keep an eye on what NZ is publishing because it is so close to us here in Australia and, as in many areas; it punches above its weight.

Some of Gecko Press’s most outstanding recent books are The Big Book of Animals of the World, an oversized board book by Swedish/German author-illustrator Ole Konnecke.Bert

This creator also pops up with You Can Do It, Bert! Children will wonder what Bert is trying to do. Most of the action happens in the illustrations and the text is minimal.

Help! The Wolf is Coming! by French author Cedric Ramadier and illustrator Vincent Bourgeau is a very appealing, interactive story which will scare children as the wolf approaches but also empower them because they can tilt and shake the book to ward the wolf off.

Another fascinating book for young readers about animals is Line Up, Please! by Japanese author/illustrator Tomoko Ohmura. Fifty animals join a queue but the surprise is where they are queuing. The numerals are written, as well as the animals’ names, such as ‘giraffe’.

International best-seller Stephanie Blake’s rabbit reappears in I Want Spaghetti. How can the little rabbit be tempted to eat something else? The bold, clear colours and design are a visual lure.

When I am happiestWhen I am Happiest by Swedish author Rose Lagercrantz, illustrated in black and white by Eva Eriksson, is a heartwarming early chapter book about Dani who always tries to be happy despite having lost her mother at a young age. When her father is hit by a car, she has to summon more courage.

Dani has two hamsters, and a hamster is the larger-than-life protagonist of Travels of an Extraordinary Hamster by Astrid Desbordes and Pauline Martin. This self-absorbed hamster features in the many short stories that make up this brightly coloured book.

Very short, but profound, stories also form the structure of The King and the Sea by Heinz Janisch and Wolf Erlbruch. This book is inventive and uses a restrained, perfectly calibrated mixture of collage.

Finding Monkey Moon isn’t published by Gecko Press but is written by NZ author Elizabeth Pulford and illustrated by Kate Wilkinson (Walker Books). It is a picture book that tells the story of Michael who can’t find his toy monkey. His father is a patient, loving man.

BakehouseNZ legend Joy Cowley’s latest book is The Bakehouse (Gecko Press). It is an introspective novel about war and some of its effects in NZ. My favourite recent Cowley is Speed of Lightwhich I reviewed here.

Elizabeth Knox is another standout NZ writer. Previous works are The Vintner’s Luck, The Dreamhunter Duet and Mortal Fire, which I reviewed here. Her recent book Wake is adults-only and is an addictive horror/sci-fi set in a NZ town where most of the inhabitants are killed. Only fourteen people survive and they must try to keep community and civilization alive, as well as themselves. Not for the faint-hearted.

In Wake, like other books mentioned here, we can expect NZ creators and publishers to give us something out of the ordinary.

The Art of Story – Festivals and anthologies in review

Rich and RareEditor, publisher, author, and all round busy guy, Paul Collins describes his latest anthology as ‘a sumptuous literary feast’ in which ‘no one will go away hungry, as the collection is a literary banquet with something for everyone.’ If that doesn’t whet your appetite for the collection of Australian stories, poetry and artwork that is, Rich and Rare, then spend a few moments ingesting Julie Fison’s interview with him as they dissect the intricacies of this collection.

His description, I feel also encapsulates the essence of our Australian literary landscape, so admirably showcased a couple of weeks ago at the 19th Story Arts Festival of Children’s Literature iPaul Collinsn Ipswich. This biennial Queensland festival is for adults and young adults be they teachers, librarians, or emerging writers and illustrators aiming to heighten awareness in the creative arts of writing and illustration and help build and maintain increased audiences for children’s literature. The school kids involved really loved it too.

I found the Story Arts Festival nothing short of inspirational and one of the most relaxed, enriching and informative conferences I have experienced. Like the anthology, Rich and Rare, it treated participating creators to a vast and delicious array of art, insight, and entertainment. Many of the contributors to this anthology participated at this year’s Story Arts. Many more are past presenting veterans of the festival. Here is but a sampler of some of the tantalising talent served up; the guest list is stupendously long and illustrious with the likes of Shaun Tan, Gary Crew, Justin D’Ath, Tania McCartney, Gabrielle Wang, and Tracey Hawkins to drop just a few.

I'm a Dirty Dinosaur Janeen Brian award winning multi-genre children’s author whose Rich and Rare story, The Art of Illusion inspires wonder and magic in young minds. With illustrators, Ann James, Matt Ottley, Terry Denton and fellow authors, Mark Greenwood and Tony Palmer, she revealed the fun and frustrations behind creations such as her phenomenally successful I’m a Dinosaur picture book series, whilst striving to increase literacy in children through entertaining literary content.

 Oliver Phommavanh is another such entertainer dishing up platefuls sensitive story lines liberally garnished with loads of laughs. What kid can resist temptations like those? Following his riotous expose of being an Aussie kid with Thai parents in suburban Australia with Thai-riffic! and Thai-no-mite, Phommavanh continues to slap out the humour with Stuff Happens: Ethan and Con-nerd. His short Rich and Rare tale, My Brother’s Keeper displays Phommavanh’s trademark observational wit in a devastatingly touching, contemporary way.

Veiled Secrets Archimede Fussillo is another first-generation Australian this time sporting an Italian heritage. His impressive range of mid-grade readers and YA novels further enriches the diverse reading fodder of Australian’s youth. He appeared at the festival with Josie Montano to launch their co-authored collaborative novel, Veiled Secrets, published by US Solstice. He penned the poignant and heart-tugging, The Bravest Person I Know for Rich and Rare.

Just a Dog Michael Gerard Bauer is a Queensland author equally at home with humour. His series include the Ishmael trilogy, Eric Vale and Derek ‘Danger’ Dale stories running from the sublime to the snort-out-loud-ridiculous. Eric Vale Epic Fail was adapted into a stage play by THAT Production Company this year and played for the first time to Festival audiences with rousing success. His standout works include Just a Dog and The Running Man, which was CBCA Book of the Year in 2004. Both are stories of achingly plaintive prose embedded with incredible heart and soul. He returns to hilarity in Rich and Rare with the short story, The Knitting Needle Ninja.

Hunter's Moon Sophie Masson’s repertoire of fantasy, mystery, thriller, and even graphic novels stretches further than a giant’s smorgasbord. She is master of coping with change following a fluctuating home base as a child (her parents alternated between France and Australia to live) and now the necessity of author adaption in the digital age, the subject she addressed at Story Arts. Her dark and treacherous reimagined Snow White novel, Hunter’s Moon appeared earlier this year. She compares the Rich and Rare anthology to an intricately fashioned patchwork quilt, ‘a strikingly unusual and complex yet satisfying and simple thing’.

Amply satisfying it is too, and like the Story Arts festival, ably fulfils its objective to capture and preserve the attention of a wider reading audience. Anthologies may not be widely popular to publish but when they showcase talent such as that embodied in Rich and Rare and are able to sustain readers with stories of such exquisite delectableness, they really are too good to pass up. Stack your plate high and celebrate the art of story.

Rich & rare InviteSoutherners are invited to meet many of the contributors at Ford Street Publishing’s exciting launch of Rich and Rare next Friday, 23rd October, Abbotsford, Victoria.

Ford Street Publishing October 2015

 

Review: These Broken Stars by Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner

9781423171027I had no idea what to expect when I read These Broken Stars (co-authored by Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner) because I don’t read a lot of sci-fi. But WOW OH WOW. It was just incredible. It was exciting and sassy and flawless. I constantly hear it pitched as “The Titanic In Space” and basically – yes. It’s about space-ship crashes and survival and a hate-turn-love romance that makes me squeak with intense feelings. And have you seen that cover?! THAT DRESS!? Easily one of my most favourite covers of ever. I would recommend this book to every human, alien, and stray cat.

So go read it.

NO WAIT! Finish my review first, because I have more things to rave and flail about.

It’s set in space, so we get all the epic futuristic technology and starry descriptions. I love the thought of massive spaceships with their laser guns and soldiers and technology. What I didn’t know, when I picked it up, was how heavily it featured survival. It’s only partially about space things — but mostly, our two protagonists are fighting through an uninhabited planet jungle, trying to survive and be rescued. Since I’ve grew up devouring Gary Paulson’s Hatchet trilogy, this was so my thing.

Let’s discuss the characters! I loved them. It’s dual narrated by Lilac and Tarver.

  • Lilac LaRoux: she’s a “princess” — rich and snobbish, but such a sweetie underneath. Her father basically controls the galaxy (money, peoples, money is everything) and he dotes on her. Usually I find the “snob” character unlikeable and I don’t care about them. But not Lilac! She was interesting and relatable and I found it so easy to feel for her.
  • Major Tarver Merendsen: He’s the epic, young, and war-hero. Except that he’s extremely sarcastic. His humour was awesome! I loved how he was frustrated out of his mind with Lilac’s princess ways, but he was never cruel to her. I love how he kept being a gentleman – no matter what the circumstances. His voice is very different to Lilac’s too, which is super important in dual-narrated books. I loved BOTH their chapters and can’t even pick a favourite!

What I loved most about Tarver and Lilac is – they hated each other! It’s hilarious. Of course, they don’t stay that way, but they’re so snarky at the beginning.

“Where will I sit?”
Sit? Why, on this comfortable chaise lounge I’ve carried here for you in my pocket, Your Highness, so glad you asked. I clamp my mouth shut, struggling not to say it aloud.

 

Between each chapter is a snippet of Tarver being interrogated. I loved these! My only criticism is: some of them sounded the same. But Tarver really gives his interrogators a hard time and it’s hilarious.

“Major, to what extent did you act upon your feelings for Miss LaRoux?”
“Medium.”
“Excuse me?”
“How am I supposed to answer that question?”

 

The ending will blow your mind! It has a plot twist that basically knocked me over — and I loved it so so much. The writing is amazing and flows perfectly and, basically, I can say no evil about this delicious book.

[PURCHASE HERE]

Fever of Animals

Fever of AnimalsI can’t remember if I put my hand up to review Miles Allinson’s Fever of Animals or if it was sent to me because the publisher’s PR team thought it might be up my alley. Either way, I was pleasantly and slightly surprised and confused when it arrived.

The winner of the 2014 Victorian Premier’s Unpublished Manuscript Award, Fever of Animals is a fictional tale of a narrator named (slightly confusingly) Miles who’s trying to determine what happened to Romanian surrealist painter Emil Bafdescu.

Bafdescu disappeared in a forest in 1967. Miles hears about Bafdescu and is intrigued by his mysterious disappearance courtesy of a painting hanging in a Melbourne restaurant.

Still with me?

Let me first say that the premise of this book is intriguing and it undoubtedly hooked me (I would love to know the novel’s creative origins slash backstory). Let me say second that it is exquisitely written—Allinson possesses a lyrical writing skill far above and beyond any I do.

Let me say third that as a non-fiction reader who’ll forgive poor writing as long as the book is plot-driven and actually takes me somewhere, I’m probably not Fever of Animals’ target audience.

I assumed I was about to read a non-fiction book about animal rights ala Eating Animals when I pulled the book from its postal envelope and read the title.

Even having finished it, I still don’t know to what the title refers. If you’ve read it and know what I missed, please let me know. And yes, I feel a little silly—it seems a big thing to have missed.

That’s a three-way way of saying I truly admire the book Allinson’s crafted, but I’m afraid I didn’t enjoy it. I was never caught up in the tale as I so often am by other books. Case in point: I’ve recently found myself re-reading excerpts of, and imploring others to pick up, Andrew Westoll’s The Chimps of Fauna Sanctuary.

I’m still not entirely sure what Fever of Animals was about—that may well be me not being clever enough to discern its points—and my abiding thought both while reading and after finishing its final pages were the ever-dreaded ‘so what?’.

You see, Fever of Animals ruminates on life. It’s quiet and internally focused. Which is great in and of itself. But the book doesn’t really go anywhere—something I struggled with as a time- and brain space-poor reader.

I needed something that would really pull me in, something strong enough to compete with life already demanding huge amounts of my time and attention.

Truth be told, I’m also probably a little too close to the whole ‘lost 20-something wandering around Europe’ trope to be able to view it with any decent perspective.

I’ll never argue a book has to resolve all its plots in neat fashion, but I do like to come away from a book having a sense of something having shifted. Of the character having (forgive the terrible cliché) ‘grown’ or attained some insight into themselves or their circumstances.

Still, there were moments of the novel that wholly impressed me. These include a passage where Miles reflects on flying home to see his dying father: ‘It’s rare, I suppose, that our lives are given such definition, are marked out as clearly as that, so that the part which is over tilts away, and another part—the future, for instance—begins.’

Also, it turns out there’s a (relatively unpronounceable) word for ‘Are you going to keep tickling me in the face in the same spot repeatedly?’

There are these rather memorably bleak passages too:

They say an elephant will stay on its feet for ten days after it’s been shot. They say that some animals can sense a volcano days before it erupts, and that they’d rather kill themselves. In such cases, the water in the bay will teem with drowning snakes.

[smoking]…and I stand with the students there beside the sliding doors, breathing out plumes of toxic smoke towards the rain, like one of those grey patients I remember from the hospital: like someone who feels free to smoke as much as they want now because they are dying from something else.

Despite not being its best reader, I can see why Fever of Animals won the unpublished manuscript award. Allinson is clearly talented and this text would have leapt off the submissions pile.

The book may not be for me, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t for others. It also doesn’t mean I wouldn’t be interested in reading what Allinson creates after this, his first novel. I look forward to see what he publishes next.

ATMOSPHERIC Giveaway

Carole Wilkinson is an Australian author best known for her DragonKeeper series of children’s books. But she is also a well-respected author of non-fiction books, including Fromelles: Australia’s Bloodiest Day at War, Black Snake: The Daring of Ned Kelly, The Games: The Extraordinary History of the Modern Olympics and Hatshepsut: The Lost Pharaoh of Egypt. Her latest book is Atmospheric: The Burning Story of Climate Change.

Boomerang Books, Literary Clutter and Carole Wilkinson are giving you the change to win your very own copy of Atmospheric. How? Read on to find out.

atmobanner-2

To be in the draw to win a copy of Atmospheric, simply send an email with ATMOSPHERIC in the subject to [email protected]

Entries are open to Australian residents only. And only one entry per person.

Entries close at 5pm (Melb time) on Friday 16 October. The winner will be contacted by email as well as being announced in the comments section of this post. No correspondence on the matter will be entered into. Got that? Good!

So… start sending in those entries. In the mean time, here’s what people have been saying about the book…

“This book will change minds.”
David Spratt (author of Climate Code Red)

“Young people will be the ones grappling with climate change. Atmospheric reminds them they are key to the solution.”
Amanda McKenzie, CEO, Climate Council

Atmospheric is an insightful piece of multimodal non-fiction which really makes you think twice about the environment around us and how we care for it. This is a book which is both easy to read and yet deeply informative about not only the history and science of our atmosphere, but the far reaching effects of climate change and how it may impact on us further in the future.”
Genie in a Book (read the full review)

Atmospheric has also been getting rave reviews on Goodreads. Here are some comments…

“Wow… this may be the most important book you read.”

“The history of climate change in a thoroughly engaging and accessible book for everyone aged 10 to 100.”

Sounds like a must read book!

And don’t forget to check out Carole Wilkinson’s guest blog post about the writing of Atmospheric.

Catch ya later, George

PSFollow me on Twitter

fisher3Check out my DVD blog, Viewing Clutter.

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A Glorious List of YA Apocalypse Books

I have a deep love for all books about the end of the world and the apocalypse. It’s exciting! I love the speculation of what could happen. Because zombies could totally happen. Or angels. Or destruction by walking trees. WHO KNOWS.

Today I have a list of Young Adult books about the apocalypse and the end of the world. Some are entertainingly far-fetched but others could totally happen. I love books like these because they make you think and speculate and be grateful for that survivalist horde of peanut butter hidden in your pantry.

~

THE AGE OF MIRACLES [PURCHASE]9781471124853

While I didn’t find this the most fast paced book of ever, it really intrigued me because it could totally happen. It’s more about the psychology of human reactions during the End of the World. The earth is slowing down, days and nights are all messed up, and people are getting sick. Oh, and it’s a coming-of-age story about Julia becoming a teen. She has a crush. The world is ending. Her mother is hoarding peanut butter (not a bad plan). People are dying. It felt so realistic.

 

9780062198518

NOT A DROP TO DRINK [PURCHASE]

This is probably my all-time favourite apocalypse story! It focuses on “what if water was precious?” which is an excellent point because humans just don’t do well without water. It’s about Lynne, who has a pond, which is like gold, and she has to protect it or lose it. I adored the blunt, crisp writing style too, and Lynne was tough as anything.

 

9780702249761

THE SKY SO HEAVY [PURCHASE]

This is an excellent Australian end of the world story and, like The Age of Miracles, it’s so realistic! I could totally imagine things going down like this if nuclear warfare started. It’s really gritty and oh it’ll pull at your heart strings. Also it’s about two brothers trying to find their parents and survive and stick together. I’m such a sucker for sibling stories so this is an insta-win for me.

 

9780062201812THE END GAMES [PURCHASE]

But we totally need a moment for zombies…oh don’t look at me like that. It could totally happen! And how better to speculate than to read a zombified book about a teen pretending the entire apocalypse is just a computer game — to get his little brother through it without panicking. (See?! I told you I love sibling stories!) It has a computer game vibe and it’s very emotional and the characters are so intensely amazing.

 

9780761463276ANGELFALL [PURCHASE]

Angels and demons ruling the earth is also totally plausible. (Do not doubt this.) I particularly love this trilogy because it’s really dark and gritty and doesn’t shy away from how the depraved the world could become with no rules. It features a meltable romance between a tough, sensible protagonist (Penryn) and a wingless angel (Raffe) and it’s full of snark and sass.

9780439829106

 

TOMORROW WHEN THE WAR BEGAN [PURCHASE]

And of course I need to finish up with this iconic apocalypse novel set in rural Australia. It’s about a group of teens who go camping in the bush…only to come home and find their hometown has been taken over by foreign soldiers. It’s about guerrilla warfare and how war changes you.

 

Peace & Parsnips

Peace & ParsnipsLee Watson’s Peace & Parsnips: Vegan Cooking for Everyone looked so good from the preview cover art and blurb that I went out of my way to see if I could obtain a review copy of it.

I mean, who wouldn’t be sold on the adorable cover with almost-stamped images of pears, broccoli, and what I think are figs?

Once the review copy arrived, I discovered there are pros and cons with the cover design—things I hadn’t noticed in my earlier excitement.

The issues aren’t with the artwork, which I still love, but the format: The book comes with a dust cover that is, for someone like me, something that appears quite finicky and easily damaged.

But what do I know? I’m a terrible cook who can’t be entrusted to have expensively produced books in the vicinity of liquids and solids being smashed together without badness happening. And there’s precedence for having dust covers on cookbooks.

Besides, the glass-half-full slash person-who-can-be-entrusted-with-this-stuff view could be that the thinking behind the dust cover is that it’s removable and therefore ideal to protect the book’s extremities from getting damaged with food splodges and splashes.

But I’m getting ahead of my nitpicking self.

Peace & Parsnips overarching theme is captured by the Dalai Lama quote ‘Approach loving and cooking with reckless abandon’. Which is what it does. For the foundation of vegan cooking, Watson writes in his introduction, is creativity.

Watson’s written this cookbook some five years after converting to veganism from being a hardcore, nose-to-tail carnivore. It means he’s bringing five years’ worth of experience to the fore—enough time for him to have developed expertise in the vegan cooking realm, but not so much that he’s forgotten what it’s like to be a wide-eyed, overwhelmed newbie.

Watson’s argument is that if he can go vegan, anyone can, and here are some recipes to get them started. What we eat reflects who we are, he continues. Also, there’s much, much more to vegan cooking than tofu.

As my introduction intimated, what’s immediately apparent about Peace & Parsnips is its beautiful design and investment in quality. The paper stock, for example, is recycled but organic and expensive in feel rather than dowdy. The images too are gorgeous.

Above all, the book’s useful. For example, there’s a spread tackling food myths that include:

  • meat is the only way to get protein and cow’s milk is the best calcium source
  • we have incisors for a reason
  • it takes cream to make things creamy.

The book also breaks down some of the food groups, outlining, for instance, some of the different types of grains that are great for vegans and tips for how they can be cooked and served. The book also covers fruit, nuts, milks (vegan, of course), and more.

My cookbook wishlist always includes having one colour image for every recipe—I’m such a terrible cook I can’t make what I can’t see the finished product of (and in fact I have a theory that recipes that don’t have full-colour images to accompany them are made far less frequently than ones that do). That would be my one suggestion for improving Peace & Parsnips.

Regardless, the book contains some pretty appetising-sounding recipes that, picture or not, warrant a try:

  • Raw-sli with Grated Apple, Blueberries, & Macadamia Cream
  • Scrambled Tofu with Buckwheat Pancakes & Avocado Butter
  • Sesame & Sweetcorn Pancakes
  • Braised Fennel, Pear & Radish with Toasted Almonds
  • Homemade Vegetable Crisps
  • Open-Top Asparagus & Cashew Cream Pie, with Fig & Apple Compote.

So, dust cover or no, a picture per recipe or no, this cookbook gets my thumbs up.

The Hush Treasure Book and Australian Kids through the Years

HushThere used to be much anticipation and excitement about children’s annual book ‘treasuries’ and other compilations. Now we have The Hush Treasure Book (Allen & Unwin) to dip into. This book is special for two reasons. Firstly, it takes the Australian charity ‘Hush’ into the world of books. The specially composed Hush CDs have been bringing music to children in hospitals since 2000. There are now fourteen ‘albums of original music to bring peace and hope to patients and their families’. A CD also accompanies this book.

Secondly, The Hush Treasure Book is a ‘treasure’ of Australian authors and illustrators of children’s books, including the successful partnerships of Glenda Millard and Stephen Michael King, and Mark Greenwood and Frane Lessac. Talented Karen Taylor has imaginatively edited the book with lovely attention to detail and Lee and Kevin Burgemeestre have designed the cover and title page. The book can be read through from beginning to end; or poems, short stories and other works could be chosen to suit the reader, an occasion or mood.

Short stories include ‘Doctor Maddie’ by Danny Katz, illustrated by Mitch Vane about sick Honey Bear, and ‘The Best Horse of All’ about a carousel, written by Margaret Wild and sumptuously illustrated by Julie Vivas.

My favourite story is the longest one, ‘Ghost Motel’ about a seemingly creepy motel, by Jackie French and Michael Camilleri.

Poems include ‘We can see the world from here’ written by Jane Godwin and illustrated by Anna Walker, which is apt for a child in bed; ‘Nothing to be scared of’ by Doug Macleod, illustrated from soaring bird’s-eye views by Craig Smith; ‘Oliver’s Town’ by Nick Bland; ‘Ward’ by Shaun Tan (complete with an illustration of an owl); and an exuberant, rhyming poem by Karen Tayleur and Ann James, ‘Dot the Tot’.

There is an amazing, beautifully constructed maze by Judith Rossell, which kept me fascinated till I completed it. What a clever addition to a book for children in bed.

There are also pieces by luminaries of Australian children’s literature Tohby Riddle, Alison Lester, Bob Graham and Jane Tanner; talented newcomers; and a wordless double page spread by Bruce Whatley, which seems to be paying homage to the style of Gregory Rogers.

KidsAnother wonderful book to browse through is Australian Kids through the Years, written by Tania McCartney with pictures by the inimitable Andrew Joyner, published by the National Library of Australia. This is a non-fiction text in picture book form. It looks at children from the first Australian Aboriginal children, the 1800-1840s, the 1850s on the goldfields, 1900-1909, the 1950s and each successive decade until the present. Many of the children come from different ethnic backgrounds.

Each era is described over two double page spreads, with an introduction to the children featured and then a double page of detailed illustration showing what the children, and those around them, are doing. The written text is minimal, often in speech bubbles and short lists; such as what children were reading in the early 1900s – Seven Little Australians, The Tale of Peter Rabbit, The Wind in the Willows, and playing in the 1990s – Rugby League, Power Rangers, Little Athletics, Tamagotchi and Super Soaker. It’s great to see 90s children reading Magic Beach by Alison Lester, not least because she features in Hush as well. Jackie French also appears in both books, here with Diary of a Wombat.Magic Beach

Children should be fascinated by changing Australia. No doubt extensive information has been carefully honed to make Australian Kids through the Years accessible and interesting. It is also very well designed.

Carole Wilkinson’s ATMOSPHERIC

9781925126372Carole Wilkinson is an Australian author equally comfortable in the realms of fiction and non-fiction. The things that link her diverse books are passion and research. Carole chooses topics that she has a keen interest in, and then researches the hell out of them. Her latest book for kids is a non-fiction book about climate change — Atmospheric: The Burning Story of Climate Change. As part of her Atmospheric blog tour, Carole has written a Literary Clutter guest post about the writing of this book. Take it away, Carole…

The story behind Atmospheric
By Carole Wilkinson

I’ve tried to do the right thing environmentally, ever since the state of the environment first became an issue way back in the 1970s. But as time passed, I realised that climate change was not just a theory, but a real threat that was going to affect all of us. I decided that I needed to do more, and so I joined my local climate action group, Yarra Climate Action Now.

Someone recently asked me what it was like being in the glamorous world of climate action. Glamorous? There is nothing glamorous about it. Previously, most of what I had done for the climate was from the comfort of my own home (separating out the recycling, switching off lights, yelling at politicians on the television). Once I joined YCAN that changed. I found my self sitting through long council meetings that went till midnight; standing on the steps of Parliament House waving a placard in the rain; asking people in the street to sign a petition, only to have them tell me how stupid they thought I was. Nothing glamorous about that.

That doesn’t mean I didn’t like it. It was great to meet other people who were as keen, if not keener, to stop climate change as I was. And we have been involved in some successful campaigns, particularly in the inner suburbs of Melbourne, where cycling has increased because of lobbying for a better network of bicycle paths, the local council has embraced people growing veggies in the streets, and plans to build a polluting freeway instead of new public transport have been stopped.

It was only a matter of time until my two main interests, climate action and writing, intersected. When my publisher suggested I write about climate change, I immediately said yes.

I’ve written other non-fiction books, but this one was different. At first I thought the book would be about the current climate situation and what we have to do to fix it. But the more I thought about it, the more it became clear that, as with my other non-fiction books, it couldn’t be just a list of facts. I had to tell a story.

9781742031767Black Snake tells the story of Ned Kelly’s short 26-year life. Fromelles tells the story of a World War I battle that lasted less than twenty-four hours. This book would have to be the story of climate change. And what a story it turned out to be, spanning 300 million years!

I like research. I like it a lot. But this book was the biggest research task of my life. Bigger even than my obsessive research about dragons. That was a leisurely meander through the archives over a ten-year period. I had to research and write Atmospheric in a year and a half.

And then there was all that science I had to get my head around. I couldn’t explain all the scientific stuff behind climate change until I understood it all myself. Fortunately, I’d done science at school, and before I was a writer, I spent 15 years working as a laboratory assistant. So I’m not scared of science. For the first time, that part of my life didn’t seem completely disconnected from my writing life. It gave me the confidence to tackle the science and interpret it for a young audience that might find it a bit daunting.

I’m back writing about dragons again now (Dragonkeeper 6). After Atmospheric, it seems like a holiday!

George’s bit at the end

Want to check out Carole’s other blog tour stops? Here’s a list.

I am very much looking forward to reading Atmospheric. I’ve loved every one of Carole’s previous books, so I have no doubt this one will also be an engaging read.

Would you like to read it? Would you like to win a copy, perhaps? Well then… check out this blog tomorrow and I’ll tell you how you can win your very own copy.

Catch ya later, George

PSFollow me on Twitter

fisher3Check out my DVD blog, Viewing Clutter.

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Boomerang Book BItes: Zer0es by Chuck Wendig

On the surface this appears to be a cyber-thriller about hacking. But in the hands of Chuck Wendig it goes somewhere quite different. The book opens and we are introduced to five different hackers; an activist, a professional troller, an old-school hacker, a money skimmer and an amateur hacker completely out of his depth. They have all come to the Government’s attention in their various ways, for various crimes, and each of them is rounded up and offered a deal: come and work for the Government for a year or spend the next ten years in jail. They each take the deal.
http://www.boomerangbooks.com.au/Zeroes/Chuck-Wendig/book_9780062351555.htm
FREE Shipping. Save $6.95 when you use the promo code bookbites at checkout

Double the Size, Double the Fun – Picture Book Reviews

If you’re looking for picture books exploring friendships of massive proportions, then these two latest delights are for you. Perfect for melting any sized heart! 

imageBlue Whale Blues, Peter Carnavas (author, illus.), New Frontier Publishing, 2015.  

On first glance, I noticed something different about Peter Carnavas‘ most recent creation compared to his previous works. His books including ‘The Boy on the Page’, ‘Jessica’s Box’ and ‘Oliver and George’ are well-known for their adorable hand-painted characters and animated scenes.
In ‘Blue Whale Blues’, the illustrations are still adorable and animated, but with an extra element; texture. Each character on each page has been individually crafted and cut out, with additional bits of fabric and textured and patterned papers to create an eye-catching, sensory collage effect. The washes of blues dominating the mixture of double-page spreads and bubble-shaped vignettes most suitably compliment the mood. And just to top off that sensory experience, Carnavas and New Frontier have cleverly integrated an interactive MP3 audiobook to listen to and read along. Just brilliant!

It is poor Whale’s wallowing in his own grief that captures our attention from the outset. He struggles to understand simple, everyday objects and their functions, such as upside-down bikes (“It’s NOT a bike!”, I hear the audience shout), and the use of a helmet (no, it’s not really a helmet!). Lost in his ocean of pity, Whale sings himself a ‘blues’ tune every time he gets stuck. But thank goodness for his trusty, easy-going pal, Penguin. He knows just how to help (or does he?). Although Penguin and Whale don’t quite succeed in their ‘big’ plan, at least they can have a good ol’ laugh at themselves, even when things continue to go awry.

‘Blue Whale Blues’ will inspire fits of laughter, moments of close bonding, and a cheery sing-and-read-along experience. With strong characters; big in stature and big in heart, this hugely engaging tale of friendship, problem solving and optimism is bound to sweep preschoolers off their feet time and time again.  

Be sure to check out Peter’s book launch if you’re in the West End area of Queensland.  

imageAs Big as You, Sara Acton (author, illus.), Scholastic Press, 2015.  

Sara Acton, much-loved author illustrator known for her gorgeous watercolour and line works of art, including picture books such as ‘Daddy Cuddle’, ‘Poppy Cat’, and ‘Bridie’s Boots’.
Her most recent creation is ‘As Big as You’, which, unlike the title suggests, defies gravity on a number of levels. First, the book’s rotation has been turned on its side, allowing for maximum impact to reflect its huge illustration proportions. Second, this story of one of the largest creatures on earth is so wonderfully light-hearted and whimsical to lift even the heaviest of spirits. And third, there is a part in the story that sees an elephant literally whizzing and zipping through the air like a weightless, deflating balloon! How extraordinary!

We are introduced to Claude, massively dominating the double-page, portrait-oriented spread, who is the father-figure to the little one crouched at the bottom of the page, Finlay. Finlay faithfully looks up to Claude, attempting the same triumphant feats as his elder, only to discover they are abysmal in comparison. So with every ounce of his might, Finlay tries his hand at greatness and climbs a tall tree. (Then comes the part where he resembles an out-of-control balloon). But reuniting with Claude is the reassurance and comfort that he needs to know that there is no hurry to grow up. Tickles, fat raspberries on tummies and a safe place to belong are suitably the best.

‘As Big as You’ is lively and interactive, with absolutely relatable characters. It beautifully captures the magic of childhood and the essence of perspective, loving relationships and independence, and reminds young readers to relish these playful and innocent moments.

Review – Sad, the dog

Sad,the dogTrying new things can be an exciting, daunting and ultimately rewarding experience. Just ask Sandy Fussell, author of the acclaimed Samurai Kids series. She is venturing into the fastidious and fascinating world of picture book writing and I have to say, has come up trumps.

TogetheSandy Fussellr with illustrator, Tull Suwannakit, Fussell has brought to life one of the most endearing little dog tales I’ve read in a while. Sad, the dog is a title immediately provoking thought and possibly interpretation as nothing more than a smaltzy, over-sentimental excuse for a cry. It does in fact start a little unhappily at least for poor pooch, Sad so named because his well-meaning but blatantly non-dog-people owners, Mr and Mrs Cripps neglect to give him an identity of his own.

Tull SuwannakitSad receives the basics from them but in spite of his doggedness to impress them with his dogginess, he is largely ignored and tragically unloved. Then they up and go, and leave, without him!

Misery and loneliness pile up around Sad like mounds of autumn leaves until a little boy named, Jack enters his life. Jack is patient and kind and is exactly the sort of little boy Sad needs. Ever so slowly, Sad learns to like his new situation and especially Jack, so much so that he re-discovers his inner dog and a new whisper in his heart that helps him banish his sad moniker forever.

Sad, the dog is a picture book that invites repeated readings because each time you do, you will fall in deeper in love with the indomitable black and white canine and comically drawn characters.

Sad dog illo spreadSad represents the unquestionable loyalty and willingness to please that dogs possess and suggests that they experience the same sense of rejection and loss as keenly as humans do. When Sad’s beliefs are shattered and abandoned, it takes him a while to forget his fears and learn to be brave enough to try that ‘something new’ again. However, with the help of a new friend, he does. Sometimes, that’s all it takes; a special someone to tease the real you back out into the open again.

I love this intimation and heart-warming message that permeates throughout this picture book, and is captured so beautifully by Suwannakit’s glorious watercolour illustrations. Muted tones, appealing detail and ridiculously funny characterisation (I was reminded of Gru from Despicable Me at times) provide plenty of balance and personality, and exude love in an otherwise sad tale about an unwanted dog.

Sad eventually finds love after hiding beneath his pile of unhappiness. It is red and wonderful (and incidentally the colour of Jack’s hair and the falling leaves) and is anything but sad. You and young readers from the age of three onwards will feel it too whether dog lovers or not. Highly recommended.

Fellow blogger, Romi Sharp is interviewing Sandy Fussell, soon. Be sure not to miss her revelations and insight into Sad’s creation.

Walker Books August 2015

 

Gillian Mears and The Cat with the Coloured Tail

Gillian Mears is an Australian writer, recognised for her award-winning literary fiction such as Foal’s Bread, The Grass Sister, Collected Stories and The Mint Lawn. It is well known that she battles crippling multiple sclerosis.Foal's Bread

She has now transferred her finely wrought writing to children’s books, beginning with The Cat with the Coloured Tail (Walker Books). This exquisite hardcover gift book is for children aged eight and older. It is a fable about love and healing and, although of great interest to cat lovers, it will appeal to a much wider readership, including adult readers.

The whimsical story, although with an ominous thread; as well as the memorable characters, are brilliantly brought to life by newcomer to children’s book illustration, Dinalie Dabarera dinalie.com. Despite the elegiac writing, this book would not be the exceptional piece of literature it is without these exquisite pencil-drawn illustrations. They seem to spring from an exemplary sensitivity and imagination. The combined writing and illustrations form a rare work.

Mr Hooper has a fanciful ice-cream van that resembles the full moon. He creates moon-cream ice creams with the intuitive help of The Cat with the Coloured Tail. This cat’s face is heart-shaped and, although his fur is usually silvery blue, his tail changes colour.

Together they love discovering heart shapes. Mr Hooper sings:

Hearts on footpaths, hearts in leaves.

Hearts in certain apple seeds.

Hearts in trees, in scabs on knees.

Heart-shaped whispers on the breeze.

They even find an ant’s nest in the shape of a heart and Mr Hooper leaves a tiny flag with his favourite colours of red and yellow to signpost the heart-shape to others.

They know which direction to take to sell their moon-creams because The Cat with the Coloured Tail’s tail points the way. But when the tail points upwards, they know that someone sad needs a free moon-cream. They find an old lady who needs a soft pink ice cream in the shape of an old-fashioned rose; an old man whose moon-cream looks like a lady beetle; a boy with a sea-loving dog whose moon-cream is so like waves lapping that it had even been a little salty; and bereaved twin sisters who receive fizzing firecracker moon-creams.

There is an ominous black heart of the world that The Cat with the Coloured Tail is following. This symbol casts a contrasting shadow over the positive itinerant healings, essential for dramatic tension and also for increasing the weightiness of the tale. The Cat with the Coloured Tail seems to sacrifice his own life to heal the heart of the world.

Australian poet, Geoff Page helped Gillian Mears with the cat’s songs, and Margaret Throsby interviewed the author on ABC Classic FM at

After reading this book you will feel like an ice cream, wishing it is a moon-cream, or quite possibly wanting to do something to show love to someone else.Mint Lawn

Review: Vicious by VE Schwab

9781783290215In light of VE Schawb recently announcing on twitter that Vicious is getting a sequel (!!), I decided I needed to review this book here. ASAP. Because it is glorious. It’s about super villains! It’s dark and scary and evil and full of anti-heroes with complex backstories and warped thinking to justify their evil intentions. Also there’s chocolate milk. This book has everything.

The story follows Victor and Eli, two college dudes who are proving a theory about superpowers. As a mostly YA reader, I was a bit worried I wouldn’t like this adult book. But, pfft, I shouldn’t have been. The writing is golden. It’s like a teeny tiny step away from YA, since it features college age-characters half the time. There’s also a 12-year-old girl who shares some of the narrating.

Can we talk about the villainousness?! I read so many books that claim to be about “villains”. BAH. They always couch evil in holy intentions. In Vicious, it explores EVERYTHING. Like what it means to be the bad guy. It explores the DARK side. Basically, Eli and Victor are two french fries short of a happy meal. They are twisted. They didn’t always start that way, though, and I love how the book is about them “before” they turned dark and “after”.

QUICK LIST OF THE CHARACTERS:

  • Victor: He’s the protagonist of the story. Ahhh! How do I even describe him? He’s very calm and confident and has a sharky smile and will risk everything and yet has a soft spot for lost people. He kind of picks up strays, which is entirely adorable. But at the same time, he’ll kill a guy point blank and not even blink. SO YEAH THERE’S THAT.
  • Eli: Okay, he is just a screw loose. Even before their experiments started going crazy, Victor always described him as having a monster under his skin that sometimes peeked out. Eli’s also a religious nut. (Why are the religious ones always crazy?!) So Eli wants to kill everyone with superpowers because he believes he’s ordained by God to do so. Victor probably wouldn’t have cared less, except that he and Eli are enemies and he’s gotta be on the opposite side of Eli…just because.
  • Mitch: I loved Mitch! He’s like this huge hulk of a guy that works with Victor…and he looks like he’d smash your brain in his fist, but he’s actually a computer genius. He also loves chocolate milk.
  • Sydney: She’s adorable! She’s the 12 year old and her character development is insanely fantastic.
  • Serena: She’s Sydney’s older sister. And while Sydney ends up with Victor, Serena ends up with Eli….and Serena is a bad nut. She controls people with her voice. Which is kind of a scary power…But when Eli wanted to kill Sydney and Serena went along with it? I HAD NO RESPECT FOR SERENA.

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Basically it’s like Charles Xavier and Magneto’s from X-Men’s origin story. But mix that in with The Prestige movie, where there are two guys doing mostly bad things and how-do-you-root-for-either…but then one guy has a soft spot for kids, and the other guy isn’t meaning to be so evil and — UGH — so many emotions! VE Schawb is a master of crafting words.

It’s told in the present and past. I didn’t find this confusing at all, in fact, I loved it! One minute we’d be in the college, watching Eli and Victor spiral into their evil intentions. The next, we’d be in the future, with Sydney and Victor trying to stop the mad Eli from killing all the ExtraOrdinaries.

I also found it really addictive. Time escaped me! When I finished I felt like dashing to the library and getting every Schawb book I can find because — WOW, JUST WOW. It’s incredible and perfect and totally my kind of story. It’s violent and vicious (duh) and I can’t wait for the promised sequel.

PURCHASE HERE