Review: Spectre

SpectreThere was some benefit to not knowing a new James Bond film was coming out: I managed to bypass all of the anxious anticipation and skip straight to the enjoyment of trundling along to the theatre to view it.

Well, view it after an interminable 30—yes, 30—minutes of largely sponsor-related and poorly considered ads. One ad in particular incensed me: bottled water, a product so wholly environmentally unfriendly it should almost be illegal.

But then I reminded myself that the Bond films are if nothing else about impractical and unattainable things.

I’ve never read any of Ian Fleming’s books, but I’ve long wished I had. Bond is the kind of hero slash anti-hero I like: suave, dapper, capable, well-travelled, able to function wholly using his skill, charm, and wit.

Especially in these most recent films, with Daniel Craig’s Bond both on the outer with the establishment and being broken physically and emotionally. It makes him a far more relatable, realistic (if that’s possible for someone who survives so many insane scenarios), and sympathetic character.

In Spectre, Bond has gone rogue, pursuing leads even he isn’t sure about. But he’s a man on a mission and nothing—not even ‘smart blood’ that tracks his location—is about to prevent him from fulfilling the mission.

But bureaucracy is interfering, first in the form of his boss, M, and second in the form of his boss’ boss, an arrogant up-and-comer with the home secretary’s ear. The latter has written a report that the 00 program is obsolete and a lone agent in the field cannot compete with Big Brother-ilk technology.

Bond hasn’t helped his or the 00 program’s case. The film’s opening sequence involves him at the heart of an unsanctioned international incident that plays out in front of thousands of witnesses during Mexico’s Day of the Dead festival. (‘The dead are alive’ the screen reads ominously before we cut to the festival in full swing.)

Especially so when he is cavalier when M tells him he’s now in the extremely difficult position of having to explain 007’s actions. You’re right, Bond tells M. You’re about to have a very difficult day.

I love this grittier Bond. The one who’s a little less shiny and a little more aware of his own mortality. What I’m unclear on is whether that’s the doing of the filmmakers or Fleming.

One of the central complaints about the Bond character is perennially young (or at least becoming more of a silver fox) and untouched by the realities of life, and his flings increasingly younger and more beautiful than the previous ones.

This Bond is finally starting to feel his age and his mortality. And though the woman he ends up with in the film is implausibly young (and, if I may say so, not really his type), he has a brief dalliance with one who is closer to his age and style.

But really, love stories aside, Spectre contains enough intrigue and adventure to entertain. Craig has reportedly said he’s unsure if he’s going to reprise the role and that Bond, at his core, is pretty much a misogynist.

I’ll be disappointed if Spectre is the last time we’ll see Craig as Bond, but I like too that he’s not so caught up in the Bond ego that he can’t see the character has flaws.

Either way, having not known about this film until it was out, I’ll likely be pleasantly surprised if or when Craig does reprise the role.

Stocking Stuffer Suggestion # 5 – New beaut picture books

Okay, it’s only a couple more sleeps until December, which means we’re dipping into dangerous waters now. Christmas wish lists should be full and those letters to Santa should be in the post – pronto! If you are after a new Christmassy picture book to line your stockings with, try some of these fun ones on for size.

 Santa Baby Santa Baby by Smriti Prasadam-Halls and Ada Grey promises to be the ‘most magical Christmas picture book of the year’ and it does have a touch of special about it. Reminiscent of the movie Arthur Christmas and the evergreen, The Night Before Christmas, Santa Baby tells the quest of Santa’s small progeny and his best mate, Roo who are upsettingly too young to accompany Dad on his worldwide mission on Christmas Eve. Grounded and miserable the two friends discover two abandoned presents and set out on a mercy mission to deliver the gifts themselves.

In spite of several distractions, they almost reach their target when they recklessly decide to undertake a ‘midnight loop-the-loop’, a sleighing manoeuvre hitherto only attempted by accomplished flyers, read Santa Claus. Their execution is, as you guessed, less than successful but just as it is all about to end in tears, Santa scoots up and rescues the rescuers. Santa Baby then realises that being Father Christmas is not as easy as sucking on a candy cane and that the two remaining presenThe Night Before Christmasts were actually for him and Roo and hold the answers to their dreams come true.

The child-friendly verse and super cute real knitted beanies and scarves illustrator Ada Grey dresses Santa Baby and Roo in adds to this merry feel-good story about the merit of patience and persistence. Magic for under-fives.

Bloomsbury Children’s November 2015Christmas at Grandma's Beach House

Swapping snowballs for sand dunes, head to Christmas at Grandma’s Beach House by the winning picture book team of Claire Saxby and Janine Dawson. Following their 2013 release of Christmas on Grandad’s Farm (reviewed here), this gorgeous new Christmas holiday expose adopts the tune of the Twelve Days of Christmas carol and is bursting with more Aussie flavour than a kangaroo sausage on a hot barbie. This sing-a-long picture book will have you counting down the days to your next seaside escape and fruit mince pie. From the very first page Dawson’s illustrations, plunge us into the briny seaside environment of Grandma’s beach house. Nearly all of us must have some childhood memory of visiting such a relative’s place; I do, right down to the ‘holiday’ tree jammed in the corner, seagrass matting, and shell mobile!

Claire Saxby Saxby guides us through family introductions and new friendships with the days of Christmas countdown as we picnic on the beach, body surf and frolic under a very Aussie sun. Grandma’s beachside locale is soon swelling with a radiant assortment of kids and buzzy holidaymakers.

Chock-a-block with thongs, seagulls and sunhats, it doesn’t get any more Aussie or better than this. High on my list of sing-a-long picture books to jingle my bells to because I love a good excuse to belt out a carol, even if I don’t need a reason.

The Five Mile Press September 2015

Don’t go far, there’s a couple more hot-off Santa’s-press picture books on the way. Meantime, check out other titles for kids from the Boomerang Kids’ Reading Guide 2015 / 2016.




Review: The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen

9781472151377I almost completely missed this book! If it wasn’t for the Karl Marlantes quote on the back cover I would never have picked it up and what a tragedy that would have been. This is an outstanding novel that deserves all the accolades and then some. It is so witty and cutting in it’s dissection of America’s attitude to the Vietnam War (or as the Vietnamese call it the American War). It is not just an anti-war novel but it is THE anti-Vietnam War novel bringing a perspective to the war, the conflict and it’s aftermath, that has been purposely ignored all these years.

The novel is told in the form of a confession by a North Vietnamese spy. He recounts his life growing up in Vietnam, the bastard son of a French father and Vietnamese mother. His time at an American university and his recruitment as a communist sleeper agent in South Vietnam. The story opens with the fall of Saigon in 1975 and the chaos of the American evacuation. Our narrator flees with countless other refugees to America where he bides his time in the land of his enemy. But far from his homeland, where the war seems to now be over, he begins to doubt his commitment to the cause and what the cause is that he is supposedly fighting for.

Viet Thanh Nguyen injects the story with a truly wicked sense of humour that reminds me a lot of The Chinaman by Shehan Karunatilaka. His complete deconstruction of American Vietnam War films is utterly brilliant and you will never watch Apocalypse Now the same way again. He also expertly captures the confusion, the cynicism, the betrayals and the outright hypocrisy which has framed the Vietnam War over the last forty years. The heart of the novel though is the dichotomy that is the entire Vietnam War. The actual divided country of North and South that continued after reunification, the polarity of what actually happened in the war versus America’s portrayal of it and the two minds of our narrator as his mind is slowly torn in two over loyalty, love and freindship.

Like All Quiet On The Western Front this is a novel that cannot and should not be ignored. If you have read any literature, fiction or non-fiction, on the Vietnam War this needs to be on your shelf and in your hands as soon as humanly possible.

Buy the book here…

Big Adventures with Alison Lester’s Picture Books

Alison Lester; much-loved, legendary children’s author illustrator, Australia’s Inaugural Children’s Laureate 2011 – 2013, multi-award winner with a long-standing, colourful career and classic books including ‘Imagine’, ‘Magic Beach’, ‘Nony the Pony’, ‘Kissed by the Moon’, ‘Our Island’ and ‘Are We There Yet?’.
imageHaving said all that, I’m still pinching myself that I actually met her last weekend! Attending her special storytime at Readings, we were lucky enough to get a personal reading of her gorgeous, new book, ‘My Dog Bigsy’.  

From the wonderfully textured front cover, to the interactive farm route on the endpapers, and the animated sound effects emanating from the words, ‘My Dog Bigsy’ is the perfect language experience for little ones.

imageIntroducing Alison‘s real dog Bigsy, with a detailed diagram of his unique body parts, including crooked front legs and a special scratching spot, we immediately fall in love with this bouncy character. A little girl tells of his silence as her co-sleeper, but once outside, she hears her hairy friend clamouring, barking and chasing the animals all around the farm. Rollicking onomatopoeia have us bounding along with Bigsy and his noisy counterparts, from screeching cockies to thumping kangaroos, snorting horses, ducks and lazy cows, bold pigs and non-mathematical hens. At the end of his rounds, Bigsy is exhausted. Where will he go next?

imageAs Alison explained, her line work is different from her usual technique. This time the watercolour pictures were cut inside the outline for a smoother look, and the textures of the mixed media and frayed edges of the dress material is ideal for that added depth and authentic rustic feel.

‘My Dog Bigsy’ is a fun, vibrant romp with an endearing character, including a sweet message of friendship and a clever approach to reinforcing knowledge of farm animals and their noises. Just delightful for children from age two.

Penguin Random House Australia, 2015.  

imageAnother engaging book for early childhood readers is Alison‘s most recent edition of her classic story, ‘Are We There Yet?’, this one with fun lift-the-flap and I-spy components.

Whilst the first is aimed at an older target audience with its sweeping detail, this current book is a terrific summary of this family’s trip around Australia including simple, short sentences and interactive I-spy questions and answers under the flaps. I love this format for introducing young ones to our unique locations and landmarks, flora and fauna, enthralling activities and modes of transport, as well as a touch of history that makes our land so extraordinary.

imageAll the stunning imagery exquisitely painted by Alison Lester in this book have been transferred from the original, in a more compact form with round-edged and glossy pages, specially adapted for those little hands.

‘Are We There Yet? Lift the flap and play I-spy!’ is sure to be a trusty travelling companion for any young reader all the year round.

Penguin Random House Australia, 2015.

For more information on Alison Lester, visit her website here.

‘Fantastic’ Australian YA for Christmas

Red QueenThree new Australian YA novels, The Red Queen by Isobelle Carmody (Penguin), Zeroes by Scott Westerfeld, Margo Lanagan and Deborah Biancotti (Allen & Unwin) and Newt’s Emerald by Garth Nix (A&U) will make appealing Christmas presents. These all have ‘fantastic’ elements.

What a thrill to meet Isobelle Carmody again recently when she spoke about the final book in her incredible ‘Obernewtyn’ fantasy series, The Red Queen.


Isobelle’s readers are probably the most dedicated fans of an Australian YA author I’ve come across. People engage completely with her Obernwtyn heroine, Elspeth Gordie, and share their personal stories about growing up with Elspeth. As many know, Isobelle started writing the first book, Obernewtyn, when she was fourteen years old and it was published in 1987 so the series of seven books has been a long time in the making. Isobelle’s readers are relieved that, even though Elspeth Gordie’s story is now complete, Isobelle has planned other ways back into the high fantasy world of Obernewtyn.

ObernewtynI decided to buy the first book Obernewtyn rather than The Red Queen because, even though I read it when it was published, I didn’t have a copy and thought I might savour the series again from the beginning. Of course, buy The Red Queen for Christmas if that’s where you (or someone you’re choosing gifts for) are up to, otherwise work through the series. Or delve into Isobelle’s other books. My favourites are The GatheringLittle Fur (for young readers),  Metro Winds (stories for mature readers which I reviewed here) and Alyzon Whitestarr (which is inexplicably out of print).

When I moderated a session with Isobelle at the Sydney Writers’ Festival about Fantasy Worlds a few years ago, the talented Scott Westerfeld was also on the panel. My particular favourites of Scott’s books are So Yesterday and the ‘Uglies’ series (which is also available in graphic novel form).


He has now co-written Zeroes with the legendary Margo Lanagan and Deborah Biancotta. It’s an explosive whopper of a book about young people who each have a superpower. But they are ‘zeroes’ (all born in the year 2000), not ‘heroes’. It’s a perfect holiday read (and has been roaring up the NY Times YA best-sellers’ list). Which character will be your favourite – blind Flicker who can ‘see’ through the eyes of others, Chizara who can crash computer systems, Kelsie or Nate who can influence crowds, or handsome Anonymous who blends into backgrounds and is easily forgotten; but it probably won’t be Ethan with his knowing ‘extra’ voice. It’s not clear which author has written which parts but this may be revealed further into the series.

Newt's emeraldGirls aged 11 (good readers) and older will be hooked by Garth Nix’s Newt’s Emerald about eighteen-year-old Lady Truthful. I can’t do better than use the book’s blurb to describe it: ‘A regency romance with a magical twist’. It is a change of direction for Garth Nix, who is renowned for The Old Kingdom Chronicles and Keys to the Kingdom  series. Newt’s Emerald is a mystery-adventure as well as a romance, as Truthful seeks the emerald that has been stolen from her family. It’s another perfect Christmas read.

Review: The Program

It's Not About The BikeThere are few stories more abjectly fascinating than those surrounding Lance Armstrong’s triumph over a cancer he was given infinitesimally small chance of surviving and his subsequent seven Tour de France (AKA Tour de Lance) victories.

Consequently, there are few stories more assumptions-shattering than the revelation that Armstrong had, in fact, been using drugs to aid his wins all along.

The Program, so named to describe the doping program Armstrong (played convincingly by Ben Foster) and his teammates followed, answers the questions we’ve been wondering for years: How did he do it? And how did he manage to get away with it for so long?

The film’s opening scene features a solitary cyclist climbing a mountain. The only sounds we hear are the wind, the rider’s breath, and the sound of a helicopter hovering overhead. It is, presumably, Armstrong out in front of the peloton in the Tour de France. Or it’s simply an arresting visual of a rider alone with their thoughts, battling the elements as they work to ascend a mountain.

The Tour de France features 180 riders, 20 stages, and just one—highly prized—yellow jersey. Armstrong won the event a record seven times, and he did so after overcoming a debilitating cancer no one should have overcome. It’s unsurprising his wins took on mythic proportions in our minds.

Armstrong would likely have remained a legendary figure had it not been for sports writer David Walsh (played by Chris O’Dowd). He was the only journalist who doubted Armstrong’s triumphant physical makeover (Armstrong was built for one-day cycling events, not three-week tours that involved mountainous range) and the only person to doggedly work to uncover the doping truth.

‘He’s a man transformed,’ Walsh says at one point. ‘He recovered from cancer and turned into bloody Superman.’

And: ‘I have no interest in going up a mountain to watch chemists compete.’

To be fair, Armstrong decided to dope because everyone else was already doing it. I know, I know, that doesn’t make it even remotely alright. And yes, the ‘if everyone jumped off a cliff, would you?’ example springs to mind. Armstrong wasn’t and isn’t a sheep. He’s a ruthless competitor who knew what he was doing.

But as one friend and avid cyclist said to me when the news of Armstrong’s doping finally broke, he might have been taking performance-enhancing drugs, but he still consistently beat a field of guys who were likely also doping. Was he simply levelling the playing field?

I don’t know. With Armstrong’s story, we’re knee deep in murky ethics. And consciences weighing heavy.

‘I just told them what they wanted to hear,’ he tells his future wife after he delivers an inspiring speech about beating cancer. Which is arguably true. We wanted to believe in Armstrong’s story just as much as he wanted us to believe it.

And there were arguably some benefits to his profile and success, however false. He raised millions of dollars for cancer research. He inspired people experiencing cancer to fight to live.

I’m not condoning what Armstrong did. Like everyone else, I got teary when he stood up on the podium time and again. And I felt foolish and frustrated I’d been duped.

I’d even read and loved his two ghost-written memoirs, It’s Not About The Bike: My Journey Back to Life and Every Second Counts, rabbiting on about how incredible it was he’d beat the odds and how hard he’d worked for his victories.

So I was particularly annoyed they turned out to be if not entirely false, then at least playing loose with facts. It’s well-documented—and slightly bemusing—that people shifted those titles from the non-fiction to fiction sections in bookshops.

Even though Armstrong’s actions were wholly wrong, The Program gives us the most insightful and nuanced examination of Armstrong and his motivations to date.

That’s not to say the film’s perfect. Plenty is skimmed over, not least Armstrong’s battle with cancer and his marriages and relationships. Seriously, the audience kind of chuckled in surprise at how the film cut from Armstrong asking a woman in a hallway if she liked Italian food to—literally—them emerging from a church married. We never saw her again and at one stage his three children, who had not been mentioned or appeared prior to that, joined him on the podium.

But that’s also a sign the film stayed true to its intent: depicting the doping program Armstrong and his teammates underwent in order to win.

Based on detailed legal documents and reports surrounding his exposure and the stripping of his titles, The Program is the closest thing we’ve got to date about how the doping was carried out. It’s fictional and Armstrong obviously hasn’t condoned it, but I’d like to think the film offers the rest of us some insight into the hows and the whys. It’s certainly closer to the truth than Armstrong’s two books. For those reasons, I’d recommend we watch it.

Boomerang Book Bites: The Life And Death Of Sophie Stark by Anna North

This is an incredible read. Mesmerizing, hypnotic, addictive it captures you from its opening lines and doesn’t let go long after you have put the book down.
FREE Shipping. Save $6.95 when you use the promo code bookbites at checkout

Books & Christmas with James Moloney

Meet James Moloney, author of The Beauty is in the Walking

(Angus&Robertson, HarperCollins)

James Moloney is a statesman in the world of Australian YA and children’s books.  The hilarious Black Taxi and Kill the Possum for YA and Dougy, Swashbuckler and Buzzard Breath and Brains  for children are among my favourites of his books. I store his novels behind glass in my special cabinet for revered Australian authors.

Black Taxi

Thanks for talking to Boomerang Books, James.

Where are you based and how involved are you in the world of children’s and YA lit?

I live in Brisbane, where I write in a cabin at the bottom of my yard. I’ve been writing YA and books for younger kids for thirty years. My first novel was published in 1992 and after my next five titles did very well I took the risk and gave up my job as a teacher librarian to become a full time writer in 1997. I’ve enjoyed writing fantasy as well with ‘The Book of Lies’ being my best known. Since I’m now close to fifty titles, I suppose I’m classed as ‘an old hand’ in the world of YA lit.

What is the significance of the title of your new novel, The Beauty is in the Walking?Beauty is in the Walking

Ah, tricky answer that one. The publishers did not like my original title, which happens sometimes. (I had to change the title of my first novel, in fact). We workshopped ideas for a new title until an editor at Harper Collins come up with this. I liked it straight away for its lyrical sound and the way it nailed Jacob’s attitude towards his disability. It also linked nicely to his self-proclaimed expertise as a ‘connoisseur of walks’ stemming from his growing teenage attraction to girls.

Only later did I discover the words are part of a quote from Welsh poet Gwyn Thomas, ‘The beauty is in the walking – we are betrayed by destinations’ but now that I do know, I like it even better.

There is a big push for diversity in YA lit. What diversity have you shown in this novel?

I wrote this novel partly in response to a challenge from an old friend/editor to explore how disabled teenagers seek love and explore their sexuality. Since people with a physical or intellectual disability have always been marginalized throughout the world, telling a story about a boy living with cerebral palsy could be seen as showing diversity. It’s important to understand, though, that I didn’t self-consciously build the story around that theme, any more than I set out to write my novel ‘Dougy’ and its sequel ‘Gracey’ because the main characters were Indigenous Australians. In both instances, I wanted to tell a good yarn that I felt compelled to write. I’d like young people to read ‘The Beauty is in the Walking’ as the story of a boy growing up and moving into the next phase of his life who happens to have a disability.

A second example of diversity in the novel is the Lebanese Muslim family that Jacob becomes involved with. The story is set in a country town where communities can sometimes be slow to embrace non-Anglo and especially non- European ethnic groups, especially after recent terrorist acts by people of Middle Eastern origin. Readers will note that Jacob has very little contact with Soraya and virtually none with Mahmoud, the boy he attempts to exonerate after the boy is falsely accused of a disgusting crime. Jacob is only partially motivated by anti-racist sentiment. Mostly he undertakes the role of defender to prove himself and rise above the ‘disability’ prejudice that is holding him back.

How did you create the character of Jacob?

Like I always do, I spent some time trying to ‘be’ him, to think like a seventeen year old with CP, reading about how young people cope with their disability and I interviewed a women in her early thirties whose CP had consigned her to a wheel chair since her teens. She had recently had her first child. The results were surprising. A lot was written and said about the assumptions that able-bodied people make about CP sufferers, especially the tendency to assume a person with laboured movements and speech must be intellectually disabled as well. I was also pleased to hear that many people with CP are highly mischievous and have a great sense of humour.

How important is writing about boys for you?Buzzard

Gracey’, ‘Angela’, ‘Black Taxi’, ‘Bridget: A New Australian’ and the entire Silvermay fantasy series are all written in the first person from a female character’s perspective, so I do write about girls. However, I’m seen more as a writer for boys and I have written and spoken extensively about encouraging boys to read, so definitely, it is important to me. I think I have an innate understanding of a certain type of male character stemming from my teen years. I have often said that writers need to have something to say and mostly I say it to boys. My characters tend to share a lot with me in their interior lives so perhaps the importance to me is the continual exploration of my own masculinity. I‘m very aware that boys don’t easily externalise self-doubt, anxiety and their deeply felt needs thanks to social expectations so it’s important to explore such things in novels about boys which boys can quietly delve into as a counterbalance.

You’ve written many books, including award-winners. Could you tell us about some?

My earliest award winners were ‘Dougy’ and ‘Gracey’ which seemed to strike a need at the time to understand the experience of Indigenous Australians. Dougy saves his much loved sister, Gracey, from the violent madness that briefly overcomes their small outback town. I continued the story with that sister’s experience when her athletic ability wins her a scholarship to boarding school. Her years there separate her from her cultural roots and she has to re-make her personal identity in order to cope.

bridge to Wiseman's cove‘A Bridge to Wiseman’s Cove’ is the one everyone loves. Winner of the Children’s Book Council award in 1997, it tell of lonely, overweight Carl Matt whose been abandoned by his mother in a seaside town where his family name is roundly despised. When he leaves school to work for and ultimately save a struggling barge service, he finds new strengths in himself and forms the friendships that help him understand there is love and a place for himself in the world.

How else do you spend your time?

I love movies and TV series like Game of Thrones and Breaking Bad. I read, of course, in order to shamelessly steal ideas from other authors. I ride my bike for exercise and I’ve even ridden around Europe, although any image of the Tour de France you might create in your mind is laughably inaccurate.

Which books would you like for Christmas?

I see Anne Tyler has a new book out – ‘A Spool of Blue Thread’. I love her work and Isobelle Carmody has finally finished her grand series with ‘The Red Queen’. But really, I’d like someone to choose a couple of great new YA novels not set in a dystopian land or part of any series and put them under my tree. Christmas is a time I go into bookshops to really look around. I often give books to family as presents (and they do the same for me) and then we end up sharing them around.

All the best with The Beauty is in the Walking (which I’ve reviewed here) and thanks very much, James.Book of Lies



Review: The Unlikely Hero of Room 13B by Teresa Toten

9781406362992The Unlikely Hero of Room 13B is basically described in one word: INCREDIBLE.

Just seriously, wow. This book takes a really honest and relatable look at mental illness (specifically OCD). I got totally sucked in and emotionally tangled within mere pages. It’s only 270-pages and WOAH does it pack a punch.

Basically it’s about Adam who meets Robyn at an anxiety support group and — boom — insta connection. He is dazzled by her and, sure, she’s a year older, but he can work with that. (He is 14. He is a little bit of a silly goose, but endearing.) It deals with the complications of divorced parents, mental illness, family, and first loves and, of course, growing up.

It’s written in 3rd point-of-vew, which sometimes can make a reader feel disjoined and detached? BUT NOPE. I felt entirely in Adam’s thought process. He had a bit of a “bounce” in his step, which was so refreshing to read! Particularly when you know he’s suffering from crippling anxiety. And the book really address it, too! Anxiety affects 1 in 4 people in Australia. Adam is actually trying to get better, too, so the book is uplifting in that he’s going to a support group and working towards managing. It ain’t simple though, folks. COMPLICATIONS ABOUND.

There is also an adorable relationship between Adam and his little 5-year-old half-brother, “Sweetie” (Wendell) who also shows signs of severe-anxiety/OCD. And the kid is only five. Adam is always THERE for his brother.

So let’s talk about Robyn: the love interest! Of course there’s romance, because this is YA, and there’s a good smattering of “insta-love” from page 1. Adam sees Robyn. Adam falls in love with Robyn. I was thinking, “Dude, chiiiill.” But he IS only 14 and he’s so endearing as he goes about trying to be her friend.

Also there’s a superhero vibe. YES PLEASE AND THANK YOU! I am a huge superhero fan, so I loved the little twist of all the kids in the support group taking on “superhero names”. Obviously Adam chose “Batman” to compliment Robyn’s “Robin”. (SO ADORABLE.)



  • That the characters were getting HELP. Often I feel like YA books delve into mental illness, but it’s the path down. What about how-to-start-managing-your-illness?! That’s good info to read about too!! So therapy is painted in a positive light.
  • Did I mention comics?! I love this.
  • The huge focus on friendship. It was PERFECT. Adam was friends to everyone in the support group, despite being worried and anxious and having zero self-worth. So much win in friendship stories!
  • Also the huge emphasis on family. This really is all about family. OH MY FAVOURITE. It was perfectly written and aahhhhh I had all the feels of ever.



Basically The Unlikely Hero of Room 13B is one you need in your life. ASAP. If you want to know what it’s like to live with anxiety (OCD in particular, but anxiety is the root of OCD) then read this book because it’s an A+ representation.


Doodles and Drafts – Making merry with Gabriel Evans

Profile (studio) - Gabriel Evans small (507x640)You may already be familiar with Nutmeg, Bay and Saffron but not in a spicy culinary sense. These are of course, the mouseling children of the Woodland Whiskers family who first crept into existence in 2013 when illustrator, Gabriel Evans expanded his creative prowess to pen the Woodland Whiskers series. His illustrating career begun some years before, however at the tender age of 17. With a level of professionalism and artisanship that belies his age, Gabriel is the artistic force behind my Stocking Stuffer Suggestion # 4, The Mice and the Shoemaker.

In a world where more and more is expected for less and less, The Mice and The Shoemaker is a beautiful acknowledgement of the classic fairy tale, The Elves and the Shoemaker, a tale of kindness begets kindness.

The Mice and the Shoemaker CoverIn this retelling, The Whiskers family tragically find themselves without a home just before Christmas. Grandpa Squeak comes to their rescue, allowing them to board with him under the floorboards of an old shoemaker whose acts of kindness have enriched Grandpa’s life for years. In an act of selfless humility, the Whiskers family decide to repay the shoemaker on Grandpa’s behalf (he’s too wheezy to do it on his own anymore) and in doing so, are rewarded with the best Christmas ever.

With a gentleness that warms the heart more effectively than a cup of eggnog and pop-up illustrations that defy belief, this is a true picture book Christmas keepsake. Luxuriously large page spreads, roomy enough to share with your own cluster of mouselings, depict scenes of glorious measure and infinite detail. Action and spirit abound without a hint of pretention or noise. I think it’s this intentional subtly that I find so alluring. I could not imagine the time and discipline Gabriel invests in his projects, so I invited him to the drafts table to delve deeper into his finely crafted world.

Gabriel is a 24 y/o illustrator creating imaginary worlds through a paintbrush. He’s illustrated over eighteen books. The Mice and the Shoemaker is his third in the Woodland Whiskers’ series.

Who is Gabriel Evans? Describe your illustrative-self.

I’m an illustrator working in a studio full of creative clutter.

I paint in watercolours, gouache, ink, pencil, and any other material I can lay my hands on.

When I’m not drawing pictures I’m growing trees and playing catch with my dog.

Woodland Whiskers The PartyOutline your illustrative style. Is it difficult to remain true to this style?

My illustration style changes all the time depending on the project. However, as soon as I start a ‘style’ for a book I find it easy to maintain that look throughout. I normally achieve this by working on all the images collectively.

The Mice and the Shoemaker has a very classic feel to the illustrations and is in fact the first style I taught myself after growing up on the classic illustrators including Arthur Rackham and E. H. Shepard.

The Mice and the Shoemaker revisits a classic Grimm’s fairy tale (The Elves and the Shoemaker). What compelled you to take on this re-telling?

This story has a very positive message of offering kindness to others without being asked.

Hopefully it will make children realise that helping others can make for unexpected and positive return.

How does it differ from the books you have illustrated before?

Pop ups! All my previous books have been 2D. But this book has the 3D component of pop-up. Suddenly I’m having to paint three layers for one scene. Then enters the clever paper engineers who compile the layers into a 3D pop up. How they do it I don’t know, but it looks awesome!

Do youRoses are Blue enjoy the author / illustrating process better than simply focusing on illustrating someone else’s stories? What excites you most about what you do?

I enjoy both scenarios.

When I write the story I have much more creative control. I write stories from a visual point of view. Normally the picture enters my head before the text does.

Illustrating stories for other authors is equally rewarding. I enjoy the challenge of interpreting an author’s idea.

You artwork is intricate in detail inviting exquisite scrutiny. How does technology influence and or enhance your illustrations?

All my work is created traditionally using watercolours, gouache, inks, and pencils. I love working hands on in my illustrations and haven’t yet found a need to introduce a digital component to my art.

What tip would you give kids eager to embark on a career as an illustrator?

You don’t have to wait until you’ve ‘grown up’ to start your career as an illustrator. Start now. Enter drawing competitions, put your work into school papers, and contribute work to art exhibitions.

What’s on the drawing board for Gabriel?

I’ve recently finished the illustrations for a pirate picture book with Walker Books. The author is Penny Morrison.

Presently I’m mid way through illustrating a picture book for Koala Books.

Just for fun question (there’s always one); if you could be a character in any fairy tale, which one would it be and why?

Umm, I would have to say the Little Pig with the straw house. Sure, it gets blown down by the Big Bad Wolf, but I think this pig was eco friendly and trying to reduce his impact on the environment by building with straw. I don’t think he was considering the slim chance of a grumpy passing wolf with epic lung capacity.

Plus as a pig I’d imagine he’d wallow in mud. I can’t think of a more pleasant way to spend an afternoon!

Me neither, glorious! May any wolves that turn up at your door, Gabriel have sustainable intentions and small lungs. Cheers!

Be enchanted by more magical picture books like The Mice and the Shoemaker by visiting Boomerang’s Kids’ Reading Guide 2015 / 2016.

The Five Mile Press September 2015



Review: Shelter

ShelterPhotographer and stylist Kara Rosenlund spent a year traversing Australia, towing her trusty vintage caravan to homes to photograph based on word-of-mouth recommendations.

The result is Shelter, an exquisite coffee table keepsake with a whole heap of heart.

Shelter wasn’t the book Rosenlund was supposed to write. She had a contract to create another book altogether about vintage caravans (she was into these caravans long before they were cool). But a wrong turn in rural Australia put paid to that: Rosenlund spotted a dilapidated house and was curious about its history, its residents, and how it came to be in the rundown state it was.

By the time she’d found her way home, she was convinced the book she needed to produce was about how Australians live. And she managed to convince her publisher of that too.

I’m generalising, but I think that those of us addicted to Pinterest (I’ll wholly admit I’m included in that group) tend to pin images of houses and apartments from other regions in the world. My own feed is full of New York, Swedish, and other all-white, architecturally designed spaces styled to within an inch of their lives.

Shelter departs from this aesthetic, showcasing real, lived-in homes and their broader, contextualising landscapes. They’re not homes that would necessarily appear in house and garden magazines, but I mean this as a compliment. They’re the homes we haven’t known about and for which images aren’t readily available to pin.

They also depart from the stereotypical ‘outback’ Australian imagery we’re used to seeing. For too long, it’s felt as though our landscape and our lifestyles had to occupy a truly urban or quintessentially outback identity.

Nor did Rosenlund, despite her background, ever style the spaces. She captured them as they were and the book is better for it. Unlike those Pinterest images I tend to pin, which are comparatively sterile or at least impossible to actually live in lest you muck up the aesthetics straight up, you get an unmediated sense of how people live.

As someone who rather fancies becoming a hermit (Seriously, I said that was what I wanted to be when I grew up as early as Year 2. Suffice to say, it didn’t wash well with the teacher I told and I sensed quickly it wasn’t an appropriate thing to say), this book speaks to me.

The bespoke homes, be they made from an old tram or shipping containers or simply an old cottage built from gathered materials, and surrounded by nature, seem absolutely heavenly. Some are lived in full time, while others provide humble getaways. Still others seemed like short-term shelters that have come to be long-term homes.

As a photographer and stylist, Rosenlund has an eye for creating and capturing composition and detail that is almost unrivalled. Her images are textured, detail-rich artworks in and of themselves. The book is wholly hers too. She put together the images and words for it, with the text containing brief tales of how she found the building’s owners.

To encounter Rosenlund (as I did when I attended one of her book launches recently) is to realise how warm she is. She writes in the introduction that she wasn’t sure how she was going to convince people to let her inside their homes. I’d argue that was never going to be the issue—I doubt anyone ever says no to her—and that finding the properties was more likely the challenge. Australia is, after all, a vast continent and the kinds of homes she was keen to photograph were not clustered together in easily accessible urban locations.

That’s evidenced in the continuing theme in the book that many of the homeowners who ended up in the book rarely go into town, have the internet, or check email. Regardless, through persistence and the occasional old-fashioned asking at the local pub, Rosenlund managed to track these people down.

From there, she often found herself often staying overnight and spending time with the homeowners—a far more personal and in-depth approach than most styling and book production practices entail. She writes in the introduction that she would come away from the experience ‘happy, and topped up with human spirit’.

That’s kind of how I feel encountering Shelter. It’s a tribute to lives lived deeply and a brief peek into, and inspiration for, those of us who’ve been seeking out inspiration for new and fulfilling ways to live.

Review: The Life and Death of Sophie Stark by Anna North

9781474603072 (1)This is an incredible read. Mesmerizing, hypnotic, addictive it captures you from its opening lines and doesn’t let go long after you have put the book down.

The book tells the story of Sophie Stark, a reclusive film director. Her life is told from the point of view of those closest to her, recounting the key moments in her life and infused with their experience of her and their feelings for her. Sophie’s life is told in individual vignettes, almost reminiscent of The Virgin Suicides.  Adding to this the films of Sophie Stark have a distinct Sofia Coppola quality to them; dreamlike, lonely, deeply emotional. Sophie Stark has a different way of looking at the world. One that has always put her on the outside, especially growing up. She has always struggled to express herself until she discovers film in college and makes a short documentary about a fellow student (who she is obsessed with) which launches her career.

Sophie’s films break boundaries and conventions and win plaudits and admirers of her work. Sophie not only has an eye for film but also a way to bring out the best in the actors and often non-actors she works with. Sophie herself, as well as her films, have a way of getting people to find things in themselves. But she does this at a cost to her relationships and the relationships around her which only serves to keep her on the outside.

Just like the novel’s narrators you are drawn into the enthralling world of Sophie Stark; her influence, her attention, her loneliness and the power she has to wield these to get what she wants. At times inspiring, at other times tragic this is a truly exceptional piece of fiction.

Buy the book here…

Review: Mockingjay 2 Film

The Hunger GamesI had the ‘I should have re-watched the last film before seeing this film’ feeling about a minute in to Mockingjay 2, the final film instalment of The Hunger Games trilogy. (The last book of which has, confusingly, filmicly been split into two to make the trilogy a kind of quadrilogy.) For I couldn’t remember where the last film had finished and this one, logically, picked up shortly after where the other one left off.

My guess, based on the neck brace and bruising Katniss has in the opening moments and the damage she has to her vocal cords, is related to Peeta’s lunging at her to choke her to death. I vaguely think that’s the cliffhanger the previous film finished on (feel free to correct me if I’m wrong). Even if I don’t remember exact details, what I can immediately tell is that things are extremely bleak—for everyone.

Katniss, of course, is completely traumatised from her experiences in not one but two hunger games and the horrors that have occurred beyond it. Compounding that is that Peeta, her in-game and post-game rock, seems to have been brainwashed slash lost his mind.

For his part, as Peeta continues to be shackled to a hospital bed for security reasons, he finds out his family hasn’t come to visit him because they didn’t survive the Capitol’s District 12 bombardment.

Meanwhile everyone around them is reeling from the ongoing war against antagonist Snow and tense about what is yet to come. Which is, clearly, going to be war-to-end-all-wars bad.

The culmination of the trilogy’s build-up, Part 2 is desolate in an appropriate sort of way. Perhaps more so given the bleakness surrounding us in the world. The Paris attacks took place just days prior to its release, but there’s also been (and continues to be) the relentless run-up of violence and war in places such as Syria, Beirut, and more. I’ll not deny there were moments in the film, such as when planes overhead and launched bombs that killed children, that I thought this was a little too close to reality right now.

Which is apt given that author Suzanne Collins’ aim is not to sugarcoat or lionise war or people’s actions during war. The Hunger Games’ point is that this is the stuff of horror and even good people are confronted with difficult, no-win decisions. Katniss is the protagonist, but she’s far from perfect or even likeable at times, and she grapples with her choices and her complicity in the violence. Peeta becomes unrecognisable as he loses all that makes him him. And no one around them—on their side or against them—can entirely be trusted.

As a side note, there are a lot of hospital scenes in this film, warranted by the sheer amount of violence being inflicted on the characters. I respect the realism, or the near-realism, of it all. Because no one gets through physically or emotionally unscathed.

I have to confess I thought the final book lost the plot a bit (the first two had been utterly outstanding). Or maybe I lost the plot. I don’t know. What I do know is I didn’t understand the pods and their aftermath as they were explained in the book. And I didn’t understand how it all hung together as Katniss and co. worked their way towards the city.

Seeing this aspect of the books realised on screen was what I was most looking forward to with Mockingjay 2. It didn’t disappoint. In fact, it was truly terrifying and gut-wrenching. And claustrophobic. As someone more than a little afraid of enclosed spaces, there was an extended sequence that left me so tense for so long I considered leaving the theatre until it had passed.

The film, like the books, made me pause at the stellarly insightful phrases—too numerous here to list or even remember, but that on their own could be grand statements summarising the tale’s messages. For example, Coin at one stage says that there is no sacrifice too great to make. ‘It just goes around and around…I am done being a piece in his game,’ Katniss says of Snow, that regardless of which side they’re on, they’re all Snow’s slaves and he’s the only one who ever wins.

There were better remarks than those. I just can’t recall them right now because my in-the-dark note-taking was on fleek, which is to say it really wasn’t. I’m sure I pencilled down some wisdom-filled gems, but they’re lost in illegible handwriting or, worse, illegible handwriting written over the top of other illegible handwriting. I really need to learn how to write clearly in the dark. And in a straight line.

Some reviewers have claimed the film starts slow, but I have to admit I didn’t find it that way at all. I’d argue Mockingjay 2 is pensive, not slow, as it tries to avoid drowning the books’ sombre messages in pyrotechnics and 3-D show.

If nothing else, the film, more so than the books, cemented for me that it was right for Katniss to end up with Peeta. (I wasn’t convinced reading the books and thought it was still all up in the air.) And despite the film’s required darkness, it still fit in some trademark black humour, including when we hear: ‘Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the 76th Hunger Games.’

Essentially, I’m giving this rendition of beloved books a thumbs up. I’d like nothing more now than to curl up and re-read the trilogy to compare notes on what was included, what was skipped or altered, and to tackle those scenes with the pods now I have a clear visual representation of what they are and how they played out.

Review: The Wrath and the Dawn

9780399176654The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh is now solidly one of my all-time favourites. Wow…just…how do I even sum up my love for it?! It’s beautiful and visually delicious and the characters were absolute perfection.


Every dawn brings horror to a different family in a land ruled by a killer. Khalid, the eighteen-year-old Caliph of Khorasan, takes a new bride each night only to have her executed at sunrise. So it is a suspicious surprise when sixteen-year-old Shahrzad volunteers to marry Khalid. But she does so with a clever plan to stay alive and exact revenge on the Caliph for the murder of her best friend and countless other girls. Shazi’s wit and will, indeed, get her through to the dawn that no others have seen, but with a catch…she’s falling in love with the very boy who killed her dearest friend.She discovers that the murderous boy-king is not all that he seems and neither are the deaths of so many girls. Shazi is determined to uncover the reason for the murders and to break the cycle once and for all.

Okay, but let’s pause a moment and let me tell you the story of how I have history with this particularly tale. When I was 12 I was obsessed with Shadow Spinner. I reread it copiously. So when I saw the Wrath and the Dawn existed, I knew I had to have it. But expectations were high! I’m so grateful The Wrath and the Dawn really stuck to the original story, but embellished it so beautifully. My high expectations did not come crashing down.

It’s a fantasy, but with a pinch of magic and a lot of Persian culture. I love this. There are also hints of magic, which I’m sure will come out more in the sequel. And there was such delicious description of the Persian dishes. I nearly died of starvation just reading it.

…setting plates of food in front of each guest — aromatic rice with fresh dill and split fava beans, lamb simmered in sauce of turmeric and caramelized onions, skewers of chicken and roasted tomatoes, fresh vegetables garnished with mint and chopped parsley, olives marinated in fine oil, lavash bread with rounds of goat cheese and seemingly endless sweet preserves…(pg 252)

Excuse me while I eat this book.

All of the writing was witty and fast-paced. Every word MATTERED and the sentences were short and biting. It’s also narrated by a lot of people. I think this totally expanded the view of the world. Shahrzad was the main protagonist. She was so small and sassy and had a big mouth and a sharp wit. Shahrzad could be sweet…if she wanted to. But her spunk and snark totally hooked me in. Then there’s Khalid, the “monster” boy king. Since he kills a girl every night, he’s got to be EVIL, right?!! I figured there’d be more to that story than meets the eye. I was so curious to know what it would be.

And the romance between Khalid and Shahrzad was absolutely swoon-worthy. It was so adorable and perfect and I have zero complaints (lets face it, I have no complaints about anything in this gorgeous book). I ship it! It was a slow attraction and it so sweet. Khalid busted out with these incredible soliloquies at the end. And, omg, there goes my heart.

Basically it is the most perfect book in the universe. It was everything I wanted in this favourite tale of mine. The writing was delicious and the characters all stole my heart. So if you’re still unsure whether to read this or not, let me give it to you straight: this book is absolutely incredible and you need to try it! GO! GO!


Player Profile: Louisa Bennet, author of Monty and Me


Monty and Louisa Bennet author (1)Louisa Bennet, author of Monty and Me

Tell us about your latest creation:

Quirky, charming and whimsical, a laugh-out-loud mystery with four legs and a tail, Monty & Me is a ‘must have’ for all animal and humorous fiction lovers.

9780008124045You might think that dogs can’t understand us… but you’d be wrong. Apart from an obsession with cheese, Monty is a perfectly rational animal. So when his beloved master is murdered, Monty decides to use his formidable nose to track the killer down.

Luckily he manages to find a home with Rose Sidebottom, the young policewoman who’s investigating the case. But with her colleagues turning against her, and the wrong man collared, she’s going to need a little help…

Ever wondered what your dog is really thinking? You’re about to find out.

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

I’m from England but I have lived in Australia for sixteen years.

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

I always loved jotting down stories as a child but because of my love of dogs, I liked the idea of becoming a vet.

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

I also write thrillers as L.A. Larkin which couldn’t be more different from Monty & Me. With every book I write, I strive to improve on the last. I take great pains to ensure my readers get a well plotted, well written book with engaging characters. Monty & Me was enormous fun to write but it was a challenge because the primary narrator is Monty, the dog detective. So I had to imagine the world from a dog’s view point and create a credible canine voice, a dog terminology and history. I also worked closely with a retired detective chief superintendent who advised me on the crime-solving process and police procedures.

As Monty & Me is the first in a series, it was important for Monty, and the young detective, Rose Sidebottom, to be lovable characters that readers want to continue following into the next book. Given all these challenges I think that Monty & Me is my best work so far.

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

I have turned a spare room into a Victorian library with floor to ceiling bookshelves bulging with books, an antique desk and burgundy velvet curtains. My two Golden Retrievers sleep on their mats either side of my desk.

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

I read every day. Anything from cozy mysteries, animal sleuths, detective fiction, action, conspiracy and psychological thrillers, fantasy and humour. When I’m researching a story, I read non-fiction books on the topic. For instance, I’ve just finished a book on the U.S. Secret Service.

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

Enid Blyton (Secret Seven and Famous Five), Treasure Island, Agatha Christie, Charles Dickens and William Shakespeare.

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

Elizabeth Bennet. She is why I write my Humorous mysteries as Louisa Bennet, because she is one of my favourite characters – feisty, clever but flawed.

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

I run courses in crime fiction and thriller writing at the Australian Writers’ Centre. I also do what I can to support charities trying to put an end to puppy farming in this country and in the UK and to encourage the adoption of dogs from rescue centres.

What is your favourite food and favourite drink?:

A good curry and a good beer.

Who is your hero? Why?:

Nelson Mandela because he kept going, no matter the opposition and his personal suffering.

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

To manage two new book series’ – The Monty & Sidebottom Mysteries and a new thriller series, featuring Olivia Wolfe, an investigative journalist.

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Freya Blackwood’s Books Make the Perfect Gift

It’s true. You can’t deny it. Freya Blackwood‘s art is so exquisite that whether it’s for a Christmas or birthday gift, or a ‘just because I want it’ gift, every household should own a piece of her talent. And of course, coupling with superb artists of writing makes purchasing decisions all that much easier. Two of the many books on this year’s Kids’ Reading Guide list are ‘The Cleo Stories: A Friend and a Pet’ and ‘Perfect’, both illustrated by Freya Blackwood.  

imageThe collaboration between Freya Blackwood and Libby Gleeson continuously impresses, with previous winning titles including ‘Clancy and Millie and the Very Fine House’, ‘Banjo and Ruby Red’ and ‘Amy and Louis’. Also on the awards list is ‘The Cleo Stories: The Necklace and the Present’ (review) with its success for Younger Readers in the 2015 Children’s Book Council Awards. Following on with another beauty is the second in the series; ‘The Cleo Stories: A Friend and a Pet’.  

Text and illustrations once again work harmoniously, beautifully connecting emotion, energy, playfulness and a sense of familiarity and everyday life. The colourful, pencil sketches throughout this hardback chapter book are delightfully engaging and appealing to its intended audience; perfectly relatable as a read-alone or read-aloud experience.  

In A Friend, Cleo has nothing to do on a rainy day, and cleaning her room just doesn’t appeal. But her parents’ patience with her food-splattering, mascara-splashing ways are wearing thin. Cleo is a fun-loving, creative and resourceful little girl with a big imagination. How will she overcome her boredom? In A Pet, Cleo’s friend Nick, and the rest of her class (almost) have a pet. But not Cleo, and she is desperate to have one. When her parents refuse Cleo is disappointed, but her inquisitive and rational nature leads to a win-win solution for all.  

imageThe authenticity of the conversations and actions in the stories effectively translate through Freya’s illustrations. When Peanuts the puppy pees on Cleo’s dress, you can see that real shift from gentle comforting to true frustration (and the puppy’s confusion), all drawn with spot-on body language and perfect line placement. Genius!

‘A Friend and a Pet’ is a book packed with genuinely heartfelt, and humorous moments, encouraging readers from age six to explore their own imaginative and creative sides, just like the loveable Cleo.  

Allen & Unwin 2015.  

image‘Perfect’, written by Danny Parker, explores a wonderfully carefree Summer day for three little children and their cat. This picture book, aimed at the early childhood age group, oozes beauty and tranquility, radiance and tenderness.  

With Danny Parker‘s expressive, poetic verse, accompanied by Freya Blackwood‘s soothing, soft shades of blues and yellows, you can’t help but feel a sense of transcendence wash over you with each page turn. Sunshine and baking, construction and balancing, fresh air and cool shade, windy skies and ‘one great big day’. We are taken on this joyous path as the children wander and explore the beautiful seaside beside their lush green country town, and then settle for a snuggle and a night-time dream.  

imageI adore Freya’s magical pencil and acrylic illustrations that enlighten all the senses, and her beautiful way of capturing light and movement through sequences, texture, depth and perspective.

A ‘Perfect’ resemblance of the spirit of childhood, the warmth of togetherness and the refreshment of a cool breeze on a balmy Summer’s day.    

Little Hare Books 2015.

Boomerang Book Bites: The Mark and the Void by Paul Murray

This is essentially a comedy set in a Dublin investment bank post-Global Financial Crisis. While there doesn’t seem to be much to laugh about the financial crisis in Europe Paul Murray has written a witty and insightful novel that will have you in stitches. At the same time he blurs the lines between the reader and the writer with a meta storyline that doesn’t just have everything come full circle upon itself but creates an almost helix that keeps going even after you finish the book!
FREE Shipping. Save $6.95 when you use the promo code bookbites at checkout

Stocking Stuffer Suggestions # 3 – Perennial Christmas Crackers

So, you’re torn between traditional sensible titles and contemporary crazy reads to fill your under 12 year-olds’ stockings. Why not splash out on both and please everyone. Here are some more stocking stuffers to complement the rollicking fun ones Romi featured in her Christmas inspired picture book round up. Time to get your Santa on.

We Wish you a Ripper ChristmasAnd what a Santa we have first up. Colin Buchanan and Greg Champion shine again in We Wish You a Ripper Christmas. Sing-a-long to this Aussie bushed inspired slice of summer fun. Santa Wombat is all in a fuddle after losing his delivery list. As he streaks across a burnished outback sky in search of his all-important catalogue for kids, he encounters the bush inhabitants madly making merry in readiness for Christmas day; koalas hanging tinsel, galahs rockin’ on, dingos wrapping thongs – well of course. But will he find his list in time? Choice watercolour illustrations by Roland Harvey, link-arms, sing-a-long tunes included on a CD and a surprise ending make this the perfect picture book gift for international visitors or your own tribe in here in Oz.

Scholastic Australia 2013

What does Santa Do when it's not Christmas What does Santa do When it’s not Christmas? is the question author illustrator Heath McKenzie puzzles in his Chrimbo-themed picture book released last year. McKenzie’s meticulously detailed illustrations glitter with festive cheer long after the last gift is delivered. Readers embark on a thrilling behind the scenes tour of the North Pole like never before where we are privy to the machinations of the Christmas Tree Angel aka gift trendsetter and planner, the Sleigh Pit Crew, the tireless Elves and the grunt and muscle of the Sleigh pulling team aka Santa’s Reindeer. Bubbling with fun and enigmatic suggestions, we never really truly find out exactly what Santa gets up to but can be sure that he’s always somewhere close by. Wink wink, say no more. Highly recommended fun for lower primary schoolers.

Scholastic Australia 2014

Santa's SecretI think Mike Dumbleton and Tom Jellett may have uncovered the truth with Santa’s Secret. This splendid little picture book allows Santa one day to recover after a rather intense night of labour (2 billion pit stops no less) before he sets off on a flight to balmier climes. Forsaking fur-trimmed coat and winter jocks for a pair of boardies, straw hat and obligatory Hawaiian shirt – push pineapple if you please! – Santa lobs up at an old Aussie beach shack. He stashes the reindeer round the back, then…gets out, and cuts some cranking waves aka surfs, until the sun sets. True to his nature however, Santa doesn’t just leave with surfboard in hand, oh no. Ho ho ho! Delectable Aussie flavour ripples throughout this jaunty Christmas tale. You’ll love it and so will the kids.

Random House 2012

Christmas at Grandad's FarmI love jingling my bells at Christmas time, who doesn’t? Claire Saxby and Janine Dawson have given young readers and me all the excuse they need to ‘jingle all the way…’ with Christmas at Grandad’s Farm. Loud, bold, bouncy rhythmic verse catapults this familiar tune to new heights as we visit Grandad’s Farm for some festive fun. The whole family is there, busting for a swim in the country creek and scoffing the Christmas treats before collapsing in the obligatory heap on the couch. Good old-fashioned Aussie festive fun. Some things never change. Only a CD would make this classic better.

The Five Mile Press 2013

Queen Victoria's ChristmasSpeaking of classics, ever wondered how some of our most endearing Christmas traditions came into being? Jackie French and Bruce Whatley’s Queen Vitoria’s Christmas endeavours to disclose a few historical truths in this must-have Christmas classic. Portrayed from the royal canines’ point of view in loping verse and muzzle-high perspective, the mysterious behind door going ons in the palace home of Queen Vic and Al and their five children are eventually explained but more mystery ensues following the disappearance of the Christmas turkey. Jolly and droll, this is history served up with all the best bits included.

HarperCollins Australia 2012

A very Sparkly ChristmasLittle readers who revel in sparkles and flickering lights, sugar plum fairies and stars shining bright will adore this look and find book by Anna Pignataro, Princess and Fairy A Very Sparkly Christmas. Festooned with more glitter than a winter wonderland morning this follows the quest of bunny friends, Princess and Fairy. They are paw-deep in pre-noel preparations when they suddenly receive notification from the Keepers of Christmas that they are in charge of decorating the tree this year. They hop to the challenge in search of the various baubles, treasures, and delights described on their list. And let me tell you, locating these objects so cleverly secreted within Pignataro’s sweeter than sweet illustrations is no sloppy challenge. I’m sure pre-schoolers will have more success than I did and be thoroughly rewarded in glitter and good cheer for their efforts. Crafty, clever, and cute beyond measure, it’ll keep them busy for hours. It did me.

Scholastic Australia 2008

Stick around for Suggestion # 4 where I will introduce you to some hot off the press gift ideas, soon.

Check out the Kids’ Reading Guide 2015 – Picture Book lists here, in the meanwhile.


Review: The House By The Lake by Thomas Harding

9780434023233This is history writing at it’s finest. Taking a small microcosm to tell the story of a country over the last 100 years.

On a trip to Berlin in 2013 author Thomas Harding visited the summer lake house his great-grandfather built. Upon discovering the house in disrepair and scheduled for demolition Harding began researching the history of the house and it’s occupants. Harding traces back the story of the small village and the estate that the house is built in and then tells the story of each occupant.

Following the First World War a young doctor builds the house as a weekend and summer escape from Berlin. Following the Nazis’ rise to power in the 1930s they are forced to give up the house and flee to England. The house changes hands again following the Second World War as Berlin and Germany is carved up by the victorious Allies. The building of the Berlin Wall literally cuts the house off from the lake. And after the wall comes down and Germany is reunited the true owner of the house is hotly disputed until Harding pays his visit in 2013.

Telling the story of Germany through this one house gives a new and deeply personal perspective of what has happened in Germany in the last 100 years. From the turmoil of the Weimar Republic to the rise of Nazism to The Stasi and the end of the Cold War this book shows how history affected the people living through like no other book on the subject.

This is a marvelous piece of non fiction and I am reliably informed the author’s previous book Hanns and Rudolf is even more outstanding. I can’t wait to read it too.

Buy the book here…

Australian YA: Sue Lawson and Freedom Ride

Meet Sue Lawson, author of Freedom RideSue Lawson

Thanks for talking to Boomerang Books, Sue.

It’s a pleasure, Joy, thanks so much for asking me.

Where are you based and how involved are you in the world of children’s and YA lit?

We moved to Geelong two years ago from a smaller regional town. Though we loved our life in that time, it was time to move, and it’s been a great move on so many levels. I’m loving the access to so many beautiful beaches, an incredibly sourced and staffed library, and, well, all Geelong has to offer. The proximity to Melbourne is another huge bonus, which not only makes catching up with friends easier, but makes attending many more literary events and festivals of all descriptions. And our friends from our old home are nearby.

I’m passionate about children’s and YA lit, the readers and connecting readers with books. I’m a member of wonderful organisations like SCWBI and CBCA Victoria, but my ability to support and be involved with them has been curtailed for health and family reasons of late. I’m hoping there will be a time when I can devote more energy to the CBCA, particularly. I’m fortunate to be asked to visit schools, present at festivals and other events, which gives me the chance to work with and listen to young people, and to spread the love about reading and writing. For me, it’s all about creating readers.

Freedom RideWhere and when is your most recent YA novel, Freedom Ride, (Black Dog Books, Walker Books) set and what is its major concern?

Freedom Ride is set in fictional Walgaree, a small town in country NSW, at the end of 1964 and start of 1965. It culminates with the Freedom Ride, led by Charles Perkins, arriving in Walgaree. The Freedom Ride was organised to highlight and protest the treatment and the living conditions of Aboriginal people.

It is an era I knew very little about, I’m ashamed to say. My research broke my heart, and angered me on so many levels, especially as I had no idea how bad it had been, and continues to be. I wanted to explore how a teenage boy, who knew so much of what was going on around him was wrong, yet didn’t have the power change anything, might behave.

How do you think Australian attitudes have changed since this time?

How long to do you have?

I think, hope, we are moving forward, but we have such a long, long way to go. Until Australia as a nation acknowledges the treatment, the abuse and wrongs Aboriginal people have endured, as painful as it is, true healing can’t occur. I am absolutely no expert, I just come from the belief it is the right thing to do.

How did you create your major protagonist, Robbie?

I knew I wanted Robbie to find the courage to stand up to not only his father and grandmother, but to his friends and the Walgaree community. I love that quote attributed to Edmund Burke, that the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing. Though Robbie’s stand is tiny in the scheme of things, if each of us stood up, then it’s a start.

To create Robbie, I started with beliefs and attitudes, and how his conflicted with his father and grandmothers’ opinions. I wanted him to feel alienated at home, so that when he encountered the accepting and generous Barry, he was open to the contrast.

As always, I create character profiles and collages for my major characters. Doing this helps me get beneath my characters’ skin and know them as well as they know themselves.

What values or qualities are important to your characters?

That varies, depending on the character and the story. For Robbie, his sense of right and wrong was important, as was his honesty and courage. Hope was vital too.

Actually all my characters have buckets of courage and hope – they need it survive the turmoil I make them face!

It’s also important to for me to understand their motivations – from Robbie to his friends, to his grandmother – I need to know why they behave as they do. That helps me be more compassionate, especially when the overwhelming urge to slap them (Nan!!) is hard to control…and I am the least violent person!

Your writing is clear and engaging. Do you work to achieve this clarity or is it your natural style?

Oh, gosh, thank you.

My husband’s grandmother had an expression I love – talks as her guts guide her.

Well, I think that’s me. I write as my gut, or heart, guides me. I get it down then edit, edit, edit, and pare back as much as I can. I’m so lucky to have worked with and continue to work with incredibly supportive editors and publishers – Karen Tayleur, Maryann Ballantyne, Andrew Kelly and Helen Chamberlin especially – who trawl through the quagmire and find the essence of what I am trying to say. Sometimes they get it way before I do!

You’ve written many books. Could you tell us about some, including After, which is one of my favourites?After

Thank you! I love Callum and After. He is possibly one of my favourite characters…but then Pan is so damaged, and what about Dare You‘s Khaden?

All my books explore how young people cope in horrid situations, usually every day, situations. I love exploring that time when we discover who we truly are, and find the courage to be true to that. Pretty sure I’m still working on it.

After deals with a boy who had it all – popular, legend status at a big, city school etc, etc, but one incident changes his life forever. After was sparked by a 100 word newspaper report about a horrific incident, which I can’t detail without giving away the book. It started me thinking about how a young person ever came to terms with what had happened.

Pan's whisperPan’s Whisper was sparked when I started wondering why two people can live the same experience but remember it so differently. And what role does age play in the recall?

You Don’t Even Know is about judgements and stereotypes, fitting in, grief and courage. That Alex!

Yes, I do become very attached to my characters!

All of my books start with a question, or series of questions and develop from there.

Apart from writing, how else do you spend your time?

I work part-time for Bay FM, the Geelong commercial station. I was a radio announcer in a past life, as well as a teacher! The radio job is so much fun, and I get to do a book review and interview my talented friends!

I love to hang out with my husband and daughter and friends, read (surprise!) and watch movies. I have a serious stationery addiction, (the gorgeous staff in our Kiki K know me by name…I know!! It’s tragic!) and being at the beach.

Which books would you like for Christmas?

Right, strap yourself in!

The Strays – Emily Britto…I know, I haven’t read it yet!!!

The Eye of the Sheep – Sofie Laguna – I read it a while ago and LOVED it. That Ned! He is unforgettable. I need to read it again…slowly and savour each bit.

All the Light We Can Not See – Anthony Doerr – a friend recommended it!

Zeroes – because Margo Lanagan is one of the authors. Her writing is incredible!Zeroes

Big Blue Sky – Peter Garrett – I am a Midnight Oil tragic.

The next Game of Thrones…for the love of God, George Martin…hurry up!!!!

Like one of those demtel ads, there is more, but that will do. Notice there aren’t many YA novels on the list? I buy them straight away. Just finished Vikki Wakefield‘s new one. Man, she is one hell of a writer!

(See my review of  Vikki Wakefield’s In-between Days)

All the best with Freedom Ride, and thanks very much, Sue.

Thanks, Joy!

6 Young Adult Books That Use Illustrations

Is it possible to grow out of picture books? Because I HAVEN’T YET. The highlight of my week is taking my pre-schooling niece and nephew to the library and getting to reread all my favourite childhood picture books. Young Adult books are totally missing out. Seriously.

But there are some YA books that make use of art and illustrations to help tell the story. And I praise the bookish universe for their existence. There should be more of this! Huzzah!



  • ILLUMINAE: This book is brand new (released just a few weeks back!) and it. is. amazing. It’s a sci-fi but it’s told purely in transcripts, instant messaging, emails, and diagrams. Yup, that’s right folks. SOLELY. So there are pictures of space ships in here. Space ships I tell you. It’s glorious! Plus the book felt like reading Star Trek but with sassy teens and zombie-viruses.


  • INK: I raved and hugged this book in a review a few weeks back, and I pointed out (um, basically I screamed about it) the fact it had illustrations! Not many! But every few pages we got an inky, calligraphy sketch that just added to the story so, so much. Particularly since Ink is focused on Japanese culture and art — it just worked SO WELL.


  • A MONSTER CALLS: Oh this book has some of the most beautiful illustrations of ever. The artist is Jim Kay, who also does copious illustrations for Harry Potter (!!). I just love his depiction of the dark tree monster. Also, fair warning, but this book will probably make you cry.


Hugo Jacket(cs2).indd97805454486809781594746031

  • THE INVENTION OF HUGO CABRET: This book is a great big blob of WOW. I’m particularly fond of that reaction to books, I might add. And you might have heard of it from the movie?!? The movie is only called “Hugo” (and stars Asa Butterfield and Chloe Grace Mortez) but it’s exceptionally beautiful and I recommend you go swallow it immediately. Go! Go! NO WAIT…finish this post first because I have more picture-y goodness to show you. But The Invention of Hugo Cabret is set in Paris and is about clockworks and orphans. Quite a huge hunk of the book is told solely in black-and-white pencil drawings!
  • THE MARVELS: Speaking of HugoThe Marvels is by the same author. But this time it’s not just a smattering of pictures…HALF THE BOOK is done in pictures!! The first 400 pages are drawings! It flows so seamlessly and for a while I forgot I wasn’t even reading because the pictures told the story so strongly and well. Also you might want to take a moment to admire the cover. Pet it a little even. Don’t worry, I won’t judge. It’s gorgeous.


  • MISS PEREGRINE’S HOME FOR PECULIAR CHILDREN: This is kind of cheating because the illustrations are photos instead of drawings. But just pause with me for a second — PHOTOS. The photos play a huge part in the story and they’re absolutely…weird. They’re really old vintage photos of “freaks” and human oddities. Like just check out the girl on the front cover who is levitating…okay. YAY. And freaky. Definitely an illustrated book to snabble up!


Would You Like To Win A $2000+ Book Pack This Christmas?

We’ve got a MASSIVE sack full of books worth over $2000 to give away to one lucky customer!

And we’re not talking about a pile of slow-moving titles; we’re talking 40+ new release, best-selling titles, including books by Ian Rankin, Geraldine Brooks, Donna Hay, Jo Nesbo, Tom Keneally, Shaun Tan, Bill Bryson, Peter FitzSimons, Adam Spencer, Robert Harris, Kate Atkinson and Don Winslow.

Imagine landing this fantastic sack of books in time for Christmas!

How do I enter?  It’s easy!

1. Order a book from Boomerang Books between now and 5pm AEST on Friday 18 December 2015.

2. At the checkout, enter and activate the promotional code santassack (or any of the other qualifying promotional codes that we publicise between now and Christmas).

3. Using the promotional code on your order will give you an entry in the Santa’s Sack draw PLUS you’ll get free shipping on your order (a saving of $6.95).  The more orders you place, the more entries you get in the draw!

PS. We’ll also throw in a soccer ball and a signed Tim Cahill shirt 🙂


Terms and conditions here… 


Christmas is Coming – Picture Books this Season

What does Christmas mean to you? Is it the sound of excited squeals on Christmas morning? Is it the smell of freshly baked cookies? Is it the sight of twinkling fairy lights around your Christmas tree? Or perhaps that satifying feel of a bloated belly after you’ve tasted every gourmet delight! Here are a few picture books for this coming Christmas to help elicit all those fond memories, create new ones, and enrapture all the senses.  

imageWhat Do You Wish For?, Jane Godwin (author), Anna Walker (illus.), Penguin Random House, 2015.

This one is a little bit special. Perhaps even more so for me because I attended the book launch, and met the superlative duo, Jane Godwin and Anna Walker, whose winning books always put a smile on every face and a glow in every heart. And ‘What Do You Wish For?’ is no different. It’s that all kinds of fuzzy warmth, peace and togetherness that Christmas time really represents. As Jane Godwin said herself, a ‘wish’ signifies more of a statement of fear of loss or of something that will not happen, and her intention for this book is for readers to understand that this time of year is, and should be, one of gratitude.

There is an excited buzz in the air every Christmas. Ruby and her friends always put on a special show in the park, and write a wish to hang on the tree. This year, all the children imagine the most wonderful sentiments, including hopeful dreams of teachers getting married and lego coming to life! But Ruby’s wish is too big to write on a little piece of paper. Her wish is of spirit; it’s made of smells of baking, candlelight amongst the dark, wonderful surprises and quality family time. But most of all, her Christmas wish is one of complete serenity, and a warm sparkle in the sky.   
imageThe combination of Godwin’s inspiring, tender words, and Anna Walker’s beautifully dreamy illustrations is simply divine. I adore the gentle features and cool colour palette with touches of red, and the intricacy of the individually cut paper, watercolour and print spreads. (See Anna’s process here).

‘What Do You Wish For?’ is the most magical treasure for any young reader and their family to cherish this Christmas.  

imageSanta Claus is Coming to Town, Haven Gillespie and J. Fred Coots (authors), Nathaniel Eckstrom (illus.), Scholastic Australia, 2015.

The Christmas song ‘Santa Claus is Coming to Town’, written by Haven Gillespie and John Frederick Coots became an instant hit in 1934. Still widely played to this day, it is a tune that families know and love. Including a CD track performed by our Aussie talent, Human Nature, and the retro tones and classic-look illustrations by Nathaniel Eckstrom, this is a warm book reminiscent of the good old times, and just being good.

Five cheeky jungle animals are getting ready for Christmas Day. Organising cards and presents for one another isn’t always so simple. Neither is riding their bikes to the jubilee. But if the young ones can remain cool, calm and happy, and remember the all-important event, Santa Claus will come to town and distribute gifts to those most deserving.  

Parents will definitely appreciate this timely reminder to their kids, but particularly will enjoy the lyrical melody and smooth voices of Human Nature. And the humorous, playful illustrations will certainly be absorbed by any preschool-aged child. ‘Santa Claus is Coming to Town’ is a must-have for your stocking this Christmas!  

imageWe’re Going on a Santa Hunt, Laine Mitchell (author), Louis Shea (illus.), Jay Laga’aia (performer), Scholastic Australia, 2015.

A sure-fire way to get kids engaged in a story is to add a dash of jingle, a splash of rhyme and the ‘presence’ of familiarity. In this jolly Christmas adventure, the bonus music CD with the voice of Play School’s Jay Laga’aia, and the structure of Michael Rosen’s ‘We’re Going on a Bear Hunt’, (see similar titles by Laine Mitchell), all mixed with the gaiety of the festive season makes for a guaranteed hit with its readers / listeners.

‘We’re Going on a Santa Hunt’ takes five adorable arctic animals on a mission to deliver their letters to the ‘jolly one’. They bound through dark train tunnels, tinsel and swishing trees, herds of reindeer, the elves workshop, and sooty chimneys, because of course they couldn’t go over or under them! But upon catching a glimpse of the figure in black, white and red, it’s a frantic bolt back through the elements and straight into bed!

Energetic, vivacious, fun and full of thrill, ‘We’re Going on a Santa Hunt’ is a preschooler’s literary and musical delight that is bound to create excitement (and perhaps some havoc) this Christmas time.  

imageChristmas For Greta and Gracie, Yasmeen Ismail (author, illus.), Nosy Crow UK, 2015.

Greta is Gracie’s older (and bigger) bunny sister. She is also extremely chatty, a little bit bossy and a lot impatient. The girls love everything about Christmas, but especially Santa. Gracie is meticulous, quiet and little, but she has a big curiosity. When she asks her sister all about Santa, Greta always has the answer (or so she thinks!). On Christmas Eve, whilst Greta catches zzz’s, Gracie creeps out of the room – slowly, quietly, sneakily. Who does she find busily working in her living room? And how does she silence her normally loud, talkative sister?

I love the casual, quirky feel with its watercolours and rough edges, and the handwritten dialogue in pink and yellow speech bubbles to represent each character. I also love how the language used clearly identifies the ages of these children; being curious in nature, with an element of egocentricity and brutal honesty.

‘Christmas For Greta and Gracie’ is gorgeously engaging, witty and sincere, perfect for young readers from age three. There are clear themes of sibling relationships, self expression, differences and acceptance, all the while including the magic and imagination of Christmas and its related traditions.  

For more great titles to explore this Christmas, check out Boomerang’s Kids’ Reading Guide 2015 – 2016, and Dimity’s Stocking Stuffer Suggestions.

Stealing Pages From Future Readers

Have you ever borrowed a book from the library, only to discover at some horrifying point, that a page has been ripped out? Even worse, multiple pages? This happened to me recently, while reading Snail Mail – Celebrating the Art of Handwritten Correspondence by Michelle Mackintosh. I was nearing the end of this beautiful book and looking forward to seeing her envelope templates, only to find that some selfish reader before me had ripped all the template pages from the book. I was horrified, angry and disappointed.

I couldn’t believe a library user who would borrow a book about snail mail and sending lovely items to their friends and family to treasure, could also be a thief. Ripping out pages of a book is essentially stealing from the future. They are stealing information from future readers and in this case killing craft projects before they’ve even begun.

In this day and age, there’s simply no reason to tear out pages from a book. Every library has a photocopier/scanner, and they  could easily have photocopied or scanned the pages of interest when they returned the library book. They could have scanned it at home, at work or from a friend’s house. They could have taken a photo of the pages with their smart phone. They could even have traced the templates directly from the book.

Libraries generally allow their readers to borrow a book for 2-4 weeks, isn’t that enough time to make a copy of something you can’t bear to live without? Or heaven forbid, make plans to purchase your own copy?

Tearing out pages in a library book is essentially destroying public property. Libraries are funded by the Government and are for the entire community to enjoy. Stealing from one, damaging a book or defacing property robs future patrons of what you yourself have enjoyed.

The scene from Dead Poets Society when Professor Keating (played by the late Robin Williams) encourages his students to rip out pages from their poetry textbooks is inspirational, however we don’t live in a movie.

When a library book is damaged in this way, it is often taken out of circulation. In this case, the copy of Snail Mail I borrowed was the only copy in the Port Phillip Library service, and after I informed staff of the damage, they advised me they would have to take the book out of circulation and wouldn’t be replacing it. What a shame and so unnecessary.

Snail Mail cover Michelle MackintoshBut it’s not just library books that are being vandalised in this way. Earlier this year I saw a woman tear out a page from a magazine in a waiting room and put it in her handbag. Naturally I confronted her about it and told her she was being incredibly selfish. I pointed out that waiting room magazines are a courtesy and there to be enjoyed by all and she was ruining it for everyone. I don’t think she cared much, but when did we become so greedy and selfish? What does this teach our children?

I’d like to hope that readers of this blog would never do such a thing and I encourage this community of booklovers to stand up to this sort of behaviour if you ever see it happening. Make sure you report any damage to your librarian as soon as you see it, and let’s preserve the reading material around us for everyone to enjoy.

Cuckoo Song – best fantasy award

Fly by NightI remember reading Frances Hardinge’s first novel Fly By Night in a Rome apartment in 2006. I was caught up with 12-year-old orphan girl Mosca Mye and the guilds of the Fractured Kingdom in Hardinge’s alternate 18th century England. I remember almost having to force myself to go outside and explore the sights of Rome. My family, which included teenage twin sons and our teenage daughter, were also engrossed in this atmospheric novel. Fly By Night went on to win the Branford Boase Award and was shortlisted for other awards including the Guardian Fiction Prize.

Hardinge’s sixth, and most recent novel for young readers, Cuckoo Song (Pan Macmillan), has just won Best Fantasy Novel in the British Fantasy Awards, the first YA novel to do so. It’s an extraordinary feat.

Cuckoo SongEleven-year-old Triss and (younger sister) Pen’s older brother Sebastian was killed in the War and Triss has taken on the role of being protected by her parents. Sickly Triss wakes up after falling in the Grimmer. She feels different, with a voracious appetite, dead leaves constantly in her hair and a voice in her head counting down days. As her memory falls into place she remembers that she used to love going to school but her parents thought her over-excited and have kept her away.

Her sister, family scapegoat, Pen knows what happened when Triss climbed out of the lake. She still seems to hate her and wants their parents to think Triss is mad but they form an uneasy alliance when Triss rescues Pen at a moment of betrayal.

Dolls speak and seem to be half-alive, letters are delivered to Sebastian’s desk at night, Triss’s diaries are destroyed and scissors act strangely around her. Sebastian’s former fiancée Violet returns to the girls’ lives. Intrigue coats every plot movement.

Australia’s Cassandra Golds‘s books, particularly The Museum of Mary Child, and Karen Foxlee’s Ophelia and the Marvellous Boy may be closest in style to the moody, gothic tone of Cuckoo Song.Museum of Mary child

The writing in first-person creates a distinctive slant to this tale. The imagery is delectable: ‘Day crept in like a disgraced cat, with thin, mewling wind and fine, slanting rain.’ Triss is a unique character who, like the best protagonists, develops and changes as her story unfolds.

Cuckoo Song is an unusual literary gift for girls aged from about eleven to fourteen. Older readers will also enjoy it.

Boomerang Book Bites: The House By The Lake by Thomas Harding

This is history writing at it’s finest. Taking a small microcosm to tell the story of a country over the last 100 years. On a trip to Berlin in 2013 author Thomas Harding visited the summer lake house his great-grandfather built. Upon discovering the house in disrepair and scheduled for demolition Harding began researching the history of the house and it’s occupants. Harding traces back the story of the small village and the estate that the house is built in and then tells the story of each occupant.
FREE Shipping. Save $6.95 when you use the promo code bookbites at checkout

The Other Side of the World to the World Without Us

Place is conjured in recent Australian literary fiction by Mireille Juchau in The World Without Us (Bloomsbury) and by Stephanie Bishop in The Other Side of the World (Hachette). Australia, in particular, is a land of contrasts with searing heat and cold, and fire and flood. Both these novels establish the effect of place on families and their impact of family and community on each other in these settings. Both these novels paint the major female character as artists having affairs.

Other side of the worldThe Other Side of the World is an assured second novel by Stephanie Bishop, gripping and authentic until perhaps the final coincidence. But England is likened to a ‘land of fairytales … of Hans Christian Andersen and the brothers Grimm… A land of fairies and witches, hedgerows and secret gardens, goblins and magical woods’, so perhaps coincidence here becomes a master-stroke.

When Henry arrives from India (a place also coloured with very different sights and sounds) he is surprised to find that England looks the way it is portrayed in stories. However, he feels displaced, unlike his English wife Charlotte who can’t withstand their transplant to Australia.

Charlotte craves the damp earth, cuckoo calls, foxgloves and hollyhocks of her homeland but finds comfort in Ajax, Kellog’s cornflakes and the Penguin books that she also discovers in Western Australia. Soon she responds to trees: the ‘marbled skin … and the limbs, the branches, all twisted and wrung … [as] the residue of something ancient and explosive and long gone’. She also responds to Englishman, Nicholas, who seems to listen to her and understand her longing.

Stephanie Bishop writes with insight and clarity. Like Mireille Juchau, she references poetry (Henry lectures in it; Juchau’s Jim shares it with his primary school students) and memory and time. Charlotte muses, ‘Events are compressed, days forgotten. In the mind one jumps from one intensity to another, the hours in between elided and lost’.

World without usPainter Evangeline in Mireille Juchau’s The World Without Us, tells her schoolteacher lover Jim, ‘Time isn’t real, only change is’. Her unconventional lifestyle and actions partly spring from her upbringing on a commune, the Hive, but she and her daughters have also been torn adrift by the death of the youngest, Pip. Pip lingered at home after the doctors exhausted treatments, playing truth or dare with her older siblings. Tess always chose ‘dare’, putting herself at risk and finally becoming mute.

Adults and children are lost in The World Without Us. There are unanswered mysteries about fathers and fatherhood and also about the bees whose humming acts as a countermelody to the flitting missteps of the characters. Juchau’s imagery is earthy and often opaque. Writing from multiple viewpoints may cloud the impact of her truths.

Seek out our thriving Australian literary fiction by female authors. It will take you to other worlds.

The Best YA First Lines

Deciding which book to read next can be a minor nightmare. (There are so many! They must all be read! How do we make the decision! Help!) But my mind can quickly be made up if the book has an epic first line. That first mouthful of words is so important. It sets the tone of the book and gives you the voice of the character and an inkling as to the topic. And best of all?! They hopefully leave you shrieking, “More! More!”

Here are some of my favourite YA first lines!


9780545424936Blue Sargent had forgotten how many times she’d been told that she would kill her true love. ~ The Raven Boys

There’s something entirely captivating about this opening sentence. I get an entire range of emotions from, “WHAT” and “WHY” to “THAT’S AWESOME” (because I’m a romantic at heart, clearly). Also this line sets up the clear indication that Blue’s love life is doomed and how will that work out?


9780606148832There was a hand in the darkness, and it held a knife.” ~ The Graveyard Book

Neil Gaiman is basically the master of quirky and scary, but for this book we’re definitely leaning on the scary side. Forget that. We FACEPLANTED on the scary side. Who is holding a knife in this darkness?? What evil is going to ensue???


9780552566001I remember being born. In fact, I remember a time before that. There was no light, but there was music: joints creaking, blood rushing, the heart’s staccato lullaby, a rich sympony of indigestion. ~ Seraphina

This intrigues me an extraordinary amount because I’m left gawping and thinking, “But how does anyone remember being born?!” When a first sentence makes you ask a question, you know it’s on the right track!


9780147514356Looking back, none of this would have happened if I’d brought lip gloss the night of the Homecoming Dance. ~ Rebel Belle

Let me just roll out a list of 2 dozen questions. And I also love how quirky this is! I can immediately tell that the narrator is going to have a fabulously spunky and realistic voice.


9780007115600There was once a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb and he almost deserved it. ~ The Voyage of the Dawn Treader

This was one of my favourite books growing up and this first line was by far the best. There’s always something evilly intriguing about reading books of disagreeable children. And I immediately wanted to know WHY Eustace a) had such a pompous name, and b) why he deserved it.


9781406350487Here is the boy, drowning. ~ More Than This

Something about this utterly captivates me. I think it’s the simplicity of these 5 words…but the impact they punch. Also I have many “BUT WHAT IS HAPPENING” sort of shrieks going on in my head. Excellent. Also, for some reason, the tone fells really sad. Not anxious or panicky…just sad. And I really want to know why.


9781419704284I’ve been collecting bugs since I was ten. It’s the only way I can stop their whispers. ~ Splintered

Because that’s…creepy. Bugs whispering?! I’m immediately intrigued by this narrator and her life which is no doubt going to be slightly creepy.



Stocking Stuffer Suggestion # 2

Do you bite off more than you can chew? One’s tendency for this disparity amplifies at Christmas time, at least, mine does. However, it’s not just at the festive table that choice and over-indulgence can be paralysing. The lead-up to my favourite time of the year is where many choke. The solution? Planning. Break needs, wants, and to-dos down into meaningful, chewable mouthfuls, starting with my Stocking Stuffer Suggestion List. Over the next month or so, I’ll continue to add some Kids’ literary suggestions that you can fill your lists with and have plenty of time to organise before Christmas.

Here is Suggestion # 2 ( # 1 was Sam Wheeler’s mid-grade reader, Mister Cassowary)

SING-A-SONG-OF-SIXPENCE –Sing a long picture books

Flashbacks are curious things. I didn’t feel confident enough to risk the Nutbush but the rush of the wind through my hair as I slid effortlessly albeit awarkedly across a wooden floor so highly polished you’d sworn it was wet, was nothing short of confidence boosting. I am doing this! I am 14 again. I am burning up the roller-skating rink! Turns out, roller-skating is a lot like riding a bike; you don’t really lose the knack as you age, just a bit of grace.

For flashbacks of a more literary sensation, there is plenty to choose from. The offerings are endless and provide buckets of visual and audial stimuli to keep you and your little ones grooving away for hours. Here are some favourites:

Hush Little Possum Hush Little Possum is a gorgeous adaptation of the classic lullaby, Hush Little Baby. Mama sugar glider and her baby are caught in a sudden outback storm, but brave Mama does everything she can to keep her babe warm and dry. Divine illustrations by WA artist Wendy Binks introduce readers to a myriad of Australian flora and fauna while Deborah Mailman sings along in the accompanying CD. Quite special for three to five year-olds.

Juicy Juciy Gren GrassRemember Peter Combe? I do. His advice is to, ‘stay in touch with your inner child.’ Well you can with this CD release picture book featuring his favourites in, Juicy Juicy Green Grass and other fun songs. Blindingly bright, bold and bonkers enough to be loved by the very young and old. I like the Silly Postman best, I just do.

Hokey PokeyYou may have spent many long energetic hours swinging, stamping, and shaking your Hokey Pokey in playgroup and kinder sessions – I know I have, but never like this. Join an Australian cast with Sarah Hardy and Colin Buchanan (on CD) as they jump and shake their uniquely Aussie ways through this beloved children’s song (there’s tongue poking and ear flopping aplenty!) High energy and playful cues to get everyone involved and learning. Love this one.

The Farmer in the DellFollowing a string of popular tune-based picture books, the hilarious Topp Twins, and Jenny Cooper team up again for The Farmer in the Dell. Read, sing, play, live it. These renditions breathe exhilarating new life into beloved old gems. Cooper’s detailed and goofy illustrations capture the verve of each of these classic tunes based on accumulative and comic repetition. Others include, There’s a Hole in my Bucket, Do Your Ears Hang Low and She’ll be Coming Round the Mountain. Oooh, I feel another flashback coming on. High Ho!

Square Eyes coverKiwi singer, songwriter, Craig Smith creates laugh out loud songs that translate superbly into fun and funky picture books. Square Eyes is his latest, illustrated by Scott Tulloch. If you thought The Wonky Donkey was full of character and sass, wait until you meet Mr Square Eyes – a panda with a serious addiction to the old goggle box. An excellent, hi-energy comical attempt to discourage kids from doing less by convincing them to do something more.

10 Clumsy EmusThere are several entertaining remakes of the evergreen song, Ten Green Bottles featuring a billabong of interesting critters designed to get kids counting, moving, and grooving. Well move over silly wombats because here come the 10 Clumsy Emus. Emu fanatic, Wendy Binks illustrates this one with fabulous effect. Laden with astonishing detail, I struggled to find the hidden numbers in every scene, but maybe that’s because I was so hilariously distracted by the emusing (ha ha) antics and expressions of our esteemed friends. No CD needed with this one. Ten out of ten, no less.

The Tortoise and the HairP. Crumble and Louis Shea are known for their perennial favourites in the, There was an Old Lady series. The Tortoise and the Hair is a jaw-splitting departure from these and although not based on a song or nursery rhythm but rather a classic fable, it conjured up all sorts of imagery and tenuous connections to the musical, Hair that I just had to include it. Saturated with satire, animal characters and hidden detail with a punchy little twist at the end, tortoise will have you rocking and rolling over and over again.

The Cow Tripped Over the MoonLovers of classic nursery rhymes will adore Tony Wilson’s recently released, The Cow Tripped Over the Moon. Cow is beset with a high-flying ambition; to jump over the moon but she is plagued with difficulty. Repeated attempts end in disappointment and near failure until her friends remind her, it’s now or never; she will be remembered forever – if she can just get this right. A left of field reimagining coupled with the strong quirky imagery of Laura Wood, makes this a winner.

Itsy Bitsy Yellow Polka Dot BinikiDeborah Mailman makes a tantalising reappearance in Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka-dot Bikini. If you think little ones might find that a mouthful, just watch them cha cha cha and sing along to this 1960’s classic by Paul Vance and Lee Pockriss. A beguiling cast of creatures is perfectly painted by acclaimed illustrator, Kerry Argent including one very brave polka-dot wearing hippo! Suitably capturing all the fun and warmth of a day at the beach.

Silly SquidWithout straying too far from the seaside, children’s author extraordinaire, Janeen Brian, takes us through a rhyming underwater odyssey to rival Homer’s adventure with Silly Squid! Poems about the Sea. Along the way, we meet giant squid, clever octopus, lumbering whales, delicate sea stars, adorable seals and so many more sublime sea-creatures, each showcased in sweet rhyming couplets and accompanied by fun facts. Informative, visually enchanting thanks to Cheryll Johns’ luscious full-page illustrations and utterly delightful. Definitely one to treasure.

Omnibus Books and Scholastic Australia all released 2015

Check out Boomerang’s Kids Reading Guide 2015 – 2016 for more great titles to whet your Christmas appetite.


Get Free Shipping on the Boomerang Books Christmas Catalogue

Looking for great Christmas gifts to buy for your loved ones? Books make fantastic gifts at Christmas time! And to make your job easier, we’ve released our annual Christmas Catalogue.

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Review: Fun Home

Fun HomeI bought Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home tragicomic some years ago despite not really having considered myself a graphic novel reader.

My purchasing decision came off the back of some glowing recommendations from people whose reading opinions I completely value. But then, as so often happens, the book got relegated to the books-I’ll-get-to-one-day shelf of good intentions.

I picked it up recently after a personally devastating few months that left me unable to tackle anything too arduous. After all, an image-led book with minimal but exquisite writing with subject matter about someone whose life was slightly more pear-shaped than my own seemed the fitting choice.

So I found myself reading the memoir about Bechdel’s upbringing and coming out. Her father, an emotionally distant obsessive house restorer, funeral home director, and English teacher, features heavily. He was gay in a time when it was wholly unacceptable to be so and the repercussions for the Bechdel family are enormous. The book also examines Bechdel’s realisation she too was gay and her emergence as a gay woman comfortable in her own skin.

Although covering subject matter vastly different from my own experiences, it proved the perfect book for an imperfect time: little enough text to give my racing mind a rest and strong enough images to help me enjoy the story in a not-too-taxing way.

At once sombre and blackly comic and containing richly wrought images I was admittedly too devastated to completely appreciate, Fun Home is unlike any book I’ve previously read.

‘Like many fathers,’ Bechdel writes, ‘mine could occasionally be prevailed upon for a spot of “Airplane”.’ That is, he was in some ways like any father. ‘…but it was impossible to tell if the minotaur lay beyond the next corner…And the constant tension was heightened by the fact that some encounters could be quite pleasant. His bursts of kindness were as incandescent as his tantrums were dark.’

Are You My Mother?Bechdel conveys the minutiae of life in ways that both provide insight and that seem bittersweet: ‘My mother must have bathed me hundreds of times. But it’s my father rinsing me off with the purple metal cup that I remember most clearly.’

Bechdel’s father died when she was 20 under circumstances that looked accidental but most likely involved suicide. This book is as much her attempt to reconcile his death as his life, and especially his emotional absence even when he was physically present.

It’s recently been turned into a Broadway production that is, by all accounts, utterly, transfixingly stellar.

In researching this blog I discovered that Bechdel has written a follow-up graphic novel. Named Are You My Mother?, a nod to the popular children’s book, it explores her relationship with her mother—something that would be complicated with any daughter and mother, but especially so given her mother was an aspiring actor trapped in a marriage to a man who was gay but who couldn’t openly be so.

It seems to fulfil the one part of the Fun Home story I felt was missing: her mother. Suffice to say, I’ll be ordering that one shortly. But this time, it’s unlikely it’ll go on my to-be-read-eventually book pile of good intentions.

(As a side note, Bechdel is widely credited with establishing the gender inequality-determining Bechdel Test, AKA the Bechdel–Wallace Test, with Bechdel preferring her friend Liz Wallace be co-credited for the concept.

Whichever name it’s called, the test involves asking whether a work of fiction features at least two women who talk to each other about something other than a man. It was apparently intended as ‘a little lesbian joke in an alternative feminist newspaper’, but has since been adopted more widely. It’s presumably helped change both the number of women included in such works and how they’re portrayed.)

Australian Graphic Novels for Christmas

KidglovzGraphic novels for children and young adults are not just comics. Many do have the highly visual elements of comics: multiple panels on a page and text in speech bubbles; but graphic novels are books rather than magazines and come in diverse forms. Many picture books include what I regard as the fundamental element of a graphic novel: framed (or even unframed) panels.

Some book buyers may be wary of buying graphic novels for children, assuming that the content may be ‘graphic’. Of course, content in graphic novels can be ‘graphic’ in the sense of ‘explicit’ but graphic also implies ‘visual’ and it doesn’t take long to flick through a graphic novel aimed at children to check that the content is age appropriate.

How the SunBob Graham is known as one of Australia’s best picture book creators for children. Have a look at most of his books and you’ll notice that many pages are composed as framed panels (pictures inside boxes). Graham’s most recent book is How the Sun Got to Coco’s House (Walker Books). By the second double page, Graham’s story splits into a framed and unframed wide panel showing the sun over an icy horizon. Then it becomes a full double-page spread to show the immense size of a whale, before breaking into three different-sized panels. Graham’s masterful composition and form create a unique reading and viewing experience.

boy bear

Another Australian master of the graphic novel in picture book form is the incomparable and fondly remembered Gregory Rogers. His award-winning ‘Boy’ series, beginning with The Boy, the Bear, the Baron and the Bard (Allen & Unwin) has recently been published as a trilogy. Encourage young readers to explore Rogers’ Shakespearian London and Renaissance Europe. His colour, verve, humour and innovation are breath taking.

TeddyNicki Greenberg is also recognised as a world-class Australian creator of graphic novels. Her latest book, Teddy Took the Train (Allen & Unwin), is intended for younger readers than some of her others such as Shakespeare’s Hamlet and The Great Gatsby, and is ably reviewed here by Dimity Powell.

Australian publisher of Indigenous literature, Magabala Press, is publishing Australia’s first Indigenous graphic novel trilogy. It’s by Brenton E McKenna and begins with Ubby’s Underdogs: The Legend of the Phoenix.Ubby's Underdogs

This has recently been followed with Ubby’s Underdogs: Heroes Beginnings. The stories are set in Broome and will particularly appeal to readers in upper primary and junior secondary school (about 10-14 years). McKenna is a very popular and dynamic figure at writers’ festivals.

KidGlovz (A&U) is written by Julie Hunt and illustrated in black and white by Dale Newman. This is an exquisite collaboration about a young musical prodigy, Kidglovz, who is virtually a prisoner of his uncle and forced to practise and perform the piano. He hears sounds as music and is befriended by tightrope walker, Shoestring, who tries to help him. Kidglovz stands alongside Brian Selznick’s books such as The Invention of Hugo Cabret, Wonderstruck  and The Marvels.

Blistering Australian Literary Fiction

Some Australian female authors are writing blistering literary fiction. Two recent standouts are The Natural Way of Things by Charlotte Wood (A&U) and Rush Oh! by Shirley Barrett (Picador).

Natural Way of ThingsI was fortunate to hear Charlotte Wood in conversation with Ailsa Piper just after I finished reading The Natural Way of Things. This is a searing story about a small group of women who have been incarcerated in the Australian desert. All these women have suffered sexual assault.

Charlotte Wood explained that she had to air the outrage from situations where women have experienced this abuse and spoken out. In many cases they have been left to languish while the male perpetrators have not been penalised or only received the equivalent of a rap over the knuckles. This reminds me of a well-known footballer who admitted to witnessing the group molestation of a young woman and did nothing about it and was later reinstated as a darling of the rugby league fraternity and media. It is beyond belief. Wood has spoken widely about cases she particularly draws on, such as the girls from Parramatta Girls Home who were sent to the Hay Institute in country NSW.

The Natural Way of Things is an extraordinary novel. I have never read anything like it and will remember it always. If you are avoiding it because of the dark content, you may be surprised that it may not be as black as expected. Beauty is threaded throughout the writing. Although harrowing, the book is ultimately empowering of women.

Rush OhKnowing that Shirley Barrett’s Rush Oh! is about whaling in Twofold Bay, out of Eden in NSW, didn’t endear me to reading this novel but a trusted bookseller was so enthusiastic about the book that I plunged in. The novel is absolutely fascinating. It is told from Mary’s point of view. She is the eldest daughter of head whaler, George Davidson (based on a real man) and seems to be falling for new rower and former preacher, the mysterious John Beck.

Much of the story is based on fact, including the pod of Killer whales, led by Tom, who round up humpbank whales to help the men hunt them. The Killers are regarded with respect and affection and are believed to be the reincarnated spirits of Aboriginal whale men.

There’s lots of tension, superb storytelling and an engaging voice.

Either of these novels would make a thought-provoking Christmas gift for discerning readers.

Review: Ink by Amanda Sun

9781848452312I had no idea what to expect from Ink (Paper Gods #1) by Amanda Sun apart from the fact that it was set in Japan. And since I have a love of travelling vicariously through books, I knew I needed it. I completely fell in love with the story and the detailed writing style and the CREEPY INK MONSTERS. I’m now convinced that every book needs creepy ink monsters.

Here is a very quick overview on what goes down in this book:

  • An American, Katie, goes to live with her aunt in Japan because her mum died.
  • Plenty of Japanese culture and food. Which is delicious I might add.
  • There is a dude who draws stuff and it accidentally comes to life in vicious inky monsters.
  • There are gods and paper dragons.
  • The book has artwork inside!! In the same style as the cover (but black and white) and it’s beautiful!

I was tooootally in love with the premise of “drawings coming to life”. Plus they were nasty!? I am so onboard with this. (It reminded me of Inkheart in a way!) The writing was gorgeously descriptive and I could basically see the ink oozing off the pages.

Shall we take a moment to talk about the characters?! I confess, at first I was unconvinced. Katie is nearly a Plain-Jane. She has a few bouts of witty retorts, but otherwise she seemed kind of swept along by the story instead of taking charge. Then of course we meet Tomohiro Yuu who is the resident “bad boy”. He has secrets and scars and can be really rude. Ridiculuosly, Katie is attracted. But. Tomohiro has a smushy little marshmallow heart of gold and I totally found myself falling for the romance despite initially being skeptical. Tomohiro’s character is deeply and excellently written. Katie also has two best friends: Yuki and Tanashi. They were hilarious and I loved every opportunity we got to enjoy their banter. I loved Yuki’s energy and giggling!

9780373210718Also I adored the fact that I had a brief visit to Japan. This is the only Japanese-flavoured book I’ve read, so I enjoyed the quick immersion into that country. There’s plenty of Japanese words and it goes into detail about some festivals and customs and what kind of food they devour (which I appreciated a million percent). They talk about tea ceremonies and calligraphy. They mention bento boxes and futons and go through a temple and talk about Japanese mythology. Basically yes please and thank you to all of that.

The plot is intense! But not staggeringly speedy. There are total awesome action scenes and blood goes everywhere and there are sword fights and kidnappings and all that awesome stuff. But, mostly, the pace wasn’t fast. Most of the action happens near the end.

Overall it’s a GORGEOUS book. I am a sucker for a bad boy meets quiet girl romance, and I loved the Japanese flavours and the magical reaslim. And I adored that there was a paper dragon, even if it was only briefly. Plus isn’t the cover for this book stunning?! Consider me stunned. I plan to get my clammy paws on the sequel, Rain, as soon as I can!



Australian and US YA: I’ll Be There – Inbetween Days

Inbetween DaysSeventeen-year-old girls and their circumstances are portrayed very differently in Vikki Wakefield’s Inbetween Days (Text Publishing) and Holly Goldberg Sloan’s I’ll Be There (Scholastic). Could the authors’ nationalities – Australian and American – and writing style be part of the reason?

Vikki Wakefield uses an Australian regional town setting (provokingly named ‘Mobius’) to forecast the dead-end of Jack’s (Jacklin) hopes for a better future. She has left school to work in a general store but is manoeuvered out of even that lowly job. Her sister Trudy has returned from Europe after leaving home in frosty conditions and Jack moves in with her but that situation is also under pressure.

Jack uses sex to keep her unacknowledged relationship with Luke alive. But she really wants to be privately and openly adored. Jeremiah seems to offer love but can he withstand Jack’s careless treatment?

Wakefield’s rendering of Jack as vulnerable yet tough, knowing yet naive, seems to point to a lacklustre future but can she summon enough self-esteem, resilience and drive to change her prospects?

Vikki Wakefield’s writing style seems particularly Australian in its understated tone. Characters act in particular ways and incidents occur realistically, without gilding but still with interest and engagement. The events in the forest and derelict drive-in theatre offer surprise without hyperbole.

I'll be thereIn contrast American film writer and director Holly Goldberg Sloan’s debut novel (but second to be published in Australia after the wonderful Counting by 7s), I’ll Be There (Scholastic Australia) is written in a heightened style and abounds in idealism and coincidences. Like Inbetween Days it is an affecting read.

Seventeen-year-old Emily is quite protected. She is empathetic and loving. When her father makes her sing the pop song I’ll Be There as a solo at church even though she doesn’t have a good voice, she seems to be singing to Sam, who has walked in off the street. His father is a thief who has kept Sam and his younger brother Riddle out of school and drifting from place to place for years.

Sam is an enigma but is accepted into Emily’s family because of his untrained musical ability. Riddle is  talented at art but is quite damaged, almost mute and with undiagnosed asthma. Emily’s mother develops a bond with him but neither boy can be pinned down because of their strange, antisocial upbringing and the control and vagaries of their dangerous father.

Despite suffering extreme physical trauma, Sam learns that ‘making a connection to a person can be the scariest thing that ever happens to you’. Emily learns that ‘while the world around you obsesses over all the wrong things, you know the secret. You know that there are things that matter, and then there is everything else.’ The words of the title song become even more moving as the book nears its end.

Even though the characters, pacing of events and writing style of these two novels are very different, both stories speak powerfully to their readers. Both ultimately have hope.Counting by 7s

It’s a Dog’s Life – Picture Book Reviews

If you’re anything like me you’ll love a good dog story, especially those feel-good ones of friendship, courage and love. Typically known as our best mates, the canine variety so often teach us about loyalty, responsibility and maintaining a zest for life, and these three picture books certainly contain these elements in their own gorgeous ways.  

imageBob the Railway Dog, Corinne Fenton (author), Andrew McLean (illus.), Walker Books, 2015.

Based on a true, moving story, Corinne Fenton uses a beautiful, poetic tone to tell of the history of the progress of railway tracks across vast Australian landscapes dating back to 1884.

Bound to be rabbit hunters in outback South Australia, a cargo of homeless dogs enter the station. It is Guard Will Ferry who spots a smiling, irresistible pup amongst them – Bob. Bob becomes the Guard’s travelling companion, covering areas from wheat fields through to mining towns, all the way from Oodnadatta to Kalangadoo. For years he’d spring on and out many a train; his experiences expanded along with the tracks being laid. Bob was a part of it all. He befriended many, and even attended a range of special events like the opening of the Hawkesbury River Railway Bridge in New South Wales. Bob was a wanderer. He had spirit and gusto. He was the railway dog that everyone knew and loved, and his photograph remains at the Adelaide Station still to this day.

A fascinating, delightfully written retell of an important part of Australia’s importing / exporting and travel network development, with the focal element being the adorable four-legged adventurer that brings life and excitement to this momentous tale. Matching the lively nature of the story are the watercolour, charcoal and black pencil illustrations with their fine details, movement and energy. Andrew McLean uses suitably muted colours with an almost sepia-tone representing this era with class and perfection.

‘Bob the Railway Dog’ features a strong, loveable character with extraordinary audacity. It is a great addition to any home or early years classroom with a wonderful Australian historical and social background.  

imageDog and the Lost Leg, Carlee Yardley (author, illus.), Walker Books, 2015.

With its charming sewn cotton and fabric characters, ‘Dog and the Lost Leg’ is a story with plenty of humour, interactivity and warmth.

It is always difficult to cope with the loss of something you’ve become quite attached to, particularly when it happens to be one of your legs! When Fox notices that Dog’s problem is caused by his missing leg, they embark on a mission to find it. Meeting other animals at their places of work, each one tries to help by offering a leg from the lost-and-found. Unfortunately, a motorbike boot from Bruno’s shop doesn’t quite fit, nor does a clawed foot from Harriet’s fruit market, and an assortment of tails from Pete the Peacock’s barber shop is definitely not right. A few giggles and some tears later, they finally approach Pip at her fabric shop. The leg that she sews looks a bit out of place, but it is perfect and puts the jiggle back in Dog’s tail.

A simple storyline with simple-looking yet adorable pictures (although I’m sure they would have been a lot of work to create) contains the perfect mix of laugh-out-loud moments and those of compassion from its preschool-aged readers. I can just hear those excitable shouts of “NO!” from the audience as they are questioned, “Is that Dog’s leg?”.

This book is an animated, engaging story of the case of a missing leg. With elements of problem solving, creativity, acceptance and wit, ‘Dog and the Lost Leg’ is a testament to the power of friendship and charity between diverse characters.  

imageThe Complete Guide to a Dog’s Best Friend, Felicity Gardner (author), David West (illus.), Lothian Children’s Books, 2015.

Here is another adorably funny book about dogs but with the inverse view of taking care of your best pet friend; the human.

Contrary to most picture books, this one is written for dogs. As an explanatory, informative text, the canine narrator describes all the important things there are to be known about ‘Best Friends’. But it is the way the pictures and words work together that capture humour and depth, and truly provide an eye-opening experience into the dog’s perspective. For example, apparently it’s alright to sit on the Best Friend’s face while they sleep because it is the dog’s job to wake them up if they sleep too long. Helpful gestures include taking out the rubbish, gardening, bringing in the washing and cleaning the toilet! All depicted with those cheeky, rascally behaviours that humans get annoyed about. But those astute pooches have perfect manipulation skills – the slight head tilt and the puppy dog eyes – works every time! And, dogs, even when the Best Friends do things that make no sense (such as strange haircuts and outfits), it’s your loyalty, protection, affection and love that will always get them on side.  

With vivacious, colourful illustrations that feature a mixture of media including watercolour, pencil and scanned newspapers and fabrics, this book captures a real sense of warmth, familiarity and truth. It contains the best elements about welcoming and loving a pet in your family, complete with all their accompanying antics.

‘A Complete Guide to a Dog’s Best Friend’ fosters an appreciation for our pets in a heartwarming, refreshing and ‘waggish’ way, sure to be adored by anyone from age three.

Boomerang Book Bites: Touch by Claire North

The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August announced the arrival of a very special talent. Claire North maybe the pseudonym for Catherine Webb (and Kate Griffin), who has already published a number of books, but Harry August was something else entirely. It was bold, intelligent, gripping and mind-blowing. Before the real identity of the pseudonym was revealed I was prepared to believe that Claire North could have been any already majorly established author, the writing was that good. With her follow-up novel, Claire North not only confirms that she is worthy of comparison with established authors, she leaves them all for dust.
FREE Shipping. Save $6.95 when you use the promo code bookbites at checkout

DOODLES AND DRAFTS – Carrying on with Sam Wheeler and Mister Cassowary

Australia is home to some exceptionally strange flora and fauna. The ubiquitous tropical heat of Far North Queensland seems to accentuate oddities and none typifies unique peculiarities more vividly than Australia’s heaviest flightless bird, the Cassowary.

Sam Wheeler 2Beautiful yet deadly, the Cassowary is a natural magnet of mystery and misinterpretation so naturally is a prime candidate as the main character in Samantha’s Wheeler’s latest children’s adventure, Mister Cassowary. Wheeler meshes misinterpretation of our native fauna extremely well with action packed, character driven, and emotionally sensitive adventures for readers seven and above.

City bred Flynn, is on a mission to Mission Beach in North Queensland with his dad to ready his deceased Grandad’s decrepit banana farm for sale. He’d rather be anywhere else than stuck in this sweltering sultry backwater with a father he seldom sees and barely knows.

Then he meets Abby and two baby cassowaries that slowly help him peel back the layers of mystery surrounding Grandad Barney’s death and his relationship with Big Blue, the meanest, largest, scariest Cassowary in the district.

Mister CassowaryJammed with intrigue, adventure and more cassowaries than you will find in Australia Zoo, Mister Cassowary is an exhilarating and absorbing read for primary schoolers and animal lovers. I’m rating it as high as or higher than her debut novel, Smooch and Rose, on my got-to-read-animal-story list, and Smooch and Rose was sterling.

Today we trek down its creator, Sam Wheeler and discover even more about the enigmatic Cassowary.

After growing up rescuing animals, Samantha studied Agriculture, worked with farmers, and taught science. Writing children’s books inspired by nature, she hopes to prove that ‘anyone can make a difference’.

Welcome to the draft table, Sam!

Who is Sam Wheeler? Describe your writerly self.

I’m an animal lover and crave the outdoors, green spaces and nature. Given a choice of shopping in New York or trekking Blue Mountains, I’d choose the Blue Mountains any day.

Your books for children centre on animals endemic to Australia. Why is this element important in your writing?

My background is in biology and science, which gives me a strong interest in the environment, and when I hear about what’s in store for our precious wildlife, I feel driven to write about them. They say write what you love, and writing books about animals gives me an excuse to spend more time with the things I love. It’s all about the story I want to tell.

How did Mister Cassowary’s tale evolve?

Smooch and RoseWhen I was writing Smooch & Rose, I was working as a tutor with the Ronald McDonald Learning Program. One of my students had to give a PowerPoint presentation on an endangered Australian animal, and having chosen the cassowary, he asked me for help. But I didn’t know anything about cassowaries! As soon as I found out that the males raise the chicks, the story started swirling in my head.

Mister Cassowary addresses various sub themes such as the FIFO father son relationship. Why do you think this holds significant relevance amongst your young readership?

I loved the parallel: the way the male cassowaries are so close to their young chicks versus human fathers who, because of work and other reasons, can sometimes be absent and distant towards their sons. I think many children whose parents work a lot, or travel away, have felt like Flynn. They may relate to his feeling that his dad doesn’t know who he is, and what he’s capable of.

Do you actively research each of your stories before you write them? What is the most mind-boggling thing you have learnt during the writing of Mister Cassowary?

Yes, I love the research! I travelled up to Mission Beach (North Queensland) twice to research Mister Cassowary, and would go again in a heartbeat. The people up there are so passionate about this beautiful bird, and are trying so hard to save it. I learnt so many interesting things: cassowaries don’t have a tongue, they can swim really well, they can run up to 50km/hour (which is why you shouldn’t run if you see one) they were the most treasured gift an emperor or a king could receive. I also think they can tell the time. Up at Mission Beach, a local cassowary turns up at the local dump at one minute to 10 every morning. The dump opens at 10!

What is the hardest part about giving life and soul to stories like yours?

Making sure they aren’t too preachy and the characters are believable. I have to make sure they’re real people, not just tools to push the issue.

What is on the draft table for Sam?

Exciting times! Two more ‘animal’ books are in the making, plus another special story about a girl who can’t talk.

Just for fun question (there’s always one): If you could be any Aussie animal, which would you be and why?

I wouldn’t mind being a willy wagtail! They always look happy and cheeky, and imagine being able to fly!

spud and CharliOh I can, Sam, I can! Thanks for today. May your flightless bird take off for you, as well!

Mister Cassowary is out now and features in Boomerang’s Kids’ Reading Guide 2015-2016. A perfect stocking filler solution!

University of Queensland Press October 2015


2015 Kids’ Reading Guide Released – Great Christmas Gift Ideas for Kids


The annual Kids’ Reading Guide has been released!

Handpicked and reviewed by Australia’s leading booksellers, the Kids’ Reading Guide showcases all the very best recent-release, in-stock books for kids.

It’s a fantastic guide for Christmas Gifts!

Follow the links below to order your books from Boomerang Books today:
Use the promo code krg15 to receive FREE shipping on your order!
Kids Reading Guide 2015 – Baby & Toddler


Kids Reading Guide 2015 – Picture Book
Kids Reading Guide 2015 – Older Picture Book
Kids Reading Guide 2015 – Junior Fiction
Kids Reading Guide 2015 – Junior Fiction Next in Series
Kids Reading Guide 2015 – Middle Fiction
Kids Reading Guide 2015 – Middle Fiction Next in Series
Kids Reading Guide 2015 – Crosssover Fiction
Kids Reading Guide 2015 – Young Adult
Kids Reading Guide 2015 – Young Adult Next in Series
Kids Reading Guide 2015 – Stuff To Do
Kids Reading Guide 2015 – Information
Kids Reading Guide 2015 – Gift
Kids Reading Guide 2015 – Australian Stories