Boomerang Books Staff Review: The Dry by Jane Harper

DRYThe Dry is one of those books that got the whole team at Boomerang Books singing – and all to the same tune. This is a book we love, and can’t recommend highly enough. Here’s what we thought:


As a bookseller you get sent literally hundreds of reading copies from publishers on a yearly basis so you get very good at choosing which books you will read and which ones you won’t. I’ve just come back into the industry after a ten year break. As a result my reading pile has gone from a very manageable 4-5 books that I planned to get around to at some point to a towering pile of “I have to read these now”!

When Jane Harper’s debut novel, The Dry, turned up in the mail I looked at its bright red cover with the bold claim that it was one of the best books of 2016 and thought- I’ve got at least three other books in my pile claiming exactly the same thing. Then I opened the cover because I wanted to know – was it true?

I shouldn’t have started it because Jon was already reading it and it wasn’t my turn. I only planned to read the first couple of paragraphs. Except that I didn’t. Because I couldn’t stop. So I read 4 chapters and when Jon found out I was in big trouble!! Then we had to negotiate…. it got messy. We took turns.

A small farming community in the grip of drought is rocked by the murder-suicide of a young local family. Farms are failing, tensions are high and almost no one is surprised that the stress has finally gotten to Luke Hadler. It is his final actions which have filled the town with horror.

Aaron Falk returns to farewell his childhood friend but he’s not welcome. His family were run out of town when Aaron and Luke were just kids and he’s never been back. Questions surrounding a 20 year old suicide and Falk’s part in it are reignited and an already tense situation becomes a tinderbox. The community is split and those who wish Faulk gone are not shy in making their opinions felt. All he wants is the truth and in finding that to maybe bring comfort to Luke’s grieving parents….and to himself. Yet finding the truth among so many secrets and lies is never an easy thing.

Jane Harper vividly portrays the harshness and beauty of the Australian landscape and the small-town prejudices and petty grievances which escalate under the unrelenting Australian sun. The twists and turns will leave you in turns gasping from surprise and then in anticipation as each time you think you have it all worked out and you realise you don’t. This is a page-turner in the truest sense of the word. You will not be able to put this book down. The Dry will be one of the best books of 2016.

A single spark is all it will take to ignite a whole town. A single page is all it will take to have you hooked!


This book needs to come with a warning. Make that two warnings. First, once you start this book you will not be able to stop. It is totally addictive. The last book I tore through like this was Gone Girl and The Dry is it’s equal in nearly every way. The second warning this book needs is that people are going to steal it off you. Twice while reading this book I had the book taken from me and twice I had to pry it out of those people’s hands to get it back (deals were done, promises made, all in an effort to get the book back!).

There is already a huge amount of hype around this book. It won the 2015 Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for an Unpublished Manuscript and was the subject of a bidding war between publishers. The film rights have already been optioned by Reese Witherspoon (who is proving to have exceptional taste in books). The advanced reading copies have been sent out six months in advance with the cover proclaiming it “the book of the year 2016”. I am a huge cynic when it comes to statement like that from publishers but let me tell you, everything you hear and will hear about this book will be true. This book is amazing, addictive and will have you gripped, not just until the final page but the very last word.

The Dry is set in the small rural township of Kierwarra. A town on the brink after two years of drought which is rocked to its core after the murder/suicide of a farmer and his family. Aaron Falk reluctantly returns to the town to attend the funeral. Aaron and his family left twenty years ago vowing never to return. His return stirs up discontent that is already swirling through the town. When he begins to take a closer look at the circumstances surround this horrific crime his presence and his digging hits a raw nerve with many who thought they’d seen the last of Aaron Falk and will do anything to keep it that way.

Jane Harper’s narrative sinks it’s teeth into you from the prologue and never lets go. She keeps you constantly guessing about what really happened and who is and isn’t involved. Each chapter leaves you dying to find out what happens next and more than one chapter will end with you gasping out loud. The closer you get to the book’s conclusion the whiter your knuckles holding the book become as the suspense builds and builds. The brutal heat that engulfs the town also permeates every page as does the petty-mindedness that comes from a small town and with a long history of grievances and its own sense of justice.

This is an incredible debut that would be the envy of many established writers. I can’t wait for this book to hit the shelves. It is going to be huge and deservedly so. The Dry is undoubtedly one of the books of 2016 and I can’t wait to see if anything else gets close.

THE_DRY_PaP_banner_620x240px_BUY (2)


You’re going to think I’ve lapsed into hyperbole, ladies and gentlemen, but the truth is, I’ve anything but. In fact, I’m cutting right to the chase, because if you take only one thing away from this review it should be this: until further notice, Jane Harper’s The Dry is the year’s best achievement on the Australian crime writing scene. As far as debuts go, it’s one of the best I’ve read — ever. And as a (newly reappointed) bookseller, it’s a book I can’t wait to put in people’s hands and hearing their reactions the next time they’re in store; probably the next day, because it’s the kind of novel that’ll induce an acute case of binge-reading.

The small rural town of Kierwarra is on the brink. Haunted by its past, and more recently impacted by two years of severe drought, the town is struck by an even greater tragedy following the murder / suicide of a farmer and his family. Federal police investigator Aaron Falk reluctantly returns to his hometown to attend the funeral of his childhood best friend, and his presence immediately stirs latent discontent and animosity amongst certain folk. He might now carry a badge, but there are plenty of people in Kierwarra who’ve never forgotten, and certainly never forgiven Falk, following the suspicious death of another childhood friend. Now he’s back, and digging deeper into the murder/suicide, and unearthing the town’s dark secrets from its past and present.

From its prologue, The Dry latches hold of the reader and doesn’t let up. Aaron Falk remains an enigmatic protagonist throughout; on the one hand, we support his mission for the truth; on the other, we’re forced us to question his involvement in the death of his friend years ago. The plot twists with an assuredness that belies Jane Harper’s ‘greenhorn’ status as a novelist. Her years as a journalist have clearly stripped away the common mistakes made by debut authors. There is a sparseness to her prose, which is complimented by characterisation and a plot of great depth. Frankly, if her writing was any sharper, it would cut.

The Dry is a stylish, compulsive whodunit that will keep even the sagest mystery reader asking questions until the very last page. And by then, you’ll be gasping.

Three Types of Charm – Janeen Brian Picture Book Reviews

Award-winning author Janeen Brian is well-known for her superlative poetry, fascinating research projects and of course, those cheeky dinosaur books. She also has a gifted ability to incorporate important, ‘real-life’ topics into her stories in the most pleasurable and engaging ways. From the farm to the outback and atop the Himalayan mountains, the following three titles encourage readers to open their eyes and senses to worlds other than their own, to perspectives they have never seen, all the while allowing themselves to drift into imaginative and emotional realms.

 imageMrs Dog, illustrated by Marjorie Crosby-Fairall, is a picture book that will undoubtedly inject a large dose of sentimentality into your heart. In this case of sacrifice, bravery, trust and unconditional love, this story will most certainly leave an ever-lasting soft spot for these good-natured characters.

At her ripe age, Mrs Dog has moved on from her role as sheep-herding working dog. So, it’s only natural that she take on a nurturing motherly role when little weak Baa-rah the lamb is discovered alone in the paddock. Not only does Mrs Dog nurse his physical strength, but also empowers Baa-rah with street smarts (or ‘farm’ smarts, rather) and a strong voice. In a tear-jerking near-tragedy, the little lamb triumphs over his fears and uses his newly developed skills to alert the owners, Tall-One and Tall-Two, of Mrs Dog’s fall into the Dangerous Place.

The endearing character names, touching story, and soft textures and warm tones all blend beautifully together to create an indelibly loveable book for all ages. Mrs Dog, with its combined heartrending and humorous qualities, is a sweet and memorable visual and language experience to share amongst the generations.

The Five Mile Press, 2016.

imageIn Where’s Jessie?, Bertie Bear faces his own challenges and braves the harsh conditions of the Australian outback. Based on a true story set in the early 1900s, we are carried along with the raggedy teddy as he is dragged upon camel, whooshed through dust clouds, nipped by wild creatures, and slushed in water. All the while he longs to be back in the warm arms of his beloved owner Jessie. And the reunion is nothing short of miraculous.

With fantastically descriptive language, and stunningly expressive watercolour bleeds and scratches by Anne Spudvilas, the action and emotion of this adventure is truly engaging. Janeen‘s fascination with and fondness of this real-life bear, as discovered at an exhibition at Kapunda, shines through in her words.

Where’s Jessie? is definitely a story worth exploring further, as well as being an absolutely uplifting treasure to cherish for centuries.

NLA Publishing, 2015.

imageHer first hand experience with the children and families in the Himalayan village led Janeen to explore this intriguing culture and lifestyle in her gorgeously fluid collection of short poems in Our Village in the Sky. Brilliantly collaborating with Anne Spudvilas, the visual literacy and language are simply exquisite.

The perspectives of various children intrigue us with the work, and play, they do in the summer time. For these ‘Third-World’ kids, imagination is at the forefront of their industrious lives. Whether they are using water tubs as drums, daydreaming in soapy washing water, turning an old ladder into a seesaw, chasing goats downhill or flicking stones in a game of knucklebones, chores like washing, cleaning, cooking, gathering and building are fulfilled with the brightest of smiles on the children’s innocent faces.

Our Village in the Sky is a lyrically and pictorially beautiful eye-opener to a whole new world that our Western children may not be aware of. With plenty of language concepts, cultural, social and environmental aspects to explore, there will certainly be a greater appreciation for the beauty, differences and similarities between our children and those in the Himalayan mountains.

Allen & Unwin, 2014.

For fascinating insights into the production of these books see my wonderful interview with Janeen Brian at the following link.


Phasmid to Rebels: the 2016 CBCA Eve Pownall Information Books

Phasmid: Saving the Lord Howe Island Stick Insect by Rohan Cleave & Coral Tulloch (CSIRO Publishing) Phasmid

Phasmid is the first children’s book published by CSIRO, and they are very excited about its CBCA shortlisting. The Lord Howe Island stick insect was thought to be extinct, eaten by rats, but just enough survived on Balls Pyramid, a rocky outcrop. The tale of the stick insect, including its successful breeding in captivity, is told from its own imagined point of view. Lord Howe Island is one of the most glorious places in the world and it is great to see it showcased in this thoughtful book.

The White Mouse: The Story of Nancy Wake by Peter Gouldthorpe (Omnibus Books, Scholastic Australia) White Mouse

This colourful historical fiction tells the story of Australian female spy, Nancy Wake, who was a pivotal part of the French Resistance in WW2. Her story is told in present tense, rather than the usual past tense for history. Information is recorded on pages torn from a notebook and the illustrations are a combination of full-page spreads and panels. Gouldthorpe uses the illustrative technique of hatching throughout.

The Amazing True Story of how Babies are Made by Fiona Katauskas (ABC Books, HarperCollins) Babies

Katauskas is a political cartoonist for major Australian newspapers. This book includes diversity in race and sexual orientation. It addresses childhood, puberty, intercourse (not under a blanket as many of these type of books have done in the past), fertilisation, multiple births, IVF, sperm and egg donation, the growing baby in the uterus and birth.

The cartoon style is engaging and adds to the humour, which includes egg jokes such as ‘eggspedition’ and ‘eggciting’.

The author’s credo is: ‘Human bodies do all sorts of amazing things, but making little humans is one of the most amazing things of all.’

Lennie the Legend: Solo to Sydney by Pony by Stephanie Owen Reeder (NLA Publishing) lennie

It’s incredible what children could (or can) do! In the 1930s during the Great Depression nine-year old Lennie rode his pony alone to Sydney for the opening of the Sydney Harbour Bridge. The trip was 1000km; he was away for four months and faced bushfire and flood. Indomitable! The digitally coloured photographs look impressive.

Ancestry: Stories of Multicultural Anzacs by Robyn Siers (Department of Veteran Affairs)

The introduction is a useful summary of the contents of this informative book. Like Ruth Starke and Robert Hannaford’s My Gallipoli, Ancestry stands out from other books about the Anzacs because of its multicultural focus.

A particularly interesting chapter is about Aboriginal Frank Fisher who lived on the Barambah settlement, north west of Brisbane. As we also learn in Sue Lawson’s novel Freedom Ride, authorities on these settlements controlled the finances, work and even marriages of the Aboriginal residents. Frank was treated as an equal for the first time in WW1 but this didn’t last and he was discriminated against on his return. Even his pay was controlled. His son Frank Junior became a Qld rugby legend but wasn’t allowed to play in England under the 1897 ‘Aboriginal Protection and Restrictions of the sale of Opium Act’. Frank Junior’s granddaughter is Cathy Freeman. Rebels

We are the Rebels by Clare Wright (Text Publishing)

This YA text set on the Ballarat goldfields in the 1850s is adapted from The Forgotten Rebels of Eureka, which won the Stella Prize. The original book took ten years to research. Wright has changed the historical record by re-writing history to show the female, Aboriginal, youth and Chinese (the under-represented) versions.

Review: Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo

Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo promises thieves, assassins, heists, and antiheroes. And I am such a fan! Move over heroes…this story is about the dubiously motivated villains who are on a quest for money. And Six of Crows is actually quite dark! I love it when books promise to be dark and actually follow through.9781780622286

Now this is set in the same universe as Leigh Bardugo’s original Grisha trilogy. Can you read Six of Crows without reading Shadow and Bone? YES YOU CAN. The world will make more sense and be deeper, more rich, if you read the other trilogy first. But it won’t affect your enjoyment of Six of Crows!

Six of Crows puts the EPIC in epic fantasy. It’s about a group of thieves off to get the “Big Impossible Haul of Their Life”. They’re all misfits and tortured souls and they spill blood but also have consciences. They pretend not to care about each other, but they so totally do. There are six of them and we read from at least five point-of-views.


“I worry about everything, merchling. That’s why I’m still alive.”


A Brief Look At The Characters:

  • Kaz: He’s the cold hearted mastermind genius who has a plan for everything…he also has a tortured past which makes it very easy to feel for him.
  • Inej: She’s the “spider”, acrobat, and hears and sees everything.
  • Nina: She’s a Grisha, which is another word for a magician. She’s also a bit saucy and definitely sassy and EPIC.
  • Matthias: He is like a bulldozer and hates everything.
  • Jesper: He is dorky comic relief and likes to shoot stuff.
  • Waylan: He’s that secondary character you mostly forget is there, but I’m sure there’s a point to him.

I loved how complex and interesting all the characters were. They all had huge backstories and venerabilities and yet they were icy and coldblooded at times. They worked together and betrayed and they were dorky sometimes. I particularly loved Kaz because of his genius tendencies (because who doesn’t like the mastermind?!) Also Kaz walks with a cane! I read  in the author’s note in the back of the book that this is a reflection of her…because Leigh Bardugo has osteonecrosis. So I felt that was really special that she was sharing her experiences with a) we readers, and b) her main character.

The book is very long, and nearly enters into tedious territory. While I thoroughly enjoyed it, I felt if it could’ve been more concise. Particularly with how much information we’re given on all the characters. It made them all super complex and fleshed-out…but also slowed the plot pace.

I’m in awe of the heist though! I do have a mild weakness for books that involve clever planning and stealing impossible things. There’s a lot of travelling and roadtripping in this book, too, to get to the destination. But plenty of action scenes and gun fire and evil magic. The characters go through a lot and there’s blood and disaster and betrayal. And of course it ends with a cliffhanger. OF COURSE. Authors do like to torture us. We shall wait impatiently for the sequel (also finale) that will be Crooked Kingdom.

All in all, I loved it this epic action adventure! Even though it lacked tightness in the plot (which I crave) I still enjoyed the storyline and the Russian influenced culture. It also had guns and explosions, something that’s not as usual in epic fantasy! I loved the witty banter and the nail biting finale. If you’re a fan of fantasy, this is definitely for you.



2 Awesome YA Books

9781760113803This post is about my two favourite books of 2015. They also happen to be two of the most gobsmackingly awesome Young Adult books I have ever read. They are Illuminae (The Illuminaue Files 01) by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff, and The Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness. Both books have made it onto this year’s Inky Awards longlistIlluminae for the Gold Inky (Australian books) and The Rest of Us Just Live Here for the Silver Inky (non-Australian books).

Both of these books are quite extraordinary in the way they tell their stories. They play with the story-telling format and give us something quite unique.

I’m going to avoid plot spoilers, but I am going to talk about the structure of the books and the way the stories are framed. If that bothers you, better leave now. 🙂

Illuminae is science fiction, with elements of space opera, horror, action/adventure and healthy dose of teen romance. All bundled together in an unlikely way.

Kady and Ezra are teenagers living in a mining colony on far flung planet in the future. When their colony comes under attack they, and the other survivors, are forced to flee. Pursued through the depths of space by a rival mining company determined to wipe out all witness to the attack, they also have to deal with an insane computer, a horrifying contagion and their own feelings for each other.

ill02Illuminae plays with narrative structure and with presentation. This book has a plot and characters that you get to know and care for, but it is not structured like a novel. Rather than a traditional narrative, be it first or third person, it is, instead, a dossier of hacked documents. Military files, personal emails, medical reports, interviews and other such things are compiled into a patchwork of storytelling with comments from the dossier compiler, the mysterious Illuminae of the title. So you get a range of perspectives. And added to all this are the thoughts of an artificial intelligence that is loosing its sanity. This book has words, lists, pictures and even word pictures. It is an extraordinary compilation of unexpected stuff.


Looking at it, I can’t help thinking that it shouldn’t work – that a bunch of mismatched documents couldn’t possibly draw you into a story, emotionally grasp you and make you feel for the characters. But it does. It does all these things with greater success than most standard novels. And it’s a page-turner!

As a bit of a pop culture junkie, I love the hidden references peppered throughout the novel. My favourite are the allusions to The Princess Bride.

I’ve heard some people grumble a little about the ending – not liking the ‘revelation’. But I think it’s perfect. It sets things up for the next book, Gemina. I’m now anticipating its release and wondering if this second (and third) book will maintain the same storytelling approach, or default to a standard narrative… or maybe even give us something completely different and unexpected.

I loved this book so much. I found it difficult to believe that I would read another book as good as this one any time soon. But the very next book I picked up was even better…

9781406331165The Rest of Us Just Live Here plays with narrative structure and with story focus. It swaps the traditional focus ­– pulling the background characters into the foreground, while pushing the ‘chosen ones’ off to the sidelines. And tells the story in a very particular way.

Immortals are trying to break through to our world and invade. But a handful of teenagers stand in their way. This is not their story. This is the story of the other teens – the bystanders; the ones who are not in the know; the ones who are just trying to get along with their lives; the ones who just happen to live in the wrong place at the wrong time.

The big picture story is told only in the short chapter intros, before the more intense, personal stories of the bystanders is told within the chapters themselves.

Chapter The First, in which the Messenger of the Immortals arrives in a surprising shape, looking for a permanent Vessel; and after being chased by her through the woods, indie kid Finn meets his final fate.”

The novel proper is about Mikey and his friends. They’re not special. They try not to get involved. They just want to make it through the everyday struggles of high school. But the weird goings on in their town keep getting in the way. You might think that a novel about people trying to avoid getting involved wouldn’t be interesting… but it is. Their problems, their relationships and their lives are deeply fascinating. The key to it all is that Ness creates such believable characters and tells a tale of friendship. They feel like real people.

One of the things that I love about this book, is the back-story of the town itself. The fact that weird things have happened in the past. And the fact that most people just ignore it all, pretending that everything is normal.

The Rest of Us Just Live Here is written in first person, present tense. I don’t usually like this approach, but it is very effective in this in case. It gives the story an immediacy and the reader an intimacy with the lead character. It allows us to get into his head and find out how he thinks. It is particularly striking in that Mikey has obsessive compulsive disorder, getting stuck in what he calls ‘loops’ — repeating patterns of activity that he finds increasingly difficult to break free of. Never before have I read anything that conveys the struggles of this condition quite so personally and effectively.

“I tap the four corners of my textbook again, counting silently in my head. And again. And one more time. I see Jared watching me but pretending not to.”

And then there’s Chapter 16. Fifteen pages of nothing but dialogue. Extraordinary!

There is so much depth in this book – layers of character and story. Without a doubt my top read of 2015. If ever I was in the uncomfortable position of having to choose my five favourite books (because no one should have to do that impossible task), this would be one of them.

If you read no other books this year, at least read Illuminae and The Rest of Us Just Live Here. You won’t regret it.

Catch ya later, George

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SWF Wrap Up: ‘Going Home’ with Debra Jopson, Beth Yaph and Adam Aitken

A comment that this session ‘Going Home: Belonging, Family and Food’ at the SWF was “up there with some of the most stimulating sessions I attended at the festival” summed up the quality of the discussion and the engagement of the audience at this sold-out session with Debra Jopson, Beth Yahp and Adam Aitken. The Sydney-based authors on this panel were a pleasure to facilitate.

Their latest books could almost be described as political histories even though two are memoirs and one is a novel. They are full of journeys, fascinating facts, family and sensory depictions of home and place. Perhaps surprisingly, they are as much about Australia as they are about Lebanon, Malaysia and Thailand.

OliverDebra Jopson is a journalist. She’s been an investigative reporter, focusing on social and Aboriginal issues. She has won the prestigious Walkley award for journalism and Human Rights Commission honours.

There’s been lots of media interest in Debra’s debut novel, Oliver of the Levant which draws on Debra’s experiences of living in Beirut for two years as a young adult during the start of the civil war in Lebanon in the 1970s.

Her protagonist Oliver is a multifaceted 15 year old who desperately seeks a parent to love him and give him boundaries.

He runs wild in Beirut.

His attempts to romance an older Lebanese girl and his fascination with making bombs have explosive consequences.

Eat FirstBeth Yaph grew up in Malaysia and lived in Paris for five years, as well as in Australia. She’s part Thai, part Chinese and part Eurasian but even that’s not an completely accurate description of her heritage.

She studied Communications at UTS and has worked as an editor and teacher of creative writing at university level. She is an accomplished presenter, formerly hosting a travel program on ABC Radio National.

I first knew of Beth’s work through her novel The Crocodile Fury and her interest in music, explored in her memoir, has been showcased by the libretto she wrote, Moon Spirit Feasting.

Her memoir Eat First, Talk Later describes a road trip with her elderly parents trying to retrace their honeymoon trip. There are many diversions along the way – literal changes of direction – as well as diversions into the near past of Beth’s childhood and further back into her parents’ youth and the history of Malaysia.

AitkenFC_grandeAdam Aitken also has a fascinating heritage.

His Australian father worked in advertising and became a landscape architect and gardener.

His Australian grandfather was a soldier.

His mother was a beauty and university student from Bangkok.

His Thai grandfather was a governor’s deputy and his great-grandfather a fortune-teller and magician.

His Thai grandmother had nine children and loved chewing betel nut.

Adam was born in London. He lived in Thailand, Malaysia & Australia. As a young man he returned to Thailand to become ‘a real Thai’.

He studied English literature at Sydney University and now works as a researcher in writing at UTS. I first became aware of Adam’s work when I was promoting the poetry anthology he co-edited, Asian Australian Poets.

His memoir One Hundred Letters Home is a very frank depiction about his family and his life as the offspring of parents from Australia and Thailand.

It was quite a tricky brief to combine two memoirs set mainly in Asia and a novel about a boy in Lebanon but a synergy happened on stage and discussion flowed. Thanks to Adam, Debra and Beth.

YA at the SWF: Vikki Wakefield and the Best and Worst Years of our Lives

Vikki WakefieldLast week I spent three days with four top YA writers at the Sydney Writers Festival. We travelled from Roslyn Packer Theatre at the Wharf in the city, to Parramatta Riverside Theatre and our third day was at the Chatswood Concourse. These enormous venues were filled with secondary students from schools in Sydney and further afield.

Our two international author guests were John Boyne (Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, Boy at the Top of the Mountain) and Michael Grant (Gone, Front Lines) and one of our Australian authors was Claire Zorn whose publication of her new novel One Would Think the Deep was rushed forward in time for the SWF.

Our other Australian writer was Vikki Wakefield.

Vikki Wakefield spoke about how being a teenager can be the best – or worst – years of our life. Vikki spoke honestly and vulnerably about once being voted the girl least likely to succeed, failing high school but learning to discover the extraordinary in life.

She lives in the Adelaide Hills and loved horses when she was growing up. She has written some short film scripts and does party tricks, one of which she demonstrated on stage after a request by the audience.

Her novels are mainly for mature YA readers.

Her first two YA novels All I Ever Wanted and Friday Brown have won awards and Friday Brown was shortlisted for the prestigious Prime Minister’s Award and CBCA award.

One girl in the audience declared that Friday Brown changed her life. Friday Brown

I think that Vikki must be nocturnal and I’m guessing that she always refused to go to the movies at the cinema and would go to the drive-in instead. Drive-ins feature in Vikki’s latest novel Inbetween Days.

Vikki sets this novel in an Australian town, with the thought provoking name of ‘Mobius’.

The main character is 17 year old Jack (nickname for Jacklin) who’s left school and her life seems pretty meaningless but she hopes for a better future.

Jack tries to keep her secret relationship with Luke alive. But she really wants to be loved both privately and openly.

Jeremiah seems to offer love but can he cope with Jack?

Vikki creates Jack as being vulnerable yet tough, knowing yet naïve.

Can Jack summon enough self-esteem, resilience and drive to turn her life around?

Vikki’s writing has an understated tone and style that seems particularly Australian. Her characters act like young Australians do and incidents occur realistically, such as the events in the derelict drive-in theatre and in the nearby forest, which are surprising without hyperbole.

Inbetween Days (Text Publishing) has just been shortlisted for the CBCA awards. Congratulations to Vikki for her vulnerable writing and authentic characters.

All I Ever Wanted

Protectors of Secret Natural Places: Tony Birch and Inga Simpson

TreesI was very fortunate to chair a session with Inga Simpson and Tony Birch at the Sydney Writers Festival.

They both have had books long or short listed for the prestigious Miles Franklin award. Tony’s Ghost River is currently longlisted.

It was also shortlisted for two categories in this year’s NSW Premier’s Awards: the Christina Stead prize for fiction and the newly created Indigenous Prize.

Tony and Inga both know their way around universities, as well as being accomplished fiction writers who take us on secret, sensory journeys with their young characters, particularly into natural ‘inbetween’ places, around rivers and trees.

I was first aware of Inga’s writing when her debut novel, Mr Wigg was shortlisted for the Indies awards. I remember the ripples that her lyrical writing about an elderly man in his orchard caused in the literary community.

The writing in her second novel Nest is also the equivalent of fine slow-cooking with its depiction of Jen’s life in a sub-tropical forest but it is utterly captivating and suspenseful at the same time. Nest

Her new novel Where the Trees Were also has evocative descriptions of place – the river and trees.

A group of boys and one girl, Jay, spend their summer holidays before starting high school in the bush, mainly around the river. They find a circle of trees that seem to be out of time and world. Designs are carved into their trunks. Are they a story or code?

The parts of the story about Jay as a girl are told in first person. We also meet her as an adult in Canberra, told in third person.

The indolence of quite an idyllic childhood, although charged with the urgency of adolescence, changes to a harder-edged anticipation and anxiety when a conservationist, (we’re not immediately told her name is Jayne) is involved in stealing a carved Indigenous artifact, an arborglyph, a Wiradjuri burial tree.

Tony Birch’s writing is assured, direct and unpretentious.

I was very moved by his novel Blood, particularly the strength of character and loving heart of his young part- Aboriginal protagonist, Jesse.

His most recent novel is Ghost River, set in the 1960s where the intersected lives of two adolescent boys and the dispossessed river men play out alongside the Yarra River. Ghost River

Storytelling and the changes and roils of life are intrinsic to this novel, reflected in Tony’s own virtuosic story-telling style which moves from energy and adventure to trouble, pathos and weariness and back again like the river itself.

I wonder how much of his own boyhood Tony has drawn upon to create his lively characters Ren, and particularly Sonny.

Mr Wigg

Review: The City of Mirrors by Justin Cronin

9780752897912I absolutely loved The Passage. It totally blew me away it is depth of storytelling, its scope, its characterization, its structure. You name it, I loved it. I’ve read the book three times now and loved every bit of it each time. But I have to admit to being slightly disappointed with the second book in the trilogy, The Twelve. I don’t know if it was the weight of expectation or the troublesome curse of book two but it just didn’t reach the same heights for me. I even gave it a second reading before this book and while I enjoyed it much more than the first time around there were still parts that didn’t resonate with me and seemed to grate against the previous book. But Justin Cronin returns to form in the exciting conclusion.

The final book opens with the virals, who all but wiped out humanity, seemingly gone. Life is slowly returning to normal, slowly at first, as the surviving population hesitantly emerges from behind their walls and lights. But, as we know, all is not as it seems. The Twelve maybe all but gone but there is another. There is Zero. As the terrifying truth slowly approaches our heroes must band together one last time to save the world once and for all.

I loved how Cronin structured this final book. After reintroducing us to our favourite characters he goes back to tell the story of Tim Fanning, a novel almost in itself. Unlike the back story told at the beginning of The Twelve, this gels more evenly with the mythology Cronin has created and sets up the final epic showdown perfectly (but not before a few more twists are thrown in). The way Cronin slowly builds the approaching dread and terror is brilliant and reminded me why I loved The Passage so much.

This is the final installment this epic trilogy deserves and ensures this trilogy goes down as one of the best of its genre.

Buy the book here…

YA Roadtrip Books

There’s nothing like reading Young Adult books about roadtrips to remind you of good ol’ adventurous times. Or remind you why you don’t take roadtrips? Because everything honestly seems to go wrong and sometimes monsters try to eat your face. So that’s also a downside.

In case you want the roadtrip experience, sans squashing yourself in a car for days, I have a list of glorious YA roadtrip books you should try immediately. And bonus points if you read them while on a roadtrip.


This is one of my most favourite roadtrip stories because it’s also a paranormal adventure. Amber is on the run from her demon-parents who also want to eat her. (Stop complaining about your parents.) She teams up with an old dude who has a man-eating car and they drive across the good old US of A.

There are plenty of creeptastic moments. And creeptastic monsters. Vampires. Demons. Ghouls. Serial killers. Creepy trees. It’s glorious. Also deadly.


If you’re looking for a roadtrip that isn’t quite so demonic as the one above….then Paper Towns might suit you better! It’s a contemporary about Q who is quietly in love with a girl who then disappears. So, logically, he has to find her — which ends up in an interstate roadtrip in a minivan with a bunch of rowdy teenagers. I think they nearly hit a cow at one point.

This one definitely features hilarious conversations and poignant messages about not putting people on pedestals because that’s unhealthy for everyone involved.


Another excellent contemporary roadtrip! Although this one is about 50% school life and 50% spontaneous roadtrip at the end between Dane, who is a bully, and Billy, who has Downs Syndrome. It’s a really heartwarming story, especially since Dane (who’s known for being awful) is really protective of Billy. They take to the road and the car to find Billy’s estranged father.

It’s also a really fast read and definitely entertaining.


I’m going to call this a “roadtrip book” even though there are no cars…because there’s a road. A dusty one. And as the title suggests, fraught with peril and blood, basically. This is a dystopian story about Saba who’s off to find her kidnapped brother. Unfortunately her universe is basically dust and evil people who want to stab you, so this does complicate the mission.

It features horse riding, cage fights, unlikely friendships forged, and a good dose of sass. It’s also written phonetically and in slang, which takes some getting used to, but also just makes the whole experience fantastic.


This is one of my favourite Australian books! Despite the fact that it’s actually set in…Canada. But whatever. 18-year-old twins, Justine and Perry, are on the Last Holiday of Ever before Justine goes to university and Perry goes to a home that will cater to his needs as a person with Autism. It’s a really sweet holiday and I loved that we also got chapters by Perry’s point-of-view.

While there is car-tripping about, it’s also just a travelling adventure. It features the twins looking for their estranged mother, too, and that hugely stressful part of a teen’s life when they have to decide what their future will hold. Much fun. This is an undoubtedly excellent book!

Review: Vengeance Road by Erin Bowman

Vengeance Road by Erin Bowman definitely goes down as my favourite YA Western read of…EVER. Yes, just excuse me while I get a little overexcited. Ahem. I was worried, going into it, because I didn’t love the author’s previous dystopian series. But this?! This was wildly different and entirely spectacular. It also reminded me heavily of Blood Red Road (which I am a ginormous fan of) so that only added to the 9780544466388amazing reading experience!

WHAT’S THE STORY ABOUT? It features Kate, whose father is murdered by rogue gold-hungry cowboys, so she takes off after them for vengeance or bust. So much vengeance, peoples. On the way she collects two brothers, Jesse and Will, to join in the quest. Do they get along? NOPE. Do they make a fabulous team? YEP. There are tons of shoot-outs and wild horse chases and gold searching and plot twists that will possibly destroy you. It’s wonderful.

I’ve always been seriously obsessed with the Wild West. Why? Pfft, I don’t know. But some of my other favourite YA westerns are Under A Painted Sky and Walk On Earth a Stranger (I highly recommend both!) and Vengeance Road just tops them all. Westerns scream grittiness and dust and cowboy adventures and it’s so exciting.

The action is also intense! The book spares nothing! If it says “I’m gonna shoot the thing”…the thing will definitely be shot. There are morally grey characters and even Kate herself makes dubious decisions at times in her quest to avenge her father.

Let’s talk about Kate though, because WOW, she’s an amazing protagonist! She was basically gunpowder and cacti and I adored her. So much snark and bitter snapping. She’s not cuddly and she’s not a pushover. But at the same time, she does have a softer venerable side. I think the writer handled her characterisation so well. Plus Kate got things done. She never sat down in the dust and whinged. She was a woman of action.

Plus Kate’s fabulousness just made the romance even more enjoyable. Although the romance doesn’t actually take the spotlight in the story. It’s definitely a subplot. Which just made it all the more enjoyable to me. FIRSTLY: we get guns and gold. SECONDLY: we get Kate and Jesse’s snarky hate/love relationship. Jesse was a complex and interesting character, and quite the “nice guy” and I really wanted him and Kate to have a happily-ever-after.


“People don’t gotta like the same stuff. If they did, life would be pretty boring.”


The story will also not hesitate to slightly ruin you. OH. I mean this in the best possible way, my friends. It just gets into your heart and gives you all the feels. The relationship between Jesse, looking after his brother Will, is adorable. And the witty, easy banter is divine. Not to mention that these characters go through a myriad of awful things and don’t come out unscathed. You will most likely be gripping the pages and howling. It’s great.

OH! But be prepared: the writing is done in slang. There’s still punctuation, but everyone talks sans grammar. I found the flow of the story was still fine and it only enhanced my enjoyment.

Vengeance Road is amazingly glorious and full of gunpowder. I’m endlessly pleased with how complex the characters were. They could’ve easily fallen into pancake-flat-tropes (especially considering the “don’t need no man” tough female heroine) but they didn’t. I loved everyone! The story was full of action and intense scenes and witty dialogue and I read the whole thing in one day.

“I don’t think I could finish something that think without dying of boredom.”
“Then you ain’t found the right book yet,” I says. “There’s something for everyone.”



Review: The Fireman by Joe Hill

We’re huge fans of Joe Hill’s new book The Fireman. With echoes of Justin Cronin’s The Passage, M. R. Carey’s The Girl With All the Gifts, and Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, it’s an epic unlike any we’ve seen this year, and definitely a must-read. Here’s what the team’s had to say:

Jon’s Review

9780575130722 (1)I am a sucker for a good end of the world novel but in recent years as there have been more and more of these stories published there have been less and less of them that have grabbed me. Justin Cronin’s The Passage totally blew me away (although the sequel did not have the same kick to it) and M. R. Carey’s The Girl With All The Gifts was so original and thought-provoking in its mind-bendiness  and rule-bendiness I think I loved it even more that The Passage. But nothing has quite gripped the same way in this genre until now.

The Fireman takes everything that was epic about The Passage, combines it with all the thought-provoking elements of The Girl With All The Gifts and then goes to a whole new level. Joe Hill has written an end of the world novel that is grand, heroic and mind-blowing but at the same time deeply personal. It is a story of survival in all its immediacy and in all its elements. It is a 600+ page page-turner that you will not want to put down (or end) and will have you enthralled the entire time you are reading it.

As with most books in this genre it tells the story of a virus that threatens to wipe out humanity. But this is not a virus that turns people into zombies or vampires or some other form of mindless killing machines. It is a virus that make people catch fire. The story is told from the point of view of Harper Grayson, a school nurse. We witness the world slowly fall apart as the virus quickly spreads and the world reacts to its consequences. As a trained nurse Harper quickly volunteers to help those infected but as the world turns from bad to worse Harper’s focus is forced to change from trying to help others to fighting for her own survival and that of her unborn child. After becoming infected herself Harper must flee her old life including her husband. Aided but an almost mythical figure known as The Fireman, Harper discovers there may be hope for a new world, the only thing standing in the way is humanity itself.

I have never read Joe Hill before but fell instantly in love with his writing style. Hill captures the undying sense for survival amongst whatever ruins and tragedy is thrown at his heroes blending humour and horror, triumphs and tragedies in pitch perfect amounts depending on what he is trying to generate at different moments in the story. The virus and its nature is also explained as those who begin to survive work out different ways to appease it or even control it.

Joe Hill has written that rare novel that is clever, emotional and addictive. From the novel’s opening to its gripping finale Hill doesn’t miss a beat and I could easily turn around and pick this up from the beginning and start again right now. It will keep you guessing as the roller coaster ride careens up and down, fast and slow and around blind corners to an ending that is worthy of every page, every word that came before it. I haven’t ever read Stephen King before but you get a real sense the mantle is being passed on to the son with this novel. It is a truly special book that I hope is going to do big things. I can’t recommend this brilliant novel enough.

Simon’s Review

Cormac McCarthy’s literary masterpiece The Road presents a hopeless, post-apocalyptic world navigated by an adult and a child. The specifics of the extinction event are not clarified. It doesn’t matter why society crumbled, just that it has, because all that matters for its populace now is survival. The Road is a novel about the repercussions of the unspecified catastrophe that decimated society; decidedly post-crisis. Joe Hill’s The Fireman takes a different route, set at the very beginning of society’s decline, as the Dragonscale pandemic seizes hold, drawing patterns on people’s skin and eventually literally igniting them, causing them to spontaneously combust. Whereas the characters in The Road are surrounded by nothing but absolute despair, in The Fireman trappings of pre-pandemic lives still exist; tangible reminders of what once was. Both worlds are perpetually dangerous and unpredictable. And both novels are hallmarks of the narrative malleability of the post-apocalyptic concept.

Though operatic in scope, The Fireman is centred firmly around Harper Grayson, a school nurse who becomes a volunteer at her local hospital when society starts to decay, and school becomes a thing of the past. When Harper discovers she, too, is infected by Dragonscale — and pregnant! — she vows to bring her baby safely into the world. Her husband Jakob has other ideas, disgusted by the mere thought of bringing another human into a world such as this, and attacks Harper, determined to abort her life and their child’s. During her escape she encounters John Rockwood — the near-mythical figure known as The Fireman — who welcomes her into a secluded camp of infected survivors, who have learned to control their infection. Jakob, meanwhile, joins the Cremation Crews; marauders who kill the infected on sight. Thus, the board is set, the terrain unknown. Husband and wife are destined to meet again; the question is, in what circumstances?

Survival in a Dragonscale-infected world is unglamorous, and Joe Hill doesn’t pull any punches as he exposes readers to the bleak reality of a world beginning its rapid spiral. He showcases a warped evangelical religion based on ‘the bright’ – an aftereffect of the Dragonscale infection – and demonstrates, as these types of stories so often do, that man’s greatest threat to its own survival is itself rather than the wider crisis. The characters that populate these pages are diverse and vibrant, with distinct follies and histories. Harper is an empathetic heroine, far stronger than we (and she) first realise; desperately clinging onto survival against all odds, as everything she’s ever known degenerates. The Fireman is a mammoth tome: to work, it needs a superior protagonist, and Hill has granted his readers a supremely memorable one.

The Fireman is Joe Hill’s most ambitious novel yet, and will inevitably be compared to his father’s seminal work. The thing is, these comparisons are warranted. Hill’s latest novel is indeed reminiscent of Stephen King’s greatest work – but never derivative. Like King, Hill is a master storyteller – it’s in his blood, clearly – and this novel elevates him into a new literary stratosphere. It has been a long, long time since I was last able to lose myself in an epic like this.



Far Beyond Our Imagination – Picture Book Reviews

Reading is a pleasure that allows for a range of benefits – reinforcing critical literacy skills, fuelling the imagination, inspiring empathy, and for the sheer joy. I chose these picture books with the commonality of the out-of-this-world theme, and I love that each one surprises its readers with elements of humour, compassion, relationships and the unexpected! Books can certainly take you to great heights where you can explore much more than initially meets the eye.

imageSpace Alien at Planet Dad, Lucinda Gifford (author, illus.), Scholastic Australia, 2016.

A powerful story intertwining the fun of space adventure play with the reality of adapting to family changes. Jake always gets a thrill when he visits his Dad’s place (Planet Dad) every Saturday. The bond between them is extraordinary as they act out a series of intergalactic missions, build space stations and enjoy spaghetti and meteorite sauce on movie nights. Jake is no doubt like many kids who receive special quality time with their fun, single dad. But in truth, life doesn’t stay the same forever. When a one-eyed, green Space Alien is suddenly a permanent fixture at Planet Dad, Jake is, as to be expected, furious. The place now has a ‘woman’s touch’ about it, and no amount of invader-blasting, alien-repelling or meteorite-showering action can force her out. Eventually Jake finds things in common with the Space Alien after a trip to the museum and slowly he comes to accept this new presence in their home.

Space Alien at Planet Dad is a super, highly interactive and energetic book that also deals sensitively and cleverly with changes to family dynamics. It allows its young readers, particularly those in blended families, the opportunities to perceive new situations and household members in a different light.

imageOlive the Alien, Katie Saunders (author, illus.), The Five Mile Press, 2015.

Olive the Alien is another story based on the theme of accustomising to new, and strange, beings in the home. Understanding and accepting differences can often be challenging, particularly with no prior knowledge of the subject or their odd behaviour. In this sweet story of a little boy and his ‘alien’ baby sister, Archie eventually realises that her differences are not only endearing, but also that we all have (or had) the same inherent human nature. It’s difficult for Archie to comprehend the antics of his baby sister, Olive. She speaks another language, she cries VERY loudly, she makes a big mess, and she eats the most peculiar things. But worst of all, she makes really disgusting smells. She simply must be an alien!

Olive the Alien, with its beautifully soft, pastel shades and cute illustrations, is a humorous peek into the life of baby behaviour. Preschoolers with younger siblings will most certainly relate, but whether or not they admit to their own once-upon-a-stinky-nappy phase is another story!

imageMilo, a moving story, Tohby Riddle (author, illus.), Allen & Unwin, 2016.

Set in the early 1900s in New York, the story of Milo is certainly one of character, survival and good old-fashioned charm. For an ordinary life, Milo’s world is quite extraordinary, even if he doesn’t know it yet. He enjoys singing classics and playing quaint games with his canine pals, and every other day he delivers parcels within the quirks of the busy city streets. Then one day a blow up with his friend leads to a ghastly storm. Whilst the tumult rages inside his head, Milo and his kennel are also physically swept away to a most remarkable place above the clouds. Upon meeting Carlos, a plain-looking migratory bird, Milo’s mind clears and he comes to realise some important things:
1. The world is big and wide and there are many experiences to be had.
2. The power of friendship is strong and is to be valued.
3. Sometimes it takes an unusual, out-of-this-world adventure to understand and appreciate the little things in life.

Deep and profound on so many levels, Milo, a moving story is undeniably moving. From the intimacy of life in a kennel to the wide landscapes and perspectives, collages and real photographs of various locations. From the simplicity of old fashioned games and songs to the high-rising journey to the sky. The old-style sepia-toned hues contrasting with the mixed media cleverly and interestingly add a humble yet juxtaposed perspective. This book offers great scope for primary school discussions about development over time, on both literal and personal levels.

imageMoon Dance, Jess Black (author), Renée Treml (illus.), Scholastic Australia, 2016.

Here’s another book to move you… Moon Dance is an unbelievably charismatic story to get you physically jiving at all times of the day or night. Rather than reaching out to space, in this lyrical fun-fest the moon comes to you. A group of Australian native animals gather together in Eucalypt Gully for a dance under the dazzling, full moon. Gorgeously hysterical terms and rhyming phrases add to the frivolity of the action.
“Wombat starts a conga, He wiggles his caboose!” We’ve got drunken blue-tongue lizards, clapping paws, cicadas on the timbals, a slow-dancing possum with a goanna, and a spry, moonwalking bilby.

Moon Dance celebrates the joys of togetherness and the wonderful benefits of music and dance. The illustrations are whimsical and lively, bursting with exquisite texture, detail and a glorious Australiana feel. This book will light up the night for children from age three.

imageThe Cloudspotter, Tom McLaughlin (author, illus.), Bloomsbury, 2015.

Sometimes we need someone to point us in the right direction… even if it is in plain view. The view Franklin likes to observe is the one in the sky… the clouds. He, alone, has amazing imaginary adventures with the clouds he spots, including swimming with giant jellyfish, driving racing cars and topping tall castle towers. That is why he is known as The Cloudspotter. But one day when a random Scruffy Dog tries to take his clouds, and ‘invade’ his cloud adventures, The Cloudspotter has a plan to rid the bothersome dog… and sends him off into the outer atmosphere. Soon he realises that what he was looking for wasn’t just the clouds, after all.

There is a refreshing illustrative mix of airy skies and bold foregrounds, with lots of visual clues to add depth and meaning. The Cloudspotter is perfect for preschoolers with wide imaginations, and the openness to the possibility of unexpected friendships.


Interview with Kelly Doust, author of Precious Things

Precious Things by Australian author Kelly Doust follows a handmade beaded collar through history to the present, touching on the women who owned it and wore it in the past. Kelly Doust joins us on the blog today.Kelly Doust

Thanks for joining us Kelly. How did you become interested in vintage clothing?
I fell in love with all fashion when I was really young. I was that kid into dress-ups who always wore weird stuff to mufti day with makeup applied on the bus, inevitably having to wipe it off when a teacher noticed. My local charity store and flea market first exposed me to vintage clothing, but I also adored my mum’s seventies denim flares, cork wedges and plunging velour evening gowns, which seemed so risqué and fun and spoke of grown-up adventures I was dying to become old enough for.

Do you believe that a garment or handmade item can carry part of the essence of the previous owner? (Do you believe an item can carry good vibes or bad juju?)
Not really, but I wouldn’t mind being proven wrong. I wore a refashioned eighties wedding dress for my own wedding and didn’t give it much thought at the time, although the true story behind why it ended up in a vintage clothing store probably isn’t the rosiest.

In most cases there’s no way of learning the history of a vintage garment. Does this make you sad or do you prefer the wonder and intrigue?
It’s a kind of sweet sadness, the idea of stories being lost but it’s also the natural way of things. I’m always visiting fashion exhibitions because they share photographs and plaques with all sorts of fascinating contextual information. The May 2016 issue of UK Vogue has this brilliant fashion story featuring costumes worn by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards during their years of touring with The Rolling Stones, but Kate Moss is modelling them with a thoroughly modern twist. That’s so inspiring to me.

The Crafty Minx Kelly DoustThis is your debut novel, but you’re certainly no stranger to writing. You’ve worked in the publishing industry and published a number of books (including: Crafty Minx, A Life in Frocks, Minxy Vintage and The Crafty Minx at Home) and I was wondering where you do most of your writing?
Usually at home, but last year we were renovating and I ended up writing in my local cafe most days. It was actually quite useful, because I tried to write as much as I could before ordering another coffee, which made me quite productive. I try to have only two cups a day, so it really focused my mind on writing quickly!

What are you reading at the moment?
Inga Simpson’s Where the Trees Were and Katherine Brabon’s The Memory Artist, which recently won the 2016 Vogel Award. Both are so beautifully written. Inga Simpson’s passion for Australian natural history just shines through in Where the Trees Were, and I love the premise of the novel, which slips from present to past to uncover the story of the trees her protagonist, Jayne, is trying to protect. The Memory Artist is also quite staggeringly accomplished, especially for a first novel, and its Russian setting is very evocative. I find myself reading it in awe.Precious Things Kelly Doust book cover

What’s next? Apart from promoting Precious Things, what are you working on at the moment?
I’m working on a second novel. Not a sequel to Precious Things but another novel set in England with many similar themes. I also have a new day job, which involves choosing books to turn into audiobooks. It’s really thrilling – I’m reading so widely and love the idea of bringing authors to new readers or listeners.

Thanks for your time Kelly and good luck on your next novel!
Thanks so much for interviewing me for Boomerang Books, Tracey – I so appreciate it! ☺

* Photo credit: Amanda Prior & Ruby Star Traders

Australian Story – Stories with a love of Country

Wednesday the 25th May marks the 16th National Simultaneous Storytime event. Aimed at promoting the value of reading and enjoying stories inspired and produced by Australians this campaign sits neatly alongside the 2016 CBCA Book Week Theme – Australia! Story Country. Story telling expeditiously fosters an appreciation and understanding of our unique Australian humour, environment, and its inhabitants so it’s vital that a love of books and reading begins at a young age. This is why I love this selection of picture books relating to Country and those who call it home.

Magabala Books

Crabbing with DadThis publishing house routinely produces books that preserve and promote Indigenous Australian Culture. Paul Seden’s Crabbing with Dad, is chock-a-block with eye popping illustrations and is a feast for the senses as our protagonist and best mate, Sam go crabbing with their Dad up the creek. They encounter several other folk fishing or hunting among the mangroves and waterways and eventually pull up their own crustacean reward. I love the vitality and verve this story promotes and that spending time with the ones you love are life’s best rewards.

April 2016

The Grumpy Lighthouse KeeperFor clever repetitive phrasing and a colourful introduction to yet more of our dubious sea life, The Grumpy Lighthouse Keeper will light up the faces of 3 – 5 year-olds. Inspired by the iconic Broome Lighthouse, author, Terrizita Corpus and illustrator, Maggie Prewett help our indignant lighthouse keeper to survive a stormy wet-season night as the slippery, slimy, wet creatures of the sea take refuge in his warm, dry bed. Loads of fun, if you aren’t the lighthouse keeper!

April 2016

Mad Magpie (high res)Gregg Dreise is a name to remember. Mad Magpie is the third picture book in his morality series based on the sayings and stories of his Elders and possibly the best one yet, although Kookoo Kookaburra was a huge hit in this household, too. Dreise’s picture books embrace and preserve the art of storytelling harnessing fables and wisdoms and making them accessible for today’s new generations.

His line dot authentic illustrations are pure magic and elevate the enjoyment of this tale tenfold. I found myself continuously stroking the pages so enamoured was I by the exquisite patterning and textures throughout. Guluu, the angry magpie’s tale captures the spirit of the landscape and reinforces the turn-the-other-cheek idiom. The Elders encourage Guluu to ignore those who taunt and tease him. They show him how to find ways to still his anger and remain calm so that he is able to stand proud and strong, like the life-giving river. This is an impressive tale promoting positive ways to combat bullying and enhance individuality.

May 2016

Cheeky Critters

Go Home Cheeky AnimalsAnother picture book that successfully captures the essence of place and changing of the seasons is Go Home, Cheeky Animals! by Johanna Bell and Dion Beasley. Simple repeating narrative gears readers up for the next instalment of animals – goats, buffaloes and camels to name a few – to inundate  a small outback community and taunt the dogs that are supposed to be on the lookout for such intruders. Beasley’s paint and pencil illustrations are naïve in style and full on cheek and colour, which results in phenomenal kid appeal. Superb fun and heart.

Allen & Unwin Children’s April 2016

Barnabas the BulllyfrogBarnabas is a Bullfrog who relentlessly teases and belittles the inhabitants of the Macadamia farm in Barnabas the Bullyfrog. When springtime blooms bring on a spate of spluttery sneezing, Barnabas blames it on the bees and is intent on wiping out their busy buzziness. Nosh the Nutmobile rallies his faithful friends, uniting them in a sweet intervention that cures Barnabas’s allergies and unseemly social discrepancies. Barnabas the Bullyfrog is the forth in The Nutmobile Series created by Macadamia House publications and Little Steps Publishing. Rollicking verse (by Em Horsfield) and Glen Singleton’s quintessential Aussie themed illustrations bring Nosh, Arnold and the gang musically to life. You can’t get any more Queensland than Macca nuts and cane toads however, these tales have strong universal appeal as well; this one admirably speaking up against bullies and for the world’s prized pollinators. Well done, Nosh!

Little Steps Publishing 2015

Possums Galore

Possum GamesThey may send us batty at times with their frenetic nocturnal antics but who can deny the perennial appeal of a cute round-eyed Brushtail possum. Michelle Worthington and Sandra Temple have pieced together a delightful picture book, with lilting language and winsome illustrations. Possum Games is the story of Riley, a small possum who is shy and awkward, unsure of himself and frankly, awful at sports. However, in spite of his shortcomings and apparent inability to join in, Riley has big dreams, which thanks to a twist and a dodge of fate, spring into realisation one fateful night. Possum Games is more than a tale of finding your perfect fit. It stimulates tenacity and boosts confidence and more than ably explains the actions behind the ruckus possums make on our rooves at night. A fabulous read for pre-schoolers and young primary readers.

Wombat Books 2014

The Midnight PossumMore midnight antics are revealed in Sally Morgan’s and Jess Racklyeft’s The Midnight Possum, this time in the heart of our bushland. Possum loves the midnight hour, which brings on a tendency in him to roam. As he bounds through the treetops, he encounters an Australian potpourri of animals until he happens upon a distressed mother possum who has lost her baby. Possum’s pluck and courage save the day (and the baby Ringtail). The innate curiosity and diversity for adaption possums possess are gently portrayed in this charming picture book. Racklyeft’s acrylic painted and collage illustrations amplify the allure. A sweet addition to your Australiana collection.

Scholastic Australia 2016





Review: Firefight by Brandon Sanderson

Firefight by Brandon Sanderson is the second book in the Reckoners trilogy — and even better than the first. Which doesn’t often happen right?! But no sequel-blues here, folks. This book was just an explosion of PURE AWESOME. It was so exciting and fantastic I couldn’t help but flail and get thoroughly emotionally invested. I am so ridiculously addicted to this series. Steelheart w9780575104495as amazing; but Firefight just took it up to the next level. I suspect this is because it’s about superheroes and has excellent writing and the best protagonist of ever.

“My name is David Charleston. I kill people with super powers.”

So where do I start?!? The plot was perfect. It’s set in a different city, Babylon Restored, which is all water and apartment buildings filled with trees and jungles. There’s glowing spraypaint and magical fruit and it was all written so visually I could basically see the city. I’m in awe of the aesthetics here!

We also have a new set of villains with different, complex powers to fight and destroy. There is not even a second of rest here.

The characters are permanently spectacular. OF COURSE. Although I did mess Cody and Abraham. Only Tia, Proff, and David go on this little escapade. And, unfortunately, Proff is still my least favourite character. He’s complex, alright, and after the staggering reveal of his secrets at the end of book 1, I do understand why he’s so gruff and cold at times. But he definitely abused his position of authority and it got me so riled up and angry. ARGH.

9780385743587I still adore David — and he’s possible he’s gotten even more awesome. He’s one of my new favourite protagonists! He’s funny and brave and flawed and stupid and he’s SUCH A DORK. His metaphors are worse. (He romantically yells “YOU’RE LIKE A POTATO” and that made me laugh for only 9 hours.)

And let’s not forget how INTENSE the plot is. There’s a lot of mystery elements since the supervillain in control — Regalia — has basically lured Proff and his small team of Reckoners to the city. Is she looking for a fight or is there a deeper plot at hand? The story keeps you guessing the entire time and I loved this! I couldn’t put it down!

Plus it barely lets the action rest — and when it does we get treated to pages of hilarious banter and David’s self-depreciating commentary on the world.

There is much shooting, but also a lot of stretching people to their limits. And pain. And death. And explosions. I love how David is continually pushing the boundaries and getting everyone to think and plan. He’s underestimated so much, but basically nothing stops him. Plus the plot twists in this one live up to the amazing ones we got in the first book.

I cannot get enough of this series! And I’m eternally grateful that the final book, Calamity, is already out and I’ll be able to devour it soon. Because — hello — cliffhanger? I’m in mild pain needing answers here.


[purchase here]

Packing it on – Dog titles with a Difference

I can’t help it, but my shelves seemed littered (pardon the pun) with delightful doggie-inspired titles lately. Just what makes animal tales, namely those featuring cute and courageous canines so attractive for young readers? Is it that dogs and cats are real, free of pretension and judgement and brimming with pure joie de vivre? Is it because their will to live for the here and now surpasses all others, just like a young child’s? Whatever the magnetic force behind the love of dog stories, this small pack merely reinforces the bond.

Picture Books

The Whole CaboodleThe Whole Caboodle by Lisa Shanahan Illustrated by Leila Rudge

Lisa Shanahan brought us the irrepressible Bear and Chook and has a knack of capturing the thrill of story within singsong narrative. The Whole Caboodle is no exception and offers ‘oodles’ of imaginative linguistic word play with the added bonus of walking 3 – 5 year-olds through some fun counting rhymes. It’s more of a stroll-through-the-park-spot-the-hidden-dog-breed than a full-blown doggie tale, but Rudge’s expressive illustrations will keep you tugging at the leash for more. Great for kids who are into dogs and all their varied shapes and sizes.

Scholastic Press April 2016

My Dog DashMy Dog Dash by Nicki Greenberg

The memories of my not-so-distant puppy schooling experience with our border collie leapt back to prominence as I read Greenberg’s cute account of one little girl’s adventures with her new pet. If you were to read the text aloud without the pictures, you’d swear her pet, the fiend of puppy school, is the worst dog you’d ever laid eyes on. Look again though and you’ll see that not all dogs are created equal. After one agonising night of anguish, this pet turns out to be the best companion ever. Greenberg rarely disappoints. Her jolly illustrations, beguiling contradicting narrative, lovable characters, and utterly adorable ending are assured winners. Go Dash, Go!

Allen & Unwin April 2016

Mrs DogMrs Dog by Janeen Brian Illustrated by Marjorie Crosby-Fairall

As a child, I once read a story about a cat told from the cat’s point-of-view. The cat knew his owner as Fur-on-The-Face. I can’t recall the title or author but have never forgotten the magic of living in the head of that cat and seeing the world as he saw it. Mrs Dog reignites that magic in the most alluring and compelling way. Mrs Dog is too old to round up the Woolly-Heads anymore but that doesn’t stop her from adopting an orphaned baby Woolly-Head, whom she calls, Baa-rah. She takes Baa-rah under her paw, teaching her all there is to know about the farm except how to bark properly. Little Baa-rah is unable to communicate this way until he is forced to find his inner-dog and save his best friend

  Brian’s exquisite use of language is the beating heart of this gorgeous picture book and conveys a story that will bring a tear to your eye and a smile to your heart. Crosby-Fairall’s illustrations are equally divine. The alternating use of perspective shifts the reader seamlessly from merely being an observer to Mrs Dog’s, the Tall-Ones’ and of course adorable little Baa-rah’s point-of-view. A simple tale of devotion, love and loyalty possessing all the best bits of Babe but stunning and memorable in its own right. Highly recommended and not just because Mrs Dog is a beautiful Collie.

The Five Mile Press May 2016

Mid-grade Reader

Regal BeagleRegal Beagle by Vijay Khurana Illustrated by Simon Greiner

This is an enjoyable little mix up of a book attractively presented as a hard soft cover just right for post preschool hands to master. Combining imagination with fantasy, Regal Beagle tells the tale of Lucy, the deceased Queen’s best friend and only living beneficiary to the throne. Lucy is brave and clever, caring and loyal but is in danger of losing her crown to the diabolical Lord Runcible who craves the title of ruler of the kingdom as his own. His obsession to rid the kingdom of Queen Lucy causes an infestation of plague proportions and provides plenty of witty hustle to this easy to read story. Khurana’s writing style is chatty and carefree and is ably supported by Greiner’s jazzy graphic illustrations. A fun, flowing read perfect for kids who understand that anything is possible.

Random House Australia 2014

Junior Fiction

The Dog, Ray by Linda Coggin

The Dog RayThis blue ribbon read strikes with pinpoint accuracy at dog-loving 7 – 12 year-olds. Hefty subject matter is served up as a heart-warming tale about a girl who dies tragically and returns to life as a dog following a Pearly Gates blunder. As pedestrian as that sounds, this sweet little story lopes along at a satisfying pace that will keep children page turning until the very end. Daisy aka Ray’s spiritual, emotional and canine journey is just as likely to make you grin as it is to move you to sadness, however one thing is for sure, it will captivate young readers enough to make them want to wag their tails (if they had them). Funny, spirited and stirring, The Dog, Ray embodies much more than just Daisy’s afterlife as a dog. Homelessness, friendship, animal cruelty, tragedy, and family relationships are incorporated throughout this story, which is big on heart and suffused with hope. It does have a happy ever after ending, however perhaps not the one you were hoping for. Concise, captivating and creative.

Hot Key Books first published 2010 Bonnier  April 2016


Review: Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson

Steelheart (Reckoners #1) by Brandon Sanderson basically flawed me with its intense, indiluted awesome. Until now I hadn’t read a superhero book that lived up to the films. But this?!? This is everything. If you’re a superhero geek, TRUST ME — you need this book in your life. The plot twists! The adorkable narrator! The guns! The action! The car chases! The explosions! It had everything.9780385743563

The story is about David, whose father was killed by the infamous super-villain Steelheart, and David’s life is basically: revenge revenge revenge. He joins up with a small rebel force, called the Reckoners, and they make a plot to take down Steelheart.

It’s about superheroes and villains. In fact, super “hero” doesn’t so much enter the story, because the premise is those with powers are all EVIL.  It’s like “what if Superman appeared and was a jerk and liked to kill people and be terrifying?” But it turns tropes on its head and impressed me a million percent.

I absolutely adored the protagonist: David. He’s such a DORK. And a NERD. He is absolutely the worst at metaphors and he has the BIGGEST dorky crush on one of his team mates. He tries so hard. He’s a shaker and a stirrer — a visionary. And while he’s totally hellbent on revenge on Steelheart, it doesn’t turn him into a bitter mushroom. Which was a pleasant surprise to read!

A quick run down on the Reckoner team?! (They go from city to city in the destroyed American states and kill supervillains).

  • Proff: He’s the “leader” so the gruff, commanding, type who is full of secrets and probably a tragic mysterious backstory. He honestly was not my favourite, but he did lead his team well.
  • Tia: She’s the hacker and the behind-the-scenes intelligence.
  • Abraham: He’s French/Canadian and seriously AWESOME. He’s like soft spoken but carries this HUGE MACHINE GUN and I believes in the Faith.
  • Cody: He’s the comic relief and is like American, but also Scottish. Um, it works. Somehow. He’s always talking about devils and pixies and cracking everyone (aka me) up.
  • Megan: She’s the seriously coldhearted, better-than-thou girl on the team (that of course David crushes on) who is just AMAZING at everything she does but really hard to make friends with.

9780575104044I thought all the characters were really well written and complex. Which is amazing considering it was quite a large cast!

Also the superheroes were admirable because they had unique powers. It wasn’t all just “he can fly and is invisible” blah blah. They had ones who could turn the sky dark, or controlled with shadows, or made illusions, or could predict attacks or could regenerate or etc etc. It was so interesting and I loved that.

Also another thing that stood out to me was that: I appreciated how the adults were running the show. I mean, David might’ve been a bit of a suppressed genius there, with his plans on how to take down Steelheart, but the ADULTS were the ones with the big weapons and getting things done. And it felt super realistic. It’s still YA and David was still doing so much cool stuff. But I appreciated the realism.

Also the whole mystery aspect of “what is Steelheart’s weakness??!” drove me CRAZY wanting answers. And you don’t get to know until the end!

Also I cannot recommend the audiobook enough. (Which you can purchase here!) The narrator captures David’s personality perfectly and is just extremely pleasant to listen to! He also captures the accents of the rest of the team and makes the whole experience like a movie in your head.

If you’re looking for a superhero/villain book that’s unique and exciting and complex — this is for you. It’s realistic and talks science and gun mechanisms and sets up clever masterminded traps. It’ll make you laugh! And then have you clutching the pages hyperventilating over the plot twists. Oh and the cliffhanger? Let’s just say you’ll want Firefight on hand.


Jen Storer’s Glorious Story


imageJen Storer; word expert, her books and writing encapsulating the most brilliant use of language to tantalise every sense within its reader. Popular and highly acclaimed chapter books include Jen’s bestselling Truly Tan series, Tensy Farlow, Crystal Bay, the latest awesome series Danny Best, and most recently awarded with a CBCA notable is the adventure mystery The Fourteenth Summer of Angus Jack. And new to Jen’s writing repertoire is the absolutely scrumptious Clarrie’s Pig Day Out (review here), and boy, has she entered the picture book world with a tang! I mean fang! No, BANG! Today I am thrilled to welcome Jen Storer to the blog to discuss all things writing and Clarrie! ☺️

Congratulations on the latest release of your sensationally hilarious picture book, Clarrie’s Pig Day Out! I’d like to start with a question from my Miss 6. How did you think to write such a mixed-up story?!

imageThank you, Romi! I’m thrilled that you and Miss 6 enjoyed Clarrie.

Most stories come to me from all over the place. A bit here. A bit there. But it’s easy to say where Clarrie came from.

I was in a café having a cup of tea and people watching. At the next table there was a
grandmother with a little boy on her knee. She was reading the boy a story. It was one of
those vacuous picture books you often come across in cafes. I could tell the boy
wanted to enjoy the story. But I could also see, by his body language, that this was a
lousy story.

I thought, what would I do if I had to read a kid a crappy story like that? The answer was instant. I’d make up silly words!

I rushed home straight away and started writing a story about an old farmer who got his
words muddled.

Obviously the language in the story is intended to challenge the readers’ thinking and play with words. What other teaching and learning experiences do you hope your audience will gain from this book?

I never EVER consider teaching kids when I write stories. The minute I start thinking like a teacher I’m no longer thinking like a storyteller. Any lessons that come from my books are purely coincidental. My entire purpose is to delight, entertain and inspire.

Clarrie is such an eccentric yet humble and romantic type of character. How did he develop in your mind? Is he based on anyone you know?

He’s a darling, isn’t he? When I wrote the story I was studying art. I was learning to draw circles and spheres at the time. Swinging the ellipse. I’d been drawing loads of eggs in my sketchbook. And the eggs had evolved into cakes. And chickens. And then this funny old bald guy in gumboots and overalls. It was Clarrie! The first thing he ever said to me was, ‘I’m very fond of chookens. They make good friends and their eggs make delicious caks.’ (That didn’t quite make it into the story…)

The illustrations by Sue deGennaro are deliciously playful, just like your story! How did you collaborate with one another? How long did the process take? What do you like most about Sue’s art style?

imageI love Sue’s imagination and the whimsical worlds she creates. And I adore her subtle use of collage. If you look closely you can see that she’s used the insides of window envelopes (bills) to make crockery and decorate various buildings. I also love her gentle palette. The original artwork is a dream. And she adds delightful quirks: Clarrie’s odd socks. His dapper suit. The way he’s a bit of a dandy. Miss Winterbottom’s fabulous 70s inspired frock. All these touches are Sue’s inventions.

I can’t remember how long we collaborated but it was quick. From the time Sue signed up to the time of final art was about eight months I think. Maybe a bit more.

We met a few times in person. I saw initial roughs. Then later a heap of half completed
paintings that we all swooned over. It was so exciting to watch Clarrie’s world come to life.

I was hands-off in terms of my vision for the story. I wanted Sue to bring her expertise to it. Lisa Berryman, my publisher, was the same. We just sat back and let Sue play.

I think that’s one of the best things about working on picture books. Seeing what someone else, another professional, does with your text. Seeing their interpretation, and thinking, ‘Wow. I never saw it that way. But this looks awesome!’

Fun Question! Can you rephrase this sentence Clarrie-style:
I could read your book all day.

I could feed your chook all day.

You’ve had tremendous success as an author of chapter books for younger and older readers, including Truly Tan, Danny Best, Tensy Farlow and Angus Jack, amongst others. When you’ve established characters like Truly Tan and Danny Best do you find that you need to reread from the beginning to remember things they’ve done?

imageNo. I carry their worlds in my head from book to book. Occasionally I’ll flick back to check a fact or the name of a minor character. Also, I’m always writing one book while at the same time checking first, second and third pages of the previous one. So the worlds are in continual motion.

Do you plot out the whole series carefully beforehand?

Not on your life!

How do you ensure that everything ties together and flows on from one book to the next?

Each of the books in Truly Tan and in Danny Best are stand alones. There’s no overarching plot that I need to keep track off. All I have to get right is the characters, their relationships and the world they live in. And the voice, of course. That has to be consistent.

You juggle your time between writing, illustrating, speaking, presenting and blogging! How do you manage such a hectic schedule? What’s your secret?

I don’t always manage. Behind the scenes I’m often flouncing about swearing and cursing. But when I’m not doing that, I’m actually a really determined plodder. I’m committed to this work. I’m a boots and all girl. If I decide to do something I’m in it for the long haul.
I’m getting better at saying no these days, too. And listening to my intuition. It provides impeccable guidance. I’m obsessed with my work. Obsessed. I haven’t decided if that’s a good thing or a bad thing!

I love your new inspiring initiative to teach other writers all the tips and tricks of the trade with your girl & duck workshops and online tutorials. Can you tell us more about how this came about and what you have and will be offering interested participants?

imageGirl and duck is my passion. It came about in a stealthy manner while I wasn’t really looking. But now it’s up and running I’m consumed by it. I have exciting plans for it. I adore teaching. Love, love, love. I can talk about creative writing until the cows come home. I’m busy writing and illustrating a book for the ‘duckettes’. I hope to have it available by the end of the year. Then there’s another book planned to follow the first. I’ll also be running online classes. More on that soon. It’s a huge commitment. Under the surface we’re paddling like crazy. There’s so much techy work going on. And business school. It’s awesome. The online world offers astonishing opportunities.

You’ve been in the industry for a while now with many successes and accolades. What have been the most rewarding highlights of your career? Is there anything that you are still striving for?

Apart from dreaming up ideas and developing projects, meeting readers is still the biggest highlight. As well as receiving their mail.

But these days it’s also about inspiring others (adults) to pursue their passions and embrace their creativity. I never planned to do this but ‘creativity coaching’ is something that fills me with joy. I’ve had a tricky journey to get where I am. I’m a late bloomer. First book published at 42 etc. I like to urge younger creatives to get cracking while they can. The sooner the better. But even if you feel you’re too old, forget that! Age is a crock.

There are loads of goals I’m still striving for. Growing girl and duck. Writing. Painting. Drawing. Coaching. Teaching. Travel. You name it. I’m just getting started.

Besides all the numerous projects that we’ve mentioned above, what else are you currently working on? What can your fans look forward to seeing from you in the near future? A sequel to Clarrie’s Pig Day Out perhaps? 😉

imageI’ve written a follow-up to Clarrie. But that’s a secret…
I’ve written the first 30,000 words of a follow-up to Tensy Farlow. It’s about another girl in that same world. I’m desperate to finish it but I need to go to the UK to research it.
I have my girl and duck books.
I’m into the second act of my screenplay.
I have a picture book coming out with Andrew Joyner in August.
Book three of Danny Best is half written. Book two comes out in November. Mitch, Lisa and I are going over the illos and layout now.
Book five of the Tan series has just been released, Truly Tan: Hoodwinked! And I’m halfway through book six. One of my readers named it. It’s called Truly Tan: Trapped! I’m still figuring out where I’m going to trap the poor little peanut.
Books seven and eight of Truly Tan need to be thought about. And written (ahem).
There’s loads of stuff going on.

Thank you so much for joining me for this interview, Jen! It’s been an honour! X

Thank you, Romi, you’re an angel! xo

imageMore information on Jen Storer can be found at her website and Facebook page. Jen’s writing for children workshops can be seen at her new girl and duck website. Plus, details on her Melbourne-based ambassador role for The Footpath Library, an initiative to enrich the lives of homeless people with free books, can be found here.


Review – Clarrie’s Pig Day Out

imageClarrie’s Pig Day Out, Jen Storer (author), Sue deGennaro (illus.), ABC Books, March 2016.

Jen Storer’s remarkable picture book debut, Clarrie’s Pig Day Out, is a glorious word-fest of hilarity that sends its readers into a sensory-overload frenzy. Its ability to turn absurdity to logic, and back again, is second to none. This story of a lawfully, I mean, awfully mixed-up farmer takes us on a jumbled, laugh-out- and shout-out-loud adventure as he goes about his day.

We’ve all been there. Those moments when you feel your life is cluttered with piles of bowls (and books!), your pets (and kids!) won’t listen, and your daily schedule is filled to the brink. Of course it’s natural to stumble along trying to keep on top of it all. Clarrie, too, finds himself in a pickle. Not literally, it’s just a word pickle. Unless it’s a pickle in a jar, then perhaps he finds himself in one of those situations?! Enjoy as this charming, quirky character tells us his story in his native (twisted) tongue that only the most discerning listeners will understand.

imageWhen Clarrie plans his day out with his dog Bert, it’s not only his speech that ends in a series of unexpected mishaps. First, he informs Bert about the bushy-tailed box (that’s fox) that runs past whilst driving his jar (no, car). But Bert didn’t come. If he did, he could have chased the bats (or cats, rather) that Clarrie’s love interest, Miss Winterbottom owns as they dine ever-so-romantically on pupcakes (you get it!) and coffee under the candlelight. Roasting a letter, buying dumb boots and handing honey to Mr Peck for some chickens are next on the agenda. And if all that rollicking rumpus isn’t enough to tickle your funny bones, wait until you see the frantic flitting of feathered fowls (including Clarrie!) as he attempts to rescue them from that sly, lip-licking fox! So how will it end? Will there be a hero? Who will it be? There’s one thing for sure – it’s been a pig day!

Jen Storer brilliantly dazzles and delights as she combines humour, word play and themes of loyalty and friendship. The language is rich and playful, and written in first person with a dialogue that uncannily rolls off the tongue. Enlarged font for the emphasised, erroneous words add extra interest to the visuals, perfectly tying in with Sue deGennaro‘s bouncy illustrations. I love her acrylic paint, watercolour and ink gentleness with little collage details, patterns and textures. The consistent colour palette of sea greens and blues and touches of reds gorgeously gives the book a calming, non-perplexed feel in an otherwise uproarious manner of complete sillyness.

imageOther than its endless possibilities for teaching and learning, including rhyme, word families and comprehension, Clarrie’s Pig Day Out is simply and utterly a divine and entertaining read with a strong, lovable character that we’d love to see more from. Definitely a winning book to pleasure, and treasure, for all children, big and small.

Purchase Clarrie’s Pig Day Out.

*Don’t go anywhere ‘cos Jen Storer has joined us here for an interview on writing and Clarrie!


Review: Rebel of the Sands by Alwyn Hamilton

Rebel of the Sands by Alwyn Hamilton is a debut YA novel — and wow is it an incredible first book from this author! I anticipated it so very extraordinarily highly that I was slightly nervous going in. Did it live up to my expectations? DEFINITELY YES. It was a glorious conglomeration of Persian fantasy, magic horses, sass, and guns…and I absolutely loved it.9780571325252

The story is about Amani, who is a sharpshooter living with extended family who despise her. She dreams of an adventurous life. So when a strange foreigner comes into town (and they companionably shoot each other and all that) she ends up joining in his adventure. Also there’s magic and guns and a volley of plot twists. Glorious plot twists.

It’s basically set in a dusty fantasy world with Middle Eastern influences. I was actually surprised because I rarely find modern fantasy. (It reminded me a bit of Blood Red Road actually, which I also abso-freaking-lutely love.) There are weapons factories and guns and shoot-outs — but there are also spirits and ghouls and terrible things lurking in the desert that like to rip your face off. Also sand. MUCH SAND. It actually had a cowboy western feel to it!

Amani is downright awesome. She’s the “tough heroine” who is a wicked good shot and dreams of running away from her abusive relatives to FIND HER DESTINY OF AWESOME. She’s really sassy. And she makes mistakes. Oh so. many. mistakes. But she had amazing character development too.

And of course there’s the love interest: Jin. Whom I adored. It could be because of the sass. Or that he slinks into a shooting game in the local tavern and competes against Amani and they’re so stinkin’ cute together. Or, it could be because he gets shot right at the beginning of the story and I do love a good book where everyone is bleeding. Ahem.


Jin was at my side…”Did you just shoot someone?”
“I got us hired, if that’s what you’re asking. And I only shot his glass.”
Jin hooked one arm around my shoulder, leaning on me. “I knew I liked you, Bandit.”

Also the actual storyline did not disappoint at all! It’s fast paced, too, and the fact that it fits an entire complex world into 330-pages is immensely pleasing to me. I love small fantasy worlds that pack a punch of awesome and don’t waffle on. This has epic world building. Epic mythology. Epic settings. (Although it did have a tendency to info-dump in the form of folklore tales occasionally.)

The plot twists are intense and exciting! Although I did predict the biggest one. Not sure if I’m a genius or it was too obvious (let’s assume the first one, right?!) And at times I did get a bit lost with all the characters and why they were killing each other. I hope more is explained about the wars in the next book!

All in all: This book was AMAZING and I cannot recommend it enough. I’m really thrilled about the Persian culture influences, too, because there aren’t enough books out like this! Plus magic and shooting cowboy-esque characters and intense action scenes?! What could be better!?


“You’re going to get us both killed if you go off looking for this on your own, you know. And if I was going to die on account of you, I’d rather have done it weeks ago before I had to do all this walking.”



Mother’s Day is Child’s Play – Picture Book Reviews

Mother’s Day – a day to celebrate the efforts of mothers and mother figures in our lives. Affirming one’s love and appreciation is the best way to the deepest part of her heart, and this can be shown in many ways. One special way to create and savour those deliciously tender moments is to share stories. A kiss, a cuddle, sharing of fond memories, or making new ones, can all develop from the source of a beautiful book, or a few. Start here with these gorgeous picture books specially for mums and grandmas.

imageMummies are Lovely, Meredith Costain (author), Polona Lovsin (illus.), Scholastic Koala Books, 2016.

Combining once again is the superb duo that brought us Daddies are Awesome/Great! is Meredith Costain and Polona Lovsin with Mummies are Lovely.

Beautifully lyrical yet simple canter leads the path to your heart as this delightful read shows cat mothers in a string of sentimental moments. Furry feline mums and kittens grace each page spread with their adorably realistic and energetic prominence. Readers, being both young children and adults, will appreciate all the amazingly loving attributes that mothers so willingly pour over their young. Soothing their troubles, cheering their mood, fearlessly and fiercely protecting them. And there’s no better way to end a busy, active day than to settle down with a tender, squeezy hug and the affirmations of this unconditional love.

Mummies are Lovely, with its all-round playful sweetness that is sure to generate all kinds of warm and fuzzies, is a purr-fectly soothing way to embrace your mother-child relationship this Mother’s Day.

imageGrandma Wombat, Jackie French (author), Bruce Whatley (illus.), Angus&Robertson, 2016.

Mums aren’t the only significant female figures in a child’s life. Those fortunate enough to spend time with their grandmas will certainly reap the benefits of their care. And of course, to Grandma, their little angel can never do wrong.

That is certainly the case in this adorable sequel to the ‘Wombat’ series by the unequivocal talents of Jackie French and Bruce Whatley. A witty story of untold truths relating to cheeky child behaviour and grandparent bias, Grandma Wombat is simply delicious.

Prim and proper (as far as wombats go) is the matriarch, Grandma Wombat. Her babysitting duties are divinely simple and pleasurable (besides the rude disturbances by bounding kangaroos). Just the like the crisp language, her daily schedule is uncomplicated and (usually) straightforward. Whilst Grandma naps, she is blissfully unaware of the happenings behind the scenes. Let’s just say, between heedless bounding kangaroos and high flying stunts, baby grandson bids more of a wild adventure than Grandma Wombat would even care to dream of!

With its suitably boisterous and whimsical illustrations, Grandma Wombat certainly packs a punch in the humour department but also treasures the endearing qualities of a special bond and a grandparent’s love. Delightful to share with preschool-aged children at any time of the day.

imageOnesie Mumsie!, Alice Rex (author), Amanda Francey (illus.), New Frontier Publishing, 2015.

The joys of the bedtime routine are gorgeously represented in this frisky tale, suitably fashioning the precious relationship between a little girl and her mumsie. Mum plays along with all the ‘onesie’ characters that her daughter becomes as she, not so inadvertingly, delays the inevitable. The ever-so-patient parent sneaks opportunities of affection between the drama and the outfits; a nibble on the crocodile, a tickle of the tiger, swinging of the penguin, and a squeezy cuddle with the bear. And when it’s finally time to tuck in for the night, who is waiting with a ‘tall’ surprise?!

Rex’s narrative flows smoothly and repetitively for a pleasurable read for little ones to follow and try to predict what animal comes next. Amanda Francey’s exuberant illustrations spill imagination and spirit, with the added lightly-shaded softness for those tender moments.

imageOnesie Mumsie is a charming book to wear out your little ones at the end of your fun-filled Mother’s Day. It is also the perfect companion to Francey’s latest book, Take Ted Instead (text by Cassandra Webb), reviewed amongst others by Dimity here.

Happy Mother’s (and Grandmother’s) Day to all the cheery, thoughtful, playful, and biased mums and grandmas!  


Review – The Pause

The PauseThis book is remarkable. John Larkin cleaves a mighty wedge into our suspension of belief with the consummate precision and delicacy of a brain surgeon. The Pause doesn’t just tell the story of emotionally damaged Declan O’Malley poised to leap in front of a train and end it all; it entertains the reader in a way that allows you to spontaneously laugh aloud whilst weeping.

Declan is about to leave his teenage-hood behind and as it turns out, his life too. With everything to live for he makes a fatal unplanned decision set to change his path and all those his life (and death) affects. However, before Declan suicides, he pauses. What follows is a fascinating narrative of Declan’s before and after and the parallel consequences of his decision. The Pause has a strong ‘sliding doors’ quality; essentially  it’s an alloy of two versions of one life that invites readers to think hard about the multitude of tiny insignificant decisions we make with every breath and how they define and dictate the direction our lives take.

John LarkinThis novel is absorbing. Larkin’s structure elevates empathy and firmly imbues us into Declan’s emotional quandaries. The pace is never frantic but it is unrelenting nevertheless. It is a story that is difficult to step away from. You will not want clean the kitty litter tray or answer the front door once you step onto that station platform with Declan.

Larkin’s characters cut with knife-edge deftness. Declan is a complex mixture of teenage swagger and self-doubt. He is both grounded and deeply disturbed, harbouring a hurt so painful, it threatens to derail him for good.  He is acutely aware of his shortcomings and that hormones have as much to do with his rational thought destruction as anything else as a teenager. Yet in spite of his chemical and emotional acknowledgement, he is still side-blinded by the actuality of life and his mental frailty. Like many adults and young people, he has very little idea of just how mentally sick he is until it is literally too late. However throughout all this tenderly rendered turmoil, Declan possess a sarcasm and comical observation on life so clean and unrestrained it will make your heart bubble. If I had a son, I would want a version of this boy.

Declan’s support crew: his faithful school mates, his wickedly wonderful family, his gorgeous girlfriend and her estranged demon mother are equally as colourful and mosaic, all layered with such incredible meticulousness that you will want to either hug or slap them accordingly. Through them, we visit the impacts of mental disease, ADHC syndrome, family relationships, regret, sexuality, self-acceptance, and suicide as well as the cry for universal understanding.

Larkin’s prose is beautiful. Apart from being a story of teenage angst and depression, The Pause is a crushing love story. It swells with hope and the desire to live. It resounds with a fervent realisation that life is not always straightforward and simple but if we take time to acknowledge our own self-worth, if we simply pause for thought to see life through, the possibilities are endless.

Confronting, elegant, and accountably decisive, The Pause is an astonishing masterpiece of torn emotions and triumphant spirit that is essential YA (and beyond) reading.

Random House Australia April 2016



Australian YA: Meet Kylie Fornasier and The Things I Didn’t Say

Kylie Fornasier’s new YA novel The Things I Didn’t Say has just been published by Penguin Books.Things I Didn't Say

It’s about seventeen-year-old Piper who has changed schools at the start of Year Twelve in the hope of a new start, particularly of finding her voice.

Thanks for speaking with Boomerang Books, Kylie.

Hi! It’s my pleasure to be talking with you.

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

I’m live in the beautiful Hawkesbury area, north-west of Sydney. I’m a strong supporter of the LoveOzYa movement and I try to be as involved as I can be.

What’s your working background and how else do you spend your time?

I’m a primary school teacher librarian, so between working that job, writing and trying to be a proper adult by keeping the house clean, I don’t have a lot of time left to spend doing other things. But I do always make time for family and friends, the occasional episode of The 100 and yoga.

What inspired you to write The Things I Didn’t Say?

I came up with the idea for The Things I Didn’t Say when I was reading books like Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell and The Fault in our Stars by John Green. I was fascinated by the way everyone approaches love from a different angle. Some people are really open to falling in love, some aren’t. Some people think love lasts forever, others don’t. Some people believe in love at first sight, and so on. The way you approach love depends on so many things about a person. This led me to ask the question, if you couldn’t speak, how would that effect the first time you fall in love?

Kylie Fornasier
Kylie Fornasier

Could you tell us something about your setting and main characters?

17-year-old Piper has been dealing with a condition called Selective Mutism for most of her life. This is a condition where someone who is normally capable of speaking finds themselves unable to speak in most social situations. So at home, Piper can speak normally with her family but as soon as she is around someone else or outside the home, she is silent. She changes schools at the start of Year 12, hoping for a fresh start and on her first day she meets West. He is the school captain, star soccer player, the boy everyone talks about. But although his life seems perfect, he struggles to make his voice heard. As you might’ve guessed, they fall in love without Piper ever speaking one word to West. But the question is, can a love mapped by silence last?

What draws hot School Captain, West, to Piper?

West meets Piper for the first time in German and is drawn to her by her contractions. She studies a subject that mostly requires speaking and the first thing he notices about Piper is that she doesn’t speak. She seems quite anxious but there’s also a gentle confidence he notices about her. On top of that, she is beautiful, new and mysterious. He wants to know more about her.

Why have you given Piper photography as her major interest (rather than another visual or other art form such as music)?

I’ve always believed the cliché that a picture speaks a thousand words. For Piper, photography is her way of speaking. However, she only ever takes photos of the bush near her house. She comes to learn that she has much more to say than she realises. I don’t think I ever deliberately choose photography over another visual art form. One of the first images I got in my mind of Piper was a girl with a camera around her neck and that stuck.

Piper is a skilled German student. What’s your favourite German word? 

It would have to be ‘ohrwurm’, which translate to ‘earworm’ and relates to having a song stuck in your head. Though, for me it’s often a story or a character.

What’s the importance of forgiveness in your story?

Forgiveness is very important in The Things I Didn’t Say. Not only in terms of forgiving others but forgiving yourself.

I know it’s only just been published but have you received any responses from young readers about The Things I Didn’t Say that particularly resonate with you?

Oh gosh, so many! What has resonated so strongly with me is the way that people are emotionally connecting with the characters and story. I keep hearing how the story has made people cry in public and go through boxes of tissues. There are also people who emailing trees now (you have to read the book to find out the significance of this – yes, it is a real thing!) and leaving Post-It notes in copies of The Things I Didn’t Say that they come across in bookshops. It’s hearing about these responses that make it all worth it.

What advice would you give to people who prefer not to express themselves verbally or are shy?

It depends how significantly it is affecting their life. If it is impacting their life, then I strongly advise they seek help. They can start by letting someone they trust know what’s going on. There are many services available that can be very successful.

But if it’s not significantly affecting their life, then I simply suggest expressing themselves in the way they feel comfortable, such as through music, writing, sport, art, dance, photography, whatever that may be!

I think it’s important to think of a person as a whole and how certain qualities have both flaws and strengths. If you are a shy person, you’re probably a great listener or a really keen observer. It’s about embracing the qualities we have but also recognising if we do need to seek help.

What else have you written and what are you writing at the moment? 

Prince who shrankI’ve had a couple of books published for children and young adults, including: Masquerade (YA, published by Penguin Books Australia in 2014), The Prince who Shrank (picture book, published by Koala Books in 2015), and The Ugg Boot War (chapter book, published by Omnibus Books in 2014).

At the moment, I’m working on the first book in a funny chapter book series for children. As soon as I’m finished that, hopefully within the next month, I’ll start my next young adult novel.

What have you enjoyed reading?

Since I’m expecting my first child in October, I’ve been reading a lot of books on caring for babies! But in terms of fiction, I’m currently enjoying The Great Zoo of China by Matthew Reilly. I typically read YA and while this book is not YA, I started reading Matthew Reilly books as a teenager and have read every book he has written since.

All the best with The Things I Didn’t Say, and especially with your baby, Kylie.

Thanks so much!


Review: Black Magick Vol. 1 – Awakening by Greg Rucka and Nicola Scott

9781632156754Part police procedural, part supernatural thriller, the first volume of Greg Rucka and Nicola Scott’s Black Magick is a standout on every level — possibly the best work of their careers — and will leave readers eagerly waiting the follow-up.

Rowan Black is a detective with the Portsmouth Police Department — and a practicing witch. Not the type that dons a black hat and flies on a broomstick; no, contemporary witchcraft is a tad subtler than that. Still, Rowan has always struggled to keep both aspects of her life separate, and when she becomes the target of a mysterious organisation with a keen interest in the supernatural, everything she holds dear comes under threat.

Nicola Scott’s art is the true highlight of Black Magick — which takes nothing away from Rucka’s script, his characterisations, or the overarching plot, all of which are truly stellar — it’s just … wow. Superlatives are reserved for work like this. Scott utilises a unique grey wash, with only slight traces of colour, to great effect; and her panels are hyper-detailed, and her pages effectively constructed, to make this a real pleasure to read. It’s hyperbolic sure, but there’s no question: these pages confirm Nicola Scott’s status as the best artist working in comics.

A gripping page-turner from beginning to end, Rucka and Scott’s first instalment in their “witch noir” series is an absolute blast. They might not have created a new genre, but they sure as hell have redefined it. Forgive the pun, but Black Magick is absolutely spellbinding, and one of the best things I’ve read all year.

Buy the book here…