Review: The Things I Didn’t Say by Kylie Fornasier

I was excited and nervous to dive into The Things I Didn’t Say by Kylie FornaiserHer debut novel, Masquerade (an Italian-based historical fiction!) was absolutely stupendous. And I was entirely curious to see how she’d go writing a contemporary dealing with social anxiety disorders. But this book is practically flawless. Honestly I’m so pleased with it! It features the cutest characters of ever, incredible writing, and a careful and honouring portrayal of Social Anxiety and Selective Mutism. All I can do is applaud!9780143573630

Actually, I can totally do more than applaud. TIME FOR AN ENTHUSIASTIC REVIEW AS WELL.

The story is about Piper who has Selective Mutism. Before reading this book I knew basically 2% about Selective Mutism and I’d never read a book on it. Piper hasn’t stopped speaking because of a traumatic event — she has Social Anxiety and she’s had it most of her life. She can talk. And she does around her family and with any friends she’s super close to. But she never talks in public due to her astronomically high levels of anxiety. And you know what?!? It was just so well written. I appreciated the accurate and thoughtful representation and the detailed though process of Piper’s reactions to stressful situations.

The story follows Piper as she’s starting a new school. Which is always hard because she can’t talk and people rarely understand and force her into situations that make it worse. She left her old school because of a Big Bad Thing that we readers are basically desperate to find out whyyyyy. I could basically feel the tension and anxiety and hopelessness leaking off the pages as Piper navigates the world. But yet she still keeps up a fairly good humour despite it! Plus she does make some friends. It’s so adorably encouraging to see some of the school kids taking her under their wing.

The romance is entirely adorable! Although I’m not the biggest romantic of ever….oh gosh, I was definitely shipping this. There’s a slow-burn and super sweet relationship between Piper and a boy she meets at school: West. They start off passing notes and then merging to tutoring and it’s just downright adorable. West does push at at Piper several times, questioning why she won’t speak to him when she clearly likes him. It’s complicated, okay?!? But whenever he does something sucky he actually apologies. Like, dude. This is unbelievably good. Plus on top of West’s manners and charm, his passion is cooking! He gets excited about the thought of truffles and opening a restaurant (!!) and what is not to like about this boy?!

I immensely enjoyed reading about Piper’s epic family too. She has 3 siblings and 2 fantastically loving, joking, supportive parents! Sometimes they don’t truly understand her mutism, but they try. Her parents will put her into expensive therapies if it’ll help, and they are there for her, and they don’t force her into doing anything that will freak her out. Plus they have family game nights and excuse me but I love them all.

Of course there’s plenty of DRAMA, too. The ending was nearly cheesy with plenty of feel-good moments and a few convenient plot twists, but it was still done super sweetly. The story just has so many fabulous elements! Cooking! Emailing trees! Mutism! Glorious happy family dynamics! Disney’s Frozen references! Photography! I can overlook the drama llama tendencies.

All in all: The Things I Didn’t Say was beautifully written and incredible to read. It had frank and meaningful and accurate discussions and portrayals about anxiety disorders. Plus it had a bit of fluff, some quirky moments, jokes, and several people singing Let It Go when the need arose. Piper is definitely a protagonist you get attached to and become very proud of. I’m so super pleased this book exists!

 

[PURCHASE HERE]

Review: Wilde Lake by Laura Lippman

9780571321759I’ve reached the point now with Laura Lippman novels where I don’t even read the blurb anymore, I just know I’m going to love them no matter what. I vaguely knew this new book was about an attorney so I had it pegged as a possible legal thriller but of course with Laura Lippman it is way more than that. In fact at times the crime/mystery central to the story isn’t even apparent but you don’t care because Lippman builds such rich characters and story that you are already simply engrossed.

Lippman’s latest novel focuses on one family. Lu Brant, is the newly elected State Attorney for Howard County, Maryland; following in the footsteps of her father, despite everyone always assuming it would be her brother, AJ, that would take this path. She is determined to make her own name in the job and takes on the first case her office receives with gusto,despite it not being one that will be in the headlines. But as she prepares for a relatively straight-forward trial Lu’s family’s past begins weighing on her mind, with startling revelations.

As always Lippman builds the story perfectly, seamlessly blending together Lu’s story in the present with her memories growing up. You almost get so lost in Lu’s backstory that you forget about the impending trial of the present, so rich is the narrative Lippman weaves. There is a strong Harper Lee essence as Lu recounts the story of her and her brother growing up with their State Attorney father. But every family has its secrets and the true heart of this story is how we bury those secrets in our memories and how it only takes one strand to be pulled loose for the narrative of our own life to be turned upside down.

This is Laura Lippman once again at her absolute best; able to lose you so easily in the narrative but also keep you guessing all the way to the surprising end.

Buy the book here…

Review: The Black Widow by Daniel Silva

black widowIn his foreword, Daniel Silva notes that he began writing The Black Widowbefore the Paris attacks of 2015. That his latest thriller is published so soon after the devastating terrorist attack in Nice — a cruel coincidence — demonstrates just how prophetic these geopolitical thrillers can be.

Daniel Silva writes smart, sophisticated, highly literate thrillers. The fuse always burns slowly, which makes the explosion all the more impactful. The Black Widow – the sixteenth Gabriel Allon novel – is no different. It begins in the Marais district of Paris where ISIS detonates a massive bomb, killing hundreds; including a friend of Gabriel’s. The French government enlists the aid of the impending chief of Israeli intelligence to eliminate the terrorist mastermind responsible: the enigmatic Saladin. And so, Allon endeavours to accomplish the impossible: infiltrate ISIS and prevent its forthcoming attacks.

Of course, Allon is a recognizable spymaster; he can hardly penetrate the terrorist network himself. So he enlists a civilian, the French-born Dr. Natalie Mizrahi, whose background makes her the perfect undercover agent. This is where Silva derives much of the novel’s tension: a young Jew, with no field experience and minimal training, hiding in plain sight in the heart of the caliphate. Can she possibly pull off the impossible? Those who’ve read Silva before will know his plots always divert into the unexpected. Nothing is ever straightforward.

For some time now, Silva has been transitioning Allon towards his role as the director, rather than an agent, of Israeli intelligence. For the first time in the series, Silva presents Gabriel as more of a supporting character rather than protagonist, and if The Black Widow is anything to go by, his future novels might have a wider cast, with Mikhail Abramov and Dina Sarid poised to play larger roles. On the one hand, it’s sad to see Allon fading from the limelight; on the other, it’s so rare for a series like this to exhibit such character progression. Most leads in thriller-fic are stagnant, so this is a refreshing change. And if this is indeed Gabriel Allon’s final call to arms, it is a brutally fitting finale.

Every Daniel Silva novel is a treat, and The Black Widow is no different. The consistency of the Gabriel Allon series is truly astounding. The man is peerless; I’m certain I’ve used this line before, but it deserves repeating: no other writer is as capable of providing as many thrills and genuine heartbreaks, as Silva. Whether you’re a long-time fan or a newcomer, if you’re looking for a great thriller, you’ll struggle to find better than The Black Widow.

Buy the book…

Mrs Whitlam

Dark emuAustralian Indigenous authors are writing significant works of fiction, telling their own stories in their own voices. Writers for adults include Kim Scott, Alexis Wright, Melissa Lukashenko, Ali Cobby Eckermann, Larissa Behrendt and Tara June Winch.

There are also prominent and emerging Indigenous authors writing for children and young adults, including inaugural Australian Children’s Laureate, Boori Monty Pryor; Bronwyn Bancroft, whose work will be celebrated at the IBBY conference in Auckland in August; Dub Leffler with Once There was a Boy; Brenton McKenna; Sue McPherson; Elaine Russell; Anita Heiss; Jared Thomas; Ambelin Kwaymullina; Ambelin’s mother, Sally Morgan; and Bruce Pascoe.

Sally Morgan is currently shortlisted for the CBCA awards with her verse novel about stolen children, Sister Heart, and Bruce Pascoe’s Dark Emu was joint winner with Ellen van Neerven of the 2016 NSW Premier’s Literary Awards inaugural Indigenous Writers’ Prize. Pascoe’s book also won overall Book of the Year. These names and others unite to form a potent “who’s who” of contemporary Australian writers.

FogBruce Pascoe’s novel for middle school (upper primary and junior secondary) Fog a Dox won the 2013 Prime Minister’s Literary Award in the young adult category.

I reviewed his next novel for younger readers, Seahorse for the Sydney Morning Herald.

His recent novel for children Mrs Whitlam is another incisive, unsentimental tale. Marnie Clark is given a horse named Mrs Whitlam. The horse’s former owner, Vicki, has died and her mother can’t bear to have the horse around as a reminder of her loss. Marnie would prefer another name but she knew her mum would say, ‘You should be proud to have a horse named after that lady – she was a wonderful woman, her old man wasn’t a bad bloke, either, even if he was Prime Minister. Did a fair bit for black people too!’

Marnie is bullied and harassed at times but the cause may not necessarily be because she is Aboriginal. Indie a girl from pony club, for example, feels she has to be better than anyone, and Marnie may be a threat because of her skilled riding.

mrs_whitlam_high_res_Marnie has a blissful experience riding Mrs Whitlam (Maggie) to the river and sea. Owning a horse gives freedom. But her beach escapade becomes terrifying when she and Maggie save a drowning baby. A family BBQ with popular George follows, but the book’s conclusion is strangely abrupt.

This is a clear-sighted story for readers in primary school and I particularly appreciate how Bruce Pascoe depicts Aboriginal children and families as being like everyone else. Like Tony Birch’s recent work, Pascoe allows the characters’ Aboriginality to remain in the background without ignoring it. They are strong characters in their own right.

The excellent Magabala Press has published all of Bruce’s books mentioned and I have previously interviewed Bruce for Boomerang Books Blog.Seahorse

 

Double Dipping – Save our Trees!

With National Tree Day just around the corner (28th to 31st July) what better way to celebrate the importance of sustaining and enriching our environment than by honouring earth’s life source, the tree.

Here are two picture books that appeal to the younger end of the market. There are many more, that showcase the magnificence of trees and nature: Jeannie Baker’s marvellous works, Tree by Danny Parker and Margaret Wild’s Tanglewood, for instance. Hunt them down and enjoy, but for goodness sake, leave those trees standing!

Barnaby and the Lost Treasure of BunnyvilleBarnaby and the Lost Treasure of Bunnyville by Robert Vescio Illustrated by Cheri Hughes

Barnaby is a gardener who loves to rove and gather. With his assorted stash of seeds, he dreams of transforming his home, Bunnyville into a verdant wonderland of fruit and veg. The major of Bunnyville, however has other ideas. He believes bunnies are designed for one thing and one thing only, to dig. Faced with this opposition, Barnaby devises a way to turn the mayor’s stony greed into positive action.

Barnaby illos spreadWhen a treasure map promising to reveal the lost treasure of Bunnyville turns up, the mayor enlists every paw and claw of Bunnyville to find it. Enthusiastic excavation ensues but the only ‘treasure’ unearthed is an rusty old key by Barnaby. While the rest of the township concedes defeat, Barnaby utilises the myriad of holes created by the hunt and with some luck and patience, Bunnyville is transformed into a lush productive garden.  The townsfolk are delighted, the mayor impressed by what Barnaby reveals is indeed the ‘lost treasure of Bunnyville’. The concept of 2 and 5 a day as never looked so delicious!

Robert VesicoThis ambrosial little tale about bunnies and treasure hunting neatly encapsulates Vescio’s subtle plea for perseverance and preservation in a way that will appeal to under 6-year-olds. It gently emphasises that ‘a tree is a treasure’ and that from little things, big things, important things really do grow – into ‘growing treasures’.  A playful and useful way to introduce young readers into food production and conservation. (I love Hughes pumpkin bright illustrations and amazing seed-studded end pages, too!)Take it with you as you head out to plant something this weekend!

Big Sky Publishing July 2016

The Gobbling TreeThe Gobbling Tree by Mark Carthew Illustrated by Susy Boyer

An oldie but a goodie, this classic picture book by Mark Carthew and Susy Boyer depicts what happens to the seeds we plant and the consequences of our interaction with them.

The gobbling tree situated on a rise in the local park is never named but becomes the focal point of concern for the neighbourhood kids when one by one they lose a precious plaything to its arboreal clutches. Kites, cricket bats, balls, sticks, boots, even Jacob’s ladder (Ha Ha) are gobbled up as each attempt to get their objects back results in more lost items. Soon most of the town’s treasures are stuck within the tree’s grasp including, Simon! It’s not until nature shimmies to her own dance that normality is restored…until the next cricket match that is.

Mark CarthewAnyone who has ever had a Frisbee stuck in a tree and failed to dislodge it with a variety of other thrown items will relate to this hilarious lyrical misadventure. (I’m putting my hand high up, here!) Carthew’s ability to bring song into story is well loved and in this case, worthy of receiving the Speech Pathology Book of the Year 2009 Award. Boyer’s drawings capture the colour and comedy of the situation beautifully. This favourite never grows old and underlines my deep-rooted respect for trees evermore.

New Frontier Publishing first published 2008

So whether you intend to plant a tiny parsley seed or the beginnings of something large and magnificent, encourage your children to honour nature this weekend, indeed every weekend. They can enjoy books like these as they wait for their treasures to grow.

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian

Dreaming of Adventure with Alison Binks

imageBe taken on a mysteriously wonderful midnight adventure with the captivating story, Caspar and the Night Sea, and the publishing journey of its creator; Alison Binks.

Awoken by the sneaky light of the moon, the gentle breeze and the sounds of the waves gives Caspar the perfect opportunity to go ‘sailing’. Without a stir from his soundly sleeping parents and the chooks in the shed, the young boy and his dog venture out to the shore with their trailer and boat in toe. Something feels different to other nights, and with the guidance of the dolphins and the whispers of the fishes, they are lead to a most glorious vision… Whales! But some secrets are just too good to share!

Binks writes this narrative with a dreamy sense of delicacy and atmosphere that takes its readers into the scene. Her illustrations are equally entrancing with their eerie kind of feel conveying light amongst the darkness, and gentleness within the movement.

Capturing the essence of adventure and imagination, Caspar and the Night Sea is a humbling and soulful tale perfect for preschoolers at bedtime. It is also a brilliant facilitator for encouraging ecological study and advocacy amongst its readers.

Windy Hollow Books, 2016.  

I am thrilled to have the lovely Alison Binks discuss the inspirations and processes behind her new book. Thanks, Alison!

imageCongratulations on the release of your debut picture book, Caspar and the Night Sea! How have you found the whole publishing process? What did you do to celebrate its launch?

Thank you Romi.  I was of course amazed and delighted to be selected for publication. Following that excitement I was dismayed when I learnt the length of time the publication process was due to take, (years) and in the end it was even slower. So I feel it’s been a long road, but now I realise how it all works I’m just keen to get going on another book.

I have not had a launch as yet but I’m still hoping to organise an event of some sort. It may be when the weather turns, and we all feel more encouraged to get out of our houses. Maybe when the children can contemplate the idea of sailing in a warm breeze. I’ll make some cupcakes and set up with a stack of books somewhere.

You have done both the text and pictures in this book. Can you tell us a bit about your background? How did you come to write and illustrate for children?

imageI wrote this story for my son Caspar. It was to be a gift for him, and a process for me of immersing myself in the imaginary world of my little boy, who was then 2, and dreaming big dreams for him.

My background is in architecture, design and fine art. I exhibit my work, and usually paint landscapes in oils, but this was an opportunity to work on a smaller scale and it was lovely to sit down at a desk in a small pool of light, and work in a different way.

Caspar and the Night Sea is a wondrous tale of a boy and his dog venturing out on their boat into the depths of the ocean, in the darkest part of the night. Where did this inspiration come from? What were your intentions for readers to grasp from this imaginative concept?

I wanted a tale about a child who has secret adventures.  We lead such busy lives, with children tagging along through the adult world much of the time, timetabled.  I wanted to work with the idea of childhood freedom and children’s ability to do things on their own.

imageThe image of a little boat sailing off over a dark sea came to me very early on and I built the story around this mental picture.

Your illustrations are mesmorising with their mix of dreamy watercolours and ink drawing to create movement. Do you experiment with different styles in creating the right ‘feel’? How have you come to develop this style of art? What is your favourite medium to use?

When I travel I often take a small watercolour sketchbook, and watercolour was the first painting medium I used. For these illustrations I was influenced by the work of other artists, Ron Brooks and Robert Ingpen in particular.  (See The Bunyip at Berkley’s Creek or Ingpen’s Wind in the Willows).  The challenge was that the story takes place in the dark. I studied the way other artists approached this and decided that for me to lay the black ink over the watercolour would allow a palette of subtle colours to exist beneath the black night of the ink.

Fun Question! If you could be any creature in the ocean what would it be and why?

I have always sailed, and dolphins seem to me to be having the most fun in the water down there, surfing on bow waves, leaping out of the water for no particular reason. And they seem to have a language of their own and that appeals to me.

What tips would you give other emerging authors or illustrators eager to have their work published?

I was very lucky to find a publisher for whom the story resonated.  I don’t have any tips for that, except to search for the one person who really connects with what you are doing.

What’s next for Alison Binks? What projects are you currently working on?

My hope is simply to have enough success with this book that Windy Hollow, my publisher, will agree to print the next one!  There is a more complex story both in my mind and partly on paper, waiting until I have time to come back to it. I’ve painted a first illustration and have ideas about a new colour palette and a slightly different approach. But first I am doing the legwork to get Caspar and the Night Sea into the bookstores, schools, kinders… wherever I can, and spreading the word.

All the best of luck and success! Thank you so much for the interview, Alison! 🙂

Thank you.

Look out for Alison Binks and her amazing work at her website .

Purchase Caspar and the Night Sea.

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian

Review: I’m Thinking Of Ending Things by Iain Reid

9781925355079I’m Thinking of Ending Things is the kind of novel you’ll read with your stomach clenched, mouth dry, heart pounding in your chest. It’s compulsive, unnerving, and downright unputdownable. It’s by far the most tense, atmospheric, and suspenseful book I’ve read this year – and also one of the best. Seriously, just thinking about it now, that ending . . . I’ve got goosebumps. And an insatiable desire to read it again.

I’m Thinking of Ending Things is about the fragility of identity and reality. But such a summary belies its edginess, and its sheer incredible craftsmanship. Every word is necessary; every sentence and paragraph framed with precision. It is smart, it is spooky; it’s a can’t-put-down-thriller masquerading as an examination into the human psyche. It takes place over a single night. Jake and his girlfriend are on a road-trip through a snowstorm to visit his parents on a remote farm. Which is when things get strange. After dinner, they choose not to remain at the farm, and drive home. But the dinner – their brief stop at the farm – has unwoven something, and the night unravels fast, climaxing when he leaves her stranded at an abandoned high school . . .

It is a psychological thriller? A horror story? An amalgamation? I’m Thinking of Ending Things is the kind of novel that defies bookstore categorization. I’d hand it over to anyone who reads in either genre; fans of Stephen King; fans of Gone Girl. It helps that the novel is short – a couple hundred pages – and its momentum is unstoppable. So even if you’re not sure this is your thing, by the time you’re asking yourself that question, you’re a quarter of the way through the book, and by then, you’ll need to know what happens next. I’m Thinking of Ending Things is a masterwork of building intensity. It’s a masterpiece, full-stop.

Buy the book here…

List of YA Peter Pan Retellings

Do you find yourself mildly terrified of being an adult? I think you and I need to have a talk about Peter Pan. YES! The immortal, ageless classic fairy-child created by J.M. Barrie in the 1900s. And considering Peter Pan is still popular even to this day, I think he’s successfully achieved that “ageless” genius.

But if you’ve already read the original Peter Pan and don’t want to re-read it 78 times…NEVER FEAR. I have a list of retellings that might interest you! Now you can read Peter Pan retold in different, delectable styles and satisfy your inner child.

PETER PAN RETELLINGS


9780062003263TIGER LILY

[purchase]

Tiger Lily is a seriously whimsical retelling of Peter Pan, that focuses on…TIGER LILY HERSELF! (Surprise!) It’s more about her people and their culture, including her mentor, Tik Tok, and the shame and hardship the villagers put him and Tiger Lily through because they’re different and quite odd. Plus it’s narrated by Tinkerbell. Which is quite enlightening because Tink can’t speak.


9781481432047UNHOOKED

[purchase]

This one features two girls who are kidnapped by rougish pirates and taken to a deathly island of evil creatures and freaktastic beasts. It blurs the line of “good vs evil” in this new, vicious Neverland. If you’re looking for a dark side to Neverland, I think this is it.


9781940716954WENDY DARLING

[purchase]

Here we have a more classic approach to the tale, where Peter Pan comes for Wendy Darling in nursery one evening. But Neverland has a bloody, dark side here too, and all the frolicking with the Lost Boys isn’t going to cover that up. Did Wendy fall into a wonderland or a nightmare? Let’s ask the tough questions here.


9781634221351NORA & KETTLE

[purchase]

Despite sounding like a packet of potato chips, this is actually a retelling! It’s set in the 1950s and takes a more historical fiction approach to the old tale. Kettle is an orphaned Japanese-American trying to live on the streets in the aftermath of WWII when the world is basically against him.


9781633920392NEVER NEVER

[purchase]

Forget Peter Pan, let’s talk about Captain James Hook! This one is from his perspective and rather views Peter as an impish little demon. (Fair enough, I suppose. They did have quite the rivalry there.) At first James wants to be in Neverland, but then he decides growing up doesn’t sound so bad…except Peter won’t take him back home. #awkward Thus ensues the beginning of James Hook being in a world that pretty much hates his guts. Not fun.


9780451475763NEVER EVER

[purchase]

A slightly more contemporary retelling approach to the classic Peter Pan story! This features Wylie who gets entranced by the mysterious Phinn and ends up following him to an island of fun times and parties and no responsibility. Except things aren’t what they seem. (I mean, are they ever when it comes to the slightly devious, slightly evil Peter Pan?? Hmm?)


9780545836944EVERLAND

[purchase]

It’s about time things got steampunky! This one is set in London after the WWII blitzes and there’s an evil German scientist snatching children from the streets and experimenting on them. Gwen and a impish hellion named Pete set out to rescue the kids. The story promises sharp-shooting and blood promises and gangs.

Empowering Inspiration – Picture Book Reviews

The following picture books possess special qualities in their ability to address difficult topics, but in most sensitive and inspiring ways. From the team at publishing company, Empowering Resources, here are three valuable resources that can literally change the lives of many dealing with tough life circumstances.

imageThe courageous and talented Naomi Hunter, founder of Empowering Resources has brilliantly delivered these touching tales to the world. Her first authored book, A Secret Safe to Tell, explores the delicate issue of childhood sexual abuse, based on a troubling time from her past. With beautifully gentle illustrations by Karen Erasmus, this book is one of comfort and encouragement in feeling safe enough to trust in seeking help.

Children who are victims of abuse understandably are confused when fun, warm love and a special relationship with someone they know turns into a period of awkwardness, hurts and threats. Even though this is what they are told to believe, abuse is never their fault. When the little girl in the story eventually faces her fears and exposes her secret to the flowers and birds, she is serendipitously blessed with a new, colourful heart and the power to be free…

Unsurprisingly shortlisted in the 2015 Australian Book Industry Awards, A Secret Safe to Tell has brought about a revolution of support for this initiative and has helped many around the world share their stories and lift their heavy burdens in order to heal. It has also already been, and will continue to be a fabulous, ’empowering resource’ for early years educators and parents to teach their children about body safety, appropriate interactions with older people in their lives, and that it is ok to tell.

Read more in my interview with Naomi Hunter.

imageNaomi‘s most recently published book, Even Mummy Cries, explores the emotional rollercoaster that often accompanies families on their journey that is life. Whatever the type of struggles being faced, it is perfectly normal, and healthy even, to have an outlet for the internal battles we are dealing with. For this heart-rending and reassuring story, the soft watercolour and pencil illustrations by Karen Erasmus are suitably gentle, visually captivating and highly impactful.

The children in the story just adore their fun mummy, who loves them back “more than a GAZILLION BILLION TRILLION plus INFINITY.” But when she reverts to a sad and lonely place, and EXPLODES with tears in the middle of the night, the kids feel a sense of hopelessness and a deep sting in their hearts. Until the tears stop…

imageAt the very heart of this book is the security for its readers; Mums, you are not alone. Kids, well, you just do what you do and your mummies love and treasure you no matter what! With beautiful sentiments, Even Mummy Cries is another important book for primary school aged children to understand some of life’s complexities without feeling guilt, and the power for parents to be able to share their pressures in sensitive ways without feeling shame.

Read more about Naomi Hunter’s inspiration for this story here.

imageYou’re Different, Jemima! explores self-expression, individuality and self-assurance. Written with gusto, just like the nature of our main character, Jedidah Morley sends a positive and nurturing message that standing ‘loud and proud’, and just being yourself is more than ok. I particularly like the colour variations that Karen Erasmus uses to highlight the scenes of imagination and personality as opposed to the overall sense of uniformity.

Jemima’s teacher, Mrs Smith and the other students degrade her for ‘colourful’ and unique ways of expressing herself. It is her eccentric-looking duck picture that has everyone, including Jemima, questioning her sense of belonging. But when Mrs Chuckles takes over teaching the next day, Jemimah’s self doubt is put to rest and her ‘differences’ are celebrated.

You’re Different, Jemima! is a refreshing story for preschoolers that allows and encourages individual personalities to shine as bold and bright as they can be.

The Empowering Resources website with all their current and upcoming books can be found here.

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian

Stephenie Meyer’s first thriller, THE CHEMIST, to be published in November

ChemistBig news, book lovers! Bestselling author Stephenie Meyer’s first thriller, The Chemist, will be published worldwide on November 15, 2016.

According to Meyer, “The Chemist is the love child created from the union of my romantic sensibilities and my obsession with Jason Bourne/Aaron Cross. I very much enjoyed spending time with a different kind of action hero, one whose primary weapon isn’t a gun or a knife or bulging muscles, but rather her brain.”

As for the official blurb:

In this gripping page-turner, an ex-agent on the run from her former employers must take one more case to clear her name and save her life. She used to work for the U.S. government, but very few people ever knew that. An expert in her field, she was one of the darkest secrets of an agency so clandestine it doesn’t even have a name. And when they decided she was a liability, they came for her without warning. Now she rarely stays in the same place or uses the same name for long. They’ve killed the only other person she trusted, but something she knows still poses a threat. They want her dead, and soon. When her former handler offers her a way out, she realizes it’s her only chance to erase the giant target on her back. But it means taking one last job for her ex-employers. To her horror, the in-formation she acquires only makes her situation more dangerous. Resolving to meet the threat head-on, she prepares for the toughest fight of her life but finds her-self falling for a man who can only complicate her likelihood of survival. As she sees her choices being rapidly whittled down, she must apply her unique talents in ways she never dreamed of.

In this tautly plotted novel, Meyer creates a fierce and fascinating new heroine with a very specialized skill set. And she shows once again why she’s one of the world’s bestselling authors.

Sounds like blockbuster material! Will you be reading it?

Review: The Orphan Queen by Jodi Meadows

If you’re looking for an incredible YA fantasy that features delicious things like spooky destroyed countries, medieval vigilantes, princesses-in-disguise, and various sharp knives — then The Orphan Queen by Jodi Meadows is calling to you. Practically screaming your name. You want it, just trust me on this, yes?

 

WHAT’S IT ABOUT:

18081228An epic fantasy filled with adventure, intrigue, and romance from Incarnate series author Jodi Meadows. This duology is perfect for fans of Graceling by Kristin Cashore, The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson, and Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo. When Princess Wilhelmina was a child, the Indigo Kingdom invaded her homeland. Ten years later, Wil and the other noble children who escaped are ready to fight back and reclaim Wil’s throne. To do so, Wil and her best friend, Melanie, infiltrate the Indigo Kingdom palace with hopes of gathering information that will help them succeed. But Wil has a secret-one that could change everything. Although magic has been illegal for a century, she knows her ability could help her save her kingdom. But magic creates wraith, and the deadly stuff is moving closer and destroying the land. And if the vigilante Black Knife catches her using magic, she may disappear like all the others…

 

I will warn you that it ends with a dreadfully glorious cliffhanger! So do the smart thing and order both The Orphan Queen and the sequel, The Mirror King, simultaneously. You’ll thank me, I swear. Also it’s simply a duo! So no need to freak out waiting for a third book!

As a huge fan of YA fantasy, I’m really glad this lived up to my expectations! I wouldn’t say it’s the most original book out there, but it was well told and had unique elements. AKA = it basically had a medieval vigilante Batman. I cannot even contain my excitement over that! It felt really new and different to me.

Plus add in destroyed kingdoms, spies expeditions, and the occasional murder…what is not to love here?

The plot chuffs along on a fairly steady pace. Probably more on the slow side. Wil, the lost princess of a destroyed kingdom, is going undercover in the enemy’s castle. So while she spends the evenings jumping around with knives and disguises, the days are filled with polite small talk and pretty ballgowns. At least it’s a nice mix! Wil was seriously badass. It was endlessly amusing reading her acting the part of an air-headed Duchess and then turn around and be plotting cunningly.

Wil was a really awesome protagonist. She didn’t seem particularly different to Every Other Hidden Princess Ever. But the trope is one of my favourites, so I don’t mind! She has a slow-burn romance with the vigilante, Black Knife. Basically that was my favourite thing of ever. Plus Wil has a really epic best-friend and their relationship is goals.

Plus there is magic! Magic is illegal in this world (fun stuff always is, dangit). Wil’s power is to animate things. She says “wake up” to a wall and it’ll eat a person. (Why can’t I have this superpower??? I could make the sink do the dishes for me and life would be perfect.) I thought this was a really clever and unusual twist on magical abilities!

The world building = very very good. It actually felt like a fully complex and rounded world.

And then we have that freakishly awesomely horrible cliffhanger. AH! If you want a book that will literally have you shrieking and clawing for the sequel: this is it. The finale was so exciting and action-packed and emotional.

Obviously, I’m a fan of this story! This is also my first Jodi Meadows books and clearly I need to read her other series. I’m very invested and want to see Wil get her throne back!

 

[PURCHASE HERE]

Feeling Good and Fitting In – Inspiring Picture Books

Self-assuredness, making wise life choices, strong self-esteem, and a kind heart – all positive attributes we wish for our offspring but not always easy to foster. The beautiful subtly of picture books can help reinforce and encourage these traits in children. Here are some inspiring examples.

Stick and StoneStick and Stone by Beth Ferry Illustrated by Tom Lichtenheld

Simplicity refined. Gorgeous illustrations accompany a rock solid (pardon the pun) rhyming text about the strength and benefits of friendship, sticking together and courage in times of trouble. I loved the elementary message and profound humour. Kids will warm to the humanness of these two non-human characters, Stick and Stone. Highly recommended for primary school aged readers and those trying to understand schoolyard friendships.

Koala Books September 2015

The Truth According to ArthurThe Truth According to Arthur by Tim Hopgood Illustrated by David Tazzyman

This could easily become my new best-go-to favourite resource for dealing with fibbers. Arthur tells porkies, not to hurt but like most young people, to lessen the damage to himself that could arise from his actions, in other words, to avoid getting in trouble. However, Truth follows him about everywhere and no matter how hard Arthur tries to avoid, hide, bend or stretch Truth, Truth remains stalwart staring Arthur down until eventually …he admits The Truth.  Told in a smile-inducing uncomplicated way and matched with super line drawings, The Truth According to Arthur addresses the importance of taking responsibility for ones actions and always, always being honest. A brilliant addition to any parents’ tool kit!

Bloomsbury Publishing July 2016

I don't like KoalaI Don’t Like Koala by Sean Ferrell Illustrated by Charles SantosKoala illos spread

There is something slightly sinister about the non-seeing stare of Koala. Something dark and off-putting that Adam finds unsavoury as well. So much so, he cannot bring himself to like his new toy, Koala one little bit. He tries everything to lose Koala but inexplicably, Koala always returns (good on you Mum and Dad!). Until one terrible night, Adam finally learns to value Koala’s unwavering friendship and worth. Santos’ drawings enhance Ferrell’s beautiful clean narrative, often in a clever parallel way and reinforce the notion of acceptance; of who we are, what we truly love and of our own fears.

Koala Books 2015

The Ricker Racker ClubThe Ricker Racker Club by Patrick Guest Illustrated by Nathaniel Eckstrom

This is a once upon a time type of picture book that grabs kids’ attention from the very first page. Brothers Max and Ollie have invented the Ricker Racker Club, an association with distinct rules and regulations; being a boy for example. Polly is not a boy and secretly yearns to join the club so in an ironically old world way, she cunningly surrenders to the boys’ demands and desires, cleaning their bedroom, giving them her tooth-fairy money and so on whilst they belt around being, well, boys. Weeks pass until one day their pet turtle, Albert finds himself in peril of being consumed by the local wolf. Help comes from an unexpected quarter forcing the boys to rethink their club policies. A delightful comical representation of how friendships, acceptance, and courage are won on your actions.  Suitable for mid to upper primary readers and those who love back yard adventuring.

Little Hare Books HGE  April 2016

KindnessThe Invisible Tree – Kindness by Kirrily Lowe Illustrated by Henry Smith

For those who prefer their tales of moral strength and positive virtue with a more spiritual spin, seek out the Invisible Tree series by Wombat Books. Each picture book in the series describes how a child character learns about a particular attribute or emotion and how that virtue is a kin to a beautiful fruit, one that grows on an invisible tree inside them. The musical stories demonstrate how we can nourish our greatest gifts and capacities and share them with others. Kindness, set in Uganda, is the fifth book following this cultivation of strong healthy spirit and prompts children to grow their own invisible trees for love, joy, and peace. Spectacularly illustrated with found, recycled, and hand-made papers by Smith, these books form a treasure chest of inspired awareness.

Wombat Books 2016

Let's PlayLet’s Play by Herve Tullet

This little gem is amazing. Full of white space and second person interplay, Tullet creates two distinct characters for children to adore; yellow dot narrating straight out of the book and YOU, the child (reader). Yellow dot entices children to play with him with the words, ‘I’m bored…Do you want to play?’ What child could resist! They are led through a series of steps, fine-tuning their attention, questioning their fine motor skills and challenging their focus before plunging together into a dark, messy, FUN adventure. It’s nothing more than a succession of splodges, smudged lines, and colourful dots, yet Let’s Play is a miraculous riot of colour and genius which cleverly unleashes creativity and imagination in kids whilst giving them permission to be themselves, have fun, take risks and oh yes, ‘play again another time’. Brilliant. Ideal for pre-schoolers and older readers who’ll be able  to claim yellow dot as their new best friend. Gleefully recommended

Allen & Unwin March 2016

#BooksCreate confidence and kindness

Review: Truly Madly Guilty by Liane Moriarty

truly-madly-guiltyTruly Madly Guilty mightn’t boast the edginess or outright boldness of Big Little Lies and The Husband’s Secret, but don’t be fooled into thinking Liane Moriarty’s latest is anything short of compulsive. No other writer — I repeat, no other writer — is as capable of thrusting readers on such an emotional, exhilarating roller-coaster ride.

In Truly Madly Guilty, Moriarty explores the social and psychological repercussions of a barbecue in Sydney.  I know what you’re thinking: Uh oh! Sounds like a certain celebrated Christos Tsiolkas novel! And I suppose, as a story’s defining moment, the similarity is there to be pointed at, and possibly discussed at your future book club meeting. But Truly Madly Guilty is a very different beast, focused more on the unravelling of events leading to a catastrophic moment rather than the commentary on the middle-class provided by Tsiolkas (and just to make it clear here, The Slap is a fantastic book, and demands your attention if you haven’t read it — my storytelling sensibilities just happen to fall more in line with Moriarty’s).

The specifics of the barbecue’s catastrophic event emerge gradually. The hours leading up to that moment, the moment itself, and weeks afterwards are seamlessly intercut. Moriarty provides plenty of hints and red-herrings as to what might’ve occurred, but keeps the truth shrouded in mystery, building to the revelation, keeping readers on edge and mulling over the seriousness of what occurred. At various moments I wondered: did someone have an affair? A fistfight? A murder? I was desperate for answers, and Moriarty kept me hooked, on the edge of my seat — and when the truth was revealed, rather than deflate, rather than lose all that momentum the plot had garnered, the narrative’s focus shifts to dealing with the consequences, and poses a new question to readers: is there any coming back from this? Seriously,Truly Madly Guilty is packed with the twists and turns that put first-class thrillers to shame; and few wrap up as elegantly.

As always though, character remains king in Moriarty’s work, and the large cast presented here will live long in the memory thanks to their wildly discordant personalities and interwoven histories. There’s Erika and her husband Oliver, with their incredibly buttoned-up personalities; Clementine and Sam, and their two young daughters; and Tiffany and Vid, and their brainy daughter Dakota. Not to mention the old, irritable neighbour, Harry. Each possess characteristics readers will immediately recognise from people in their lives. Guilt manifests itself in each of them in very different ways, and all struggle to move mast the catastrophic events of the barbecue.

Unravelling at breakneck speed, Truly Madly Guilty certifies Liane Moriarty’s unparalleled ability to construct an emotionally-charged story filled with unforeseen twists. I can’t decide whether I enjoyed this more than Big Little Lies — but it doesn’t really matter. They’re both unequivocally 5-Star reads.

Buy the book here…

Review: The Crown’s Game by Evelyn Skye

I had a very severe suspicion that I would absolutely adore The Crown’s Game by Evelyn SkyeNow why is that? Well, it contains all the greatest things in life including (A) beginning in a bakery, (B) Russian fantasy! and (C) magician duels! What could be better?!? And thankfully the book did not disappoint at all!

WHAT’S IT ABOUT:

9780062560605Vika Andreyeva can summon the snow and turn ash into gold. Nikolai Karimov can see through walls and conjure bridges out of thin air.They are enchanters the only two in Russia and with the Ottoman Empire and the Kazakhs threatening, the tsar needs a powerful enchanter by his side. And so he initiates the Crown s Game, an ancient duel of magical skill. The victor becomes the Imperial Enchanter and the tsar s most respected adviser. The defeated is sentenced to death.Raised on tiny Ovchinin Island her whole life, Vika is eager for the chance to show off her talent in the grand capital of Saint Petersburg. But can she kill another enchanter even when his magic calls to her like nothing else ever has?For Nikolai, an orphan, the Crown s Game is the chance of a lifetime. But his deadly opponent is a force to be reckoned with beautiful, whip smart, imaginative and he can t stop thinking about her.And when Pasha, Nikolai s best friend and heir to the throne, also starts to fall for the mysterious enchantress, Nikolai must defeat the girl they both love . . . or be killed himself.As long-buried secrets emerge, threatening the future of the empire, it becomes dangerously clear . . . the Crown s Game is not one to lose.

 
The story is a nice blend of fantasy and historical fiction. The author’s note says she did a ton of research and studied Russia in college and you can absolutely tell! The details are incredible and I honestly felt like the book had swallowed me whole. There are so many Russian words and descriptions of places and the culture was brilliantly woven in. I’m so so impressed! The attention to detail made it seem so very real.

“Imagine, and it shall be.
There are no limits.⁠⁠⁠⁠”

The characters were grand little bundles of magical joy! I was very impressed with the lot of them, although I confess I didn’t really emotionally connect to anyone. Probably because I am a stern melon at times. But the main trio was epic and fabulous, if not the most complex characters I’ve ever encountered.

  • VIKA: She’s an enchanter, a fiery red-haired totally spunky girl. VERY powerful. VERY fierce.
  • NIKOLAI: He’s the other enchanter, more like the quiet nerd? But he’s very intelligent, as opposed to Vika’s punch-them-in-the-face thing going on.
  • PASHA: He’s the Tsar’s heir, and he kinda doesn’t want to be. He sneaks out, gets grubby with the commoners and is fun and quirky and generally nice. I think he was my favourite, honestly! (FYI his real name is Pavel and not Passionfruit as I deludedly assumed at first. Ahem.)

 

Now for the actual “game” part of the plot! But first, full disclosure: it wasn’t the kind of “game” I thought it’d be! If you say “game” I start thinking of violent things like The Hunger Games. Ah, no. It was more like “impress the Tsar with your magic skills” not actually “blast each other’s heads off.” I expected the book to be a high-staked blazing game of glory, whereas in reality it was a slower moving and more about magical creation than murderous duels. Despite that it was still so fun! So magical! The things the magicians created were magnificent and so visual!

There is a love triangle, but I didn’t find it irritating for once. The romance is on the quieter side, with the focus being on the magic.

I’m so glad I devoured The Crown’s Game! I think the stakes could’ve been higher and the characters more complex, but apart from that it was magical and exciting and beautifully written. The world building was exquisite and the cliffhanger was pure torture. I can’t wait for the next instalment!

 

[purchase here]

Review: A Divided Spy by Charles Cumming

Divided SpyRelentlessly fascinating, taut, atmospheric and immersive — get out your thesaurus and start looking for new superlatives. Charles Cumming’s A Divided Spy deserves them all. Quite simply, spy thrillers don’t get much better than this.

While I hate revealing my ignorance, I must admit I was not familiar with the work of Charles Cumming prior to grabbing a copy of A Divided Spy from the shelf. I was looking for a page-turner, having just invested several hours in a book that was taking me nowhere but an unpleasant abyss, and the quotes accompanying the blurb seemed to promise as much. And for once, the blurb undervalued what was delivered: one of the best spy thrillers I’ve read in years.

A Divided Spy is the third book in Cumming’s Thomas Kell series, and while new readers mightn’t appreciate the depths of some of the relationships, and be privy to the entirety of their backstory, the novel can be read as a standalone. And if you’re anything like me, it’ll only entice you to immediately add the preceding novels to your reading stack!

Kell is a former MI6 officer, but after a lifetime of dedication to Queen and Country, and an operation that went particularly bad, he’s retired from the service. His days are now perfunctory, fueled by a desire for revenge against the Kremlin who took the life of a woman he loved. When Kell is offered a chance at vengeance, he takes it, and embarks on a mission to recruit a top Russian spy and turn him against his superiors — but with the Russian holding key information about  a devastating terrorist attack on British soil, Kell must decide what’s most important to him: personal retribution or protecting innocent lives. And can he live with the consequence of either decision?

A Divided Spy is a literate, exhilarating page-turner. It’s not a wham-bam actioner in the style of Robert Ludlum, whose best work  loosed bursts of violence on readers every second chapter, but that said, those who read thrillers purely for the gunplay won’t be disappointed by the novel’s conclusion. Indeed, Cumming’s sparse use of shootouts is precisely what makes the book stand out: it doesn’t need blockbuster action moments to propel the story forward, and keep you entranced. And that’s a surefire sign of a great thriller.

As things stand, A Divided Spy is my forerunner for spy thriller of the year, and it will take something truly spectacular to best it.

Guest Post by L.A. Larkin, author of ‘Devour’

Devour front coverThank you to Boomerang Books for inviting me to write a blog post to celebrate the launch of my latest action and conspiracy thriller, Devour. I’d like to share with you a little about the inspiration for Devour, which is primarily set in Antarctica.

‘Three kilometres beneath the camp, subglacial Lake Ellsworth, and whatever secret it may hold, is sealed inside a frozen tomb.’
Devour

Devour was inspired by real events in Antarctica, in December 2012. A British expedition, led by Professor Martin Siegert, set up camp on a remote ice sheet. Their mission? To drill down through three kilometres of ice to reach a subterranean lake, known as Lake Ellsworth. They believed that in that lake, cut off from the rest of the world for centuries, in total darkness, they would find life never before seen, known as extremophiles, because they can survive such hazardous conditions. Sadly, the team did not manage to reach the buried lake and called off the expedition. But, the question remains: what if there is ancient life down there? And, for me as an author, the big question is: what if bringing this life-form to the surface has unexpected and devastating consequences? This is the premise of my novel.

The central character of Devour, and future books in the series, is Olivia Wolfe, an investigative journalist who travels the world exposing crimes, conspiracies and corruption. This makes her unpopular with some powerful and dangerous people. But Wolfe is resourceful and resilient, and she knows how to defend herself, thanks to training from a retired detective and martial artist, Jerry Butcher. When Wolfe is sent to Antarctica by her editor to look into claims of sabotage and murder by scientists at Camp Ellsworth, she little realises she will become the target of an assassin and the ally of a man the Russian military wants dead.

I was inspired to create Olivia Wolfe by a real investigative journalist, Marie Colvin, who reported from war zones for The Sunday Times in London. Colvin was tragically killed in the bombardment of Homs in Syria in 2012. Whilst Wolfe bears no resemblance to Colvin, I hope my fictional character demonstrates some of the amazing courage shown by Colvin during her reporting career.

They say that life is often stranger than fiction. A few days ago, I read an online blog post on The Daily Beast, in which it seems that evidence has surfaced confirming journalists like Marie Colvin were deliberately targeted by the Syrian Government, which may indeed have been responsible for her death. So the conspiracy continues.

Devour is published by Constable / Hachette Australia.

Buy the book here…

A Pair of Bear Books – Picture Book Reviews

I’ve found the perfect ‘snuggle-up-and-settle-down-for-bed’ books! My three and a half year old just adores them and although they’ve been on repeat every night, the fun surprises at the end never lose their novelty. Tuck in for a good night’s sleep with these two adorable ‘bear’ books to help with the bedtime routine.

imageWhere is Bear?, Jonathan Bentley (author, illus.), Little Hare Books, 2016.

A ginormous bear is obscured from visibility as a little boy searches around the house for his Bear. But only to the untrained eye, that is! Preschoolers will take HUGE delight in pointing out the ‘hidden’ bear that follows the seemingly-unaware boy on his mission.

With a clever integration of prepositional language, the boy looks in drawers, on the shelf, in the bathroom, on the table, under the sofa, in the car and so on. And even more cleverly, this encourages our young readers to shout out exactly where they can see the bear hiding. Continually asking ‘Where is Bear?’ combined with the bear’s concealment in the pictures makes for a hilarious, interactive reading and language experience. But wait until you reach the finale…it’ll literally have you in flabbergasting fits of disbelief!

Jonathan Bentley does an awesome job with this simple, engaging text that keeps its readers’ eyes and ears peeled at all times. The vibrant, frolicsome illustrations further enhance the enjoyment with their watercolour and pencil textures and detail that the most discerning viewers will appreciate.

Where is Bear?’ touches on themes of loyalty and friendship, but mostly appeals to children from age three because of its fun, humorous and surprising antics that so often go hand in hand with the bedtime routine. Highly recommended.

imageTake Ted Instead, Cassandra Webb (author), Amanda Francey (illus.), New Frontier Publishing, 2016.

More secret hiding places to delay the inevitable bedtime in this gorgeously funny story by author Cassandra Webb and illustrator Amanda Francey.

In Take Ted Instead’, a small boy refuses his mum’s consistent requests to go to bed. The persistent child attempts to mask his whereabouts whilst making his own demands to ‘take RED instead’ (the dog). At each page turn, he finds living and non-living things to be taken instead, each rhyming with mum’s label of ‘sleepy head’. From his cat FRED to his big brother JEDD and the elderly neighbour NED, there’s no giving in. Finally, a gentle persuasive nudge from mum convinces the boy to go with TED. But what surprises are found in the bed when they get there?!

Webb’s repetitive and humorous phrasing perfectly suits the tenacious and cheeky nature of our main character, as well as being wonderfully engaging for its young audience. Francey’s soft, colourful palette is beautifully gentle yet her joyous illustrations are an ideal accompaniment to the bubbly energy of the text.

Full of familiarity, wittiness and spirit,Take Ted Instead’ makes for a fun and relevant read aloud experience for preschoolers and adults, alike. Now you have plenty of reasons to snuggle into bed at night!

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian

Review: The War That Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

The War That Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley is such a heartwarming WWII story! My cold dead heart warmed like a whole 3 degrees and that is amazing. I loved the visual writing and the copious amounts of scones (!!!) and the adorable protagonist, Ada. British books are always delightfully pleasant. And I do see why this book has won the Newberry award! It’s so beautifully written (if very slowly paced) and definitely a classic to get middle-grade children into reading about the second World War.

9780803740815What’s It About?

Nine-year-old Ada has never left her one-room apartment. Her mother is too humiliated by Ada s twisted foot to let her outside. So when her little brother Jamie is shipped out of London to escape the war, Ada doesn t waste a minute she sneaks out to join him. So begins a new adventure of Ada, and for Susan Smith, the woman who is forced to take the two kids in. As Ada teaches herself to ride a pony, learns to read, and watches for German spies, she begins to trust Susan and Susan begins to love Ada and Jamie. But in the end, will their bond be enough to hold them together through wartime? Or will Ada and her brother fall back into the cruel hands of their mother? This masterful work of historical fiction is equal parts adventure and a moving tale of family and identity a classic in the making.

It’s an child evacuation story, featuring Ada and her little brother Jamie. They’ve been horribly abused by their mother because Ada is crippled. Her mother finds her repulsive and disgusting and is so cruel to her. Be prepared for some horrible scenes where the mother locks her in cupboards and cuffs her and denies her any happiness. I think the representation of PTSD was spot on. The repercussions of being unwanted your whole life? Ada was forever flinching away and kindness towards her was often met with meltdowns because she had been so unloved her whole life.

Ada also has a clubbed foot. I’ve never read that before! She spent the first 9 years of her life crawling in the dirt because her mother was so disgusted with her disabilitity. Ada’s bravery and strenght are totally to be admired. And it’s understandable that this drove her to a lot of bitterness and anger. This could’ve made her into an unlikeable character who is hard to read about…but it did not! I 100% loved and rooted for Ada.

Ada and Jamie are sent to live with Miss Smith in the English countryside. It reminded me a bit of Good Night Mister Tom and also The Chronicles of Narnia! I loved Miss Susan Smith. She was really snappy and kept claiming she was “not nice”…but the wonderful things she did for those children! It was so heartwarming. I love how she taught them manners and cleanliness and stood up for them when they got into trouble. And also fed them copiously. What a wonderful women. Her growing love for the children was just my favourite thing.

The children also have plenty of adventures in the countryside. There’s horse riding and spies to catch and school to attend. And lots of scones and tea, luv, because this is a British book.

All in all: it was a delightful WWII story with a totally winning protagonist. If you haven’t read much WWII stories, then this is a good one to start with! It’s definitely suitable for ages 9+ I’d imagine. There is parental abuse at the beginning, but it’s not graphic. There’s also death, but this is history. (Plus that is also not graphically described or anything.) Thanks for warming my old soul, little delightful book.

[purchase here]

Raised in a World of Picture Book Goodness

It is so important, particularly today, that our future generations are brought up as genuinely kind and caring people with peace and prosperity in heart and mind. It is our duty to continue to empower and raise our children as strong, tolerant and protective members of our society and environment. I love these following picture books for their beautiful messages of compassion, fervour, accepting differences, and making differences.

imageTogether Always, written by Edwina Wyatt and illustrated by Lucia Masciullo, is a sweet, profound and mesmorising book of everlasting friendship and overcoming differences in opinion without comprising values.

Pig and Goat ‘always‘ do everything together, no matter what fruit hangs from the trees in the orchard. They laze about in the sun and the stream, tell tales and hum tunes when the other is down. One BIG night Goat decides he feels the need to take Pig and go exploring over the hills. But when Pig misses his home, they forfeit their ‘sticking together always‘ pact and part ways. To soothe themselves to sleep or to comfort themselves when they feel lonely, Pig and Goat find ways to remember each other. They know that although they are physically apart, they are, in fact, ‘always‘ in each other’s hearts.

Gorgeously textured pencil and watercolours in splats and strokes magnificently outline the characters, showing both the elements of togetherness and individuality. This is further carried through when the mix of cool and warm tones are subtly separated when the friends are apart from one another.

Together Always is a deep and meaningful story with plenty of playful moments. It would perfectly suit preschoolers and beyond who might be grappling with complex friendships or missing a mate who has moved out of their immediate everyday world.

Little Hare Books, Hardie Grant Egmont, March 2016.

imageIf you’ve heard of the movie ‘Oddball‘ then you’ll know and appreciate the persistence and virtue of the characters in the story. Poignant and uplifting, Chooks in Dinner Suits is based on the real life events of farmer, Swampy Marsh and his tireless, ongoing work with his canine pals to save a colony of Little Penguins on Middle Island. Gorgeously written in a factual yet frolicsome narrative by Diane Jackson Hill, with visually arresting scenery and playfulness by Craig Smith, this book is an eye-opening, captivating and warming experience to touch every heart and soul.

When settlers establish themselves in a town besides the small island off Warrnambool, soon humans, dogs and foxes make a devastating impact on the land and the penguin population. Swampy Marsh takes notice and pleads with the townsfolk to help reinforce his plan to protect the area, to no avail. But when penguin numbers dwindle to not even a handful, the people agree and Swampy recruits his two best Maremma dogs to act as the loyal, sensible and fiercely protective guardians that they are. Needless to say, the waddle on Middle Island flourishes, and just like with all happy endings, we are graciously gifted with a sense of relief and calm.

imageA story of hope, triumph and passion, guts and determination, Chooks in Dinner Suits is sure to ignite the spark in its early years readers to also advocate and fight for the future of our environment and its amazing wildlife.

More information about the island, the work of the Maremmas and the growth of the Little Penguin colony can be found at the back of the book, and you can also visit www.warrnamboolpenguins.com.au to read about the project.

Museum Victoria, June 2016.

imageEntrancingly adorable, eclectic and whimsical mixed media illustrations go hand in hand with this special story of courage and helping others in need. From the legendary storyteller that is Sally Morgan, collaborating with talented artist Jess Racklyeft, Midnight Possum is a book to treasure.

We all know that possums enjoy adventure and mischief in the dark of night. But what happens when there’s trouble? How do they escape those sticky situations? For one stealthy Possum, no problem is too much effort when he comes across Mother Possum calling for help. One of the twin babies is missing, but it doesn’t take long before Possum grunts, scrabbles and heaves his way down the dusty chimney in ‘mission impossible’ style. There he finds the tiny mite frightened as he clings to a brick ledge. Some ‘risky business’ later, the pair sneak out the pet flap in the back door and return to safety…and dinner!

Highly interactive, engaging and humorous with its fluid narrative, questioning, fun sound effects and cheeky illustrations, Midnight Possum ticks all the boxes. Children from age three will be hanging out to read this active book of bravery over and over, at all times of the night!

Scholastic Australia, April 2016.

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian

Review: The Good Lieutenant by Whitney Terrell

9781509837441Whitney Terrell delivers one of the most original war novels in recent years and the most moving war novel I’ve read since Kevin Power’s The Yellow Birds.

In many ways this novel is a classic war story. A platoon that comes together during training, forges a bond, only for it to all fall apart under the pressures of war and combat. However it is the way in which Whitney Terrell tells this story that changes your perceptions and reinvents this war story by flipping everything on its head.

Firstly the good lieutenant of the title is a woman, making it the first war novel I know of with a female protagonist. Terrell doesn’t play the female lead as a novelty, instead he uses Lieutenant Emma Fowler to flesh out different aspects of war, combat, the military and being a leader in the most extreme, as well as the most banal, of situations. Terrell uses Fowler to explore what it means to be a good leader; the pressures, the expectations, the politics, and how no matter how good your intentions a good result is often unobtainable or just a matter of perception.

Secondly Terrell tells the entire story backwards. Rather than building the bonds of a platoon and then ripping those bonds apart Terrell begins with the bonds in tatters and goes backwards to show how those bonds were built and where the strengths, and weaknesses, in those bonds were forged and reinforced.

The novel opens with an operation going wrong, badly wrong. Lieutenant Fowler is leading a mission to recover the body of a member of her platoon who went missing on a previous operation days before. An Iraqi civilian has been killed and her platoon subsequently ripped to pieces in an ambush. Terrell then jumps back to show what happened to Fowler’s missing platoon member and then back again to detail the events that lead up to him going missing. The story continues going backwards showing all the elements, relationships, choices and uncertainties that lead, in one way or another, to the catastrophe at the opening of the novel. By the end of the novel the tragedy of its beginning is even more apparent than if the story was told in the traditional chronology. What has been lost more painful and how it has been lost more devastating.

This is another outstanding piece of fiction to join the canon of outstanding writing that has emerged from the tragedies of war over the last 15 years.

Buy the book here…

Double Dipping – Terrific reads for Tweens & Teens

As children shrug off their tween years and enter the tribulation-ridden terrain of teenage hood, the art of telling stories for them becomes more exact and tenuous. Tales still need to entertain yet they must also strike such firm and resounding accord with their intended audience that for readers to abandon them would be like dissing out on themselves or at least, their friends. Two new titles in town, which address each of these age groups with terrific virtuosity flow from the pens of Michael Gerard Bauer and Tamsin Janu and deserve closer scrutiny.

Figgy and the PresidentFiggy and the President is Tamsin Janu’s second book featuring Figgy, a young African village girl with limited world reference but enormous ambition and tenacity. Figgy is one of the most endearing characters I have ever met. She and her Ghanaian friends and family are so richly portrayed; it is a delight to be part of their adventures. The characters are complete enough that this tale could take place almost anywhere. That it is set in Ghana is merely an enriching added bonus. As with Figgy in the World, this story is full of warmth and originality.

Figgy in the WorldIn this current snap shot of Figgy’s life, she and her best friend, Nana dream about their future careers, speculating on their successes and mapping out the paths for their chosen occupations. Trouble is deciding on a career is not as straightforward as Figgy imagines so when she unexpectedly lands a role as an actress in a locally made film, she immediately fancies this might be the future for her.

However just as she embarks on her newfound career, Figgy’s erstwhile absent, now heavily pregnant mama appears throwing Figgy into even more confusion and uncertainty. Figgy is then forced to abandon her own misgivings when Nana is mercilessly ripped out of their lives causing her to attempt to rescue him.

Figgy and the President is a superb story of tenacity, childhood resourcefulness, and friendship that mid primary readers will cherish. It reads with an innocent fluidity that I imagine tween-aged children influenced and shaped by our (often-trivial) First World dilemmas will find entertaining and fascinating, thereby giving rise to a stronger sense of empathy and humanity. A perfect follow up to Figgy in the World but able to be read alone.

Omnibus Books for Scholastic May 2016

It’s no secret that many of Michael Gerard Bauer’s books leave me quaking at the knees, usually with laughter and emotion. Surprisingly, this one is not at the top of my favourites list of his but I have a feeling it will be a hit among gaggles of school guys and gals nonetheless.

The Pain, My Mother, Sir Tiffy, Cyber Boy and MeThe Pain, My Mother, Sir Tiffy, Cyber Boy & Me is a new YA comedy that I initially found cloying (a bit like attempting to swallow a whole clotted-cream-and-jam-smothered-scone in one go) – not just because the title is so mouth-filling but partly due to the rabid use of capital letter actualisation and metaphoric description; this coming from someone with a pathological obsession to metaphoric-ise practically everything (see afore mentioned scone and cream example).  Nevertheless, like my predilection for scones and clotted cream, I could not give it up either. Discomfort is often  born from self -realisation, and whilst the way Maggie Butt thinks and reacts is a painful reminder of my own metaphoric inadequacies, figuratively speaking (and she does this a lot) her behaviour brilliantly mirrors the  psyches of many a teenager  whom I am certain will find this an outrageous and comforting connection.

‘Me’ is Maggie Butt and her teenage life is messy and mucked-up. Every time she gets close to achieving one of her ‘Three Specific and Realistic (life) Goals’ they are lampooned out of the water. There’s a drama queen quality about Maggie I found slightly unnerving at first however Bauer’s injection of sweet satire and ability to weave a generous amount of heart and soul into his storylines saved not only me, but eventually also Maggie and a few others besides.

Michael G BauerBauer seems well accustomed with the fickle affections and feelings of pre-adult youth having raised a couple, taught dozens more and presumably been one himself portraying Maggie and her school mates with a raw sincerity I found touching . His 15-year-old female voice rings alarmingly loud and true, at times almost too convincingly so it is a relief when we are eventually shown Maggie’s true emotional turmoil, her warring desires, and not-to-much-to-ask-for expectations. Sir Tiffy, Sista Lista and a dude on a motor bike all help us (and Maggie) see what really truly matters whilst completing an intricate tapestry (stolen metaphor) of characters and satellite storylines.

In true Bauer style, The Pain…is more than it initially appears. It is wry and cool. It is funny and sensitive. It is a glorious collection of intelligent and side-splitting word play. It is unquestionably a riotous encounter of the teenage kind which connects solidly with today’s reader and transports older ones (like this one) back to nights with Paul Young (figuratively speaking), controversial casual-ware (see the T-shirt incident pg. 146) and thankfully possesses an ending that I’d cross  an ocean of metaphors to experience again.

Witty, relevant, and snappy, this junior novel will appeal in spades to younger YAers, as well.

Omnibus Books for Scholastic May 2016

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Review: This Savage Song by VE Schwab

This Savage Song by VE Schwab was a monstrously pleasing read. I’m beginning to think VE Schwab can do no wrong with her other incredible books like A Darker Shade of Magic, A Gathering of Shadows, and Vicious. This was my first try of a YA book by her and it was absolute perfection! Dark and deadly and stabby and filled with emotion.

What’s It About?9781785652745

Kate Harker and August Flynn are the heirs to a divided city, a grisly metropolis where the violence has begun to create real and deadly monsters. All Kate wants is to be as ruthless as her father, who lets the monsters roam free and makes the inhabitants pay for his protection. August just wants to be human, as good-hearted as his own father-but his curse is to be what the humans fear. The thin truce that keeps the Harker and Flynn families at peace is crumbling, and an assassination attempt forces Kate and August into a tenuous alliance. But how long will they survive in a city where no one is safe and monsters are real.

I love that it’s about monsters! It’s set in this sort of Gotham inspired world, where two forces are waring against each other, and monsters are eating everyone in between. It’s mostly human vs monster, but also a fair bit of human vs human. And, naturally, I loved the comparison of the humans being more monstrous than the actual monsters. It make syou think.

I do confess to finding the first 20% rather confusing. I felt rather dumped into the world and had to re-read the blurb to figure out where it was heading. But after that? It made perfect sense.

The writing was entirely amazingly phenomenonal. It’s just addictive and divine! VE Schwab has this intensely flawless way of sucking me into the story. I can honestly lose time reading her stories. The characters leap off the page, so complex and dimensional and tragic.

The characters were perfect little beasts. I say that with much love, of course. We have two alternate narrators: Kate (a nasty girl who is daughter of a crime-lord and a human) and August (who is a soul-eating monster and adopted-son of the rebels). August ends up sort of “spying” on Kate at her school and then they get thrown into a run-for-your-life adventure.

  • KATE: She was so snarky and bitter and cruel…but you could tell it was a persona she was trying to wear, to impress her cutthroat father. It wasn’t really her but she was determined to make it be her. I felt so sad for her and really rooted for her as she grew and developed over the course of the story.
  • AUGUST: He was definitley my favourite of the two, though, because of his intense levels of adorableness. Sure he’s a soul-eating monster, but he wishes he wasn’t. He was so polite! And nice! And he plays violin! (Which coincidentally is how he eats souls, but never mind that.) He was tragically beautiful and marvellous.

There is…surprisingly…no romance between them. August and Kate end up depending on each other but romantic thoughts? Nope. That might come in sequels, but so far it’s just a forbidden friendship. I found that very refreshing!

This Savage Song is an amazing book! It was violent and gritty and full of blood. I’m slightly disappointed in the simplicity of the plot but the complex and heart-winning characters made up for that. oh and the ending of this book? It will leave you desperate for the sequel. I’m so curious as to what’ll happen next!

Monsters, monsters, big and small,
they’re gonna come and eat you all…

[purchase here]