Review: The Good People by Hannah Kent

9781743534908 (3)Few debuts have garnered as many accolades as Burial Rites, so if “second novel syndrome” is a real thing, it must apply doubly for Australian author Hannah Kent. Thankfully we’ve not had to wait long for Kent’s second novel — no decade-long interlude á la Donna Tartt — and it’s every bit as immersive as its predecessor. The Good People is a sparkling examination of Irish folk medicine and a lapsed belief system, and what happens when the real world – cold, stark reality – intercedes with these once-cherished folk traditions.

Set in south-west Ireland in the year 1825, tragedy unites three women together, and instigates an irreparable expedition that will challenge their beliefs, and see them clash against contemporary ideals. The tragedy in question centres around Nóra Leahy, who has lost her daughter and her husband in the same year. She is now burdened with the care of her four-year-old son, Micheál, who is severely disabled, both physically and intellectually. Micheál cannot walk or speak, and Nóra, knowing what will be said about the child, keeps him hidden from those who might consider his nature the evidence of otherworldly interference — touched by Them, the Good People.

Unable to cope on her own, Nóra hires a teenage servant girl, Mary, who quickly learns what sections of the community are saying about Nóra’s grandson: he is the cursed creature at the epicentre of their town’s grief. And in such circumstances, there is only one person they can turn to for help; one person who can force Them from Micheál, and return the young boy to his true self: Nance Roche, a woman with ‘the knowledge,’ who consorts with Them, and has demonstrated her healing abilities before. But her neighbours grow increasingly weary of Nance; the town’s new priest, in particular, is vehemently against her practices, and is gradually twisting the people’s opinion of her. Nance is determined to heal Micheál and prove her abilities to the township.

As with Burial Rites, the true genius of The Good People is Kent’s massaging of history — her many months of gruelling research — into her narrative. The Good People is layered with historical accuracy, bringing to life countless Irish customs without ever becoming bogged down in the verisimilitude. The plot is straightforward — the trio of women hurtle towards a conclusion most readers will anticipate but won’t be able to turn away from — and the characters, and their choices, will resonate long after you’ve put the book down.

Indeed, The Good People is a novel that will leave you marvelling at long-forgotten Irish customers and traditions, and have you question how the religious beliefs of today intercede with mankind’s increasingly practical and scientific nature. Kent’s artistry is that she needn’t tangibly pose the question; it’s the nuanced message of her novel, which will be enjoyed, and cherished, purely for its narrative alone.

Readers will inevitably ask, “Is it better than Burial Rites?” But I’m not sure it’s a question I can honestly answer. They’re both standouts; wonderful novels by an author with the world at her feet. The Good People boasts beautiful prose coupled with a brutal landscape and memorable characters. It’s a real literary treat.

Buy the book here…

YA: Our Chemical Hearts & Krystal Sutherland

Krystal Sutherland’s YA debut novel Our Chemical Hearts has just been published by Penguin Random House Australia. Author+Photo

It describes a singular relationship and has an originality and authenticity that young adults will respond to.

Thanks for speaking with Boomerang Books, Krystal.

My pleasure!

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

I’m currently based in Sydney, though I’ve also lived in Amsterdam and Hong Kong. I’m slowly becoming more involved in the YA scene here in Australia; most of my writing friends are based in the UK, so I feel a certain pull toward London, but I’m going to meet a few Aussie authors on my tour. Hopefully they’ll like me enough to keep in touch!

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

My first paid writing job was as a staff writer for my university’s what’s on magazine. It was a sweet gig. I got to go to red carpet events and interview celebrities like Matt Damon and Baz Luhrmann. After that I took over editing duties for a year, then worked as a foreign correspondent in Amsterdam before landing my book deal.

Where is it set and what inspired you to write Our Chemical HeartsChemical hearts

The book is set in the US… Somewhere… At the time of writing, I didn’t know US geography well enough to set it in, say, New York, so I left the specific location ambiguous.

What inspired me to write it? Gosh, so many things. It wasn’t like a lightning bolt out of the blue, that’s for sure. It was a slow burn of inspiration. It started with an image that became the first chapter: Henry in drama class, and Grace walking in. I wanted to know more about the characters, so I kept writing.

Major characters Henry Page and Grace Town are extremely memorable (love their names). Could you tell us about these characters?

Henry is optimistic but naïve, a classic hopeless romantic who believes in love at first sight and grand gestures. Grace is the opposite: a realist who’s had to grow up faster than most people and no longer sees love as something pretty and frilly.

How do you know and can write characters like these?

You don’t, not until you sit down and write them! The characters develop over time, becoming richer and richer the more time you spend with them.

Why did you write Murray, the Australian character, in such a ‘Steve Irwin’ style?

Whenever I travel or live overseas, I notice this strange phenomenon: Australians become hyper Australian. We talk about dropbears and how dangerous our fauna is (even though most of us have never seen a deadly snake in the wild). We say g’day a lot more and our accents tend to become more noticeable. A lot of the world sees us as “Steve Irwin style” and don’t know any different – so in order to protect his Aussie identity, Murray is essentially giving the people what they want.

Could you tell us something about the music and literary references you’ve included in the novel?Pablo

They were mostly just what I was listening to or reading at the time – ‘Someday’ by the Strokes, ‘Hey’ by the Pixies, a bit of Elvis playing in the coffee shop when I was writing one day. The Pablo Neruda poem is one I’ve loved for some time, and it fit the story so well I couldn’t not include it.

Have you received any responses from young readers about Our Chemical Hearts that particularly resonate with you?

I’ve had several young readers tell me Our Chemical Hearts is their new favourite book, which – as a writer – is massive. The books we love as teens help shape us into the adults we eventually become, so having that kind of impact on someone’s life is simply mind-blowing.

What are you writing at the moment?

I just finished the draft of my second book, which is a YA magical realism about fear and anxiety. I think readers are really going to connect with it.

What have you enjoyed reading?

My favourite YA books of the year so far are The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner, Highly Illogical Behaviour by John Corey Whaley, and This Savage Song by V.E.Schwab. Outside of YA, I adored Uprooted by Naomi Novak. Illogical

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

I’m going on a five day, five state tour of Australia! If you’re in Perth, Adelaide, Melbourne, Brisbane or Sydney, I’ll be visiting a bookstore near you. Check my website for dates, times and locations.

Thanks for your really interesting answers and all the best with Our Chemical Hearts, Krystal.

Review: Dr. Knox by Peter Spiegelman

isbn9781782066934Peter Spiegelman’s Dr. Knox is an immensely satisfying noir thriller. Though the details of the plot add up to your typical potboiler story of conspiracy and corruption, of the rich and powerful preying on the poor, Spiegelman’s slight (but distinctive) twist on the formula elevates Dr. Knox above its competition.

Dr Adam Knox is a hero in the Philip Marlowe mould — but armed with a stethoscope instead of a gun. Abiding by the tropes of the noir hero, he is a well-intentioned man with a dark past, using his skills and his limited facilities to provide medical care for prostitutes, junkies, and other street dwellers of Los Angeles for whom visiting a hospital is not an option. To help make ends meet — to pay his staff, as well as rent — Knox provides an ambulatory service for LA’s shadier elements, working alongside his friend and former Special Forces operative Ben Sutter.

Knox’s life — and quite literally everyone he knows — is thrown into turmoil when a young woman named Elena deposits her son at the clinic, rushing out the door before questions can be asked. Clearly frightened, and visibly injured, Knox is certain Elena’s life is in danger — and therefore her son’s, too — so instead of contacting child services or the police, he hides Alex, and decides to unravel the mystery of Elena’s whereabouts, and her reasons for abandoning her child. The trail leads Knox into the path of violent Russian gangsters and an overtly corrupt corporation —both of whom will stop at nothing to terminate Knox’s investigation, and locate the mother and son.

Adam Knox is an enjoyable and compelling lead. We are in his headspace for the entirety of the novel, and’s the right mix of capable and completely out of his depth to make him likable. And while some of his past is unshrouded during proceedings, there’s plenty left for Spiegelman to uncover in future novels. The action and medical procedures are suitably hard-core, but never gratuitous (or overplayed), and while there’s some occasional monologuing, it’s thankfully never plodding.

Gritty, intense, and wildly entertaining, Dr. Knox is a damn fine crime novel. If Peter Spiegelman wasn’t on your radar before, he should be now.

Buy the book here…

YA Books About Musicians

Music is one of humanity’s favourite things, so what could be better than books about music?! I am here today to list some amazing YA books that involve characters who play musical instruments. There are plenty of guitar and band themed books out there, but I’ll be zeroing in more on classical instruments. Because I’m a classical musician myself so excuse me while I’m entirely biased that the cello is better than the guitar. (Not even sorry. That opinion is just truth.)

And while I did find a fair few music-orientated books, I’d love to see more on the shelves. Music is such an important part of culture and it’s so exciting to find books dedicated to it.


YA Books About Musicians

9781909531239IF I STAY – CELLO


This is definitely one of the most famous musician-orientated YA books out there! It’s about Mia, an aspiring Julliard cellist, who gets into a terrible accident and ends up in an out-of-body experience wondering if life is worth continuing after this tragedy. It flips to flashbacks to show us how she grows up with the cello and falls in love with a rock band guitarist. Basically the story is amazing. Read it.



This is about a talented pianist whose mother gets diagnosed with leukemia. While Vanessa really wants to move cities and go to a prestigious conservatorium, she feels she can’t do that to her family and risk missing time with her mother or leaving her two sisters behind. The book is totally family orientated and set in the 90s. It has a lazy summery vibe with a good dose of sadness and grief and it’s just purely amazing.

9781407120317LAMENT – HARPIST


This is a paranormal faerie story that centres around Dee, who is a harpist. And also she can see faeries, and we’re not talking nice sparkly faeries…we’re talking about the ones that want to eat your soul. It involves (A) a mysterious boy who is possibly in love with her, possibly wants to kill her, (B) a hilarious best friend who is a bag piper, and (C) a dark magical adventure.



This one is all about dark cities overrun with monsters — and one particular monster who plays the violin. Okay, so August’s violin playing also sucks out people’s souls so he can eat them. But you do what you must for music, right?! This story is dark and addictive and talks a lot about what makes a monster. It’s basically one of the best books I’ve ever read! And that’s despite me (as a past violinist) being totally biased. Hey it’s a cool instrument, okay?!



I have to have at least one guitarist here…and plus this is an Aussie novel! So hurrah for homegrown literature! It’s partially narrated by Tim, who’s an indie guitarist, and trying to make his break into the music world. There is plenty of old-style music appreciation here, as well as good ol’ coming of age themes as Mandy and Tim try to figure out what to do with their lives after highschool.

Unforgettable YA tales that stick

Live throws up some questionable situations at times, which, for young people especially can result in unforgettable experiences. I love young adult novels that encapsulate such experiences in stories with unreserved candour and humour. Here are some unforgettable examples.

Forgetting Foster by Dianne Touchell

Touchell’s ability to reach deep into the grey sticky bits of both adults and seven-year-old boys and extract meaning from them for us in ways both poetical and moving is awe-inspirForgetting Fostering. This is a powerful and intelligent fiction for young readers written with precision and heart. As Foster’s world of stories and thus reality recedes into a place he can’t identify, he is forced to farewell the other most important thing in his life, his father.

Foster may inhabit a seven-year-old’s body and possess a sweet naivety and omnipresent reverence for his father still, but when his father begins to forget everything including Foster, Foster’s outlook on life, school and relationships is sent akimbo. For the first time in his life, he is adrift in a place where his father can no longer accompany him. To make matters worse, his mother is barely able to cope with their unexpected and irreversible demise let alone Foster’s feelings.

Losing a parent to (early onset), Alzheimer’s disease is no straightforward matter as Foster discovers. How it affects his position in his family is the question Touchell throws at us again and again with poignant force. At times brutally honest and real and at others stoically proud and witty, Forgetting Foster focuses on surviving battles we were not meant to fight.

Forgetting Foster is a sort of grown up version of Lisa Genova’s Still Alice; it is no less intelligent and revealing however translates the angst and ludicrous frustrations and realties of Alzheimer’s from the carers’ point of view instead of the sufferer’s. How Foster comes to deal with these realisations is the resolution for a story that has no real happy ending.

Focusing on a younger character but with buckets of lower secondary school reader appeal.

Allen & Unwin June 2016

Another Night in Mullet Town by Steven Herrick

Poetic, raw and real, I savoured every syllable of this verse-coming-of-age novel by Herrick. Mullet Town is an intelligent narrative about surviving on the peripheral of lAnother Night in Mullet Townife, both emotionally and materialistically.

Mates Jonah and Manx exist in a one mullet town, content to throw a line in the lake every now and then and wade through the treacherous bog of teenage parties and relationships. For Manx, who may aspire to more but is also driven to defend his simple existence from the ‘wealthy blow-ins’ who want to sell the town out, life suddenly becomes more complicated. How he manages to keep his head about water and remain supportive for Jonah plays out in an emotional journey Herrick cleverly wallpapers with gentle, lyrical wit.

The end petered out a little too matter-of-factly for me but life is not always full of neat and tidy endings. As long as the mullet continue to swim, there remains a glimmer of hope for the residents of Mullet Town – this is the departing assurance, which is in itself enough.

Gritty and extremely readable, a highly recommended verse novel for older readers.

UQP June 2016

My Australian Story: Black Sunday by Evan McHugh

Black Sunday is riveting and tactful. I thoroughly enjoyed McHugh’s account of one of the most unexpected and largest mass (beach) rescues in Australia in the late 30s. Ironically, I had come across old newspaper reports about this day in February 1938 whilst researching another topic. I was astounded and shocked by what I uncovered. Black Sunday

McHugh’s use of simple diary entries by 12 year-old David McCutcheon aka Nipper to detail the events leading up to Black Sunday, entreats intimacy and candour whilst painting a vivid picture of Bondi and its surrounds on the eve of WW II. Even those who have never swam in Bondi’s ever changing waters or basked on her golden beaches will gain a strong sense of place and time thanks to McHugh’s thoughtful epistolic prose.

The actual event itself is not over dramatized rather occurring naturally after a nine-month relationship with Nipper whose life ambition is to be a surf lifesaver like his grandpa, his diary, and the colourful cast of characters that people his life. There is a beautiful balance of emotion, history, and humanity in this Australian Story, which pays homage to heroes in every guise not least of which those that serve Surf Lifesaving Australia. Respect in the highest. Well suited for primary and lower secondary readers, Black Sunday is a fitting and vivid unforgettable tribute to Australia’s not so distant past.

Omnibus Books August 2016




Review: People Who Eat Darkness

People Who Eat DarknessI normally fast forward through any and all recommendations slash advertorials on podcasts, but on the few occasions I haven’t skipped ahead I’ve heard a number of podcasters recommending English-born, Japan-based journalist Richard Lloyd Parry’s People Who Eat Darkness.

The book is a deep dive into a case that gripped people across two countries and spans all manner of language barriers and cultural misunderstandings. At its centre is the mysterious 2000 disappearance of Lucie Blackman, a 21-year-old former British Airways air hostess working illegally as a hostess for quick cash in Tokyo.

Blackman had gone there short term with a friend and was hoping to work under the table to pay off some debt. But she vanished during an outside-hours meeting an unidentified client outside the club in a practice called dohan.

Common misconceptions (mostly among westerners) are that hostesses are prostitutes. The reality is more nuanced than that, with most flirting with lonely businessmen and trying to increase the bars’ business and intake. Yet even within Japan, there are myriad variations on the ‘hostess’ role, with the subtleties largely lost on us lumbering westerners.

Fairly common, dohans offer hostesses a chance to earn extra money and mostly involve going to dinner with clients outside of the usual bar setting. In fact, dohans are a bit like add-on sales. Failure to obtain them is considered underperforming and can result in hostess’ dismissal.

In Blackman’s case, the particular dohan during which she disappeared apparently involved being promised an additional gift of a trip to the beach a mobile phone. The two seem fairly silly things to go out alone with a stranger for, but it was 2000, when mobile phones were prohibitively expensive, and Blackman was from the UK, which isn’t known for its spectacular beaches.

Either way, Blackman’s disappearance focused the spotlight on hostessing practices little discussed and even less understood. And it captured international imagination and touched on some concerning stereotypes. Blackman being young, pretty, blonde, and British no doubt helped with garnering some of the media coverage.

People Who Eat Darkness is divided roughly into two parts. The first part tackles Black’s messy, mostly pre-Japan personal life. The second spans her disappearance and endeavours to contextualise and unpack some of the post-disappearance actions, particularly those of her father, who didn’t behave as he ‘should’.

It’s a fascinating tale, albeit one that is at times challenging to comprehend.

What I struggled with most with this book, which is no fault of the writer’s and which seems to be what most people struggled with while the case was active, is that the family—particularly the parents—are not at all likeable or sympathetic.

Of course, you can be fascinated by people who aren’t endearing and you can’t choose who tragedy happens to, but the parents individually and together seem quite toxic and, frankly, foolish.

There is mother Jane’s vehemently embittered hate for her ex-husband, which puts their children in a difficult position of choosing one over the other at various times and prevents the couple from presenting a united front in the effort to find out what happened to their daughter.

There is also the recklessness and ridiculous—almost partying-like—approach the father took with little thought to what effects his actions might have or, simply, how they might look. Case in point: first, taking money from the accused murderer and second, spending money on a new boat.

I wholly recognise that it’s easy to be an armchair critic and that the machinations of such an experience can only truly be understood from the inside. I also concede that there were some pretty unconscionable psychics and other cranks preying on the emotionally vulnerable family.

Either way, I spent the bulk of this book marvelling that a family could wilfully be so utterly, incomprehensibly and seemingly deliberately messy. More than once, I recalled Leo Tolstoy’s famed Anna Karenina quote that all happy families are alike and unhappy families are unhappy in unique ways.

To be fair, maybe I am, as Lloyd Parry suggests, simply like most people who have encountered this crime:

People are afraid of stories like Lucie’s, stories about meaningless, brutal premature death; but most of them cannot own up to their fear. So they take comfort in the certainty of moral judgements, which they brandish like burning branches waved in the night to keep off the wolves.

Judgement aside, it perhaps explains why I found the second half of the book far more compelling than the first—I ploughed through the first half only to sate my fascination with both Japan and the murder mystery and not the minutiae of the family’s self-inflicted drama.

Because it’s in the second half of the book that we encounter the murderer and learn both how the crime unfolded and how the police and legal system tried to bring him to justice. Without giving away too much, this character and everything that surrounds him is utterly, truth-is-stranger-than-fiction bizarre.

What becomes clear is that this is not just a story about a young and naïve British woman, but one that envelopes people from Japan, Britain, Korea, and even Australia.

Lloyd Parry himself notes that he set out to get inside the murderer’s head, but soon realised that was impossible. Irrespective, employing his understanding of both British and Japanese cultures, he crafts an insightful, culturally sensitive story that gives us the best insight we’re likely to get about this tragic situation.

Which is to say that the Blackmans might test your credulity and patience, but Blackman’s is a crime worth documenting if nothing else but for the sake of other travellers’ awareness and crime prevention.

Review: Home by Harlan Coben

9781780894218I slipped into hyperbole earlier this year when I reviewed Harlan Coben’s Fool Me Once. Deservedly so, upon reflection. I stand by it.  This isn’t an apology for my extensive praise. Nor is this review what you’re possibly expecting: “but wait, his latest novel, Home, is even better!” No, when juxtaposed, Fool Me Once is certainly the better thriller. It’s got that brilliant final twist, which hasn’t been topped by any other novel I’ve read this year, and certainly validates Coben’s ranking as the consummate master of the modern day thriller.

That’s right. He’s not just a master. Anybody can master something. But to be a consummate master? Wowzer.

But – and forgive the obvious pun – there is something special about coming home. About reuniting with a cast of characters you haven’t read about for some time. Myron Bolitar and Windsor Horne Lockwood III are two of my favourite characters in all of fiction, and we haven’t seen them (besides brief appearances in Coben’s YA Mickey Bolitar trilogy) since 2011’s Live Wire.

2011, guys and gals. That’s five years ago. God, we were do damn young. And look at us now. No, don’t – – !

Home brings these characters back, alongside the classic cast: Esperanza; Big Cyndi, Myron’s parents. Heck, even the kids wh0 starred in Coben’s YA series play a vital role in proceedings, and it’s great to be reunited with Mickey, Ema and Spoon. Their presence adds a cool continuity to things. So, sure; this book is for the fans. The readers, like me, who clamour each and every year for a new Myron novel. But there’s plenty here for “non-Myron” fans to enjoy. If indeed there even are such people out there.

The premise is straightforward: 10 years after two 6-year-olds vanished from a suburban New Jersey home, one of them is spotted in London. Obvious question: where’s the other? Myron gets involved because one of the kids, Rhys – – the boy who wasn’t spotted — is (or was) the cousin Windsor Horne Lockwood III, Myron’s best friend, and the friendliest psychopath you’re likely to encounter. In the past it has always been Myron’s lust for justice – – for righting wrongs, for doing the supposed right thing – – that pulled Win into deadly situations. This time the shoe is on the other foot. Win has always been there for Myron. And despite his pending marriage, Myron will always be there for Win. That’s the bro-code, didn’t you know?

Yes, there’s a big mystery here, and there are surprising twists (unleashed rather late in proceedings, admittedly, but no less effectively than in other novels) but it’s the emotion of the characters that really lifts Home above the rank and file. The heart and soul of this novel are the twin families coping with the loss of a child, and the extremes parents go to in order to protect them.

Ultimately, it’s just great to be back with Myron and the gang. The novel’s ending is possibly conclusive – – with a real lump-in-the-throat moment – – so who knows when we’ll see these characters again? In many respects, I wish I’d taken my time with the novel and truly savoured it. Instead, I smashed through it in less than 24 hours. That’s the true evidence of Coben’s class: his books are so gripping, you can’t put them down.


Deborah Kelly Embaces Life’s Magic

imageDeborah Kelly is the talented author and poet of many vibrant and engaging titles including The Bouncing Ball, Jam for Nana and Dinosaur Disco, and her most recent creation is gaining significant traction with middle-grade readers (and their parents) across the country. 

Skydancer’s Escape (Book #1) introduces us to young Ruby Wishfingers’ world and takes us on a wild ride with the mischievous antics of her toy-turned-real unicorn, Skydancer. In Book #2; Toad-ally Magic! Ruby’s wishing fingers create even more havoc when she turns her bratty little cousin into a toad. See the full reviews here.

It is with huge delight to welcome Deborah to Boomerang Books to discuss her books from the wonderfully ‘magical’, creative and unputdownable series – Ruby Wishfingers.

Deborah, can you tell us how this series was created?

The name ‘Ruby Wishfingers’ literally popped into my head while I was grocery shopping with my kids at Aldi! How could I ignore an extraordinary name like that? On the drive home I started to wonder who Ruby might be. Over the weeks and months a story began to develop.

What were your inspirations and how did your ideas develop?

imageLike most writers I draw upon my own experiences, sometimes consciously and at other times subconsciously.  There are snippets of people I know in all the Ruby characters. There is definitely a lot of me as a child in Ruby. There’s a lot of my Nana in Granny Wishfingers, too. My experiences as a mother were useful when Jellybean hit the terrible twos, too! I spent a few years in Qld so my experiences with cane toads probably inspired much of Ruby Wishfingers 2: Toad-ally Magic!

But there are other little things I didn’t realise had subconsciously crept in until family members pointed them out. Like how my grandfather used to come over from England in the summer to stay on our farm in New Zealand, and because he liked his own space we used to hire a caravan and set it up in the garden for him. As a child I had a serious addiction to strawberry jam sandwiches, so somehow that got in too!

What were your favourite books or authors to read as a child, and have any of these influenced the wondrous adventures in Ruby Wishfingers?

I loved all kinds of books as a child, but two that stood out were ‘The House that Sailed Away’ by Pat Hutchins and ‘The World around the Corner’ by Maurice Gee. I loved anything by Roald Dahl (especially The Twits) , Dick King-Smith and Judy Blume. I loved Willard Price’s ‘Adventure’ books. I loved the Narnia books. And I loved the old ‘pick-a-path’ and ‘choose your own adventure’ stories, too.
All of these books have stayed with me, so they probably have influenced my own writing!

Did you plot the whole series beforehand or have they evolved over time?

The Ruby series has absolutely evolved over time. It has been fascinating for me to watch Ruby and her world grow. One of the reasons I love writing is that I can’t wait to find out what’s going to happen next!

How do you ensure that each book flows smoothly from one to the next?

I work intuitively. If it feels right, I explore further, and if it doesn’t feel right I turn around and try something else. I’m not sure that’s very helpful advice, sorry! Everyone has to find their own way of working but this seems to be mine at the moment. I’m still very much a learner and perhaps with time and experience I’ll develop a more streamlined approach!

Are any of the characters based on anyone you know? Who would you say you are most like?

Deborah as a child
Deborah as a child

I do recognise a lot of myself as a child in Ruby. She’s curious, resourceful and optimistic. She tries her best to do the right thing and has a strong belief in extraordinary things, like magic. I think Ruby and I would have been great friends!

What, if any, challenges have you faced whilst producing the series?

Sometimes I have to remind myself not to overcomplicate a story by cramming in too many ideas!

What have been the most rewarding moments with creating and promoting the Ruby Wishfingers books?

imageThe team at Wombat Books have been wonderful to work with. I am so thrilled with how the books have turned out.  Seeing my characters brought to life through Leigh’s illustrations has been such a treat! I am enjoying visiting schools and libraries to talk about the series, especially when the kids are familiar with the stories and characters. I love hearing kids repeat lines or phrases from the book and hearing who their favourite characters are. And it is always exciting to spot your books in the wild-especially in the front window of a bookshop! I’ve enjoyed launches and other promotional events for the Ruby series with Newcastle Libraries, Lake Macquarie Libraries and our wonderful local bookstores Maclean’s Booksellers and Harry Hartog, all of whom continue to be hugely supportive of my work.

How have your fans taken to Ruby? Any stand out moments / responses?

I’ve had lots of lovely feedback from parents, teachers and kids about how much they are enjoying the series so far. I’ve heard a few anecdotes of staying up way past bed time because a child (and parent!) just had to find out what happened next! Seeing photos of kids dressed as Ruby for book week parades is a real thrill and I love to see children’s artwork inspired by the book, too.

The images in the books are gorgeously energetic and enchanting! What has it been like to work with illustrator, Leigh Hedstrom? Was it a collaborative process or did she have most of the creative control?

I was very happy for Leigh to let her imagination and talents run wild! I adore her work- she has captured the characters so perfectly. Leigh lives in a different state to me but we’ve chatted via email and I’d love to meet her one day!

imageCan you give us any clues as to what fun we can expect from Ruby Wishfingers 3: Hide and Seek?

Another exciting fast paced adventure with plenty of laughs and more than a few surprises… terrifying tyrannosaurs, turbo charged worms and giant tantrum throwing toddlers may also be involved!

How many books have you planned for this exciting series? When will they be released?

At this stage there will be five books in the Ruby Wishfingers series. The third book in the series, Ruby Wishfingers: Hide and Seek is due for release November this year. I’ll be launching it on November 12th at 2pm at Belmont Library (NSW). There will be a reading from the story, balloons, giveaways, lots of yummy treats and fun activities!
The fourth and fifth books will be released in 2017.

Fun Question! If you could wish for anything in the world, what would that be and why?

That’s a tricky one, because as we know, wishes don’t always turn out exactly how you might expect! But sometimes I wish that the world would slow down. Life has become so fast paced; we often miss the magic that is all around us.

Finally, do you have any questions or comments (or secrets) for our readers regarding your spectacular Ruby Wishfingers series?

imageMany of the names in the Ruby books are ‘borrowed’! I took George and Lillian Wishfingers’ names from my (past and present) dogs. Norman the goldfish has my grandfather’s name. And Ruby’s teacher, Mr Wilson, is named after one of my daughter’s favourite teachers!

Deborah Kelly can be found at her website and Facebook Page, and the dedicated Ruby Wishfingers fun and educational website can be found here.

Wombat Books, 2016.


Review: Outrun The Moon by Stacey Lee

Outrun the Moon by Stacey Lee is totally going onto my list of “most amazing YA historical fiction novels I’ve ever devoured at dawn”. It was just that good! It’s set in 1906 and centres around the San Fransisco earthquake tragedy. That’s a period of history I’d never really read about, so it was super informative as well as downright entertaining to read. Basically it cements Stacey Lee as a phe9780399175411monomal historical fiction writer and I would like to read all of her books forever, yes please and thank you.

The story is focused on Mercy Wong who is Chinese and an aspiring entrepreneur. She doesn’t want to spend her life doing laundry in China Town. She wants to run her own business, get rich, be respected, and do it all no matter what people say! Being Chinese and a woman in the 20th century, she faces a lot of setbacks. But her sheer determination was so admirable and winning! Plus when she blackmails her way into a highly prestigious school…I just knew I was going to love her.

I totally appreciated the setting. Historical Fiction is rarely my favourite, but this worked so well for me! The writing was lively and exciting and the period of history was intriguing and somewhat obscure compared to most HF settings.

I also was endlessly impressed with the lowkey romance. There was pretty much just one kiss, and yet the romance between Mercy and Tom was so powerful I couldn’t stop rooting for them! They are both pretty much in denial over their feelings and this is adorable. It also goes to show a powerful romance can be written in just a few pages! I also love how Mercy’s focus in life was becoming a successful business woman!

And because I’m addicted to lists, here is a brief list of things I loved about this book!

  • Mercy has an adorable 6 year old brother, Jack, who she loves and their relationship is so cute.
  • The secondary characters are actually complex and interesting. I particularly loved the Italian friend Mercy made at the school. (Plus Francesca was a huge lover of food and so am I so…we’re connected.)
  • Basically there is a lot of food appreciation in this book! From delicious Chinese dishes, to Italian, to American. I was so hungry reading this. SO HUNGRY.
  • Plus it heavily involves a chocolate shop. What is not to love about a book that includes a chocolate shop!?
  • There is plenty of quirky and witty dialogue that had me chuckling.
  • Mercy is Chinese, yes, but she’s been raised entirely American. So when she’s at school and pretending to be a Chinese heiress — she runs into a lot of problems. She ends up explaining away her lack of Chinese knowledge in the most ridiculous and hilarious ways!
  • There is a “mean girl” character, Elodie, but I loved her character development and backstory. Despite the potentially for Elodie to be an annoying cliche, she was great and I ended up quite liking her.
  • Oh and there is plenty of pain. Plenty. It’ll make you laugh one minute and clutch the pages and sob the next.

Basically Outrun The Moon is amazing and you should definitely try it. I highly recommend it. It’s fun and easy to devour in a couple of sittings, despite being 400-pages. Mercy is clever and humorous and also a complete dork at times, plus very bossy. She will get things done. I totally adored her! Also I loved how when everyone listed her bossiness as her “fault”, she refuted that and listed it as her strength. So true! The world needs people like Mercy to get things done, pull people together, and forge paths. I’m so glad this books sends such positive and empowering messages.


[purchase here]

Review: Rise the Dark by Michael Koryta

isbn9781473614581Rise the Dark, the second book in the Markus Novak series, is a masterful suspense novel, replete with crackling prose, nail-biting thrills, and a crackerjack pace. Dangling the plausibility of physic possibility, and pushing its characters to their physical and mental limits, Michael Koryta has crafted a thriller that will induce an unprecedented kind of page-turning compulsivity. In other words, it’s very, very good.

Picking up soon after the end of Last Words, Markus returns to Montana in pursuit of his wife’s murderer, Garland Webb, who has joined a cult hell-bent on bringing down the electrical grid and blaming it on Islamic terrorists. During his pursuit of Webb, Markus meets Jay Baldwin, who has been pulled into the cult leader’s nefarious plans following the abduction of his wife, Sabrina. Jay is a former lineman, whose knowledge of electricity and the grid is essential to the cult pulling off their spectacular feat; and as long as his wife is in danger, Jay will do precisely what they command, regardless of the consequences. Also involved with the cult is Novak’s mother, Violet – a physic reader, whose supernatural proclivities appear to be manifesting within Markus in the subtlest of ways, much to his chagrin.9781444742619

This hodgepodge of elements is thrown together and seamlessly blended into a damn fine thriller, with high doses of intrigue and tension. Novak’s mission of vengeance gives the novel severe personal-stakes, but the larger implications of the electrical grid going down skyrockets the potential implications of his failure. While Novak’s a fairly flat protagonist, the supporting cast adds much-needed colour and vibrancy. Uncle Larry, Violet’s shotgun-wielding brother, is a particular hit, but kudos needs to go to Kortya for allowing his two female leads to demonstrate genre-defying strength in their captivity. Rather than being utilised as stereotypical damsels-in-distress, and waiting to be rescued, they’re given ample opportunity to flex their sizable muscles, and kick plenty of ass.

With a genuine cliff-hanger that’ll leave you exasperated when you realise you’ll have to wait a year for any semblance of a resolution, Rise the Dark is one of the year’s best thrillers. Koryta is quickly climbing the ladder as one of my favourite authors.


Where do I belong? – Picture books & Place

When penning a narrative or even recording ones past, authors must be aware of a number of aspects that shape a reader’s impression of the story. A sense of place is one such nuance that forms specific reactions and can colour a reader’s entire experience. When fashioned convincingly enough, a sense of place depicts not only where the story’s characters live and interact but can also provide the answer to how they and the reader belong (to the story). Here are a number of picture books that encourage a distinct sense of place.

Hello!Hello! Illustrated by Tony Flowers

‘Hello!’ is an icebreaker most young children are adept at. However, what if a potential friend’s first language is not English? Hello! is a brilliant introduction to 12 other languages commonly used in Australian homes, including three Indigenous languages. Once children learn to say hello, they are then able to share all sorts of things with their new friends, including favourite games, foods and customs, all in that language. Each new introduction includes how to count up to ten, as well.

Hello spreadThis is a fascinating multicultural exploration aimed at pre-school and primary aged youngsters and is nothing short of ingenious. Many children will have already encountered other people in their lives whose backgrounds and languages differ from their own. Hello! is an unobtrusive, inviting way to show differences need not discourage friendships. Flower’s cartoone-sque illustrations gently emphasise meaning whilst a comprehensive pictorial glossary and pronunciation guide at the end aid carers with extended learning. A marvellous go-to book recommended for home and classroom libraries alike.

National Library of Australia April 2016

Granny's PlaceGranny’s Place by Allison Paterson Illustrated by Shane McGrath

As a city girl growing up far away from my grandparents’ Sunshine Coast hinterland property, visits ‘to grandma’s farm’ were always chocka block full of new adventures and sunny memories to treasure. This bewitching sense of belonging echoes throughout Granny’s Place thanks to Paterson’s beautifully unaffected prose and McGrath’s sublime sepia suffused illustrations.

Granny's Place illo spreadA young girl describes her grandparents’ home that is ‘brimming with treasures of the olden days’ and has ‘springy metal beds and shiny hard floors with tasselled mats…’. It’s a place steeped in rich memories and every day opportunities. It is where family gather in large noisy waves and tiny discoveries, too good to share are made every minute. It is quite simply ‘the best place in the world’. A place where children flourish, absolutely. Alas, people and places cannot last forever as our girl learns to accept after the passing of her grandfather. When Granny has to leave the farm and move to a new life in the city, it is hard to appreciate her new place at first. Fortunately, memories are not so easy to forget and Granny’s love prevails.

Granny’s Place is overflowing with gorgeous imagery that will ignite warm recollections for many older readers. It also radiates the spirit of adventure and the changing rhythms of life that most young people will recognise whilst celebrating these childhood memories.

A marvellous homage to Australia’s past identity and a fitting example of creating a special sense of place.

Big Sky Publishing April 2016

Mr Chicken arriva RomaMr Chicken arriva a Roma by Leigh Hobbs

Mr Chicken pays homage to childhood dreams and aspirations personified. It could be argued that the Australian Children’s Laureate for 2016-2017, Leigh Hobbs is living a little vicariously through the rambunctious, irreverent Mr Chook who was a bit different to other boys and girls. As a youngster, ‘instead of playing games’, he dreamt of life abroad.

Fortunately for fans, both grew up, giving us the opportunity to experience an incredibly detailed, hilarious romp through (this time) Italy’s capital city, Rome. It’s a cavort of pure indulgence as the charming and very forgiving city guide, Federica, escorts Mr Chicken aboard her Vespa through Rome’s traffic ensnarled streets, past the Colosseum, to gelatarias, through the Trevi Fountain and even the Vatican. Hobbs leaves no ruin unturned in this whirlwind excursion, revealing stops I had hitherto forgotten about since my European backpacking days.

Mr Chicken Trevi fountainIf you ever consider tackling a trip to the big five European cities with a chicken in tow, Mr Chicken would be the chook to recruit. Unabridged humour told and depicted in the way only Hobbs can. Fantastic fun and insight to lands beyond for pre and early primary schoolers.

Allen & Unwin August 2016

A New York YearTwelve Months in the Life of …A New York Year & A Texas Year by Tania McCartney Illustrated by Tina Snerling

Unlike the other phenomenally successful titles in the Twelve Months in the Life of picture books series, which look at the life of children from other nations including Australia, A New York Year and A Texas Year focus on individual states within the USA.  Even then, the breathtaking diversity of cultures and idiosyncrasies is almost too mind bogging to comprehend. Yet, the McCartney Snerling picture book team convey these elements with aplomb.

Like their forbearers, New York Year and Texas Year kick off with introductions to the five children who will be our guides throughout the year across these states. They are a delightful homogenous mix of Texans and New Yorkers whose obvious differences (in aspirations, cultural ancestry, and appearance) only serve to highlight the sameness they share with kids all around the world. I particularly love Texan Ethan’s ‘when I grow up’ revelation; ‘I want to be a rock star or a palaeontologist’. Classic seven-year-old clarity!

A Texas YearAs the calendar turns, we are taken on a colourful eclectic  parade through each state stopping to observe significant dates, play games endemic to the region, take in the unique flora, fauna and natural wonders, and then, happily, return to the table to feast on local delicacies. It truly is a smorgasbord for the senses.

I love the detail McCartney is able to inject in the meandering text, which is neither excessive nor too sparse. Each fact acts as a signpost that sparks interest and allows children’s eyes to wonder and roam rather than stick to a regimented reading pattern. Snerling’s cute upon cute illustrations offer clean crisp characterisation and support the minutia of facts superbly.

This series is fast becoming a magnificent compendium of fun, fact-fiction picture books, which kiddies from all over the world can use to draw comparisons and conclusions about their international neighbours, supporting tolerance, enhancing awareness and creating as it were, a marvellous sense of place. Highly recommended for 4 – 8 year olds and big people who don’t get out as often as they should.

EK Books August 2016




Review: Just Mercy

Just MercyThere are some books that just keep popping up in your book-awareness periphery. Bryan Stevenson’s Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption is one prime example.

I first heard Stevenson when he was interviewed on a bunch of different podcasts I listen to. And I kept hearing the name of his book and the premise of his work in passing book-recommendation conversations.

Last weekend, with thesis submitted and fun book-reading time finally here, I cracked open Just Mercy. And I was so gripped I cancelled my other plans and didn’t leave the house.

Stevenson is the co-founder and executive director of the Alabama-based Equal Justice Initiative, a not-for-profit organisation that represents people on death row who cannot otherwise afford lawyers and who are frighteningly often on death row through no fault of their own.

Depressingly but unsurprisingly, most of these inmates are poor, black, and/or mentally ill. And they’re most often and rather than or.

The US has the world’s highest incarceration rate—one that’s skyrocketed in recent decades, fuelled by slogan-driven policies such as ‘three strikes and you’re out’. From 300,000 in the 70s to 2.3 million today, one in every 15 people born in the US is expected to go to jail—that number increases to one in three for black males.

Of those currently incarcerated, 50 per cent have been diagnosed with a mental illness. And there are three times as many people who are mentally ill in prison, where they are policed by people ill-equipped to handle issues, as are in hospital.

The US is also the only country that condemns children to life in prison without parole.

‘My work with the poor and the incarcerated has persuaded me that the opposite of poverty is not wealth,’ Stevenson writes. ‘The opposite of poverty is justice.’

Then: ‘…I’ve come to believe that the true measure of our commitment to justice, the character of our society, our commitment to the rule of law, fairness, and equality cannot be measured by how we treat the rich, the powerful, the privileged, and the respected among us. The true measure of our character is how we treat the poor, the disfavoured, the accused, the incarcerated, and the condemned.’

His is a lifelong quest to understand and address ‘how and why people are judged unfairly’.

To Kill A MockingbirdNow a Macarthur Genius Grant recipient and enormously respected human rights lawyer, Stevenson himself came from a poor, racially segregated background—he could just as easily have been one of the people on death row.

In fact, the book includes some anecdotes of Stevenson being racially profiled by police as a burglar when he was simply sitting in his car enjoying a favourite song. He has also been mistaken for being the defendant rather than the lawyer on a multiple occasions.

But at the book’s opening, we meet him as a very green 23-year-old Harvard law student feeling out of his depth. That’s both in terms of the law—he felt adrift and wasn’t sure he wanted to be a lawyer because he couldn’t fathom the applicability of the law in its abstract and white-collar settings—and in Georgia.

He was as an intern on a project that required him to visit a death-row prisoner at a maximum-security prison and he knew he wasn’t qualified to advise this man much less understand the direness of his situation.

I would have liked to have found out what happened to that man, but it appears it’s the entry point to the story and not a case he got to see through to its conclusion, whatever that may have been. Regardless, working with inmates on death row was where it all came together and Stevenson found the application of the law that both made sense and that he felt fitted him.

Stevenson set up his legal practice in Montgomery, a name familiar to many of us as it’s the setting for Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird. It’s also the place where Rosa Parks refused to give us her seat on the bus. The region is reaping related tourism dollars rewards.

Just Mercy examines a range of Stevenson’s cases. But it particularly follows a black death-row inmate called Walter McMillian who, coincidentally, lived in the region but hadn’t heard of To Kill A Mockingbird. And as Stevenson flags, despite its fame and boon for the local tourism industry, To Kill A Mockingbird’s core messages failed to cut through in the county or change legal outcomes for people of colour. The tale we so fondly remember isn’t actually one of triumph—the innocent black defendant isn’t, as most people mis-remember, found innocent. He’s convicted and later dies while trying to escape prison.

McMillian’s case is similarly tragic. A black man who dared have an affair with a white woman, he was framed for the murder of a woman despite the fact that there were some 20-odd witnesses to him being at a church function at his home at the time of the crime. It’s the kind of case that beggars belief but that is also far from isolated or unique.

Stevenson’s storytelling is unadorned but gripping and I raced through the book all the while knowing it was too-soon going to come to an end. Just Mercy is his memoir, which kind of implies there won’t be a follow-up. I mean, how many people do you know have released more than one memoir? I—and I assume others too, judging from the fact the book is a bestseller—sincerely hope there is more. Much more.Save


5 Reasons To Read The First Third By Will Kostakis

It recently hit me that I hadn’t read The First Third by Will Kostakis yet and this is a huge tragedy. Why? Because this is a diverse Australian YA contemporary and it came out in 2013, so why did it take me so long to read it?! I’m glad I launched in this year, because it was stupendous. I definitely recommend it.

And in case you need more convincing, I have a glorious list of 5 reasons why you should try this book!

9780143568179What’s it About?

Life is made up of three parts: in The First Third, you’re embarrassed by your family; in the second, you make a family of your own; and in the end, you just embarrass the family you’ve made. That’s how Billy’s grandmother explains it, anyway. She’s given him her bucket list (cue embarrassment), and now, it’s his job to glue their family back together. No pressure or anything. Fixing his family is not going to be easy and Billy’s not ready for change. But as he soon discovers, the first third has to end some time. And then what? It’s a Greek tragedy waiting to happen.


6 Reasons To Read The First Third

1. It’s about a Greek family!

I personally think this is immensely exciting because firstly (A) yay for diversity in YA fiction, and (B) Greek culture is absolutely wonderful and I was so excited to dive into more of it! Bill has been raised in Australia but his grandmother is still very very Greek and he abides by a lot of Greek traditions. I loved absorbing the bits and pieces of culture as I read.


2. It’s very family focused.

Of course there is romance, because Bill is 17 and kind of concerned that he’s never managed to keep a girlfriend (like, he kisses them and they run away #awkward). But the book is more focused on his Grandmother who’s in hospital for liver failure, and on Bill’s two brothers. Bill’s brothers are…let’s just say…not the best and his older brother lives in Brisbane and is NEVER around. And his younger brother is deep in a moody-angsty-teen stage. Bill’s way of trying to relate and connect them is equal parts hilarious and endearing.


3. There is so much Greek food.

Hello to reading about GLORIOUS GREEK FOOD! My mouth was literally watering at all the descriptions. The very first chapters is a messy and chaotic meal (with a hundred dishes in Tupperware containers) in the hospital with the grandma. It’s hilarious and delicious. Wait I’m not even sure I should be praising this book here because it made me downright hungry. Excuse me while I go devour my paperback.


4. It involves a bucket list.

I’m so addicted to lists. I write lists ALL THE TIME. So any book that involves a list is going to turn me into a wildly rabid fan. Even though Bill’s grandmother’s liver problem isn’t being dubbed as fatal or anything, she still has written a bucket list and demanded that Bill complete it for her. It basically involves getting his mother a new husband and getting his brothers to start talking. So, just all slightly impossible.


5. It really values friendship too!

Bill has an epic friend, Lucas, who is downright hilarious, gay, and also has cerebral palsy. I loved their banter and how eager Lucas was to help Bill complete the impossible bucket list — even though the way they go about it is sometimes dubious. But they were totally friendship goals. I loved them!


[purchase here]

Reviews – Ruby Wishfingers #1 and #2 by Deborah Kelly

When I received the opportunity to review this series I was pretty excited, and even more excited to receive an acceptance for an interview by its author, Deborah Kelly! I couldn’t wait to hear if her inspiration stemmed from wonderful childhood memories of wishful longing for powerful magical abilities, like I had. We shall find out soon enough, but first, here’s what I thought of her first two books in the series, Ruby Wishfingers Skydancer’s Escape (Book #1) and Toad-allyMagic! (Book#2).

These books come highly recommended both to emerging readers as a wonderfully fun shared reading experience, as well as being a galloping, fast-paced adventure for more independent readers. Whatever the reading age, this series is definitely one to ignite, and excite, the imagination!

imageSkydancer’s Escape is a tantalising introduction into the ordinary-turned-extraordinary world of Ruby Wishfingers. When the young nine-year-old girl is told by her Granny that she has inherited this marvellous gift from a long line of Wishfingers magicians, her mind bubbles with infinite wishing possibilities. But it’s her magical inexperience that steers the romping consequential mayhem throughout the story.

Plenty of rollicking escapades follow as Ruby’s favourite unicorn toy, Skydancer is brought to life. As you can imagine, a large stuffing-full plush with a hankering for bed linen, curtains and Mum’s antique lace tablecloths is sure to send one willy-nilly! So what’s a girl with the power to magic up anything she desires to do? Change Skydancer’s culinary preference to sweet treats, of course! In fact, Dad’s whole garden, with some extra juicy surprise coloured raindrops, is turned into a sugar heaven. After some high-speed chasing, size-altering experimentation and transforming a grumpy cat’s speaking ability, Ruby and Granny finally manage to set things straight… well, almost. And the oblivious Mum and Dad have their own ‘sweet’ surprise to share, too.

imageTwo years on and Ruby and her tingling wishing fingers are back in Toad-ally Magic!. And, despite her maturing adeptness to the power of her magic, the extraordinary situations she finds herself in are just as whimsical and wild as the last.

Ruby now has a baby brother called Jellybean (surprise!) and it is his upcoming first birthday. To celebrate, the family are holding a teddy bear’s picnic party. Unfortunately for Ruby, though, her toad of a cousin, Todd is coming to stay. Todd’s inexorable path of destruction sends Ruby into a raging, finger-wishing spin, metamorphosing her cousin into a wart-infested toad. But, The Golden Rule of Magic states that wishes are not to be used to harm or punish. Ruby endures several desperate attempts and some sticky adventures to make things right. She cleverly manages to reclaim her magic back from that grumpy, self-righteous, Maine Coon cat, Jupiter, before he wasted them all on his own selfish pleasures. Then, she is able to rescue poor croaking Todd from the neighbour’s gardener and return him to normal. Although exhausting, a ‘toad-ally’ satisfying ending for all.

Like most young girls, Ruby can easily be tempted by instant gratification of her most biggest desires. However, I love that Ruby is also a character with inner strength and an altruistic nature. She is playful and tenacious, but also wholesome and infectious, just like Deborah Kelly‘s Ruby Wishfingers series. With delightfully energetic black and white illustrations by Leigh Hedstrom, charismatic language and comical adventures, readers from age six will be itching to relive the magic over and over again.

Wombat Books, 2016.

Book #3 Hide and Seek is due for release this November.

Read the interview with Deborah Kelly, right here!  

Connect with Deborah Kelly at her website and Facebook page, and discover the fun at the official Ruby Wishfingers webpage.


Review: The Best of Adam Sharp by Graeme Simsion

adam-sharpHow does Graeme Simsion follow-up his dual smash-hits of The Rosie Project and The Rosie Effect?  By penning a novel that is just as funny and poignant, but with a tumultuous moral core. Unlike the Rosie novels –  which I always pegged as romantic-comedies, or as ‘dramedy’ to enquiring readers – The Best of Adam Sharp is far more profound. There’s a lot more for the reader to marinate over. There is greater thematic depth. And it will resonate long after you’ve closed the book.

The Best of Adam Sharp introduces our protagonist – the titular Adam Sharp – as an almost-fifty IT contractor, whose life has reached that gliding point when there are few surprises left. It’s not a bad life – he lives comfortably, has a loyal partner at home, and has a few close friends – but it’s not what it could have been. Even so, it’s not like he is pining for something different; he’s made his bed and he is sleeping in it contentedly. Until he gets an email from his great lost love, Angelina Brown…

Two decades ago, on the other side of the world in Australia, Adam’s part-time piano playing introduced him to the aspiring actress and the two engaged in an unlikely love affair. It was never meant to be a long-term thing – their lifestyles prohibited a lifetime together – but despite the odds, they fell in love. Adam could’ve made a life with her – should’ve, he later things – but did not. They went their separate ways, out of touch, until now, when their extended email communique leads to Adam reuniting with Angelina in the flesh . . . alongside her husband.

The Best of Adam Sharp is about lost love and second chances. My feelings towards Adam varied during my reading; initially I was rooting for the guy, fist-bumping the air thinking, “Yeah, go get the girl, be with the person you’re meant to be with!” Then, later, my tune changed; I realised that Adam reforming his relationship with Angelina would break up a family, and those consequences seemed too grand for the sake of one man’s happiness. As I learned more of Angelina’s relationship with her husband, I reflected and decided, “No, Adam is definitely the right man for her, consequences be damned!” Only for my opinion to change twenty pages later…

This is a novel that will make you ponder the choices you’ve made. It will make you nostalgic, and reflect on where your life might be if you’d stayed with a former girlfriend; stayed in your hometown; moved to a big city; taken that job you turned down. And then it will force you to question how far you’d go for a second chance? Would you sacrifice all you have for what could be? And just because you can do something – should you?

The Life of Adam Sharp isn’t as laugh-out-loud funny as the Rosie novels, but humour still shines through, and plenty of moments had me guffawing. In fact, I feel like the comedy is more potent here because it’s sprinkled, rather than soaked through the text. Music plays a vital role in the narrative too, and it’s mainstream enough – The Beatles, Dylan, The Kinks – to ensure just about every reader will appreciate their references. Even when I couldn’t imagine the tune of a referenced song, I understood the subtext.

Graeme Simsion has done it again; authored a poignant, funny novel, that can stand proudly beside the Rosie novels, if not entirely outshine them.

Buy the book here…

Ruins and Rajith Savanadasa

RajithIn a sold-out session at the weekend’s Brisbane Writers Festival, Rajith Savanadasa spoke to me about his assured debut novel Ruins (Hachette Australia). Amongst other things, I was fascinated to hear that his favourite place is a quiet room in which to read.

Ruins gives an arresting insight into Sri Lanka at the end and aftermath of the Civil War. Rajith uses an intriguing cast of five main characters, four from the one family, to provide different perspectives. Rajith explained how his characters of husband/father Mano, wife/mother Lakshima, daughter Anoushka, son Niranjan and servant Latha are archetypes.

Her recently discovered brother is perhaps coercing Latha to return to the village and help care for his children. She serves the Colombo family of four well but feels that perhaps they don’t care for her in the way she hopes. It was interesting to hear Rajith’s comments on his own family servant Yasa and the novel is dedicated to her. She will always be looked after.

RuinsMano works for the newspaper, publishing only what will keep the staff safe, and is a voyeur until the woman who attracts him dies suddenly. He and Lakshima have a mixed marriage, He is Sinhalese and she is Tamil. He is Buddhist and she is Hindu, but also believes in Buddha. The family savings were used to send Niranjan to study in Australia but he doesn’t seem to be one of the “good children” who return and work hard. Anoushka has many of the difficulties faced by a gay teenage girl who doesn’t follow the demands of the popular group. Rajith revealed that he does share some of her taste in music.

Mano is shocked when Anoushka doesn’t realise there’s a difference between Tamils and the terrorist Tamil Tigers. “The war was against terrorists, not Tamils.”

The novel is ingeniously structured around the ancient artefact of the moonstone where animals represent elements of the life cycle, the vine is desire, the fire-ring shows life’s difficulties and the lotus flower is nirvana. Latha’s thoughts go around and around, becoming cyclic like the structure until she learns to let go of everything and just be.

It was enjoyable to watch the enthusiastic faces of the audience, particularly Rajith’s co-writers from the Queensland Writers’ Centre/Hachette Manuscript Development Program. He would have felt well supported.

Rajith was also on the panel with Sudanese-born Brisbane author Yassmin Abdel-Magied and Korean-American author Suki Kim, which was formed quickly by the BWF as a right-of-reply to Lionel Shriver’s infamous opening address.


YA at the BWF16

AuroraThere was a plethora of YA authors at this year’s Brisbane Writers Festival.

I enjoyed hearing Meg Rosoff speak about Jonathan Unleashed (Bloomsbury). It’s a memorable story about a youngish man living in New York City with two dogs his brother has asked him to mind. He hates his job in advertising and is being pushed into marriage with his girlfriend who works for a bridal magazine. It’s not a YA novel although Jonathan acts like a boy for much of the book. It certainly did seem to reflect parts of Meg’s own life story and also reminded me of reading Graeme Simsion’s Rosie stories. This means I liked it very much!

It was also a delight to hear Maxine Beneba Clarke speak to secondary school students. She’s not a YA writer but her Foreign Soil and The Hate Race (Hachette) have garnered widespread praise. Maxine helped students appreciate poetry and her performance of several of her poems was breathtaking. I felt that these students were honoured to hear her and that she would make a powerful impression on their attitudes and writing.

WinterThere were other exciting YA and children’s writers I unfortunately didn’t have the opportunity to hear but I was involved in facilitating a panel of debut YA authors at Brisbane Square Library’s ‘Love YA!’ day. Mark Smith, a teacher and surfer from coastal Victoria, spoke about his post apocalyptic novel The Road to Winter, Queensland Sunshine Coast’s Elizabeth Kasmer shared her thoughtful look at identity, racism and aging in Becoming Aurora (which has a fascinating connection with a painting in the Qld Art Gallery) and celebrity Brisbane bookseller Christopher Currie spoke about his well written exploration of Clancy in a small Qld town in Clancy of the Undertow.Clancy

Their characters were all sixteen (or almost 16), a pivotal age for change; all the authors had interesting reasons for choosing their characters’ names (Finn, Aurora and Clancy); all incorporated sport in their novel (surfing, boxing, cricket); all showcased nature or a special place in their characters’ lives and, perhaps unusually in YA novels, all featured kindness either through their major or minor characters. These three authors were all a pleasure to interview. Seek out their books. Find them on social media.

Jay Kristoff was also riveting at ‘Love YA!’ (and had a very long signing queue!) where he spoke about Nevernight. He and Illuminae (Allen&Unwin) co-author Aime Kaufman were later treated to Argo’s musical performance of Illuminae back at the State Library’s stunning Red Box as the sun set over the Brisbane River. The space opera was composed and performed by Ben Heim and Connor D’Netto and included electrifying cello solos by Patrick Murphy, a cast of strings and voice-overs from the novel. It was a very sophisticated and atmospheric finale to my BWF16.

Illuminae by Argo

Midge Raymond and My Last Continent

Midge_Raymond_photoOne of the most delightful and enthusiastic authors at the Brisbane Writers Festival this year was Oregon-based Midge Raymond. I was fortunate to moderate one of her sessions in front of an informed and interested audience. We spoke mostly about her new novel My Last Continent (Text Publishing) but Midge also told us about her boutique publishing company Ashland Creek Press, which publishes books about the environment.

My Last Continent is one of those novels that is enjoyable and thought provoking and also lingers afterwards. I missed it after I’d finished reading, particularly learning about and understanding Antarctica and human interaction with the continent. I wanted to read more, so it was wonderful to have Midge continue the action, adventure, danger, science, history and romance of her tale in person.

People have a range of reasons for visiting Antarctica. They run out of places to hide or, in contrast to early explorers, want to be the last to see its sights and inhabitants. Midge celebrates the untamed beauty and danger of Antarctica and also offers a personal and literary affinity with its creatures, mainly here through her protagonist, naturalist Deb, whose personality, longings and hopes are shared with the reader. The major relationship in the novel is between Deb and Keller, an elusive man who also comes to love the far south and its creatures. He even discovers an Adelie penguin who sits in his lap to be stroked and Midge revealed how this is actually based on a penguin in Argentina, Turbo.

ContinentThe structure of the novel builds to the pivotal episode of the shipwreck of a cruise ship. Chapters oscillate expertly between ‘5 Years Before Shipwreck’, ‘5 Days Before Shipwreck’, ‘One Week Before Shipwreck’, hours before shipwreck and ‘Afterwards’. Foreshadowing also creates an ominous tone.

Tension from how far south ill-equipped ships travel for sights and experiences to thrill their passengers and when they should turn back for the sake of safety is threaded into the story.

A scientist and Antarctic voyager in the audience endorsed the accuracy of Midge’s research and her tale in glowing terms.

Midge is also the author of Forgetting English, which won the Spokane Prize for Short Fiction, has taught communication writing at Boston University and has written two writers’ guides, Everyday Writing and Everyday Book Marketing.

As well as reading My Last Continent, it is worth exploring Midge’s blog. I feel privileged to have met her.


Review: Riders by Veronica Rossi

Riders by Veronica Rossi is truly a stupendous read! I was very excited to try this because it has a huge conglomeration of things that I love to read about, including (A) the apocalypse, and (B) Biblical mythology retelling. You know the four horseman of the apocalypse as told about in Revelation? Well here they are! But they’re teenagers and they’ve all “died” and come back and now they’re here to fight demons. Unless they kill each other first or, well, get killed first. Life as a horseman is not easy, let me tell you.

9780765382542The story starts off following Gideon, who is a fiercely angry little firecracker who joined the army as soon as he was out of highschool. But an accident leaves him “dead” for several minutes, and when he comes back he has a strange metal cuff on. His injuries heal super fast and he meets a girl called Daryn, who’s here to unite the 4 horseman for a mysterious quest that she can’t yet disclose. Because demons are out to reader minds and smash heads, so, let’s all be cautious, shall we? It turns out Gideon is the embodiment of War, and now they need to connect Famine, Conquest, and Death.

This is probably my favourite end times novel since I read Good Omens! It’s like the TV show, Supernatural, in YA book form. And if that doesn’t excite your little heart, what will? Oh wait. Let’s throw in some: fighting, military, sass, an evil dragon, fiery horses, and incredibly tall stacks of pancakes.

And while it was the premise that won me over, it kept me hooked with the glorious writing. It’s narrated in 1st person by Gideon Blake, and his a true Sass Master. He has the best internal monologue and his dialogue was equal parts realistic and funny. The whole book felt like a conversation and was so easy to get lost in.

Obviously, I loved Gideon. But I felt all the characters were downright epic. I just wish we’d gotten to know them a bit better, because I felt we didn’t have enough time with the last two Horseman (Conquest and Death) as they were found because the book was keying up for the climax.

But a quick rundown of the characters!

  • GIDEON: He’s war, and an army dude, and has such anger issues, but is also kind of charming.
  • SEBASTIAN: He’s Famine, Latino, and an actor and super sweet and nice and basically the best of them all. He can make people really hungry for stuff, being Famine and all.
  • MARCUS: He’s Death. I wanted to love Death, but we really didn’t get to know him very well. He’s African American and very angry and withdrawn and he and Gideon just punch each other all the time for no reason. I still can’t figure that out.
  • JODE: He’s Conquest and British and super rich and has literally no other personality because he only appears about 70% through the book and then we go into battle mode. He seems nice?
  • DARYN: She’s the “Seeker” who puts all the horsemen together to go on this Grand Mission. As a character, I liked her toughness and capability! She also adores pancakes and I can get behind this.

The plot is mostly just a journey to find everyone. So it’s like 80% “where are you, mate” and 20% “let’s fight demons, mate”. I actually really enjoyed the finding part, and found the battles slightly confusing in their whirlwind of activity. Also the travel across the world, so yay for stopovers in Italy and Norway!

Riders was an action-packed pocket of firey fun. It was non-stop sass, adventure, mythology, and fighting. The story was easy to get sucked in to and I loved the apocalypse elements. Not to mention the epic magical weapons and equally epic magical horses. The sequel can’t come out fast enough!



Picture Books with World Dementia Month in Mind


September is Dementia Awareness Month, an important initiative providing Australians with further knowledge and understanding of how dementia affects individuals, their families and carers. The theme for this year is ‘You are not alone’; a sentiment that aims to help those impacted to feel supported and empowered even in difficult circumstances.

Dedicating their time and energy to raising awareness of the topic of ageing grandparents or other family members is a passionate group of Australian children’s authors and illustrators. Their personal, heartfelt stories of hope and compassion continue to provide encouragement, optimism and inspiration to many children and families confronting change and illness in the ones they love.

imageDebra Tidball‘s When I see Grandma fits perfectly with the theme of ‘You are not alone’ on several levels. It is a poignant story of a little girl who brightens the dreams of her grandmother in an Aged Care Home. With gorgeously illuminating illustrations by Leigh Hedstrom, this book includes both heartwarming and practical strategies for creating, and rekindling fond memories.

Debra states, “When I see Grandma shows children interacting in a space that is not usually thought of as child-friendly – an aged care home. If parents of young children can see beyond the sadness of their own experiences and take their children to visit aged relatives in this setting, it can provide an enriching experience for all.”

She further relays, “Research shows that people with dementia and their carers are significantly lonelier than the general population. The children in When I See Grandma share very simple things they enjoy with their gran and the other residents – like reading, singing, and playing peek-a-boo, all giving the message, in a very natural, easy way, that their grandma is not alone.” Debra wrote the book to “let families know that they are not alone in their experiences and to encourage families to keep connections with elderly and ailing relatives so that they too, know that they are not alone.”

More on the book and a Boomerang Books interview with Debra Tidball can be found here.

In a recent article, Debra provides enlightening guidance for children and parents on reading to grandparents. Find it on the Wombat Books blog here.

Wombat Books, February 2014.

imageLucas and Jack focuses on the power of memory to establish close bonds between a boy and his Grandpop. Divinely illustrated by Andrew McLean, and gently written by Ellie Royce, this book is a fantastic medium “to start conversation, memories and stories flowing.”

Ellie explains the power of listening. “As a picture book about older people’s stories, it [Lucas and Jack] encourages the listening which often leads to such enriching connections being formed.” Read the full article here.

More on Ellie Royce’s book and a Boomerang Books interview is here.

Working Title Press, June 2014.

imageVictoria Lane (Thieberger) is the author of Celia and Nonna, with timeless illustrations by Kayleen West. This gentle book embraces the hard realities of dementia and adapting to change, but at the same time highlights strength, togetherness and faith in the ones we love.

Victoria encourages readers to find ways to accept and manage these often confusing times. “It is so important to keep children involved and informed, whatever changes are happening in the family… Celia finds her own delightful way(s). I hope that Celia and Nonna will help to start a conversation with children when a loved one is affected by dementia or old age.”

The full review and Boomerang Books interview with Victoria Lane is here.

Ford Street Publishing, September 2014.

imageDo You Remember? by Kelly O’Gara and Anna McNeil is a comforting, poignant story of memory and togetherness of a mouse and her grandmother. The celebration and the gradual fading of those memories are gently portrayed using the child’s artwork as a medium to remind her grandmother of her own rich and wonderful stories. This book shows a beautiful way to support and encourage children and their elderly grandparents to preserve and strengthen their bonds.

Wombat Books, February 2015.

imageHarry Helps Grandpa Remember, authored by Karen Tyrrell, and illustrated by Aaron Pocock, is a story of compassion, humour and hope. Young Harry provides a forgetful, confused and lost Grandpa with cleverly integrated coping and memory skills. Here is a book that gently introduces “children to the realities of Dementia and Alzheimer’s.” Find out more about the book here.

Digital Future Press, April 2015.

Alzheimer’s Australia also has resources to help provide reassurance to families. Another website to explore is Dementia in my Family, where you can find most of the above picture books listed in the resources section. Click here for more information on dementia and loneliness.



Doodles and Drafts – Guest post by Wai Chim – Author of Freedom Swimmer

Wai Chim # 2Today we welcome author, Wai Chim to the draft table. Her motivation to write Freedom Swimmer, stems from the little known history of her father and the need to understand more about the horrific events that took place during the period of China’s Cultural Revolution. Here is her story about his story.

Writing my father’s story

As a child, my father’s journey from a poor farming village near Shenzhen to ultimately living and working in a small Chinese restaurant in Long Island was fascinating to me. But for the most part, he was tight lipped about his past. While I can recount so much detail about my mother’s family and her childhood in Hong Kong (from her primary school friends to how she was always in the trouble with  my grandmother) – I knew very little about my father’s past.

Part of this was because he was pretty much the typical ‘Asian dad’ – quiet, emotionally distant and he didn’t talk about his feelings or say much about his life.

Back then, I could probably tell you three things about his life in China:

  • His parents had passed away when he about sixteen and he only had a younger sister left in China
  • His family had been very, very, very poorFreedom Swimmer
  • As a teenager he had left his village and made the swim to Hong Kong

I was particularly fascinated by ‘the swim’, probably because I was (and still am) such a terrible swimmer. I knew from a very young age that ‘the swim’ was an important part of his life story – and that terrible things must have happened for him to have made that choice.

A large part of my initial inspiration and motivation for writing Freedom Swimmer was to come closer to understanding my father’s history and this important piece of his past. However as I started writing, it became so much more than that.

Mao Tse-tungMy father was a great resource and opened up about a lot of the details of his life, but through my research, I found out there was so much more going on behind the scenes. My father and his family suffered greatly as a direct result of some of the horrible policies that were put in place at the national level. The events that transpired weren’t isolated to my family, a single village or even one particular region. An estimated 45 million deaths occurred as a result of the manmade famine caused by Mao Zedong’s Great Leap Forward while millions more suffered at hands the Red Guards during the Cultural Revolution.

And like my father, the people who went through it all simply weren’t talking about it.

I was shocked. The loud-mouthed, ‘my first amendment rights are sacred’ American in me was floored that that this had happened and people like my dad were just keeping quiet. As I delved deeper and deeper into the past, I wanted to wrap my arms around the young boy that was my father and cocoon him from some of the tragedies of his past.

My father, of course, is an incredibly strong and amazing man – he couldn’t have made it this far if he wasn’t. And it was because of his dreams of a better life, of finding better opportunity for himself and his future that I can even be sitting here today, writing a book based on his past. That I could be so shocked by some of the things I learned, and that all of his suffering is completely unfathomable compared to the silly #firstworldproblems that I complain about.

And for that, I am eternally grateful.

Thank you Wai.

Read the full review of Freedom Swimmer, here.

Review – Freedom Swimmer

Freedom SwimmerI often have great difficulty reviewing a book I feel a profound affection for. Freedom Swimmer by Wai Chim may be one of those books. There is an aura of Amy Tan about Chim’s depiction set in Communist China of two boys and their astounding quest to find a better life. If you think this sounds less than remarkable, read on.

Chim has fashioned a tale base on the true-life events of her father who made an incredible lunge for freedom when at the age of 19, he swam from the Dapeng Peninsula to Tung Ping Chau Island, Hong Kong in hope of finding a better life in the then British colony. I love books that reveal another of history’s amazing episodes, one that I may only have had peripheral knowledge about before, or in this case, no solid previous understanding. Stories like these, shared with today’s children, are priceless. The tales of the real life freedom swimmers are remarkable and chilling in their own right.

Freedom Swimmer chimes with Mao Tse-tung quotes and the fervour of Communist China, just pulling itself up from the so-called ‘Great Leap Forward’. Ming’s village is stricken by famine and poverty throughout this era, as are most in rural China.  He loses his parents but survives and along with dozens of other orphaned village children, he and his closest friend, pseudo brother Tian, scrape together an existence that is both grinding and bereft of any real affection.

One day, the village cadre makes an announcement. As part of the new re-education program initiated by Mao’s self-serving government, city youths are sent to Ming’s village to be ‘taught’ by the peasants. This is of course also an insidious way of injecting more Maoism’s into the population of China, an explicit agenda to control and monopolise thought.

Ming’s fellow villagers are not so easily swayed although few of them express their so-called ‘imperialist’ doubts aloud fearing terrible retribution. Tian is the first to laugh in the farcical face of Communism yet like Ming, begrudgingly accepts the new arrivals, as is the cadre’s directive. To his surprise, Ming quickly befriends one of the city boys named Li. Li is a staunch supporting member of the Red Guards but also warm and intelligent enough to approach his newfound village life with considered respect. He encourages Ming to express his dreams, Ming teaches him to swim. Although worlds of thinking separate them, they form a deep bond and respect for one another. As is often the case when great divides define relationships, those on one side slowly begin to yearn for the opposite.

Then the unthinkable happens; Li’s father is branded a Party traitor. Li immediately falls from favour, plunging into disgrace and unrelenting torment from his erstwhile comrades. Ming too is suffering from his untenable position as a village no-body, and is frequently frustrated at not being able to be with the girl he secretly admires.

Rather than continue their oppressive lives, the teenagers plan to risk the shark-infested waters between their peninsular and Hong Kong and swim to salvation. It is a great measure of the stoicism of humanity that so many, thousands in fact, of Chinese youths braved this desperate escape; spurned by nothing more than their hopes for ‘a better life and greater opportunity.’ Shark attack, illness, dog patrols and armed guards contributed to the immense risk these swimmers took in their bid for freedom.

Wai ChimChim recounts this period with confidence and true affection. Her writing is moving, poetic and substantial with strong character convictions and emotion to maintain a midgrade audience. This is a fascinating if not contemptible, chaotic time in Chinese history that captures the themes of taking chances, striving for a better life and perseverance with authenticity and feeling.

Chook Chook seriesFans of Chim’s previous junior fiction series, Chook Chook will appreciate her relaxed, more grown-up storytelling style and shared family history. I know I did. Stories have the power to unite and enlighten. Freedom Swimmer is auspiciously, one of those stories.

Sydneysiders have the good fortune of being able to meet Wai Chim this Friday at Gleebooks where she will officially launch, Freedom Swimmer.

If you can’t wait, the book is available here, now.

Stick around for the fascinating and touching insight into Wai Chim’s father’s story which inspired this compelling story to be written in the first place.

Allen & Unwin August 2016





Review: Bee Friendly Garden

Bee Friendly GardenSelf-described ‘beevangelist’ and urban beekeeper Doug Purdie espoused the benefits of beekeeping in his first book, Backyard Bees. That book highlighted what people are increasingly cottoning on to: pollinators, on which we rely for as much as 75% of our food supply, are in danger worldwide.

His just-released follow-up book, Bee Friendly Garden, concentrates on helping those who aren’t keen or aren’t able to beekeep through various circumstances, but who still want to contribute. Of which there are myriad ways. Case in point: planting a variety of shrubs, flowers, and trees on which bees can forage.

Naff as it sounds, Purdie asks readers to ‘think like a bee’. He has a point. Reconsidering our gardens is crucial to transforming monoculture or, worse, desert-like landscapes to ‘bee highways’ in which bees have a fighting chance.

That arguably means letting go of the highly manicured, architecturally rigid, pesticide-laden gardens and embracing, well, nature. As Purdie writes, ‘landscaping flair, while pleasing to the human eye, is fairly irrelevant to the bee’.

While we’re at it, we need to reign in our obsession with McMansions—Australia holds the unenviable record for the largest houses in the world, which means ground square footage is taken up by bricks and concrete and not forage-able landscape to support bees.

Among other things, Purdie identifies three habitat-related issues directly affecting bees. There’s habitat loss, i.e. we keep cutting trees down and concreting over what was once garden. There’s habitat degradation, i.e. what land is left is not healthy. And there’s habitat fragmentation, i.e. habitat is cut by highways, roads, and buildings, so it’s insanely difficult and dangerous for bees to obtain food.

Backyard BeesWhile European honey bees travel between five and 10 kilometres to find food, native bees only forage a few hundred metres from their front doors. So if there is no nearby habitat on which to forage, they literally starve to death. Lack of diversity through such things as monoculture crops is another complication in terms of the forage available.

It’s not just bee species affected by this either. Among others, butterflies are too. By killing off butterflies’ food through herbicide, we are steadily killing off butterfly populations. Throw in poorly understood and even more poorly reported factors such as illegal logging…it’s all a rather bleak and interminable list of things we are doing to harm bees and butterflies and all manner of species.

But Purdie’s book is about providing solutions, and particularly solutions accessible to those of use living in small plots in the inner city or suburbia. The book spans the benefits green roofs, details a range of plants suitable for different environments, and offers suggestions for natural stink bug and weed removal (with a vacuum cleaner and boiling water, respectively) as well as companion planting to discourage pests sans chemicals.

The book also contains some useful titbits of trivia worth stashing away. For example, bees have five eyes and use ultraviolet vision to seek out nectar and pollen. It also advocates creating pollinator highways, or corridors equivalent to ‘re-charging stations for electric cars’ that bees, who can only carry so much food with them on their travels, can stop in at to refuel.

Being a Murdoch publication, Bee Friendly Garden contains cut-above-quality images and layout. Richly coloured and with content chunked in digestible, aesthetically appealing design, it’s the kind of book you can hand to bee aficionados and fandom newbies alike. It’s definitely one for consideration as personal purchase or a giveaway gift. Me? I’m keeping my copy and adding it to the list of books I’ll buy others for Christmas.

YA Books With Ships And Sea Settings

There comes a time in most everyone’s lives when they have a small desire to be a pirate. Usually it happens when you’re 5 years old. But never mind that. If you never grew out of that desire and ever dreamed of taking to the high seas to sail the ocean blue, then I have a list of Young Adult books that will help you live vicariously through fictional characters. They’re not all strictly “pirate” stories, but they involve ships and crews and a bit of ocean. You will definitely want to get on board with these ship and sea stories!



Ever heard the name “Blackbeard”? Well this is his origin story! While the book reads more like a historical romance and is actually devoid of pirates in the first volume (the sequel promises more!) it is all about the boy who’ll become the infamous Blackbeard and the girl he names his ship after (Queen Anne’s Revenge)! It’s marvelously written and there is sass and arguing with Teach and Anne having, well, sort of a pepper and vinegar relationship at first. They both dream of running away to sea, but they’re both rather stuck. Except ships, a few fist fights, complicated relationships, manors and lords and ladies, and grand ships of the ocean!



What if you could sail on any ocean in any year? Welcome to this incredible book! Which is all about a time-travelling ship where you need specific maps to go to specific times in history. Nix is a fabulous narrator and, along with her father, they’re travelling through time to try and save her mother from dying. This requires a specific map however, and they can’t find it. The best part of this book is definitely how we flit from era to era! But let’s not forget that there are also sassy thieves, a pocket-sized dragons, so many gorgeous map illustrations, and plenty of sailing.



Another time travelling story! And while this one doesn’t centre on using a ship to time travel, it definitely plays a part in the first half of the book. Etta is a violinist but during a fated recital, she accidentally gets thrown back in time to a dubious ship in the 1700s. A dashing young man, Nicholas, has been charged with bringing Etta to his very powerful time-travelling-controlling family. There is a lost magical item to be found. Etta wants to go home. And don’t forget a whirlwind of eras to travel through!

9780061134111CHALLENGER DEEP


This is definitely a very different book compared to the first three, because it’s about a boy with schizophrenia, but he believes that he’s occasionally trapped on a ship. It’s a strange ship with a bizarre crew and it takes a little getting used to as you figure out how Connor’s mind works. But then it’s incredible. The writing sucks you in and the story is poignant and heart-wrenching and full of symbolism for life with mental illness and what it means to fall deep and then look for recovery.

The Latest in the Chook Doolan Series

Award-winning author James Roy has successfully developed this series particularly with boys’ literacy development in mind. The Chook Doolan series have been created with a most likeable and relatable character, themes of friendship, family and courage, and plenty of humour and action to captivate its emergent reader audience. With seven or eight short chapters, easy-to-follow language and support structures, and exuberant, witty black and white illustrations by the talented Lucinda Gifford, these books are winners for children aged five and up.

imageSimon, better known as Chook, is not very brave. That is, he is chicken. InChook Doolan Saves the Day’ (Book #3), we are privileged with Chook’s emotional conscience and his honest thoughts towards things such as his dislike for sports. His friend, Joe offers to teach him to play soccer to prepare for their school lessons. But in particular, Chook needs to learn to brave the unyielding stampedes of Ashton Findus and Marty Petrovic. Despite his woeful excuses, a pep talk from big brother Ricky encourages Chook to listen to his angry rooster head-voice (as opposed to his scared chicken head-voice), and he miraculously manages to save the day (the ball, that is!). However, although overcoming this huge battle; both on the field and inside his head, somehow I don’t think Chook Doolan will be changing his reluctant ways any time soon.

imageIn ‘The Tiny Guitar’ (Book #4), Chook’s busker friend, Eddie Two-hats, sits on the same corner every day singing and playing his ukulele. But one day, Eddie Two-hats is taken away by ambulance and Chook is left confused and extremely concerned. To be able to help out his friend, Chook needs to make some money so that Eddie can eat. With his new ukulele gift from Dad, many hours of video instruction and practice, and a whole bunch of courage, Chook delivers the musical busking performance of his life. It may not have been flawless, nor have generated much income, but his efforts proved successful in more ways than one…even if it was only a one-time show.

Young readers will easily identify with the feelings associated with sudden change, being challenged to learn a new skill, and one’s internal insecurities. These books also inject the comically relatable advantages and pitfalls to sibling support (or lack thereof), as well as highlighting the encouraging nature of a good friend.

The Chook Doolan books are complete with a smooth stream of emotional trials, sound messages of compassion, hope and triumph, as well as plenty of winsome humour to capture the hearts of all sensitive souls like Chook.

Walker Books, August 2016.


Indigenous Literacy Day & The Book that Made Me

Meet Judith Ridge, editor of The Book that Made Me (Walker Books)

Where are you based and what is your current professional role?

After living most of my adult as an “inner westie”, I moved to the north-west of Sydney 6 years ago. I currently work at Liverpool City Library, in Sydney’s south-west, where my title is Coordinator, Outreach Programs. People have mistaken me for a librarian for much of my working life; I actually started out as an English teacher, and have worked in publishing and arts projects for the past 20-something years. Working in a public library is a wonderful opportunity and one I am enjoying very much.

How did you select which authors to invite to contribute to The Book that Made Me?

Book that Made meI started out with a wish list, which was part of my pitch. That original list included writers whose work I knew and admired, and who I believed would have some really interesting and potentially unexpected ways of approaching the topic. I was also looking for a variety of contributors; not every person on the list was necessarily what we might think of as a writer of YA, but were writers who teens would likely have come across in other media, and whose work I thought was well worth bringing to their attention. My publisher also wanted to make sure Walker authors were well-represented, including authors from their New Zealand and UK lists.

I was also keen to include writers across genres, form (I would have loved to have had more visual artists involved) and from a range of cultural backgrounds. It was especially important to me to have Aboriginal contributors, and not just because the royalties from the book go to the Indigenous Literacy Foundation, but because there is no Australian story without indigenous voices.Ambelin

How was this title selected?

The Book That Made Me was only meant to be a working title until we all decided there wasn’t a better one that described what the book was. I can’t imagine it being called anything else now.

What brief/guidelines did you give the contributors?

I’ve actually quoted part of the brief in my introduction to the book: It may have been the book that made you fall in love. Made you understand something for the first time. Made you think. Made you laugh. Made you angry. Made you feel safe. Made you feel challenged in ways you never knew you could be; emotionally, intellectually, politically. Made you you.

How did you get a response from Mal Peet, who died last year? (has the book been awhile in the planning?) Peet

I think I first pitched The Book That Made Me in 2012 or 2013. The publication date was pushed back twice. This isn’t unusual in publishing, and it especially is not unusual for a book of this nature, with multiple contributors.

I met Mal and his wife Elspeth Graham several times when they travelled to Australia for writers’ festivals, and he was on that original wishlist of contributors. Mal was one of the smartest, funniest and most generous men I ever met, and I am honoured to have his witty and slightly angry piece in the book.

Was much editing involved throughout? If so, what type of edits?

Both a lot and not much! None of the contributions needed much in the way of a structural edit; most of the back and forth with the writers was to fact-check and clarify ideas, and also to ensure copyright clearance for works cited (when direct quotes were made). I came up with titles for most of the essays, which the contributors obviously had to approve, so there was also a bit of back and forth there. Copy-editing was done externally—fresh eyes!—and the final page proofs were checked by me, my fabulous in-house editor at Walker, Mary Verney and the contributors (and yet a few pesky typos slipped through nevertheless!).

How did you deal with authors who wanted to include more than one book?

With pleasure! There was never any expectation that the contributors would necessarily stick to one book, or even, as it turned out, to a book at all. I love that magazines, comic books and plays (for example) are honoured. I’m also thrilled that Ambelin Kwaymullina wrote so brilliantly about Aboriginal story and the oral tradition, which is, after all, where all stories started.

Was there anyone you wanted and couldn’t get – and could maybe include in another book? Or an author you want for the future?Freedom

Yes and yes—of course! In the natural way of these things, some entirely amazing people ended up dropping out of the project, or couldn’t do it in the first place (kindly expressing regret). If there were to be a second book, well, there are some really exciting new YA writers that have emerged in the last few years who would definitely be getting an invitation.

How did you organise the blend of Australian and OS material?

That was partly done in consultation with Walker Books Australia (see previous answer), although some of the OS writers were on my original list.

How did you sequence the chapters?

All credit for that goes to Mary Verney. This final bit of the puzzle needed to be solved shortly after I started my new job at Liverpool City Library, so I handed that over to Mary, who I think did a masterful job in balancing tone, content and form. As an editor myself, I am delighted that the book was in the hands of such a skilful fellow editor.

Were you surprised by any of the responses?Gold

Only in an “Oh my, how delightful/ thrilling/ fascinating/ wonderful/ moving” way. I think, as an editor, that you don’t really invite/commission people who won’t surprise you in some way or another; at least, that’s how I like to work. And a book of this nature can only work if you allow people their head, so to speak—the freedom to explore and surprise. Otherwise, if you’re too rigid in your expectations and requirements, you end up with something homogenous and, dare I say, probably a bit worthy and dull.

I’d say I was surprised by the generosity of the contributors, but I’ve worked in kids’/YA lit for a quarter of a century and this generosity of spirit and the work from writers for young people doesn’t actually surprise me in the slightest.

What have you learned?

That there’s nothing more exciting than walking into a bookstore and seeing your book on the shelves; that there’s nothing more gratifying than reading the words of strangers who have read and appreciated and understood what you’ve set out to achieve.

What else would you like to share?Tan

If you like the book, please seek out the works by the contributors, and buy or borrow their books, and if you’re interested in my writing about children’s and YA literature, there’s more at

And please support the work of the Indigenous Literacy Foundation:

Picture Books of Persistence and Problem Solving

When life throws you curve balls, when your path is not always clear, or when things are not in your control. These are the times that test your tenacity, your resilience and your perseverance. Young children are faced with a multitude of situations and obstacles everyday that require smart decision making and problem solving, and these few adorable picture books will no doubt offer some extra pointers on rising up to the challenge.

imageSnail and Turtle Rainy Days, Stephen Michael King (author, illus.), Scholastic Press, July 2106.

We were blessed with the presence of this endearing pair in their previous tale of kindred spirits despite their obvious differences. Stephen Michael King cleverly extends on this sentiment in Snail and Turtle Rainy Days – Turtle kindly takes Snail’s creative preferences into account in his plans to help out his friend.

I just love the essences of reassurance, humour, playfulness and warmth amongst the dreariness of the scene. Just like the rain the words flow rhythmically and soothingly, as well as with great gusto as Turtle busily forges ahead with his plan to coax Snail out of his shell. Meticulously gathering, ripping, bending and chewing, and not forgetting painting of bright blobs and gentle swirls (for Snail), Turtle provides the perfect shelter to share with his favourite companion.

The partnership of the divinely vivid and layered illustrations gorgeously ties together with the purity and fervour of its characters. Children from age three will fall head over shells in love with this charming couple all over again.

imageThe Cat Wants Custard, P.Crumble (author), Lucinda Gifford (illus.), Scholastic Australia, July 2016.

When a cat wants something desperately enough, who or what can get in their way? In The Cat Wants Custard, I’ve never seen a more insistent, yet surprisingly patient despite the prickly attitude, feline on a mission.

Kevin the cat is called by his owner to come for a treat. However, none of the suggestions are much to his liking. Kevin is in the mood for something sweet, and custard is definitely on the table (not literally, it’s still in the fridge). When the cat’s impressively accurate spelling and rhyming knowledge is unfortunately ignored (or misunderstood, rather), Kevin doesn’t give up. He lays in the kitchen for hours for his big opportunity. But when his prize is finally open for the taking, the feisty, custard-craving cat comes to a shocking conclusion.

Kevin’s obnoxious and indignant stream of consciousness, relayed to his readers via thought bubbles, is totally hilarious! And paralleled is Gifford‘s lively, animated and boldly comical illustrations showing the cat’s characteristically accurate body and facial expressions. (My favourite is the death-stare!)

Children from age three will relish every funny thought of this persistent cat and particularly his cat-astrophic, not-so-sweet ending. My three year old is already asking for the ‘mashed potato’ sequel!

imageLittle Koala Lost, Blaze Kwaymullina (author), Jess Racklyeft (illus.), Omnibus Books Scholastic Australia, July 2016.

Absolutely captivating acrylic paint textures and digital collages set the scene in this endearing counting story of a displaced little koala in the Australian bush. We feel for this tiny one as he tirelessly searches for a home and encounters rejection after rejection from the animals he approaches. Two marvellous magpies claim he can’t sing, three tricky turtles state he has no shell to protect himself, four pesky pelicans tell Koala he wouldn’t be able to catch fish without a bill, and so on. But just as he about to give up hope, it is on his tenth meeting that the koala family welcome the little mite into their gum tree home.

The predictive sequential rhythm and use of alliteration in the text by Kwaymullina is beautifully supported by Racklyeft‘s palpable and inviting illustrations, both encouraging eagerness to continue to locate a satisfying resolution.

Little Koala Lost is an adorably engaging and relatable story of belonging and perseverance, with which preschoolers will root for Koala’s wellbeing every step of the way.


Review: Depraved Heart

Depraved HeartI have lived a long tradition of receiving Patricia Cornwell’s released-just-in-time-for-Christmas books from Santa. Said tradition involves not so patiently enduring Christmas morning activities until it’s an opportune and appropriately not impolite time to steal away to read.

So it was, unsurprisingly, to Cornwell’s perennially popular character Kay Scarpetta that I turned when I was looking for a book to break my reading drought mere minutes after submitting my PhD thesis for examination.

I had little brain space and a lot of desire to read something a world away from academic papers. Handily, the prolific Cornwell had just released another Scarpetta instalment: Depraved Heart. (‘Depraved heart’ is apparently a legal term (at least, it is in the US) in which someone: is void of social duty and fatally bent on mischief; exhibits depraved indifference to human life.)

I will confess Cornwell has so many books these days I’m no longer sure if I’ve read them all. I couldn’t even remember the name of Depraved Heart to type it out for this review. And I was fairly confused when much of the book referred to an incident in which a serial killer had tried to kill Scarpetta in the book prior.

Which serial killer tried to kill her? I wondered. She has, after all, encountered more than her fair share over the book series’ years. Had I missed a book? As I progressed steadily through the pages I came to realise that yes, yes I had. I think.

I write I think because Cornwell follows a formula—a successful, satisfying formula that has kept readers such as me coming back and that has earnt her squillions, but a formula no less. And the themes throughout Depraved Heart were incredibly familiar.

For instance, Scarpetta, her husband Benton Wesley, and her niece Lucy Farinelli are each carrying the burden of secrets they can’t possibly share even though they know each other is entirely trustworthy and always has their back.

Also, everyone doubts Scarpetta’s memory/knowledge and she even begins to doubt herself, despite the fact that it always turns out she’s right. Seriously, she’s always vindicated, so why not just avoid the hassle and believe her in the first place?

So, while I still love Scarpetta, and Cornwell’s tale had the unenviable pressure of being the first fun book I encountered after three years of reading nothing but dry academic texts, Depraved Heart felt a lot like all build-up and not a whole lot of pay-off.

It commences with Scarpetta at the scene of a crime that looks straightforward, which of course means it’s not. Complicating the deceptively simple scene is that a video from Farinelli’s phone, which arrives under the guise of an emergency call. The video takes over Scarpetta’s phone (presumably such a thing is possible, although I’ve never heard of it) and disappears tracelessly once it ends.

On the video is footage of Farinelli in her then dorm from more than a decade ago. It was captured in secret by serial-killer-on-the-run Carrie Grethen, and in addition to Farinelli the video features a vintage, very distinct teddy bear Scarpetta rescued from a sad fate and gave to her niece oh so many years ago. Cue Scarpetta being glued to her phone to watch the apparently authentic video, unable to concentrate on the crime scene or tell anyone what she’s seeing.

Of course, familiarity breeds contempt and I may just have read a few too many Cornwell novels to be easily lured in. Regardless, she succeeded enough to make me read to the end. Medico-legal mysteries always intrigue me. I even enjoyed some aspects of the book, not least when they refer to Scarpetta’s medically equipped van as the Grim Reapermobile.

I was also entertained that—and don’t mean to be indelicate about—the Scarpetta character believing ‘a fox can’t smell its own’ is a minced idiom. She believes it should actually be ‘a fox smells its own hole first’. It’s not what you’re thinking. It was in the context of talking about crime scene smell being transported into the car she and cop friend Pete Marino are driving. It might be an Australian thing or just a me thing, but I’ve only ever heard ‘a fox can’t smell its own’.

Which makes an awkward (read: no) segue into saying I enjoyed this book, even if I wish there were more payoff. I acknowledge too that there might have been more payoff if I’d read the previous book and was therefore more invested in the events to which Cornwell regularly refers. Regardless, I’ll no doubt be sitting down to read her next book, whenever it arrives. My guess is just a few months away at Christmas.

Review: Blackhearts by Nicole Castroman

Blackhearts by Nicole Castroman took me completely by surprise! I was a bit dubious going in because while it looks like a dark hearted pirate book, I’d been warned it was more of a historical romance. That’s true! While this is the infamous Blackbeard’s origin story, it’s about before he turned to the sea. And yet, despite the lack of pirate action, I was completely in love with the story. I adored it! It had complex and winning characters, excellent writing, a dash of sass, and the promise of pirates in the sequel. So really — I am hooked.9781481432696

The story basically follows two very different people: Anne and Teach. Anne is a maid and because she’s half black, half white, she’s ostracised by everyone around her and she doesn’t feel like she belongs. All she wants to do is take a ship over to the West Indies to find her deceased mother’s people. So she’s kind of stealing from the manor lord to do so. Um, very bad idea. And on the other hand, we have Teach, who dreams of the sea but his father has him set up to marry an insufferable duchess and stay safely behind closed doors all his life. To which Teach says: no. Anne and Teach’s lives get caught up wonderfully because they both want to defy society’s expectations and follow their true dreams.

Hopefully Teach’s true dream involves pirating in the future, because I have expectations.

I loved how complex and interesting both Anne and Teach were! Teach loves books and while he can be an insufferable jerk, he’s really sweet too. Anne is very epically strong and will boss you around and woe to anyone who tries to take advantage or swindle her. She will, literally, thwack them with a bucket. They were both pretty strong-willed characters and yet still complimented each other marvellously.

I was totally onboard with this romance. Okay, but Teach did annoyed me with his supremacy attitude. But I wasn’t a fan of how he wanted to “protect” Anne, which basically entailed controlling her. That was the thinking of the era. Basically “Oh I like this woman, I must make sure she never gets hurt ergo I must make sure she never does anything without my permission first so I can check it’s safe.”  HOW ABOUT NO. Sit down, Teach. But, he did get better as the story went on. And I did adore how they argued so much! It just made me like them so much together. They are pepper and fire.

Yes it’s also the “origin” story of Blackbeard. Which is awesome. I did wish Teach had indicated more piratey tendencies. He honestly was a bit too much of an upstanding citizen, so I do wonder how he’s going to end up joining the dark side. I will find out once the sequel is released!

The writing was very marvellous too. I have a wariness of historical fiction and its usual tendency to be hard to read with stilted language style. But this? It was great! There are plenty of lords and ladies primly shouting, “I SHALL NOT, GOOD SIR!” but otherwise, there was banter and it was easy to devour. I didn’t want to put it down! Plus several scenes had me laughing out loud.

Blackhearts is definitely a book not to be missed! Sure it had cliche moments and I felt any complications towards the characters’ goals always got resolved a bit too fast. But there is a massively exciting cliffhanger finale, and Teach and Anne are amazing and I’m completely hooked on the storyline. Bring on the pirates!