Australian YA: Becoming Aurora and Elizabeth Kasmer

Elizabeth Kasmer’s debut novel Becoming Aurora has just been published by University of Queensland Press. It has a thoughtful, multifaceted storyline and deals with important issues. liz-author-portrait-oval

Thanks for speaking with Boomerang Books Elizabeth.

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

I live in a tiny town in the hinterland of the Sunshine Coast. Over the years I’ve met many aspiring and established writers through the annual CYA Conference in Brisbane, SCBWI (Brisbane and the Sunny Coast) and the occasional visit to the Write Links group. Children and YA writers sure are a warm-hearted and generous lot!

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

My work background is quite varied. I’ve worked for the blood bank as a donor attendant (visiting just about every RSL and local hall in the greater Brisbane area), as a car park attendant and receptionist. When I was a student I worked in a recycling factory and I have also worked as a primary school teacher. Since the birth of my three sons I’ve helped my husband run his home-based business as a construction programmer. Any spare time is usually spent reading, swimming or catching up with family and friends.

What award has Becoming Aurora won?

Becoming Aurora (or, Aurora, as it was then known) was awarded the Queensland Literary Awards, Emerging Queensland Writer – Manuscript Award 2015.

auroraCould you tell us something about your main characters, and the genesis of Aurora’s name?

Rory is grieving the loss of her father and trying to fit in with a group of kids who resent the influx of migrants (known as ‘boaties’) into their town. Jack is a feisty former champion boxer and tent boxer and Essam is an Iranian migrant and boxer trying his best to fit into his new home country.

I named Aurora after a painting that hangs in the Queensland Art Gallery. I was in Brisbane for a meeting with my writing mentor to discuss story ideas when I decided to take the opportunity to stop by the gallery. Inside, I got talking to an elderly man who told me he had been visiting the (Australian) paintings every year since the gallery had opened there in 1982. He said his annual trip was like visiting old friends. I was on my way out of the gallery when I spotted Aurora by Edward Burne-Jones (one of my ‘old friends’). aurora-126x300As I have a niece named Aurora I decided to purchase a postcard of the painting to send to her. On the train trip home I knew the main character in my story was named Aurora by her father after the painting hanging in the gallery.

How do your characters show kindness?

Rory tends to Jack in the aged care facility and takes the time to listen to his stories. Through friendships with both Jack and Essam, Rory learns to overcome her prejudices and preconceived ideas of what ‘old person’ and ‘boat person’ means. Essam teaches Rory how to box.

How is Becoming Aurora a very Queensland story?

The story is set in the (former) sugarcane town of Nambour. I tried to root the story in the landscape, using local features and icons such as the Glass House Mountains, the beaches and the Big Pineapple. The story is also set over the Christmas holidays which means there is plenty of heat, sweat and storms brewing on the horizon.

Have you received any responses from young readers about Becoming Aurora that particularly resonate with you?

Not as yet but I’m looking forward to hearing responses from young readers!

What are you writing at the moment?

A children’s novel also set in Queensland. This story revolves around a river, superstitious river folk, and two friends who live and fish there.

What have you enjoyed reading? deep

I’ve loved so many books this year but off the top of my head, Rebecca Lim’s The Astrologer’s Daughter, Claire Zorn’s One Would Think the Deep and Lian Hearn’s Tales of the Otori are standout reads. I’ve also just finished (and loved) Vigil by Angela Slatter where the world of the Weyrd collides with modern-day Brisbane.

It was great meeting you at the Brisbane Writers Festival and being in conversation on a panel of debut YA novelists with you, Christopher Currie and Mark Smith. What’s a strong memory of that day?

Meeting both yourself and fellow debut writers Chris Currie and Mark Smith for our discussion was a highlight, but my strongest memory of the day was when I went back to the green room to collect my bag before heading home. I slid open the door and inside, waiting to go on stage, was David Levithan, Meg Rosoff and Jay Kristoff! I stumbled into the room, smiling like a maniac and babbling about just needing to get my bag. David Levithan asked me a question, but it was at that point I got tunnel vision, grabbed my bag and backed out of the room, still smiling. I’m kicking myself now because, really, who wouldn’t want to say hi to a trio of awesome authors?

What a memorable green room encounter!

It was lovely to meet you and all the best with your books, Elizabeth.

More Funny Authors from Laugh Your Head Off Again

laughLaugh Your Head Off Again (Pan Macmillan Australia) is a very funny book of clever stories by top Australian writers such as Andy Griffiths, Morris Gleitzman, Meg McKinlay, Frances Watts, Sally Rippin, Jaclyn Moriarty, Katrina Nannestad, Tony Wilson and New Zealander, Alan Brough. It’s ideal for primary school aged children and would be a good Christmas present.

Read more from some of the funny authors in Laugh Your Head Off Again…

Firstly we have Jaclyn Moriarty

Ta Da!

Can you write funny stories because you come from a funny family? What’s something funny about your family?

I think people who come from serious families can probably be funny too.  Maybe even funnier than the people who come from funny families?   After all, they had to do all the work of being humorous while they were growing up.  Nobody else in their family pitched in.  So they have now become well-trained, highly-tuned humour machines.   Whereas I got to lie around on couches laughing at my parents and my siblings.

Something funny about my family is that none of us can sneeze just once.  We all have to sneeze twenty-five or thirty times.  We are accustomed to it but other people stare and count our sneezes.

What’s something funny about you?

My hair looks a bit funny today.   It looks funny every morning, to be honest, because I seem to sleep like a revolving door, turning around and around on the pillow until my hair is so electrified I could be a dandelion.

What are your other books? What’s something funny in them?celia

I wrote the Ashbury books–– including Feeling Sorry for Celia and Finding Cassie Crazy–– about a letter-writing exchange between two schools, one private and one public.  I also wrote the Colours of Madeleine trilogy about a Kingdom called Cello.

In Finding Cassie Crazy, a boy named Charlie thinks he has saved the school from a gas explosion.  All the kids are sitting on the oval waiting for the police to check the school, and Charlie is feeling very proud of himself.  ‘See those girls sitting cross-legged and singing?’ he says.  ‘They wouldn’t be doing that right now if it wasn’t for me.  See that guy over there taking the shoelace out of one of his sneakers?  Same thing.  That girl picking her nose?  SHE WOULD BE DEAD AND HER NOSE WOULD BE FULLY UNPICKED IF IT WAS NOT FOR ME.’

What everyday experience have you been able to turn into something humorous? How did you do it?

ameliaIn my book Dreaming of Ameliathe characters are writing an exam essay which has to be in ‘gothic’ form––so they have to make it scary and mysterious.  Emily is describing ordinary, everyday things and trying to make them sound gothic to impress the examiners.  ‘There is a deep foreboding in me,’ she says, ‘that my new shampoo doesn’t actually bring out the honey highlights in my hair like it says it does!’  Also: ‘I often sense, via a paroxysm of terror, when I’ve got a new pimple.  And behold, there it was, a pimple of gothic proportions.  I won’t distress you by describing it, except to say that it was on my chin where a witch will oft keep a wart.’

What is the title of your story in the book Laugh Your Head Off Again? Could you tell us something about the story?

The story is called ‘The Quibbles’.  It’s about Barney, the King of the Realms of Dartmeter, Emperor of the Islets from Hither to Thither, Lord of all the Surrounding Bits and Bobs.  He has come to Sydney for a holiday.  While in Sydney, he spends a day taking the kids next door––Tim and Emily––to their activities (swimming, tennis, karate and guitar).   He has many quibbles (small complaints) about the way these activities are taught.  He also has many quibbles (tiny pebble-sharp creatures that jump around between toes) in his shoes.


And here comes Katrina Nannestad … mischief

Can you write funny stories because you come from a funny family? What’s something funny about your family?

Coming from a funny family sure helps. It’s even better if they’re all crazy.

My dad is optimistic, enthusiastic and extremely clumsy – a dangerous combination. I loved reading the Berenstain Bears when I was a kid, because the dad in those books was so much like my mine. Once, at a camping ground, my brother and I were trying to perfect the art of somersaulting into the pool, when Dad came along to show us a better way. He leapt into the air, completed a brilliant somersault, then came down, head-first, onto the edge of the pool. Moans. Groans. Blood. Stitches. The whole catastrophe. My brother and I were delighted!

What’s something funny about you?

I watch ‘Shaun the Sheep’ when nobody’s watching. I laugh myself stupid.

What are your other books? What’s something funny in them?

My other books are Bungaloo Creek, the Red Dirt Diary series, The Girl Who Brought Mischief and the Olive of Groves series. olive

Mrs Groves, in my Olive of Groves series, is one of the funniest characters I’ve ever created. She’s headmistress of Mrs Groves’ Boarding School for Naughty Boys, Talking Animals and Circus Performers. She is kind but bonkers, and has absolutely no control over her unruly students. In fact, when things get out of hand, she drops to the floor and commando crawls into hiding – beneath the fronds of a potted palm, inside a cupboard amongst the tangrams and protractors, or behind the heavy velvet curtains in her office. It may not be the most effective way to run a school, but it has worked for Mrs Groves for the last twenty-seven years and she is not about to change things now!

What everyday experience have you been able to turn into something humorous? How did you do it?

redI used to teach at a tiny country school. One day at lunch time, the kids made rude body parts in the sandpit. They were killing themselves laughing. It was really cute and a typical little-kid thing to do. I was in the middle of writing Red Dirt Diary 2: Blue About Love at the time, so I put it in the book. There’s just one line and a picture. I didn’t need to change anything. It was funny and sweet as it was. Life is full of marvels and laughs that are just waiting to be included in a story!

What is the title of your story in the book Laugh Your Head Off Again? Could you tell us something about the story?

My story is Mr Big and Ziggy. Mr Big is an enormous dog, possibly a mix of Great Dane, Labrador and horse. Ziggy is a small boy with a big heart, but a limited imagination when it comes to naming his pets. Both dog and boy are delightful but, together, they have a knack for getting into spots of bother. And sometimes, they get into seriously large splatters of bother …


And last but not least, here’s funnyman Alan Brough! alan-brough

Can you write funny stories because you come from a funny family? I’m not sure. I’ve spent a long time thinking about that question and I still haven’t arrived at a satisfactory answer. What’s something funny about your family? You could always tell if my great aunt Marge was coming to visit because you could hear her coming down the street burping and farting really loudly. (That’s true. Once she got lost in a stand of native bush and was found because we followed the sound of her burps.)

What’s something funny about you? Lobster wobbling. (It’s a thing I do. Some people find it funny. Okay, only two people have ever found it funny. Most people find it slightly odd and a bit upsetting.)

granniesWhat are your other books? I have only written one other book: Charlie and the War Against the Grannies. What’s something funny in it? Charlie dies. I know it doesn’t sound funny but it is. (He’s not really dead, he’s just been squirted in the face with rooster brand chilli sauce by an evil granny.)

What everyday experience have you been able to turn into something humorous? Farting. How did you do it? By just saying the word ‘farting.’ (Try it. Next time you’re with a group of other people doing something serious just say the word ‘farting’ and see what happens.)

What is the title of your story in the book Laugh Your Head Off Again? The name of my story is ‘Charlie and the Silence of the Llamas’. Could you tell us something about the story? It features a boy called Charlie, some llamas and a machine called ‘The Pulsating Pointy Prong of Puncturing Panic.’

Boom boom

Thanks very much Jaclyn, Katrina and Alan and all the best to you and the other contributors with Laugh Your Head Off Again.

Doodles and Drafts – Halloween guest post by Karen Foxlee

a-most-magical-girlHalloween is a time of frights and treats, tricks and magic, guises and remembrance – All Saints’ Day Eve. A fitting time to indulge in a little fantasy and fun. Karen Foxlee’s latest mid grade novel, A Most Magical Girl combines all of these things and will have primary aged readers biting their nails in delicious anticipation. Utterly charming, frightful in places and marvellously magic in others, this is an adventure both girls and boys will find spell binding.

Annabel Grey is a proper little lady of the Victorian times. She devoutly attempts to follow the sermons delivered by Miss Finch’s Little Blue Book, a bible of Victorian social etiquette and expectations but her good intentions derail after she is sent to live with her two aunts in London. They are Shoreditch witches and apart from being Annabel’s new guardians, unlock a heritage Annabel had no idea about, her ability to perform magic.

However, Annabel has no time to dispute their proclamations because her unusual abilities allow her to foresee a terrible future for London and all who dwell there. Mr Angel, evil warlock of the underworld has built a sinister device to use with his black magic to destroy all of the good magic in the world and those who practise it. Only a most magical girl can stop him.

Foxlee’s use of language is bewitching. Annabel’s adventure is fast paced and divinely otherworldly both in spirit and in setting. I thoroughly adored flying along on her desperate quest with Kitty and her strong-willed broomstick. I’m sure children will find A Most Magical Girl just as enchanting.

karen-foxlee2016Today Karen joins us at the draft table to reveal the magical places A Most Magical Girl sprung from.

Welcome Karen! Tell us a bit about kids, authors and story ideas…

The Big Leap

I love to tell my young audiences that kids and authors are pretty much the same when it comes story ideas.  They always look dubious at first.  Authors surely have a special library of previously unused ideas I can see them thinking.  It’s locked away somewhere at the top of a turret beside their quills and their perfect first drafts.

“It’s true,” I assure them.  “You tell me where you get your ideas from and we’ll see if we’re the same.”

Their hands shoot up: from life experiences, from dreams, from things you see! From things you read, things that happened a long time ago, from things you hope for, from television! Story ideas start from things you overhear, from facts, from songs, from comic books, from movies, from computer games, from mixing your own life with the life of book characters that you love! From day-dreaming!

I always love hearing that one.  It validates all my hours spent lying quietly day-dreaming. “Oh my goodness,” I cry, ticking off each one. ‘How weird! My ideas come from all these places too! They come from everywhere!”

Authors let ideas come, we day-dream, we are open to them.  We store them away in our brain machine never knowing when we might need them.  We put an idea from a year ago with an idea from today.  We percolate ideas.  We write them down without knowing what they mean.

But, I tell them, there’s also another way that authors and kids are the same when it comes to story ideas. Their dubious expressions return.  I clamber up onto a table.  Now they start to look down-right worried.

A Most Magical Girl came about as a combination of several ideas I explain.

  1. From an experience (a visit to a museum many years before)
  2. From a life-long love of history and from reading lots books with historical settings
  3. From a love of magic and heaps of little ideas about how magic works


  1. A good old-fashioned daydream.

I was lying on my sofa thinking about a museum I’d visited a decade before.  This museum was in London and it contained a recreated Victorian era street, where I wandered for hours.  Years later, on my sofa, I closed my eyes and day-dreamed a carriage arriving on that street.  I imagined a girl stepping down.  She was pretty and a bit posh and also, I knew as I watched her, the owner of a secret.  She stood before a shop window and read the words printed there. Miss E & H Vine’s Magic Shop.  Wow, I thought.  Magic.  I love Magic. This seems good. What’s going to happen here?

“What do you think authors do when they have some ideas that excite them?” I ask from my table top perch.  “What do you do?”

A chorus of replies: Just start! Just start writing! Just start even if you don’t know the answer!

“Do you just LEAP into the story?” I ask.

“Yes!” they shout, because they really want to see an author jump off a table.

And so, because it is the absolute truth about authors and ideas and how they really are not much different to children, I LEAP!

Fastastical, thanks Karen.

kids-reading-guide-2016-2017You’ll find A Most Magical Girl in the new Kids’ Reading Guide, here!

Allen & Unwin September 2016


Review: The Four Legendary Kingdoms by Matthew Reilly

SAW print.inddThe Four Legendary Kingdoms begins with Jack West Jr. waking up in an unknown location and immediately thrust into battle. We quickly learn he has been chosen, along with a dozen other elite soldiers (including a very familiar face, much to my surprise and delight), to compete in a series of spectacularly deadly challenges in order to fulfil an ancient ritual with world ending consequences. So, yeah; the stakes, as always, are astronomically high. This isn’t a game West can escape from. For the sake of his loved ones — for the sake of everyone — he’s got to compete.

Reilly delivers fantastic stunts and vehicular mayhem in incredibly creative combat arenas. The plot and characters are ludicrous, but its all stupendous fun, and it moves at the velocity of a speeding bullet. Faster, actually. Reilly rarely lets his readers — or indeed his characters — rest. There are brief interludes between all the thrills, when the unflappably indestructible West gets the chance to lick his wounds, and Reilly gets the chance to feed readers background information. Sure, it can be a little clunky at times  — only Reilly could get away with the sentence, “Vacheron grinned evilly,” and the book is entirely void of subtext — but The Four Legendary Kingdoms is a rollicking blockbuster ride and perfect weekend fodder.

When it comes right down to it, other authors can try (and have tried) to emulate him, but nobody is better at the high-octane-high-body-count thriller than Matthew Reilly. It’s his domain, exclusively. Fans will delight in Jack West Jr.’s return, and of course, plenty of thread is left dangling for the inevitable sequels.

Buy now >>

The Best YA Fictional Families

There comes a time in every bookworm’s life where they secretly would like to be adopted by an amazing fictional family. No shame! Sometimes we just want to dissolve into a book with a quirky or magical or epic family whose lives are 78% more exciting than our own.

Today I’m listing some of my top favourite fictional families that appear in Young Adult books across a variety of genres. And hopefully I’ll find a wish-granting factory to let me turn into a book for day and visit them. Because that would be awesome, yes please and thank you.

9780575096721WHITE CAT


This is one of my all-time favourite fictional families because they’re like the magical Mafia! This is set in a world were you can curse someone with a simple touch. And obviously not everyone is using this talent for good. Cassel’s family is a bunch of con-artists who definitely make use of their skills — with crime. It’s exciting, sassy, and devious and there are plot twists that will fairly knock you over. Plus who doesn’t want to read about a family of conartists and sociopaths?!



Aspen’s family are also most definitely magical. They have to constantly preform rituals to keep the cliff above the town from breaking apart and falling and crushing everyone flat. How do they do this? They have this magical ability to “pull” things out of people. Like your over-achieving tendencies. Or your hope. Or your pain. Or your ability to see. Things are a little morally grey around here. This is a perfectly amazing magical realism story and you’ll be wondering just how far Aspen’s family will go.

9781408845646HARRY POTTER


Of course I can’t help but mention the Weasley family! They basically act as Harry’s adopted family during the holidays and I adore how supportive and kind and loving the parents are. (An actual rare thing in books it seems…) Also the big family dynamics are hilarious and perfect, because when there’s a dozen kids running around, things are going to get hectic. Whenever Harry spent Christmas or his holidays with Ron’s family, I always got all the warm squishy feelings. The Weasleys are perfection.

9780142426043MY LIFE NEXT DOOR


Just in case you didn’t want a magical family  (pfft, what’s wrong with you though?!) here is one of my favourite big-families in a contemporary novel! The Garretts have half a dozen kids in all ages and their life is happy, warm chaos. The book is about Sam who, in contrast, lives in a rather cold and very particular house with her politician mother who really has nothing to do with her daughter. The story is heartwarming with the cutest romance and some seriously tragic moments to make you sniffle into your popcorn as you read.

9781408870082WHEN WE COLLIDED


This is Emery Lord’s latest book and it’s half narrated by Viv, who has bipolar, and half by Jonah, who is doing his best to keep his family together after their father died. Jonah has several little siblings he looks after and he’s also an insanely talented cook. So not only will you melt at the severe adorableness of a big brother babysitting, you’ll also get so hungry you’ll feel like devouring the book at dawn. Perhaps eat before you read. That should help.

Review: A Closed and Common Orbit by Becky Chambers

9781473621435Becky Chambers blew me away with her amazing debut The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet. It was science fiction at is best and was longlisted for literary as well as science fiction awards, and rightly so. So when her follow-up fell into my hands I was giddy with excitement and anticipation. Could it match the emotional resonance of the first book? Especially as it is a “stand-alone sequel” meaning the crew I fell in love with in the first book wouldn’t feature? The answer is YES and then some!

Sidra was an Artificial Intelligence on aboard a spaceship who has been transferred to a human “kit” body and must now learn to navigate the sentient world. She must keep her existence secret as it is highly illegal to transfer an AI and she will be shut down and her system wiped if she is discovered. Helping her navigate through this new life is Pepper, a highly skilled technician who can fix and rebuild almost any machine. Pepper has a vested interested in helping Sidra adjust to her new life in part due to her upbringing. Both Sidra and Pepper are searching for their place in this crazy universe and together they might just find it.

Becky Chambers once again sucks you into the world and universe of her two main characters. She alternates Sidra’s story with that of Pepper’s upbringing. We get the ups and downs of Sidra discovering her new life, her new capabilities and new limitations. And we learn about Pepper; who she is, where she came from and why she cares so deeply about what happens to Sidra. We live through both characters joys and heartbreaks, new experiences and frustrations. And I guarantee you will shed at least one tear by the end.

Once again Becky Chambers builds a world full of alien species, futuristic technology and space travel but truly amazes you with her characters and emotional resonance. A science fiction novel that isn’t battles and adventures but a wonderful exploration of humanity and belonging.

Buy the Book Here…

James Roy and One Thousand Hills

jonesJames Roy has a strong pedigree in the world of children’s and young adult writing. His stand-out books in my opinion are Town, sophisticated interlinked short stories; Problem Child, about bullying from the bully’s point of view; and his intriguing, wrenching YA novel, Anonymity Jones.

James’s new YA novel One Thousand Hills was published by Scholastic Australia this year.

It’s a powerful, important story, shared by Rwandan, Noël Zihabamwe and has won the NSW Premier’s Young People’s History Prize this year.

Thanks for speaking with Boomerang Books, James.

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

I live in the Blue Mountains, but I travel broadly in my work as a schools presenter, as well as in my pursuit of a cracking story. I am heavily involved with WestWords, a Western Sydney youth literature initiative, and I try to be supportive of (and seek the support of) other kidlit/YA creators.

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

I was raised in a Seventh-day Adventist missionary family, and I think that upbringing gave me two great gifts – a love of story, and a love of music. Writing ticks the first box, and playing in various bands ticks the other.

mackI remember seeing a fantastic version of your children’s book Edsel Grizzler as a Bookgig at the Brisbane Writers Festival. Which one other of your works would you like to see in a different form?

I’m currently working on a screen adaptation of Captain Mack, which excites me (although I’m still looking for a producer – hint hint…). I think Town would make an interesting stageplay or film, and of course One Thousand Hills.

Why did you write One Thousand Hills?

As a child, my friend Noël lived the story of One Thousand Hills. In a sense this book was written to honour him and the countless other children living through the hell of civil war and tribal violence. I hope it also serves as something of a cautionary tale – this is what happens when hatred, ignorance and bigotry is left unchecked.

Is it a novel for children or young adults?

It was written for young people. It is very carefully structured to allow younger readers to appreciate it without being too confronted. But anyone – adult or young person – who comes to it with any foreknowledge of the events is left in no doubt that this was a brutal and nightmarish event.

Could you tell us about your main character?hills

Pascal is very much like Noël, who was nine at the time of the genocide. He’s a normal kid with siblings, parents, friends, teachers. He’s a normal kid who one day encounters the unimaginable.

How do you know and can write a character like this?

Societal and cultural detail was obtained through my conversations with Noël. Beyond that, Pascal is just a kid. If I’ve learnt one thing from twenty years of speaking with kids all over the world, it’s that the same things motivate, excite and worry them no matter where on earth they live.

Have you received any responses from readers about One Thousand Hills that particularly resonate with you?

The most interesting one I’ve read was on GoodReads, where someone said they really didn’t like it – that it made them feel physically ill – before going on and listing all the ways it had affected them, and talking about how much they had learnt and processed from reading the book. I took that as a win.

What are you working on at the moment? chook

I’m finishing the latest of the Chook Doolan books, and also putting together some ideas for an adult novel that will form part of my Masters dissertation. In the meantime, a sequel to One Thousand Hills seems quite likely.

What have you recently enjoyed reading?

I’m currently re-reading Moby Dick, in preparation for my dissertation. I’m also about to get back into Old Yeller forty years after I first read it. I have a multitude of tissues at the ready.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Would it be too political to suggest that we #CloseTheCamps?

Thanks for your answers and all the best with One Thousand Hills, James.

Laugh Your Head Off Again

laughLaugh Your Head Off Again (Pan Macmillan Australia) is a very funny book of clever stories by top Australian writers such as Andy Griffiths, Morris Gleitzman, Meg McKinlay, Frances Watts, Sally Rippin, Jaclyn Moriarty, Katrina Nannestad, Tony Wilson and New Zealander, Alan Brough. It’s ideal for primary school aged children and would be a good Christmas present. 

Meg McKinlay answers my questions (and makes me laugh out loud):

 Can you write funny stories because you come from a funny family? What’s something funny about your family?

I’m not sure where my sense of humour comes from but I do think all families are funny in their own way. Mine has recently developed a habit of replacing photos in other family members’ houses with pictures of Russian President Vladimir Putin and seeing how long it takes them to notice. I find this pretty amusing.

 What’s something funny about you?

It takes me an average of 78 days to notice that a photo of a cherished family member has been replaced with a shot of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

What are your other books? What’s something funny in them? ducks

I’ve published thirteen books, ranging from picture books all the way through to a poetry collection for adults. Some of my best-known books are No Bears, Duck for a Day, and A Single Stone.

One of my favourite funny moments is in Definitely No Ducks! – the sequel to Duck for a Day – when Max the duck disguises himself as a penguin in order to take part in a class assembly, and things go chaotically wrong.

What everyday experience have you been able to turn into something humorous? How did you do it?

I once drove past someone sitting at a bus stop and – due to their long limbs and black clothing – briefly mistook them for a speed camera. I turned this into a poem called ‘Walter’, about a boy with ‘unnatural angles’ who deliberately sets out to trick motorists. As for how I did so, I just let my brain think the weirdest thoughts imaginable and ran with them. I consider this to be a very sound policy at all times.

What is the title of your story in the book Laugh Your Head Off Again? Could you tell us something about the story?

My story is called “Corn Chip Belieber”. It’s about two boys who find a corn chip that looks like Justin Bieber and come up with a get-rich-quick scheme, only to be thwarted by a kamikaze seagull. It was a ridiculous amount of fun to write but has complicated my love of corn chips.

Thanks very much Meg and all the best with this new book and your other work. stone

Review: The Wrong Side of Goodbye by Michael Connelly

Harry Bosch’s journey with the LAPD came to a fittingly acrimonious ending in the final pages of The Burning Room a couple of years back. But while his departure made sense from a character perspective, I had my concerns for the future of Michael Connelly’s long-running series. We’ve seen Harry leave the LAPD before (which produced one of my favourites Bosch novels, Lost Light) but the blue religion and department politics play such a key role in Connelly’s work. How could Bosch possibly endure?

We got a partial answer with last year’s The Crossing; a rollicking team-up with the Lincoln Lawyer, Mickey Haller. It set up the obvious question: who is Harry Bosch without the badge? And how can he carry on his mission without it? Because working for Haller wasn’t sustainable; not in the long-term. The Wrong Side of Goodbye provides all the answers we need, and sets the series up for the foreseeable future. Bosch’s LAPD years are over, but the character’s best years might still be ahead of him.

The Wrong Side of Goodbye follows two distinct investigations, which unravel around each other but never intersect. One involves mega-wealthy industrialist Whitney Vance, who hires Bosch as a private investigator to locate a potential heir. His other case involves a serial-rapist dubbed the Screen Cutter, which Bosch is working as a part-time reservist for the San Fernando Police Department. Although it’s an unpaid position, it allows Harry the chance to once again wield a badge and carry on his mission, which is all the payment he needs.

The novel delves into Bosch’s Vietnam years, and his early years in an LAPD uniform. While Connelly has touched on these background details in the past, it’s never been to this extent, and he leaves a ton left over to excavate in future instalments. I always wondered whether Connelly might produce a novel set in the Vietnam or just after, focused entirely on Bosch’s war years or his early years with the LAPD; The Wrong Side of Goodbye is a far more nuanced approach, and I hope we see more information drip-fed to us in future books.

Michael Connelly’s latest is another masterpiece of crime fiction. Some authors get to a point where you run out of superlatives for their fiction; Mr Connelly reached that point long ago. The Wrong Side of Goodbye is the standard to which police procedurals should be held. No doubt the author will raise the bar even higher with his next release.

Buy the book here…

Doodles and Drafts – In conversation with Tania McCartney over tea!

Tania McCartney March 2016 cropTania McCartney is no stranger to the world of Kids’ Literature. Her knowledge and ability to produce entertaining, endearing and enduring picture books is nothing short of remarkable and now sitting comfortably in her enviable arsenal of accreditations, is a re-discovered gift – illustration.

Sumptuously rich in detail and stuffed with enough iconic charm to make both Banjo Paterson and Con the Fruiterer feel at home, her first self-illustrated picture book, Australia: Illustrated delivers a (very satisfying) slice of all things Aussie to an audience who might still remember what a frog cake is as well as those young enough to regard the Wheel of Brisbane as their first Ferris wheel ride.

Australia IllustratedIt is a magnificent compendium of facts, landmarks, foods, cultures, flora, fauna, natural wonders, celebrities and attractions playfully illustrated in Tania’s unique, considered hand. Her drawings do more than just tell a story and describe a caption. They fill my visual soul. New South Wales’s Snowy Mountain region is resplendent with wild silver Brumbies (skiiing, horse riding and snowboarding as it were!) for example, revealing Tania’s cheeky take on life and no doubt, her own personal reflections of a land she clearly adores.

Her affection is contagious. From the divinely cloth-bound cover and very first end pages, clean and devoid of the congestion of civilization (a nod to the pre-settlement days of Australia perhaps), to each State and Territories’ four to five page expose of their specific peculiarities, Australia: Illustrated draws the reader in and, sublimely, educates and entertains along the way. The final end pages, a testament to the diversity and wonder that fills this wide brown land (with green bits, girt by sapphire seas) we call, home.

Today, we leave the draft table for a pair of comfy armchairs, a delicious cup of tea and a few precious moments with the gifted creator behind EK Book’s newest non-fiction picture book release, Australia: Illustrated.

Welcome, Tania. It’s great to finally spend some ‘virtual’ time with you.

So lovely to visit, Dim!

Your very first self-illustrated picture book, Australia Illustrated, is out any moment. Has this been a dream come true?

In a word: yes!

Have you been suffering heart palpitations? I know I’d be more anxious that than

Yes. How did you know??

I could hear them all the way up here in Brisbane.

I’m not surprised. They’re pretty thunderous.

Has this book been a bucket-list kind of thing?

Yes and no. It was more of a meant-to-be than a bucket-list-thing, though now it’s been ticked off my bucket-list, I’m happy it got onto that list!

It has actually just been a long-buried seed of an idea but it may not have even grown if the circumstances hadn’t been right. There was a grant I wanted to apply for, I needed a contract to do so, my publisher just happened to think the idea was fabulous at the time (this changes, as you know!) and I got a contract the next day.

You’re kidding?!

I know! If only all contracts were like that! This was a little scary, though, because the idea was quite ethereal at the time. I mean, I knew it would unfold okay… and it did. But I did it all the wrong way.

What do you mean?

I basically winged it. I had an outline, of course, but the content was pretty much an organic process. I was SO lucky to have this kind of opportunity. And I did the cover first. I mean, who does the cover first?

I don’t much about the illustrative process, but that does sound a little dotty.

SO dotty. But it worked because that cover was one of my favourite things to create, and it set the scene for the style and layout of the entire book. I highly recommend up-ending processes!

Are you proud of thi047 qld daintrees book?

I am for the fact that I finished it. It took a year and contains over 1000 hand-drawn images over 96 pages. Half of the finished pages are digitally illustrated, too, so it was a lot of work and I was also in learning mode at the time (re-learning my illustration skills and also learning digital skills—I basically learned as I went).

I’m also proud of it because it’s my first self-illustrated book and I think first self-illustrated books take a lot of courage. Like, a lot. It’s scary because I’ve had years to get used to writing criticism, but illustration criticism is a whole other colour on the palette.

So, my nerves are on standby, for sure—and I have to consistently tell myself I created this book for me, no one else—and that if kids and adults happen to take pleasure in it, that will please me very, very much. In fact, ALL creators should create books for themselves first and foremost. If we created them for other people, we’d never enjoy it as much or do our best work. And once our books are published, they become someone else’s anyway, so it’s nice to hang onto ownership during production!

Oh gosh, Dim, this tea is so good.

Thanks! Isn’t it divine? You’ve written several books about Australia. Will there be more?

Probably not. I do have ideas for books about Australian people (biographic), plants and animals but they won’t be Australia-centric, if that makes sense.

I don’t know why I’ve written so many books on Australia. It’s not a conscious decision. Perhaps it’s because the world is full of so much negativity right now—I fully realise and accept that our country (any country) is far from perfect, but it just feels so nice to celebrate what’s good here sometimes. And there’s so much that’s good. Australia Illustrated is a celebration of w007 au beautifulhat’s good.

Hear hear! What brought you the greatest pleasure when creating Australia Illustrated?

So much. The creative freedom. The ability to play and allow things to unfold. I know it’s not realistic, but it would be incredible if all books could be created in this way! It’s just so much fun. I loved relearning skills and meeting my characters and learning so much about this country that I never knew.

I loved the digital illustration and the layout and design. I also loved doing the finishing art in Photoshop. Creating the fonts was fun.

How did you do that?

With an app called iFontMaker. It’s fabulous. You can get so creative. You can even create fonts for your kids, using their handwriting.

Sounds fascinating, I’d love to give it a go.

You must. I also loved pulling the pages together. It’s so satisfying.

So, hang on, you did quite a bit for this book. Not just writing and illustrating?

027 nsw sydney ferriesI did heaps. I researched, wrote, fact-checked, drew, painted, did digital illustration and mono-printing, scanning, touching up, photography, fonts, layout, design, typography, cover layout and design—all to print-ready PDF. I LOVE doing all this. It’s so satisfying and skills-building. Then I had the wonderful Mark Thacker from Big Cat Design take all the PDFs and whack them in InDesign for the printer.

And my gorgeous publisher Anouska Jones was my editor and second eyes and ears, and I had a group of other eyes and ears, too, and then there was the team at Exisle and our printing coordinator Carol and publicist Alison and all the fabulous book reps and all the wonderful friends and colleagues who helped me authenticate things and help me out with research.

I have an entire page dedicated to thank yous! I also had the backing of the ACT Government—artsACT—for their grant to help produce this book.

So while I did a lot, I certainly didn’t do it alone. No one ever does it alone.

Gosh, we have an amazing bunch of people in this industry.

We do. I feel privileged to be part of it. This really is great tea, Dim.

Of course it is, it’s from Queensland! What’s next for you, Tania?

Well, I’ve just come out of a long rest! I took a lot of winter off, other than ongoing obligations and a little bit of production on some upcoming titles.

 Oooh – can you share them with us?

COVER FINAL smilecryfullcover-smallWell, one is a sequel to Smile Cry with Jess Racklyeft. The other is a follow-up to This is Captain Cook with Christina Booth—and we’re also in the middle of another picture book for the National Library. Tina Snerling and I have been working on books 6 and 7 for the A Kids’ Year series.

I’ve been planning my illustration style for my first illustration commission with the National Library and I’ve been working on a non-fiction pitch for them, too, which I’ll illustrate. And I’ve been finalising a junior fiction manuscript after talks with a gorgeous publisher. Oh—and just like you would, I have several thousand other little bits and ideas floating around.

Yes, something I can relate 100% to! But would you have it any other way?

No! Well, yes—I really needed that time out after Australia Illustrated. It was an enormous amount of work. 96 pages!! So happy to have my energy and mojo back now, though.

Mojo back is good! Tania, thanks so much for stopping by today. I’ve really enjoyed the chat.

Me, too, Dim! And thanks for the tea!

The kettle is always on…

This is more than a picture book, more than a resource; Australia Illustrated is a meaningful, beautiful, thoughtful, piece of art.

Order Tania’s, Australia: Illustrated, here.

Australia Illustrated Launch PosterFollow all the excitement of her Virtual Launch this week with reveals, sneak peeks, more interviews and giveaways, here.

EK Books November 2016




Review: Vassa in the Night by Sarah Porter

9780765380548Vassa in the Night by Sarah Porter is a completely magical and bizarre retelling of Russian folklore. Seriously, it was just about the weirdest thing ever. But in a good way! Just toss out your black-and-white-logical-brain because when it comes to fairy tales you need to be prepared for the weird and wacky. Especially for Russian folklore! We have houses on chicken legs and talking dolls and body-less-hands gallivanting around. It’s magical realism at its finest!

I’m a big fan of Russian folklore and I recently read Deathless which definitely prepared me for what Vassa in the Night would be like. Although this book isn’t actually set in Russia. It’s set in Brooklyn, USA, which was a teeny bit disappointing because I love being transported overseas. But the amazingness of the story definitely made up for this failed expectation.

Basically it’s the story of Vassa who is living with her step-sisters and feels very alone in the world. She lives in a city where people know there’s magic, but don’t always acknowledge it. The nights are getting longer (which means a minute might actually be…a day) and there is an insanely creepy stare run by Babs who beheads shoplifters. Vassa accidentally ends up being hired by the witchy Babs and must survive the next 3 days working in the store where body-less hands patrol and the money tries to run away — or else DEATH.

I quite enjoyed reading about Vassa! She was pretty snarky but still kind of adorable and venerable which is a winning combination and made it easy to root for her. Most of the time she just rolled with it when the world was going insane. She also has a magical talking doll that was gifted to her by her mother right before she died. The talking doll, Erg, eats and eats and eats and is also a kleptomaniac. But she’s the only true friend Vassa has.

The magical realism element is definitely my favourite. I love magic and I loved how it fit seamlessly into this world. I mean we have a shop that beheads shoplifters and people turning into swans and, oh, don’t let me forget that the Night got trapped inside a motorcyclist. And the crazy elements of the magic totally made my day. Particularly the stretching of time! And how people could appear covered in scales and everyone just went with it.

Chelsea snorts with disbelief, clamps an arm around my shoulders, and starts hustling me towards the street. “Tomorrow you can send the owner a note explaining everything. Say that you’re terribly sorry but your family refuses to let you work for a serial killer. Blame me if you want. Oh, my sister’s so overprotective! She just wouldn’t listen when I told her dismembering people doesn’t bother me!”

The Russian retelling element is definitely a big reason why I wanted to read it. It’s specifically a retelling of Vasilisa the Beautiful who, in the original, gets stuck in the witch Baba Yaga’s home and must complete three impossible tasks (with the help of her magic doll) before she’s allowed to go free. I loved seeing how the original elements were woven into this. So clever! And so unique!

Plus the story also has some severely creeptastic moments, which should make your skin crawl. Truly delightful.

This is definitely an ethereal, bizarre specimen of a fairy tale retelling and I totally recommend it! I half wish had been a little darker all the way through, instead of piling the creepy moments up at the end. But it was beautifully written, exciting, and totally unique. Also you can take away the very important message that: SHOPPING KILLS. We should all just stay home and order things online, honestly. Less risk of being beheaded by a witch or turned into a swan.



Review – Captain Sneer the Buccaneer

imageCaptain Sneer the Buccaneer, Penny Morrison (author), Gabriel Evans (illus.), Walker Books, September 2016.

Ahoy Me Hearties! Here lies a highly amusing nautical skit that is destined to take the world by storm. A rollicking clash of rhythm, sharpness and irony that will tie you in knots. Captain Sneer the Buccaneer by Penny Morrison and Gabriel Evans is a menacingly bold and brash tale with a sweet hint of naivity and insecurity that young readers will simply lap up at every turn.

Adept listeners will need to challenge their poetic knowledge as the text surprises with humorous twists along the way. Luring the reader forward on this tumultuous journey sailing the seas in search of gold, Captain Sneer boasts about his formidable courage, wealth and leadership prowess. However, despite overcoming wild waves, potential firings of coconuts, unbearable thirst, getting lost and ominous caves, this obnoxious pirate certainly devulges more inner secrets about his cowardice than he cares to admit… and we, and his crew, are all the wiser. But it is his final foolish act of attempted bravery and devotion where the rhyming sequence unfolds and it is ‘mummy’ dearest who is left the most scornful of all.

imageEvans’ combination of fiery tones against the soothing blue backdrops perfectly represents the juxtaposition of Captain Sneer’s hypocrytical attitude and the surprising nature of the text. His technique of splatterings and smudges of gouache and watercolour, roughly outlined in pencil, gives off a whimsically entrancing sense of movement and energy that pulls its viewers directly into the scene.

Captain Sneer the Buccaneer is a classically vibrant and comically shrewd book that will have preschoolers stealing plenty of shared, treasured moments with their own families for years to come.

Find Captain Sneer Activity Sheets at the Walker Books website, and teaching notes at Lamont Books.


Double Dipping – Friendships lost – picture book reviews

Recently, the world lost one of the Children’s Literary Industry’s most recognised and iconic author illustrators, Narelle Oliver. Among many of the literary legacies she left us (you can read about her marvellous achievements and books in Joy Lawn’s post, here), she was a woman who encouraged and maintained sincere relationships with everyone she met, friendships rich and real. During last week’s reflection about her, two books found their way to me promoting further introspection on friendship, love, and loss.

Molly and MaeMolly & Mae by Danny Parker & Freya Blackwood

Molly and her close friend, Mae are about to embark on an adventure together, a train trip into town. They are filled with bubbly excitement, relishing each other’s company, sharing the passing of time until the train arrives and the telling offs by Mum as they scamper, bounce, hide and ballet the wait-time away. Like all little girls, they are so engrossed with their games and secrets that they are blissfully unaware of the wider world surrounding them on the platform.

Their joie de vivre eventually spills into the carriage, over seats and under foot as the countryside slides away outside, until, after many miles, games become stale and tempers fraught.  Delays halt fun and bad weather smears their vision, turning their friendship murky. A trip by oneself can be lonely, however and the girls miss each other in spite of their falling out or perhaps because of it. Eventually, as they near their destination, they cross bridges of a physical and emotional kind. Their journey takes them over hills, through valleys, sometimes running straight and true, other times navigating bends and tunnels, until together, they arrive, holding hands.

Molly and Mae is a wonderful analogy of friendship brilliantly executed by this talented picture book team. There is an eloquent sparseness about Parker’s narrative that harmonises each and every word on the page with Blackwood’s oil painted illustrations. The combination is intoxicating and terribly alluring.

Blackwood’s visual story contains several signposts that guide readers through this warm and recognisable tale of friendship; transporting them through all the exuberant, boring, testing, dark, and illuminating parts of the friendship journey.

Memorable, visually poetic, and beautifully written, this picture book is not only perfect for little people from four years upwards but also makes a gorgeous gift for those remembering and sharing friendships, past and present.

Little Hare Books HGE October 2016

Ida AlwaysIda, Always by Caron Levis and Charles Santoso

I always feel a little conflicted with the idea of harbouring animals in unnatural habitats far from their original ones, from their norm. This picture book, however questions what is normal, learned and ultimately depended on and loved from a polar bear’s point of view.

Gus lives in New York City’s Central Park Zoo. He is joyously unaware of the bigger city outside of his parkland world where zookeepers and visitors come and go and tall buildings form his boundaries. This is largely because he lives with Ida, his polar bear room mate. She is right there with him, everyday, always. They play ball together, splash in their pond together, chase and race together until it’s time to rest and relax as the city’s heartbeat hums around them. Their days seem repetitive and predictable but for Gus and Ida, they are all that they need. Until one day, Ida isn’t quite there.

The city and zoo’s residents continue to shuffle and hum and rush and squabble but Ida can no longer join the raucous of daily living because she is old and has fallen ill. Gus struggles with this abrupt change, refusing to leave Ida’s side when she is too tired to play, insistent on helping her and making the most of ‘the laughing days’ they have left together, until one day, ‘Ida curls into quiet’ and is no longer there.

In spite of his loss and grief, Gus continues, listening as the city pulses around him. In its rhythm, he feels its life, his own heart beat and Ida, right there with him, always.

Ida Always illos spreadTouching, a little tearful but ultimately inspiring, Ida, Always was inspired by the real life relationship between two polar bears in New York. Apparently, not only Gus mourned the loss of his friend but also the entire city and all who had cared for and come to know them.

Levis’s treatment of their story is heartrending and not overtly sentimental, allowing the reader to observe and understand the bond of friendship and love possessed by these two creatures who knew little else but the world, which their friendship created. By telling their story with subtle fictional flavour, sharing their thoughts, and hearing them speak, we feel an affinity with Gus and Ida that we might not otherwise have felt. The result is poignant and powerful, and enhanced beautifully by Santoso’s illustrations.

Ida, Always is a story about love, loss, friendships and how those we truly cherish remain with us, always.

Koala Books Scholastic September 2016




Review: The Sidekicks by Will Kostakis

9780143309031After reading Will Kostakis’ book The First Third and being a gargantuan fan, I knew I had to try his latest novel, The Sidekicks. And it was brilliant! (Although I confess to loving The First Third more.) This is mostly because the format in The Sidekicks threw me off a bit, but if I’d known to start with it was going to be from three points-of-view, I would’ve been a lot more prepared. As is, I was so emotional by the end I could feel my glacial heart melting. And that’s the kind of reaction I want in a book!

The story is basically about the death of Isaac and how it leaves his three friends (Ryan, Harley and Miles) all to piece together their lives without him. The twist? Ryan, Harley and Miles aren’t friends. They barely even know each other. Isaac was their link. The death affects them all very differently and they have to (A) own up to knowing darker things about Isaac’s past, and (B) accidentally start working together, and (C) learn to let go.

At first I was dubious that I might not care enough because I didn’t “know” Isaac…but I definitely did end up caring! You get to know Isaac a bit more through some flashbacks. And I loved how the three boys started to depend on each other and help each other out…like they were filling the holes Isaac left. The #SquadGoals were immensely awesome.

Like I said, there’s 3 POVs, one from each of the boys. It’s a short book (under 300-pages) so it doesn’t leave us a lot of room to get to know each boy, but I think the story still did an admirable job of pulling us into Ryan, Harley, and Miles’ worlds.

So a brief run down on the three parts of the story:

  • It starts off with Ryan who is a dedicated swimmer and is also gay but so deep in the closet he’s having tea with Mr. Tumnus. Ryan’s mum is a teacher, so he’s pretty much the goody-goody of the squad. But he also harbours a lot of fears and anxieties about who he is and what it would mean to come out.
  • Then we have Harley. The writing changes styles drastically here and goes rather stilted and jagged to represent how Harley is not very studious at all…and is known to drink and perhaps pass along drugs. But he still has one of those “mildly bad boy golden hearts” which was winning! He had such a good soul.
  • Lastly there’s Miles. I really loved Miles who is a socially-inept nerd and incredibly smart and also runs some black-market operations. He is the one who doubts if he even meant anything to Isaac, who was his only friend…until Miles gets caught up with Ryan and Harley. Miles was really blunt, but still a squishable gem who I really felt for! His ache over losing Isaac was the most palpable.


I think the strengths of the story definitley lie in the character development! If only it had been a bit longer, because I would’ve loved to get to know each boy just a bit more deeper than the short chapters allowed. But the plot was amazing, with a little bit of mystery, and a whole lot of heartache, and a good dash of hope. I’m endlessly in love with how these characters’ stories unravelled and I loved the diversity representation and how it wasn’t cliche or stereotyped! The book was, naturally, amazing.

[buy now]

Black YA

Three YA novels delve into the dark side:

BlackIn Black by Fleur Ferris (Penguin Randomhouse Australia), new student Aiden invites protagonist, Black, to the Year 12 formal. She thinks it’s a set-up because no one would invite her to the formal. Of course we are then hooked and want to discover why. Black is attractive. What has happened to make her untouchable? We do discover that three of her friends, Jess, Louis and Oscar have died. She is haunted by Father Ratchet, leader of the Pure Apostles cult, who has recruited Black’s former best friend and now enemy, Ged.

Black’s father is working in Antarctica and the local water plant and dams he normally oversees are being supervised by young man, Ed. Black works with him after school and this aspect of the story adds an interesting and suspenseful dimension. We learn some of the science (in an interesting way) and about the risk of poisoning the town’s water supply.

Fleur Ferris is an exciting new Australian talent. Her first published novel Risk recently co-won the YA category of the Sisters in Crime Davitt award. See Fleur’s interview here. Black is a fast paced, gripping read.

MaliceWith Malice by Eileen Cook (Hot Key Books) begins with Jill waking up in hospital. She has lost her memory of recent weeks and has serious injuries. Even worse, she is accused of deliberately killing her best friend Simone in a car accident. The two girls were part of a group travelling around Italy (there are some similarities with Melina Marchetta’s adult novel Tell the Truth, Shame the Devil  here). As well as hearing Jill’s point of view we are also given different perspectives by reading texts between Jill and Simone, police interview statements and forensic psychology reports. The ‘Justice for Simone’ blog shrilly asserts Jill’s guilt, dredging up old photos, rumours and comments out of context. The case against Jill accelerates until she faces extradition to Italy. It’s a superb psychological thriller: addictive and terrifying.

DarkenLike the other two books, I was transfixed by And I Darkenfirst in a new trilogy by Kiersten White (Corgi Books, Penguin Randomhouse). Lada is the unwanted daughter of Vlad Dracul. Born in 1434 in Transylvania she is the antithesis of the usual princess, using strength, brutality and intelligence to keep her younger brother and herself alive despite the conspiracies of court and kingdom. This is an original historical fantasy for older readers set mainly in the Sultan-ruled Ottoman Empire with references to exotic Constantinople and Byzantium, now Istanbul.

Review – Who is Fitzy Fox?

imageWho is Fitzy Fox?, Amelia Trompf (author), Jennifer Bruce (illus.), Little Steps Publishing, September 2016.

Sweetly wrapped up in red and white this little treasure arrived at my door, keenly searching for a place to belong. Upon entering the world of this furry friend, I soon realised just how important his mission was to solve his ‘existential crisis’ of ‘Who is Fitzy Fox?’.

Gently written in a child-friendly tone, first-time picture book author Amelia Trompf narrates a soul-satisfying tale of self-discovery, reassurance, the value of family, and a bit of adventure. The beautiful textures, detail and muted watercolours and pencil illustrations by Scottish-born, Jennifer Bruce equally provide an aura of warmth, comfort and familiarity that highlight the story’s sense of the affection of loved ones and the kindness of strangers.

imageSet in Melbourne’s eclectic suburb of Fitzroy, Fitzy Fox sets off on a path to determine whether his true identity is fox, or whether it is hound. Greeted with delicious cuisine, including veggie burgers and gelati, by the local occupants of busy Brunswick Street somehow doesn’t give Fitzy the satisfaction he is looking for. A trip to the State Library provides a glimmer of hope as the poor lost soul decides to embark on a trip to London. Fitzy Fox searches for his answer in such fascinating landmarks as Buckingham Palace, Hyde Park and Notting Hill, but to no avail. Has his journey across the other side of the world been all for nothing? Has the truth been under his snout the entire time?

Targeted at early primary school-aged children, ‘Who is Fitzy Fox?’ explores some deep, philosophical questions that may be extended to discussing cultural, religious, or gender-specific identities. But the playful and endearing tone of the book allows readers to enjoy it for its life and purity, and the comfort in knowing they are loved for who they are. Perfect for locals and visitors to Melbourne to soak up those vibrant street vibes.

Amelia Trompf has prepared wonderful teaching notes and activities on the Fitzy Fox website.

Who is Fitzy Fox? is on blog tour! Check out the schedule here.


The 2016 Qld Literary Awards Children’s Shortlist and Winner

Awards such as the Griffith University Children’s Book Award, which recognises excellent books for the young, is a great place to find books to share and enjoy with children. A run-down on this year’s shortlisted books and winner follows:

Suri’s Wall by Lucy Estela, illustrator: Matt Ottley (Penguin/Viking) Suri

Suri, the protagonist of the picture book Suri’s Wall, is living behind a wall in a grim institution. Its stonework and mountaintop buildings create a timeless, universal setting. She feels segregated from the other children because of her height but this is what eventually enables her to peer over the wall. She is then able to distract and comfort the smaller children with stories of what she sees.

Matt Ottley’s fantastical illustrations of “golden bridges stretching far beyond sight”, a colourful township and a surreal circus enhance the imaginative spaces in Lucy Estela’s story, enabling destruction to be supplanted by beauty.

How the Sun Got to Coco’s House by Bob Graham (Walker Books) Sun

Bob Graham’s How the Sun Got to Coco’s House will no doubt be recognised in both Australian and international awards lists. The story follows the journey of the sun from the Arctic to Europe, Asia and the Subcontinent, across mountains, seas, cities and countryside, over whales, birds, planes and people. It finally arrives at Coco’s house in time to wake her up.

Bob Graham’s perfectly formed spare text and detailed, light-filled watercolour illustrations show what the sun touches in its daily travels.  The sun does reach Coco’s house and, “But for a few passing clouds, they spend the whole day together”.

Incredibilia by Libby Hathorn; illustrator: Gaye Chapman (Little Hare) Incredibilia

Young, red-haired Georgie is often left out of the games of her older siblings so she devises  imaginative games to play by herself. Max and Harriet are eventually intrigued enough by what is occupying Georgie to beg her to let them join in.

The illustrations are whimsical and add to the celebration of play, which is such an important and productive way for young children to spend their time.


Me, Teddy by Chris McKimmie (Allen & Unwin) Teddy

Brisbane-based Chris McKimmie has been creating unconventional picture books for quite a few years now. A number of them have been shortlisted for awards. His idiosyncratic style of collage, mixed media and additions by young family members often help readers unconsciously discover different aspects of Brisbane life or new ways of looking at things.

Me, Teddy captures the endearing development of a black Labrador and his growing place in the family. The extra work and trouble he causes is completely nullified by the warmth and love he brings.

And the deserving winner of this category is:

Kidglovz by Julie Hunt; illustrator:Dale Newman (Allen & Unwin)

“There is a town in the mountains not far from here where people lock their pianos on the night of the full moon. It makes no difference – the keys move up and down and the air is filled with music.” Kid

Young pianist prodigy Kidglovz is controlled by Dr Eronius Spin but is ‘rescued’ after meeting tightrope walker, Shoestring. His life revolves around music and he ‘hears’ the stars as being five octaves high, the night is in D minor and people sound like melodies. Kidglovz encounters adventures and unusual villains and  characters in his search for truth and safety.

This innovative and impressive graphic novel for primary age children is illustrated in black and white and is a wonderful way of ‘stepping’ into literature.

Review: Words in Deep Blue by Cath Crowley

Words in Deep Blue by Cath Crowley is one of the most beautiful books I’ve had the pleasure of devouring at dawn. Actually I devoured it at midday but, please, let’s not get caught up on the details. The fact is: this is an amazingly gorgeous book of romance and writing and bookshops a9781742612386nd I can’t love it enough! Can Cath Crowley do no wrong?! I’ve adored her books A Little Wanting Song and Graffiti Moon and I’m so glad I tried her latest book too. It’s beautiful. I’ll just continue saying that…forever, basically.

The best thing about this book is: IT’S ABOUT BOOKS. I think books about books are (A) the best kind of bookish inception, and (B) doomed to capture readers’ hearts because we all relate! It’s partially set in a failing bookstore that’s facing being sold. It’s stuffed with references to other books, discussions on the importance of words, and letter writing. And being set in a second-hand-book-store just makes the entire thing so very aesthetically pleasing. Hush. That’s a thing.

It does reference newer books amongst the classics too! Although the focus definitely is on the older books (I assume because more people will recognise them).  But it references The Fault in Our Stars and other newer, Aussie books like Summer Skin!

The characters and dialogue were beyond amazing! It’s dual narrated by Henry and Rachel who are ex-best friends and in the process of becoming friends again. (Or more…) Henry is suffering a break up with the girl of his dreams and Rachel is recovering from the death of her younger brother. Both have their issues. And their secrets. And both need to be smacked with a large book occasionally for their selfish and deluded reasonings. But ultimately I loved them! Henry had an amazing sense of humour and was a huge bookworm. Rachel had snappy comebacks and was learning how to live through her depression. Plus their banter is amazingness.

“What?” she asks.
“Your head,” I tell her, “is a very pleasing shape.”
“Likewise,” she says, and smiles.

I also adored the secondary characters! They were all complex and amazing, with their own character arcs, trials, and focuses.

It does sort of contain a love-triangle, but it is a perfectly written one. Usually I’m very anti-triangles, but this was such an intriguing one because, for starters, it was 1 boy = 2 girls. And secondly, it’s very shippable. Henry was pretty deluded about his ex and Rachel was deluded about her feelings for Henry. You can’t help rooting for them to work out their differences and get together!

The book has a very comfortable, calming vibe. This in no way means the book is dull! It is the opposite to dull. But since it was set in a cosy bookshop with lots of food and banter and contained teenagers with excellent vocabularies who love of dusty old books…it just felt so comfortable to read! It was equally sad, moving, and beautiful. I’d call it a “quiet book” and mean that in the best possible way.

Basically I love this book an exuberant amount. Obviously. I can’t get over how beautifully Cath Crowely stitches words together and how easy it was to get sucked into this marvellous story and end up nearly crying over a gorgeous bookstore being sold. (Please! No!) I loved the letter writing, the plot twists, and the intense love of second-hand books. My bookworm soul is thoroughly won over.

[buy here]

The Natural History of Narelle Oliver

Narelle Oliver is a creator, a world-wind who shared life and our wonderful natural world in incomparable ways. Her picture books of narrative non-fiction are informed and exquisitely constructed, often using her signature hand-coloured linocuts.

I had to catch my breath when I recently opened our copy of The Hunt  (adapted for the international market as Twilight Hunt). Narelle has featured camouflage and hidden creatures in this and a number of her picture books. In The Hunt I also found the bookplate reminding me that we gave this book to our now 24 year-old teacher son on his fifth birthday. Bilby

Camouflage also appears in Baby Bilby, where do you sleep? Like many other people, this is the book I always buy for babies but it is so much more than the typical baby book with its age-appropriate information about desert animals and peepholes displaying the animals and their tracks.

I remember my first reading of Sand Swimmers: The Secret Life of Australia’s Dead Heart when it was published. The content is original – discovering the unexpected life in the desert alongside the explorations of Charles Sturt but the exceptional multilayered composition is what sets it apart for me.

The Best Beak in Boonaroo Bay is a fable about wanting to be the best. It is fascinating that the spoonbill appears here first amongst the birds who compete to have the best beak. Narelle went on to create her award-winning book Don’t let a Spoonbill in the kitchen! which once again features the spoonbill with its wide, swishing beak. Home

Home is Brisbane’s iconic picture book about the peregrine falcons who nest on the ledge of a high-rise building in the city after their bush home has been destroyed by fire. The illustrative style in this book is seminal because of the ‘altered photography’ – a combination of collage, photos, linocut rubbings, pastel, pencil and watercolour. Home won the NSW Premier’s Children’s Literary Award (Patricia Wrightson award) in 2007 and its artwork has become a permanent exhibition on the walls of Brisbane Square Library.

Narelle would travel around Australia and further afield running popular workshops for children. She has left a wonderful legacy of other books and collaborations. She also illustrated the cover of UQP’s re-issue of Ruth Park’s children’s classic My Sister Sif in her inimitable mermaid style.

I was privileged to be in conversation with Narelle in a retrospective of her work at the launch of her brilliant Fox and Fine Feathers by Governor-General, Quentin Bryce. Fox

Fox was an Honour book in the 2010 CBCA awards. Apart from its evocative, suspenseful story and peerless linocuts, it is distinguished by lyrical writing, panels and frame-breaking. The unconventionally shaped panels when the Nightjar tricks Fox masterfully suggest a jigsaw puzzle. I bought a limited edition hand-coloured print of the Coachwood Forest (a double-page spread in the book), which I love because of the sense that I’m about to walk into the picture and into the forest. When our home was badly flooded in the 2011 Brisbane floods, Narelle offered to replace this artwork but fortunately we had saved it. We have it with us now and, alongside her books, it is a constant reminder of Narelle’s talent, kindness and generosity.

Narelle Oliver 1960-2016

Review: Passchendaele: Requiem for Doomed Youth by Paul Ham

9781864711448Paul Ham reaffirms his status as one of the best current Australian historians writing today, taking his astute eye to the devastating battle of Passchendaele. This is not a history book solely about Australia’s involvement in the Flanders campaign of 1917. This is an all-encompassing look at the events and the situation that led to the battle and the wholesale slaughter of over half a million men. Ham combs through the histories and memoirs of those involved on both sides and all ranks, wading through the lies and falsehoods, myths and legends, excuses and justifications that have festered over the decades to put together a picture of a battle that somehow exceeded the horrors of The Somme and Verdun only a year before.

Paul Ham primarily explores how a toxic relationship between Prime Minister Lloyd George and Field Marshall Douglas Haig allowed an offensive to go ahead whose only true goal was absolute attrition. He shows how the lessons learned during the butchery of The Somme about tactics (tactics that could preserve men’s lives and actually gain ground;  the creeping barrage, bite and hold) were not employed due to the weather and in some cases battles went ahead with no artillery support at all. Ham demonstrates that the immense casualties on both sides were not some catastrophe or blunder of leadership but planned for, expected and deemed necessary and shows how those in a position to stop the carnage did nothing, putting personal grievances ahead of the lives of over 500,000 men.

This is a book not only for all Australians to read but New Zealanders, Britons, French and Germans as well. Paul Ham puts this battle and consequently The First World War in its context of the time, not some revisionist context in light of subsequent events and conflicts. This a cutting, insightful and moving look at one of the bloodiest and most futile battles of the First World War.

Buy the book here…

Superb Sequels – Picture Book Reviews

We certainly got a buzz upon discovering the latest sequels to a few of our favourite picture books. Still highly capable of capturing our hearts and imaginations, just like their predecessors, these titles don’t disappoint. From forming new friendships to rekindling old ones, from commencing inspiring adventures to revisiting good old-fashioned traditions, preschoolers and early primary aged children will delight in every part of the wonderful journeys these books will take them.

imageSnail and Turtle Rainy Days, Stephen Michael King (author, illus.), Scholastic Press, 2016.

With the same warm and playful narrative and animated illustrations as in the original Snail and Turtle are Friends, King beautifully compliments this sequel with an equally gentle and humbling innocence in its tone. Once again, King has successfully alllured his readers with a tactile, blithe and innovative experience.

Snail and Turtle Rainy Days is a creative and heartwarming tale about going to assiduous measures to help out a friend in need. I also love the undertone that Turtle might possibly be doing so to satisfy his own little pleasures in life! However, children from age three will absolutely soak up these busy characters and adorable qualities in this sunny story set in the rain. See my full review here.

imageI Don’t Want to Go to Bed, David Cornish (author, illus.), Angus & Robertson, 2016.

Immediately following on from its prequel comes the opening line, “Every night when dinner was done, Rollo would cry ‘I Don’t Want To Go To Bed!‘”. Cleverly written and hilariously illustrated by David Cornish, this next title in the series certainly ticks all the stubborn-child-mastering-routines boxes.

In this short and sweet tale, Rollo attempts every excuse under the sun to avoid going to bed. Fortunately, with a little imagination (and perhaps some imperceivable parent influence) Rollo can check off his ‘story, food, water, toilet and monster’ checklist. Is he finally ready for bed?

Bold, vibrant and loud, and exhaustingly true, preschoolers and their parents will both cringe and delight in the arduous strategies determining when and how they will go to bed.

imageMe and Moo & Roar Too, P. Crumble (author), Nathaniel Eckstrom (illus.), Scholastic Australia, 2016.

When Me and Moo first made its grand entrance we were udderly – oops, utterly – delighted by this comical tale of friendship between a boy and his mischievous cow companion. Now, roaring onto the scene is their newest comrade, surprisingly delivered straight from the zoo; Roar.

In Me and Moo & Roar Too, it is Me and Moo’s quest to return Roar back to his home-away-from-home after he causes chaos in their house. Although this might be disheartening for readers, they will be reassured to know that every animal is happy in their place of belonging, and that Me and Moo may just encounter yet another wild pet adventure any time soon!

With its child-friendly narrative voice and gorgeously textured and discernibly witty illustrations, this sequel perfectly compliments the first and will have its preschool-aged readers roaring for more.

imageBird and Bear and the Special Day, Ann James (author, illus.), The Five Mile Press, 2016.

In a story of discovering the beauty and nuances of the world around them, Bird and Bear explore nature, science and their close relationship. When they meet again in Bird and Bear and the Special Day, Bird, on her ‘Birdday’ enchants her friend Bear with a series of ‘Eye-Spy’-esque challenges as they take a stroll through the park.

James’ winsome dialogue cleverly integrates concepts of prepositions, opposites and scientific observations, as well as the pressing problem of whether Bear will remember Bird’s Birdday. Watercolours, pencil and pastel tones perfectly suit the whimsical yet tranquil adventure walk and the gentle, harmonious friendship between the characters.

A joyous exploration of words and the outdoors, imagination and strengthening bonds, this series has the magic of childhood autonomy at its forefront. Recommended for children aged three and up.

imageLet’s Play!, Hervé Tullet (author, illus.), Allen & Unwin, 2016. Originally published by Bayard Editions as ‘On Joue?’, 2016.

A brilliant companion to the best-selling books, Press Here and Mix It Up!, pushing boundaries and exciting creative imaginations is the latest by Hervé Tullet; it’s Let’s Play! A genius masterstroke by the artist, engaging readers in a vibrant sensory, kinaesthetic and all-round enjoyable interactive experience.

Instructing its willing participants to join in, the yellow dot pulls us on its journey along, up, down, round and round a simple black line from start to end. With the dot we encounter more dots in primary colours, play games of hide-and-seek, face ominous dark tunnels and black, messy splashes and scribbles, until we finally reach the safety of clean pages and fairy-light-inspired canvases.

Children and adults alike will delight in this gigglicious, playful adventure exploring shape, colour, space and line with its subtly thrilling storyline to tempt your curiosity many times ’round.


Doodles and Drafts – Mark Carthew

Mark CarthewQuiet achievers are those I admire most. Mark Carthew is one of those quiet achievers, except when he’s strumming out a tune on his guitar and reading one of his crazy verse orientated picture books aloud. With more projects on the draft table than you can wobble a pencil at, I thought it was high time we got to know one of Australia’s most consistent and talented children’s authors.

His recent release, Marvin and Marigold  The Big Sneeze with Simon Prescott, exemplifies all that we’ve come to expect of a Mark Carthew picture book: clear, engaging story, lyrical text, and kid friendly pictures guaranteed to spark repeated readings. The Big Sneeze is the first in this mouse inspired cute critter series, ably introducing Marigold to her new neighbour, Marvin, who’s in a pretty woeful way with the flu to begin with. Their friendship begins in a rather slow, fractured way until with a dash of empathy and a slathering of kindness, Marigold comes to accept the true mouse behind all the sneezes, snorts and snuffles. A little classic in the making (which are what The Gobbling Tree and The Moose is Loose! are to me). Let’s find out how he does it.

Welcome to the Draft Table, Mark!

Q: Who is Mark Carthew? Describe your writerly-self.

I am passionate about words, pictures and music… and how each of these things resonates in its own special way to make images. The rhythm of language and the power of alliterative words and phrases shared out loud is something reflected in my stories, verse and songs.

MARK-CARTHEW-FOOTER-2-LOWRES-72DPIQ: A hefty percentage of your children’s titles are picture books. What draws you to creating this genre of children’s literature?

Working with and seeing wonderfully talented illustrators bring your ideas to life is one of the great pleasures of being children’s picture book / illustrated text author. Each book is literally a birth; a special creation and much anticipated result of both vision and passion. Illustrator’s weave their own skills and magic into this creative process, making the genre a unique blend of two imaginations. I also enjoy working with editors, publishers and designers — and they need to get due credit; as they can bring significant (emotionally detached) insights and ideas to picture book projects.

Q: What style of writing do you identify most strongly with; children’s, poetry, song writing? Which style excites you the most to create?

Hard question, as many of my works involve combinations of all three! My picture books, anthologies and plays regularly revolve around narratives with a strong sense of the poetic, alliterative and rhythmic; and more often than not they have a musical or song element that dovetails naturally.

Marvin and Marigold_Cover_frontQ: Marvin and Marigold: The Big Sneeze, is the first in a new series of picture books featuring two new fun characters. Please tell us a bit about it. Why mice? Was this your original intention or is it a product of your collaboration with illustrator, Simon Prescott?

At a meeting in Frenchs Forest Sydney, my Publisher at New Frontier Sophia Whitfield, suggested she would be interested in me developing a manuscript around two animal characters. Reflecting on this while returning on the Manly Ferry, some verses started to flow; and the Marvin & Marigold series began that very day. Some of the key alliterative and rhyming stanzas based around their names, ‘mice’ and ‘mouse houses’ were written on the way back to Circular Quay. New Frontier had just set up a UK office in London and it was Sophia who made the UK connection to Simon Prescott, based on his whimsical style and expertise in illustrating mice.

Q: How did the concept of Marvin and Marigold come to being? What do you hope to portray in your stories about them?

Children’s publishers in Australia and around the world have had great success with picture books concerning cute and endearing animal characters; interestingly quite often with titles featuring ‘two names’.  As mentioned, New Frontier was keen to see if I could pen something original and engaging along similar lines with potential for a series.

While still involving word play and strong rhyme; these narratives also explore some deeper thinking around familiar life scenarios, situations and personal challenges — as well as important themes such as family, relationships, kindness and empathy. A series with two next door neighbours and friends, a boy and a girl, provides the perfect vehicle.      

Q: You mentioned that you ‘enjoy making books that encourage play with language, words and images’. Do you find it easier to ‘tell stories in song’ when developing a picture book as opposed to writing in prose? Describe the process for us.

My creativity seems to flow when I write in a lyrical, rhyming style and I think my love of verse texts, poetry and song writing has influenced my desire to share stories in sympathetic mediums. Poetic stanzas often bounce around in my head like a ‘third eye’ or voice. However, I am also very keen to extend my writing into a more prose based, graphic narrative style for the older primary readership and I have a couple of projects on the draft table in that regard.

The Gobbling Tree with awardQ: Your picture books in particular have strong appeal for lower primary and pre-primary aged readers, providing plenty of predictive reading possibilities and moments of fun to crow over again and again. What is the attraction for writing for this age group?

 Younger audiences respond naturally to call and response, alliteration and the use of strong rhyming, onomatopoeic phrases that are part of my writing style. That natural early childhood interest in shared language and interaction excites me as a writer and allows me the privilege and space to enjoy the fun of word play mixed with drama, music, movement and spoken words.

 Q: What’s on the draft table for Mark?

 2017 will be a big year with three picture books as well as various other poetry and writing projects in production or development.

My long long term illustrator friend Mike Spoor (UK) and I will be releasing a speciality art style picture book Six Little Ducks (with song), a project which evolved from our 2013 Australian tour. The second book in the Marvin and Marigold series, Marvin & Marigold: A Christmas Surprise will be released in the lead-up to Christmas 2017 and The Great Zoo Hullabaloo illustrated by Anil Tortop (Qld) will be out in April 2017. That project was developed during my May Gibbs Children’s Literature Trust Fellowship and is in essence the sequel to The Moose is Loose!— but with a different publisher, illustrator and a new twist!

The Five Little OwlsWith the assistance of Karen Small from Small but Mighty Productions, I am planning to produce a 10th Anniversary Edition of my CBCA Honour Book and anthology, Can you keep a Secret? Timeless rhymes to share and treasure. I hope to do that in both eBook & hard copy.

I am also working on some new poetry anthologies and a graphic novel / crossover text for older primary readers.

Q: When not scribbling stories for children, who / what do you like to read?

I enjoy magical realism, folkloric and action / fantasy novels… and reading other writer’s illustrated books!

Q: Just for fun question (there’s always one): If you had to choose to be one of your picture book characters for a week, whom would you choose and why?

 The Zoo HullabalooMmmm… most of my current characters are animals, so that is a tricky question! I’d probably be Jack in my upcoming title – The Great Zoo Hullabaloo. He’s a zookeeper who enjoys being around animals, as well as playing the drums!

PS: Mark has lots of information, activities and free material on his wonderful website —

Thanks, Mark!

Marvin and Marigold The Big Sneeze is available, here.

New Frontier Publishing




Tim Winton, the Boy Behind the Curtain

CurtainIt has been an enlightening experience to read these essays about Tim Winton’s life in The Boy Behind the Curtain (Penguin, Hamish Hamilton). They fill some of the gaps in and between his books, as well as enhancing the books themselves and perhaps even allow us to vicariously experience some of Winton’s own life and passions.

Perhaps we now take the saving of Ningaloo Reef in Western Australia for granted. It was both fascinating and empowering to read the chapter, ‘The Battle for Ningaloo Reef’. This significant chapter is one of a couple that has particularly lingered after finishing the book. Powerful forces often barrage anyone who tries to stand up to moneymaking schemes. The struggle to save Ningaloo is documented by Winton so that we see the powerlessness of the underdog trying to fight determined developers. The protestors are often voiceless, even a prominent figure such as Winton. It seems only when persistence and a groundswell of people join the campaign that environmental icons such as Ningaloo can be saved.

BluebackTim Winton describes dead zones, areas where marine life can’t live, in ‘Sea Change’. He wrote the popular fable Blueback in 1997 and wonders if this unconsciously preempted his role as environmental advocate.

His love of the sea’s creatures extends to sharks. In ‘The Demon Shark’, Winton protests against the killing of sharks and compares them with bees, which actually kill more Australians each year. Removing shark fins from live sharks is unconscionable.

Poet Les Murray is referred to twice in the book. In ‘Holy and Silent: On Peter Matthiessen’s Blue Meridian’, Murray is quoted as describing ‘a sense of space’ as “the quality of sprawl”. Winton’s youth spent inhabiting the freedom of the coast, particularly by fishing and surfing, has continued throughout most of his life and is also outlined in ‘The Wait and the Flow’.

His childhood is memorably described in ‘The Boy Behind the Curtain’, where he stood, concealed, aiming a gun at those who passed by. Transformative experiences occurred when his father was hit by a car. A Christian man cared for him and Winton learned that strangers ‘could wreck your life and do you harm [but also be] capable of mysterious kindness’. This led to Winton and his parents becoming Christians.

Winton later refers to the question asked by Jesus in ‘Stones for Bread’, “If a child asks you for bread, will you give him a stone?” as pertinent to Australia’s treatment of children in detention centres. This is an issue about which he is seething.

RidersWe also learn about some of his writing influences: Elizabeth Jolley as an unconventional mentor; the novel he dumped with enormous angst in ‘Lighting Out’; and the Irish cottage he lived in for a time in ‘Letter From a Strong Place’, with its strong echoes of The Riders.

The Tales of Jahani

Leopard PrincessRosanne Hawke is writing The Tales of Jahani, beginning with  Daughter of Nomads & continuing with The Leopard Princess (UQP).

Reading Daughter of Nomads feels like being inside a rich nomad tent surrounded by colours, textures and the scent of spices.

Could you tell us about the setting?

The setting is based on where we lived when we were aid workers in Pakistan in the 1980s and early 1990s. We lived in Abbottabad which I’ve used as inspiration for Sherwan (in 1662) where Jahani was brought up. The beautiful alpine lakes with paries (fairies), rushing rivers, dangerous bridges and fairy fields are all places we took our children to visit. Even the air view from Azhar’s carpet of the Karakorams and Himalayas came from personal experience when we had to take a rather old and small plane from Chitral to Peshawar to escape the blocked snow passes.

What exotic elements, talismans or motifs have you included in the series?

I have an ancient taveez which I bought in Peshawar and it became the inspiration for Jahani’s taveez. I also have a nomad dress and a pouch (similar to the one that Jahani’s nomad mother gives her). The idea of pari power in the story comes from the folklore of Hunza (Hahayul in The Tales of Jahani). I haven’t been to Hunza but my husband has and I have some lovely photos of the area that a friend, Catherine Wood, took for me.

Where did the stories woven into the main narrative that seem to be like Tales from the Arabian Nights come from – traditional or your creation? Arabian

Most of these come from the Shahnameh: the Persian Book of Kings. The evil King Zahhak appears quite early in the Shahnameh as does that of Feraydun who slays him. The famous heroes Rostam, Sohrab and Gordafarid come later on. Even Kaveh one of the horses’ names comes from this mythology. The stories about the beginnings of the kingdoms I gleaned from Pakistani travel books. These are stories that people there know and these naturally fed into the fantasy aspect of the books.

How does the character of Jahani change?

Jahani wakes up one morning believing she is a poor girl who may not amount to much, maybe never be able to be married, and then finds she is someone else entirely. Due to a tragic event she suddenly has no idea who she is. Throughout the story she learns to trust and grows into a young woman who is able to take charge of her own destiny.

How have you subverted the traditional role of women?

In the Mughal Empire women did not rule on their own. If they were called Empress it was because their husband was an emperor. Yet the intrigue and deals that went on in the royal harems are fascinating to read about. One emperor was drugged half the time and his favourite wife made most of the decisions. He just had to sign the papers.

The women I met in Pakistan weren’t downtrodden as they are often depicted in the west. Once a girl gets educated she can do anything, wearing a scarf or not. I guess that’s why the Taliban shot Malala. She knew the truth: educate a girl and you change the world. Jahani wanted to change the world even before she knew who she was. She had to fight for the privilege to do so. I hope she will be a role model to show the unlimited potential all women have.

Are these stories for entertainment or to express issues? Or both?

After writing some stories with heavy topics like forced marriage, trafficking, war orphans and blasphemy, I wanted to write something lighter, fun, adventurous and epic. A story to show the beauty and the best of Pakistan. To celebrate the life we had there with our children. It was my eldest daughter who encouraged me to write about Jahani as this was a story she remembered from her childhood. When I look back on the story and also read some of the reviews I can see there is more to her character. It’s true I did want to portray a strong female character which I hope I have done with Jahani.

Daughter of NomadsHow have you segued book 1 into book 2? (unless this is a spoiler)

Daughter of Nomads segues into The Leopard Princess by Jahani having her recurring dream of fire; it is a pivotal scene for the second book as she finally learns what the dream means. When Jahani wakes from the dream only a few days have passed since the end of book one and then the action carries on with the nomads being attacked. Readers can read the first chapter of The Leopard Princess at the end of Daughter of Nomads.

How involved were you in the conception of the illustrations by D.M. Cornish? What is most appealing about them to you?

Aren’t they gorgeous? He is so talented. I loved the way they echo the gold and minarets of the Mughal Empire. I was asked for some ideas of what could go into the cover and the internal pictures but I wanted him to use his own ideas as I thought the best work would come out that way and so it did. I did want one of the illustrations in each book to include the leopard and one to include the carpet in the first book. Other than that D.M. worked his own magic.

Describe your dream magic carpet.

One that grows in feelings as Azhar’s does. Rich colours: red and green, maybe some animals as found on Persian carpets. One that can save your life if you fall off!

Anything else you’d like to add?

I’d like to mention the great job my son Michael Hawke did of Jahani’s poems. He’d read the manuscript and I told him Jahani liked Rumi’s poems but other than that inspiration, the work was all his own. Even at the end, close to typesetting, when my editor Kristy Bushnell and I realised we needed a song for the people to sing, Michael delivered. He is amazing.

Thank you very much for your generous responses, Rosanne and all the best with this series.

YA Books About Superheroes

If there’s one topic that never gets old, it’s certainly superheroes. Everyone loves a good superpower book, with good vs evil and a good dash of explosions. Marvel and DC movies are always smash (har har, pun intended) hits in the cinemas and comics have been popular for decades.

But what about novels about superheroes? If you’re craving more heroes (or villains!) in your life: I have some Young Adult books that you most certainly need to try. It’ll tie you over between waiting for the next Marvel movie to be spat out. And these books will also give you tips in case, you know, you get bitten by a spider and greatness descends upon you. Must be prepared!

9781423157496V IS FOR VILLAIN


As you can see this doesn’t just feature superheroes — it focuses on the VILLAINS. WHich means the book is automatically 10005% cooler than anything else. So bring on a plot of criminals and a teenage highschool misfit who turns to the dark side. Where there are cookies, or so I’ve heard.

9780062085504SHATTER ME


This is the beginning of an amazing trilogy about a girl who touches people and…they die. Which is definitely not the kind of power you save the world with, but whatever. Look at this girl go! Juliette has to piece herself back together after years of being locked in a dark prison and then figure out how to use her powers for good…or evil.



This one is about a girl called Fiona who is invisible. Not just sometimes. All the time. She doesn’t even know what she looks like! She’s basically enslaved by her crime-boss dad until she and her mother run away to a little desert time and Fiona tries to fit into a “normal” life. Except her crime origins don’t exactly go away…



This is by a New Zealand author, so yay for (semi)local writers! Meet Evie: who is pretty normal until suddenly her body explodes into super-powered, amazing solider material. Turns out she’s born to protect her best friend from being murdered. Say bye-bye to the good ol’ life and hello to conspiracies, dark government agencies, and a superpowered boy she’s so totally not supposed to be in love with.



This is, without doubt, one of the best superhero books I’ve ever read! It’s set in a dystopic universe where those with powers are called “Epics” and they like to…kill everyone. And everything. And it’s very unfortunate. David’s father was murdered so his #1 goal in life is to take down the immortal, invisible Steelheart. It features terrible puns and even worse metaphors (which somehow makes them glorious?!) and a team of highly trained superhero assassins.



This one is a little different to the others because it actually features the people around the superheroes. So while those superheroes are smashing evil and destroying cities on accident…what are the average people doing? So meet Mikey: an anxious teenager just trying to survive while the world blows up around him. It’s such a beautifully written and winning coming-of-age story and since it’s by the master, Patrick Ness, you do not want to miss this gloriousness.

Review – Sugar and Spice Collection

Sugar and SpiceFairies and ponies, ballerinas and bows; all things nice, may not be what all little girls are made of but this omnibus picture book collection, Sugar and Spice, fresh out of the uber productive creative forge  of EK Books is sure to delight even the fussiest of feminie tastes. Designed with little girls in mind, this three-volume picture book gift set features stories by three different authors, each illustrated by Gwynneth Jones. Enjoy them individually or as a boxed collectors’ set.

The firstPatch and Ruby we devoured was Patch and Ruby by Anouska Jones. My Miss 10 reviewed this one but I’m inclined to agree with her response. Sweet and impossibly alluring, Patch and Ruby is a story full of ponies and chooks and cuter than cute meeces. Jones’s narrative is warm and restrained enough to sustain short attention spans whilst the illustrations excite the tactile senses and illicit quite a bit of cheeky humour. Keep an eye out for the chook in rollers. So clever.

Patch and Ruby is a gentle tale about finding your perfect fit and making friends along the way. The notion of seeing things from another person’s point of view is secreted away in Patch’s longing to find that missing something in his life yet pre-schoolers will be satisfied enough, soaking up the gorgeous equine inspired atmosphere of this tale.

Dance with MeDance with Me is the second slice of sweetness in this set. Penny Harrison has penned another story ostensibly aimed at sweet young ladies under eight but adorable enough to be enjoyed by pre-schoolers, everywhere. Dance with Me is a timely tale of affections and life changes. I can’t help but hear Frank Mill’s, Music Box Dancer in my head when I read about the beautiful pink clad ballerina who ‘lived in a small, wooden box.’ She and her little girl enjoy many joyful dances together until one day the little girl grows up and the ballerina is free to enjoy her own dances far from her box. However, her adventures are cut short when she is relegated to the shelf for many years until one day, someone new calls her to ‘come, dance…’ once more.

Gwynneth Jones’s spectacular use of altering perspectives, subtle colours, and Decalage (the metaphoric visual interpretation of the text to show a different meaning) is spot on and once again cleverly pins readers to their seats.

The Great Sock SecretSusan Whelan is the author of the third spicy instalment, The Great Sock Secret. I love how the fairies rule supreme in this toe-levelled view about one of the first world’s most cryptic mysteries: where do all the odd socks go? Jones’s eye-popping illustrations are phenomenal, revealing to the reader what Sarah already knows about the missing socks in her home. Whelan takes the reader on a whimsical treasure hunt of subterfuge as Sarah tries to preserve the fairies’ secret from her mother.

Fast paced and fun, The Great Sock Secret will make you stop and think next time you are faced with mismatched laundry and reticent children.

All three Sugar and Spice picture books will bring a smile to your face and comfortable warmth to your heart. They are easy to read, diverse in flavour and delivery and beautifully presented; the rich paisley patterned spines are just glorious.

These beautiful tales also stirred up many fond childhood memories; of my own music box dancer, backyard ponies, and the inevitable transitions we all make from childhood to adulthood. Thankfully, stories like these ensure an infinite sense of innocent pleasure and pure magic for generations to come.

Highly recommended for ages 4 and above.

For those lucky enough to reside in NSW, head to the Wallsend District Library this Saturday, 8 October for the official Sugar and Spice Collection Launch.

EK Books October 2016






Review – Little Lunch: Triple Snack Pack

imageLittle Lunch: Triple Snack Pack, Danny Katz (author), Mitch Vane (illus.), Black Dog Books, August 2016.

Since watching the popular ABC television series recently my Grade 1’er is obsessed with Little Lunch. And what a delight she received when the episodes arrived in book form on our doorstep! From the exuberant newspaper columnist, Danny Katz, and illustrator partner extraordinaire, Mitch Vane, Little Lunch: Triple Snack Pack; aka: “The Office, in the playground” (Canberra Times) is an unputdownable winner for all primary school kids.

With three shamelessly irristible “bite-sized stories” packed with drama, politics, mystery, complex relationships and absurd behaviour, not to mention the distinct cartoon-style pictures throughout, newly independent readers will devour every bit.

imageMeet the cast; daydreamer Battie, nerdy Atticus, bossy Debra-Jo, courageous Melanie, mischievous Rory, sporty Tamara, and their easy-going Grade 5 teacher Mrs Gonsha. The show unfolds in The Old Climbing Tree when, at ‘Little Lunch’ (or recess), clumsy Debra-Jo decides that it is her duty to organise to have the sticky-outy rooty climbing tree cut down. All her friends are utterly dismayed and form a petition to save their much-loved tree. Through a series of twisted consequences, including Debra-Jo and Rory receiving detention, Melanie and Tamara receiving Green Ambassador Awards, and the tree finally being cut down, a satisfying ending is reached with a tree replacement and one final mishap for our clumsy attention-seeker.

imageIn The Corridor Outside Class 6E, serious hall-monitor Debra-Jo diligently observes the unusual sudden disappearance of twins, Max and Elsa. At Little Lunch, her attempts to question her mates becomes a hugely sticky mess of unjustified assumptions and exaggerated stories. Battie is unable to speak with a mouthful of chewy muesli bar. Atticus concludes they had been expelled. Melanie and Tamara hypothesise that the white-jacketed woman they saw took them away for a medical emergency. Rory claims to have seen Max with handcuffs and a foreign police officer arresting him for the murder of Elsa. Hilarity follows as their imaginations go wild, and it is the final straw for Battie as he eventually manages to speak (or yell, rather) – the twins got braces!

imageThe final chapter is The Relationship, taking on the fickle nature that is upper primary school dating. Receiving an anonymous, folded note with the words, “Will you go out with me?” has left Rory totally stumped. How do you actually ‘go out’ with someone? Why is an older, Grade Six girl asking him out? And, who is she? Rory desperately tries to seek advice, but his friends are useless. Until Debra-Jo has a plan to help Rory advance in the kissing-department. Which, might I add, goes horribly wrong…or does it? Uncharacteristically, Rory cleverly combines the Science of ‘magnetism’ with relationship matters of the heart, which is not that scientific but receives a great applause, nonetheless.

Brilliantly witty, entertaining and naturally fluid to read aloud or independently, Little Lunch: Triple Snack Pack is honestly realistic; embarrassing, nutty yet deliciously tasteful that will leave its readers hungry for more.

“A lot can happen in fifteen minutes!”  

Check out other Little Lunch books in the series, including Triple the ThreatsThe Monkey Bars, The Bubblers and The School Gate.


Review: Tell The Truth, Shame The Devil by Melina Marchetta

9780670079100I have to confess to some reticence in picking this book up. I hadn’t read Melina Marchetta in years (since Saving Francesca in fact) and even though Looking For Alibrandi was one of the best books I had to read at school I had some reluctance picking up her first novel for adults. But after Kate started reading and RAVING about it it was next on my pile and I was instantly hooked. This isn’t just a good thriller, this is a top class thriller easily equal to the great stuff Michael Robotham writes.

The novel opens with a bang and doesn’t look back. DCI Bashir ‘Bish’ Ortley’s life is slowly falling apart. He still grieves for the son he lost in a drowning accident. His marriage, already on rocky ground, didn’t survive the tragedy and his relationship with his teenage daughter Bee is on tenterhooks. He’s been hitting the bottle to get through each day but that has resulted in his suspension from The Met on disciplinary grounds. Everything is put to the test though when a bomb goes off on a tourist bus in Northern France.

His daughter is on the bus and Bish immediately races to the scene. He soon becomes the liaison between other frantic parents, the French police and British officials. Bish is relieved to discover that his daughter is unharmed but that cannot be said for others onboard the bus. When he discovers that also on the bus is the daughter of a bombing suspect he locked up thirteen years ago his, and others’, suspicions are raised. When she disappears soon afterwards those suspicions seemed confirmed by her actions. Bish has his doubts though and his search for the missing girl not only reopens old wounds but may also reopen an old case.

Marchetta unfolds this thriller with the skill of a veteran crime writer. I especially like the way she explores the role social media plays not just on people’s quick judgements of guilt but also in reconstructing the timeline of the events leading up to the bombing. Marchetta puts this up against the role of the traditional media in the earlier case showing how the media’s rush to judgment, both old and new, then and now, haven’t changed that much and that guilt and innocence are blurred and lost very easily with devastating consequences.

I could not put this book down and I hope it is not the last we are going to see of DCI Bish Ortley, a fantastic new character to add the crime genre by a writer we knew from growing up was something special who can no-show off that skill to a whole new audience both here and around the world..

Buy the Book Here…

Review: Louis Theroux Live

Louis TherouxThe breathless anticipation with which I awaited Louis Theroux’s first-time-in-Australia gig was rivalled only by the Ira Glass equivalent. Both are lions in the televisual and radio storytelling domains, and both have in recent years come to Australia to speak about their trades.

Glass, of course, is famous for the game-changing podcasts This American Life and Serial, while son of travel writer Paul Theroux Louis has broken the TV and book moulds with his awkward but endlessly fascinating ventures into subcultures that include survivalists, neo-Nazis, scientologists, brothel workers, and religious fanatics such as the Westboro Church.

Brisbane’s QPAC theatre foyer was packed on Saturday night with Theroux fans who politely queued up to purchase tote bags and mugs adorned with Theroux’s endearingly geeky moniker. And then we all eagerly filed in to the theatre itself to witness Theroux part present and part be interviewed across a two-hour format with interval.

It wasn’t until I was minutes away from the event’s start that I realised I had no idea what to expect. For the most part I was pleasantly surprised, barring a terrifying few minutes where Theroux stalked the aisles to select unwilling interviewees.

For example, the normally dead pre-show and interval times were filled with snippets of segments from Theroux’s shows over the years, which was an excellent touch and one I wish more shows featured. And the show itself opened with a spotlit Theroux telling a story about his beginnings before being joined on stage by Julia Zemiro, whom we know from, among other things, her hosting role of RocKwiz.

What was striking about Theroux in person, although probably shouldn’t have been, was how utterly unintimidating he was. I mean that in a heartening way. In a conversation that ranged from how he got his break, how he navigates the topics he investigates, and how—despite what his wife says—there’s only one way to stack a dishwasher, he showed us an unassuming guy who finished uni and didn’t know what to do with his life. Studying history, as many of us have discovered, doesn’t exactly qualify you for lots of jobs.

Via a brief stint working in a glass factory in the US, Theroux chanced upon Michael Moore needing a British correspondent for TV Nation.
‘What Michael (Moore) saw in me—as much as I’d like to see a suave, kind of interrogating intelligence, it was the opposite of that,’ Theroux said. ‘He saw my gangliness and my slight awkwardness as an asset…just being myself, but being sent out into these rather weird and wild fringes of American society where I was very out of place.’

Either way, what transpired was an apprenticeship of sorts that led to Theroux developing his own style and being offered his own show.

I could bandy around terms like ‘gangly’ and ‘unassuming’ and ‘relatable’, but what I really want to say is that although Theroux is undeniably talented and charming, what struck me during the show was how he is the quintessential example of a creative who carves out his own niche, making the kind of TV and writing the kind books he himself desired. And that in and of itself is probably invaluable inspiration for creatives the world round.

I’m not a big TV watcher, but I came to Theroux via his documentaries. They’re the kind that are so fascinatingly watchable that they find their way even to non-TV-watchers like me. Many of the documentaries have etched a permanent pop culture mark, not least the Jimmy Saville iteration, which Theroux has apparently just revisited in the form of visiting survivors of Saville’s sexual assaults.

While Theroux never claims to be objective in his approach, he does try to understand or at least unpack his subjects’ thoughts and motivations. As he accurately puts it: ‘There is always a little bit of a logic—sometimes it’s a crazy logic—but (the survivalists) feel they didn’t sign up at birth to taxes, federal government, drivers’ licences.’

But while I think I’ve seen all of Theroux’s documentaries barring the game-hunting one (I’m vegan and no matter how sensitively he portrays the topic, it’s guaranteed to distress me), what I haven’t embarked on is reading his books. Which is, frankly, a bit ass about for my overarching book-first, TV-second philosophy.

I’ve bought one—Call of the Weird—but it’s high time I get around to reading it. I will, presumably, have Theroux’s voice and mannerisms in my head as I plough through it just as I do with Jon Ronson’s books. Either way, it was a privilege to see Theroux in the country and I can only hope he’ll return soon to cast his TV show-making and book-writing eye to some of Australia’s subcultures and social issues.Save

Review: Sword and Verse by Kathy MacMillan

9780062324610Being an avid bookworm myself (I know, I know, obvious statement) I’m always attracted to books about words. And Sword and Verse by Kathy MacMillan hugely features words, scrolls, writing, and libraries! I mean, what is not to love here?! Plus it’s a YA epic fantasy with exquisite world building and a cover that is just edible. You know it is. Just look at that majesty.

The story follows Raisa who is a slave in the palace and in training to become a Tutor. In this world, writing and reading are absolutely sacred. So only the royalty, high class, and priests are really allowed to do it. And the only reason Raisa learns is so one day she’ll become teacher to future kings. But since she currently is learning the thousands and thousands of symbols with the crown princes….well. Things don’t stay platonic between them for long. It’s an adorable and winning “forbidden romance” with tons of risks and sacrifice. Add in some rebels, grim punishments, and stolen kisses in a library and you have this marvellous novel.

It is very heavily centred on romance. Normally I wince at this because I prefer more action to a story. But the romance was not only gorgeously done, but I felt myself rooting for Raisa and Prince Mati the whole time! Every feeling they had for each other was a huge risk. And not only that, Raisa was pressured by the rebels, technically her people, to help them. So betray her people vs betray the boy she loves. It really won me over and made my usually unromantic heart beat a little faster. Bless it

I also loved the world building! It features gods and temples and slaves and masters. The entire world is built around writing being so scared. And the actual aesthetics of the world felt dusty and maybe Roman (or Grecian?) influenced. The king’s people were pretty horrendous masters to their slaves and the book talks very severely about oppression and brutality. Although it doesn’t get graphic. The violence mostly happens off-page. I prefer dark fantasy so this did annoy me a little, but it’d be perfect for people who don’t like violent books.

As for the characters? I thoroughly enjoyed them! I’m just going to pretend Raisa wasn’t an entirely whining, naive popsicle…because that was the only downside of the story for me! I can’t understand how she could be a slave most of her life and yet be so incredibly naive and blind? She’s having a passionate fling with the prince. And yet gets shocked when things go wrong. Come now, woman. But that aside, I entirely loved how Raisa doesn’t fall into any Special Snowflake Tropes and she’s also very kindhearted, which is nice.

I also loved the secondary characters. Including Mati, the future-king, who is really tender hearted and anti-violence but also has little power against his horrible father. And I adored Jonis, who’s one of the rebels, and is a sneering scarred precious little cinnamon roll. And don’t worry: no love triangle here. I’m so happy this book proved that a protagonist can exist and not fall in love with every male in the room. WOOO! I also adored 5-year-old Jera, who’s the next Tutor-in-training and was just so adorable.

The plot doesn’t roar along with tons of excitement, but it is intriguing. I felt totally engaged! Despite it being mostly…kissing. There is also stabbing and explosions and plots and spying. Not to mention libraries where you could be killed for entering. Good times.

I had a lot of fun diving into the world of Sword and Verse! The romance was adorable, the world-building amazing, and it wrapped up quite satisfyingly so that it could almost be a standalone! (Apparently there is a sequel coming in 2018 though.) I’m impressed and my little book loving heart beats very fiercely with affection for this novel.


[buy it here]

Review: So Say the Fallen by Stuart Neville

Stuart Neville is a crime writer at the absolute top of his game at the moment and is doing things in the crime genre few others would attempt. After bursting onto the scene with The Twelve, an IRA hitman thriller with a supernatural edge, Neville has challenged himself and the crime genre with each subsequent book. I thought he hit the heights with his historical crime novel Ratlinesbut his new series featuring DCI Serena Flanagan has gone to new levels of brilliance.

In the first DCI Serena Flanagan novel, Those We Left Behind, Neville created a crime thriller that skillfully demonstrated that a crime story doesn’t ever end. The effects are always long-lasting and neither truth nor justice can ever provide the closure required by those left behind. Neville again shows this when we catch up with DCI Flanagan in the new novel with the events of that novel continuing to have ramifications on both her professional and personal lives.

9781910701522The second DCI Flanagan novel deals with a classic tale of the crime genre; a wife and her lover knocking off her husband, killing him to make it look like suicide, with the wife set to inherit a fortune. But Neville plays this story out with a couple of differences. Firstly as a reader we know straight up it is a murder not suicide. There is no mystery to unravel. We know who is guilty and it is up to DCI Flanagan to work out if there has been foul play or not. Secondly, the lover is a priest. Neville plays all this out while DCI Flanagan struggles to keep her family together while giving her job the dedication she knows it requires.

I never thought a crime novel without a central mystery could be so tense and page-turning. I surprised myself a number of times with how much I got sucked into this novel. The way Neville explores the burden placed on a detective is superb and an angle that has fallen into cliché in too many other crime novels. The tension of the story also builds unawares, on both sides of the story, as Neville tells the story from both the detective and the killers’ points of view with completely different tension on both sides that all comes to a dramatic head by the end of the novel.

Those Left Behind was an outstanding piece of crime fiction. Unfortunately as the story dealt with two teenage boys handselling the book proved a challenge. Hopefully with this new book passionate crime readers will discover a fantastic new series that is doing things in the crime genre few others are attempting and fewer still are able to pull off. If you haven’t read Stuart Neville yet now is the time to start.

Last year I called Stuart Neville’s Those We Left Behind “a true hallmark of the genre,” and have spent the months since its release desperate to read his next. You know what it’s like when the shadow of an absolutely brilliant crime novel casts over subsequent books in your reading stack: oh, there’s stuff there you’ll enjoy, but nothing quite matches up to the quality of that effervescent goliath.  So when an ARC of the second Serena Flanagan novel dropped in my lap, it was very much a case of drop everything and read! Expectations were high — hyperbolic, in fact — and I felt a slight twinge that I’d placed too much of a burden on Neville’s shoulders. I hadn’t, though. Like its predecessor, So Say the Fallen is a brilliant crime novel, and further underlines Stuart Neville’s credentials as one of the best contemporary crime writers.

When So Say the Fallen opens, DCI Serena Flanagan is still dealing with the fallout from her last major case, detailed in Those We Left Behind (which I won’t delve into here – this is a safe place, readers, free from spoilers). Suffice to say, her home life is suffering as a result, and the breakdown of her marriage seems imminent. The new case thrust into her hands doesn’t appear to have the same significance: a severely disabled local businessman has committed suicide, and Flanagan is called to the scene to sign off on the cause of death. The scene is clean, and all evidence points to suicide – but something about the businessman’s widow troubles Flanagan. So too the edginess of the reverend, with whom the widow is suspiciously close to. Despite the wishes of her superiors, Flanagan digs deeper, unravelling the tragedies that have plagued the widow’s life — and eventually the cold, dark truth.

9780099578383 (1)Faith plays an integral role in So Say the Fallen —both the reverend’s, and Flanagan’s — and it’s a theme that is explored with incredible deftness. I’m always wary of being preached to when religion pops up in books, but nothing like that is evident here; it’s beautifully unobtrusive, and adds a new layer to Neville’s protagonist. At multiple points during this story, Flanagan finds herself questioning her path, and trying to fill a void in her life: faith in a higher power would go some way to restoring her. It’s not as cut-and-dried as that, of course – but I truly admire Neville’s willingness to dive into the subject.

In terms of narrative structure, So Say the Fallen isn’t so much a whodunit — we know the truth, or at least shades of it, very early on in the piece —but an extrapolation of motive. Indeed, motive is the driving force behind the novel, as Neville seeks to answer what inspires Flanagan to put her life on the line – and the sanctity of her family – every single day; why does the reverend continue to preach, given the dissipation of his own faith; why would a disabled businessman, who had apparently accepted his fate, suddenly decide to end his own life? This is less a novel of who, but rather, why. And it offers a nice change of pace from the archetypal mysteries clogging bookstore shelves.

So Say the Fallen is a damn fine novel, blending high personal stakes and character depth alongside traditional genre elements. Without question it will rank as one of the best crime novels I read this year. Anything that tops it will have to absolutely blow my socks off. It’s really that good.

Buy So Say the Fallen Here…

Buy Those We Left Behind Here…