Review: Holding Up The Universe by Jennifer Niven

9780385755924I was so incredibly excited to read Holding Up the Universe by Jennifer Niven! One of my most favourite books in the world is her YA Debut, All The Bright Places, which managed to reduce me to a howling mess of adoration, feels, and awareness about mental health matters. I was a bit nervous that Holding Up The Universe would destroy me or not live up to All The Bright Places. And you know what? It was different. And that’s okay! There was still feels, epic dialogue, and some sweet moments that absolutely melted my heart. It featured two teens who were struggling with life, who weren’t perfect, who had a lot to learn, and yet were so relatable I just wanted to squish them with hugs. I am 100% of the opinion that a good book makes you feel things. All stars of approval for Holding Up the Universe!

I feel like a big message of the book was about “being seen”. It’s equal parts about Libby (who was once known as the “fattest teen in America”) and Jack (who has prosopagnosia which is a disability that renders you unable to recognise facial features). I loved the storyline! It was so poignant and beautifully written. Here’s these two teens who have a very rocky meeting (aka they nearly get each other expelled) but slowly learn to stop making assumptions about people and listen. And give second chances. It impressed me so much honestly! I also adored all the messages of self worth and love and acceptance that were woven through the book!

Brief List Of Other Things I Loved:

  • There are so many references to the TV show of Supernatural! Of which I am a ginormous fan so thank you for all that nerdom!
  • There is a lot of dancing. Dancing everywhere! Dancing whether people think you’re good at it or not! Dancing because it makes you happy!
  • There is diverse representation of size and skin colour and disabilities.
  • Jack has a gorgeous afro and has an epic love for it that made my day.
  • There is self-love for one’s body, no matter what the size.


And the characters?! I loved them! Jack was my absolutely favourite, but it took me longer to warm up to Libby, as she speaks and thinks all the right things, but when it comes down to it…she body shames herself. She’s still overweight but not dangerously so like she was when they had to lift her out of her house in a crane. She also has a bit of a self-righteous attitude. But you know what?? She’s been through a lot! She lost her mother, she nearly died, and now she’s doing her best to show the world you should love yourself. THE END. No exceptions.

I just felt Jack was a pure and precious cinnamon roll. And yes his decisions in the book often absolutely sucked. He hadn’t been diagnosed with prosopagnosia so he basically felt he was falling apart, that he was crazy or broken. Since he’s “face blind” it really freaks him out that he can’t tell people apart. In a room full of kids, he can’t even pick out his own brother. I could feel his fright and anxiety on every page and I just rooted for him to discover having a disability is not shameful and doesn’t make him broken. The book handled it all so well! I can only applaud!

This is definitely a powerful story with really important themes and messages. I also couldn’t stop reading! The chapters are short and punchy and the characters are relatable and precious. What more can one want?!


Review: Police at the Station and they Don’t Look Friendly by Adrian McKinty

Book 6 in the Sean Duffy “trilogy” is an absolute cracker. Each book in this series has gotten better and better and when you consider at what level he kicked the series off with The Cold, Cold Ground that is saying something.

It is 1989 and Sean Duffy must tackle his most complex case yet. A drug dealer has been shot and killed in Belfast. On the surface there is nothing startling about the case in a city where drug patches are drawn along sectarian lines and those that crossover to the wrong patch are swiftly and violently dealt with. However what makes this case different is that the murder weapon is a crossbow. In a country flooded with illegal guns, someone has taken the trouble of using a crossbow to kill their victim. Duffy’s interest is piqued but he is quickly stonewalled by witnesses and the victim’s wife who all know to keep their mouths shut and a murder weapon that is seemingly untraceable. With his new family, the media, special branch and even an IRA hit squad after him something might finally snap for Sean Duffy, that is unless he does what he does best, which is use his wits to fight back.

I have to say I think the Sean Duffy series has to now be ranked as one of the best crime series of all time. How this isn’t a mega-bestseller around the world is beyond me. This is an outstanding series on so many levels; plot, characters, politics, history to name just a few. Once again McKinty keeps the humour deliciously black and has you guessing until the final pages. I was instantly lost in this book and began to dread the book’s ending once I had read beyond the halfway point. I love Sean Duffy as a character and did not want the book to end and I do not want this series to end. Fingers crossed Sean Duffy makes it into the 1990s.

If the previous Sean Duffy novels earned Adrian McKinty the right to belly up to the bar alongside Ian Rankin, Michael Connelly, and the other contemporary crime writing greats, Police at the Station and They Don’t Look Friendly guarantees his place at the table forevermore. This is a sophisticated, stylish and engrossing crime thriller, which rips along at a cracking pace, and packs more twists and turns than a street map of Belfast. Not to mention the heart-stopping climax…

Belfast 1988: a drug dealer is found murdered in front of his house, killed with a bolt from a crossbow. Sean Duffy, of the Royal Ulster Constabulary, is called to investigate. Now a family man – girlfriend and baby daughter living at home – Duffy is initially grateful to be working a homicide; something a tad spicier than his recent fare. But solving this case leads Duffy to a confrontation with the dangerous villains he’s ever faced; the kind who won’t just be satisfied ending his life, but those he cares for most deeply. Duffy remains a superbly drawn character, sardonic yet assured, and now struggling to cope with his new responsibilities as a father.

McKinty writes laconic, sophisticated, well-paced thrillers, and Police at the Station and They Don’t Look Friendly is his most refined novel yet. Some authors make you laugh; others make you gasp. McKinty can do both, usually in the space of a couple of paragraphs. His latest is multifaceted, layered, and intense – the kind of novel you’ll blow through in one sitting.

In the past, when interrogated on my favourite crime writers by friends, family, and indeed customers at Pages & Pages, I’ve always said McKinty is up there with the best writers in the business. With Police at the Station and They Don’t Look Friendly he has set down a potentially unsurpassable marker.

Buy the book here…

2016 – The year that was

2016! What a year! Many people view it as one of the worst in recent history, with the death of numerous influential celebrities and some worldwide political craziness. And in a lot of ways, it certainly was. But, personally, on the book front, it was a pretty awesome year for me. I read some damn fine novels. And I had a few books published. So here is my literary take on the year that was.


It was a good year of reading for me. I read lots of stuff for research, lots of stuff to my daughters and lots of stuff for my own pleasure. So here is my list of favourite 2016 reads…

Favourite children’s book

Wormwood Mire by Judith Rossell (read my review in Words and Pictures)

The second of the Victorian-set Stella Montgomery Intrigues, it follows on from Withering-by-Sea (2014). I loved the first book, but I like this one even better. I can only hope there will be more in this series.

9780733333002 9780733333019

Favourite Young Adult book

Gemina by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff.

This is the second book in the epic, game-changing Illuminae Files series. Using a dossier of documents, rather than the traditional novel narrative, these books are mind-blowingly amazing. Loved the first book (read my review in 2 Awesome YA Books). Dare I say it… I loved this one even more. It maintains the approach of the first, but extends it, adding extracts from an illustrated journal into the mix. There is a whole bunch of new characters, as well as some returning from the first book. There’s not much more I can say, except… Wow! Just… WOW!

9781101916629 9781780749815

Favourite Grown-up Book

Okay, I’ll be honest here… I hardly read any grown-up books in 2016. I mostly read stuff for kids and teens. But there are two books that really stood out.

Not Just a Piece of Cake: Being an Author by Hazel Edwards

This one was actually published in 2015 (I was just a little late in getting around to it). This is a memoir rather than an autobiography, by one of Australia’s best loved and most respected children’s authors. It’s an excellent read for anyone interested in the behind-the-scenes of a writing career. It’s also wonderfully personal and engaging. Loved it!

And then there was this book from 2009 (okay, so I was a lot late with this one)…

Patient Zero by Jonathan Maberry

A hard-edged, fast-paced techno-thriller with terrorists, bio-weapons, zombies and a special ops government agency called The Department of Military Sciences. It’s the first book in a series, which follows the adventures of Joe Ledger – a cop who goes to work for The Department of Military Sciences. I’ll definitely be reading the rest of the series.

I have mini-review of both these books here.

thumb_cover_not_just_a_piece_of_cake_jpg 9780575086937

9781742378527Favourite comic/graphic novel

Yet another book from 2015 that I didn’t get around to reading until 2016…

KidGlovz, written by Julie Hunt, illustrated by Dale Newman

A clear winner for me. An extraordinary graphic novel about a musical prodigy on a journey of self-discovery. (read my review in Words and Pictures)

sparkFavourite picture book

Another very clear winner…

Spark, written by Adam Wallace, illustrated by Andrew Plant.

A perfect harmony of words and pictures. [Read my review: This picture book is on FIRE!]

Favourite media tie-in book

Spoilt for choice this year. I simply could not make a decision. Go read my post about media tie-in book instead.

Overall Favourite Book

[insert drum roll]

Gemina by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff.


2016 was great year for me as a writer. Books 11 and 12 in the YOU CHOOSE series were published – Extreme Machine Challenge and In the Realm of Dragons. There was also a new four-book series about the Royal Flying Doctor Service. And my first picture book ­ Meet… the Flying Doctors. I had stories in several anthologies (which you can read about here), including Dog Stories, Cat Stories and A Toy Christmas. Topping it all off was my fan-boy highlight… a story in THE X-FILES: Secret Agendas.


Hand in hand with the writing, was speaking about writing – school visits, library talks and festival appearances. I had a total of 116 sessions over the course of 35 school visits, 7 festivals/seminars/conferences and 2 promo tours. You can read about some of my favourite experiences in these blog posts:

Oh, and I won an Honour Award at the KOALAs for You Choose: Alien Invaders From Beyond the Stars. 🙂 Here’s my schlocky alien invasion acceptance vid…

2017 is already shaping up to be an extraordinary year. More reading! More writing! More speaking! I’ll be sure to blog about some of it. Onwards and upwards!

Catch ya later, George

PS. Follow me on Twitter

Check out my DVD blog, Viewing Clutter.

thedeepLatest Post: DVD Review  — The Deep: Monsters & Myths




A Little Piece of Australiana – Picture Book Reviews

Paying acknowledgement to our ‘great southern land’ today on Australia Day with a few true blue Aussie picture books, their dinky-di characters and beaut landscapes. There is a lot to love about this unique nation. What does Australia mean to you?

imageRow, Row, Row Your Boat, Scholastic Australia (text), Matt Shanks (illus.), Scholastic Australia, 2016.

Putting a spin on the old classic nursery rhyme, with the gorgeous integration of some of our favourite wildlife animals, is the Aussie version ofRow, Row, Row Your Boat. Charmly illustrated by Matthew Shanks, this short and sweet story takes its enthusiastic preschool readers on a river ride adventure full of excitement and surprise.

Life is certainly a dream rowing your boat gently down the serene, native-laced stream. With each stroke, we are greeted by another animal doing their characteristically natural thing in their landscape. A sleeping koala, a squeaking bandicoot, a sword-wielding piratey platypus, and a laughing kookaburra all feature in the fun rhyme. But it is the entertaining illustrations that really tell the story. Look out for the inconspicuous crocodile throughout, as well as the funny story taking place in (and out of) the boat!

Row, Row, Row Your Boat is an endearing and energetic Aussie-flavoured book that will have its audience captured from start to finish, over and over again.

imageDon’t Call Me Bear, Aaron Blabey (author, illus.), Scholastic Australia, 2016.

Here’s a little piece of Australiana that us locals all know about…right?! For poor Warren, it seems like a serious case of mistaken identity. You see, Warren is a koala, not a ‘bear’, and he goes to every length to justify himself.

True to the authentic Blabey-style, here is a sarcastic and cringe-worthy yet surreptitiously loveable rhyming tale that is full of energy and laugh-out-loud moments. Warren explains how it all started with the stupidity of Captain Cook and his pioneers claiming to have found a ‘bear’, but in fact, he is a member of the common marsupial family (see the very scientific chart). Actual bears from around the globe are examined, and when Warren thinks he’s finally broken through, it is his own Aussie counterparts who still don’t quite ‘get it’.

Don’t Call Me Bear is a colourful book of a colourful character, and through its quirkiness and craziness, could be a great opener for studies on history of The First Fleet and the biology of Australian animals. ‘Bear-iffic’ for children from age four.

imageWhy is that Emu Wearing One Red Shoe?, John Field (author and lyrics), David Legge (illus.), Scholastic Australia, 2016.

Written and performed on the bonus CD by John Field, and with digitally mastered illustrations by David Legge is the farcical performance of an emu on a mission; Why is that Emu Wearing One Red Shoe?.

Listening to the music certainly makes for a lively experience, but reading the story aloud is just as exuberant. With each rollicking verse, another group of creatures join the parade as they follow and wonder “why was that emu wearing one red shoe?”. Soon enough the media become involved, and after a bustling train ride and some questionable speculations, the answer is finally disclosed, and it’s really not as complicated as made out in this huge hullabaloo.

The textural and life-like quality of the mixed media illustrations perfectly suit the energy and movement of the fast pace and the feel that this is a live, broadcast event. Why is that Emu Wearing One Red Shoe is an action-packed comedy that will have preschoolers hopping and bouncing and jiving from head to shoe.

imageColours of Australia, Bronwyn Bancroft (author, illus.), Little Hare Books, 2016.

Colouring our sensory world with all the shades of the rainbow is the beautifully transcendening Colours of Australia.

Bronwyn Bancroft, member of the Bundjalung Nation, spoils us with her outstanding talents as she leads us through a bright, texturally and lyrically entrancing venture across the land. From white diamonds spilling across the sky, to an explosion of red sunrise and vivid dances, orange ochre shapes protruding from ancient foundations, orbs of sun light and green velvet cloaks of hills, and finally, blue fingers of sky drawing the day to an indigo close.

Bancroft brilliantly incorporates the beauty of trademark landscapes and features of Australia’s stunning earth, with her equally poetic-style narrative and mesmerising Indigenous-quality illustrations, that all literally dance off the pages. Colours of Australia; wonderfully whimsical and evocative to connect readers with our astonishing country, and to reinforce sustainability and the highest respect to the Aboriginal people and their culture.


See Dimity‘s lists of great Australian books here and here.

Doodles and Drafts – Nick Earls reveals his Top Secrets

word-hunters-and-nick-earlsA few years ago, I had the supreme pleasure of joining a world of word nuts who allowed me to accompany them on hair-raising adventures through time and reason; I discovered the Word Hunters – a trilogy of etymological enigmas by author Nick Earls and illustrator, Terry Whidborne. I carry on a bit about the awesomeness of their series, here. Although Word Hunters is more than satisfying and a dozen other superlatives to boot, I was left wanting more as many exhilarating experiences are wont to make you feel. And so, the trilogy has expanded with the launch of the Top Secret Files.

Top Secret Files is a sort of compendium of loosely connected thoughts and verbal exploration. It’s a journal of notes and taste bud temptations. It’s an explanation of even more philology through brief crisp narrative and pages of eye-catching sketches, drawings, and diagrams. It’s the journal of the great word hunter, Caractacus entrusted to the ancient librarian, Mursili who perhaps a little misguidedly assigns it back to our dauntless duo, Earls and Whidborne.

Today we have the auspicious pleasure of welcoming Nick Earls to the draft table to learn a little more about the custodian of the Word Hunters and how he is dealing with his Top Secret Files.

nick-earls-2017Welcome Nick!

Who is Nick Earls? Describe your writerly self.

Twenty-six books into the job, he’s an unkempt work in progress, growing into the thought lines etched deep into his forehead and still trying to get better each time he writes.

In a former life, your quest was to serve and protect or at least, make people feel better. How does your current occupational goal as a writer compare?

I now wear my underpants on the inside and don’t have a cape. Each job hinges on a connection with people. In medicine, it’s getting to understand them on their terms, so that the story they tell makes as much sense as possible. In writing the kind of fiction I mostly do, it’s about tapping into characters who, when read, feel as though they can’t have been made up. With Word Hunters there are other objectives too – there’s an adventure to be had and a world of mind-blowing words facts to play around with. My goal as the writer of this series is to entertain, but also be part of opening minds to the possibilities of history and the fascinating workings of the language. It’s too easy to fall into the habit of saying that English is a crazy language that makes no sense, but the more you grasp its 1500-year history (plus some back-story) the more sense it ends up making. And the more powerfully you can use it. ‘Night’ and ‘light’, for instance, aren’t spelled that way by chance, or because someone threw darts at a board – there’s a reason for it, and a really interesting one (featuring a now-lost letter), so we wrote about that in the new book.

wisdom-tree-novellasName three titles you have created that you are particularly proud of and why.

It’s not a thing I feel about anything I write. Which doesn’t mean I think it’s all awful – it’s just that ‘pride’ isn’t really the feeling. I love the process of exploring the story and its characters, and how they’ll all work, and then the job of working hard to get the details right and delivering them in a compelling way. If someone gets it, I feel good. It feels as if all that work was worth sharing. Okay, one example: Gotham, the first novella in the Wisdom Tree series. I had two story ideas that I wanted to give to one character, and I thought I could make them work together in an interesting way. So, the first two acts are essentially one of those story ideas, with seeds being sewn for the third, then act three really takes you somewhere, delivers something (I hope) you’re not expecting, and also casts new light on the earlier part of the story. It’s worked just as I hoped it would for quite a lot of people now, and I have to admit that’s gratifying, since I love it when fiction works that way in my head.

top-secret-files-word-huntersIt’s been nearly three and a half years since the Word Hunter series hit our bookshelves. Was a follow up compendium like Top Secret Files always on the cards? If not, what evoked the idea and need for it?

It was Terry’s idea, and he put it to me when we were driving between two schools, doing our live Word Hunters show when the third book came out in 2013. He wanted to do something more visual and less dependent on a big new narrative, and he wanted to explore some of the gadgets we’d included. In that conversation, I realised I’d found some excellent word stuff that I hadn’t been able to include in the other three books, and we came up with the idea of a kind of manual, or ‘a compendium of devices and methods’ as Caractacus rather self-importantly puts it. Living in the Dark Ages and seeing the consequence of knowledge loss, Caractacus puts a premium on knowledge and, unlike the rest of us, has a pipeline to the future. So, this is him trying to keep track of the info future word hunters bring back to him, some of which he adapts for use in his own time. Some of that presented a fascinating challenge. In book three, he’s created lightweight 21st-century ceramic armour for the hunters to fight in, and for Top Secret Files I had to work out how it was made, then work out how to adapt that to processes someone could use on a Dark Ages pig farm. I have to say, that stretched me. Then we paired that with the fun activity of making your own medieval armour from cardboard, using the fascinating terms for each piece.

What can Word Hunter fans expect from Top Secret Files?

Expect the unexpected. You’ll come out of this dressed in armour from the 15th century, making bread from 3000 years ago and able to navigate using the Ancient Phoenician alphabet (or, more correctly, abjad). And who doesn’t want that set of awesome skills? You’ll also understand why we score tennis the way we do, where cricket fielding positions got their names, and how our alphabet found twelve new letters and lost nine of them!

Top Secret Files reads as a combination of loose jaunty exchanges and solid historical fact. At times if feels even more revealing and fantastical than the Word Hunters storylines. (Are all those words that couldn’t be saved as part of the English language real? Sorry had to ask; I’m too lazy to research every groke, fudgel, and curglaff) Why did you choose this style of delivery over straightforward narrative?

Some of the most improbable things in the book are true including, yes, those words that couldn’t be saved (even the one that involves doing a distinctly weird thing to a part of a horse that’s best left alone …). When I was tunnelling around for material, I wanted the facts to be weirder than the fiction, so that the fiction seems all the more plausible.

We had this kind of style in mind from the start, for two reasons. First, not having to build a massive narrative to slip in one brilliant word fact gave us licence to include lots more stuff and focus on it. It would have taken several more of the original books and a lot of complicated storytelling to have created opportunities to use everything we got to use here. Also, Terry was very mindful of creating a different way into the word hunters’ world. This was deliberately compact, really visual and in short sections (with an overarching concept but not an overarching narrative) to provide a way into the world for kids not immediately drawn to 40-60,000 words of narrative.

We wanted to make the original three books accessible by telling the most engrossing time-travel adventure story we could, but this book is designed to increase the accessibility even more. We wanted to create something for, say, 9-10-year-old boys not yet hooked by reading big stories (while at the same time offering fascinating content for people who are). If they get into this, maybe they’ll pick up book one, and then book two and book three. And by the end of that, maybe they’ll have felt that buzz in their head that only books can put there, and they’ll want more. I got into reading as a kid, but Terry didn’t, and this is Terry coming up with the kind of book he thinks might have made a difference to him at that age.

word-hunter-sketchesIllustrator, Terry Whidborne receives equal airplay alongside you, Lexi and Al throughout this journal. What was the dynamic like working with him? How did it influence and or benefit this production?

Terry’s great. We met working on an advertising campaign in 2002. We’re friends and I’m also in awe of his skills as an artist – another reason to do this book: I want publishers and others to see just how talented Terry is.

We each bring very different things to a book like this, and I think that helps make us a great team. We also had a very clear shared vision of what we wanted the end result to be. And it was always clear that we would have the freedom to suggest possible topics to each other, and throw in ideas to get the other one thinking. Terry would say things like, ‘I reckon there would be some kind of portal-sniffing device,’ and I’d have to rummage around for the science to sort-of back it up.

And I’d often say, about something I was working on, ‘I don’t know what this looks like – could you show me?’ and he would. Or I’d say, ‘here’s some great content I want to use, but how do we make it visual?’ and Terry would say, ‘How about a map?’

And he’d hide small things and see if I’d find them. Once you find, say, the ink smudge that’s also a map of Iceland – in context – you realise this book has more Easter eggs than Coles in March. It’s a slim book, but there are about a zillion tiny details in there, and they reveal themselves in different ways.

What inspires you to include or exclude words for discussion in the Word Hunter books? What external forces such as travel for example, influence your writing direction?

This time, I got the chance to use things that had amazed me, but that I wasn’t in a position to devote 20,000 words of narrative to. So, that was fun.

It was very interesting plotting the big story that runs across the first three books, and that create the world that the Top Secret Diary lives in. I needed each of the first three books to be an entire satisfying story, but also part of a whole, and I knew each one would feature three word quests. I also knew I wanted to follow a bunch of different pathways – English is what it is because of that – so I needed a mix of Germanic and Norman French/Latin words and words with very different origins. And I needed to get the characters to certain places at certain times to tell the big story we were telling. That was an awesome puzzle to try to solve. In the case of the last word in book three, I decided I needed something that would take us to the earliest-known book in English, link with an epic Dark Ages battle and get there via Shakespeare and one other interesting step. No easy task. I got there though.

Whose genius was it to include the interactive app, LAYAR for kids to utilise? Do you think this is the way of future storytelling?

That was Terry. The moment he discovered LAYAR, I got fanatical about it. It’s perfect for this book. Perfect. Again, it’s a great way in for someone not rushing to read lots of text, but for whom the idea of using a gadget to reveal hidden content appeals. And no one had more potential hidden content than me. I instantly knew it’d add massively to the reading experience, and I’d get to use a lot more great stuff.

Is it the way of future storytelling? It’s part of it, I’m sure. Technology gives us more tools than we’ve ever had. We just have to be smart enough to use them judiciously. LAYAR would be a gimmick or a distraction for some things, but it’s ideal for this.

On a scale of Never-Do-It-Again to Most-Exhilarating-Audience-To-Write-For-Ever!, how do you rate writing for tween readers? What is most appealing about writing for this age group?

I’m still learning, I think. I’m maybe a more natural writer for adults, but with the right material, time and smart editing, I can end up with something that works for the tween brain, and I’m getting closer to some of the techniques becoming instinctive. Two things are massively appealing about this age group. It’s a huge buzz when a kid comes up to you and raves about their Word Hunters experience and starts sharing some great etymology they’ve dug up. There’s a 9, 10, 11, 12-year-old whose grasp of English, you know, has been altered for the better. I love that. The other thing I really love is going round the schools and doing Word Hunters events. We’ve come up with a show that we can do together or solo that includes loads of visuals, props, games and a lot of noise, and It’s way more fun doing it than I ever thought. Every time I front up to a school with all my Word Hunters’ gear, I’m excited.

word-hunters-the-lost-huntersNow that you and Terry have been entrusted with Caractacus’ archive of Word Huntery (and really really interesting recipes!) thanks to Mursili, and blatantly ignoring all warnings to the contrary, have exposed it to the world, what plans do you and Terry have for the journal? Are more copies likely to appear? In short, what is on the draft table for Nick?

I have a PhD to finish, so no new fiction this year, but in the meantime, I want to make the most of the new material we’ve added to our show and take it around the place. I know that’s technically part of the job, because it might sell some books, but I actually want to do it because of the fun we can have and because of the way it opens a roomful of minds to the prospect of actually looking at our language and how it works, understanding it better and ultimately using it with greater power than most of us grew up being able to. I’ll also be putting in some effort to avoid the wrath of Caractacus. He’s not one to understand that this stuff was just too good to keep hidden.

Just for fun question (there’s always one): Describe a guilty pleasure (of yours) incorporating three words that did not exist before the last century.

Brilliant question. I’ll go as recent as I can. I regularly google (2001, as a verb) idle factoids (1973, invented by Norman Mailer, though the meaning has evolved since) using Bluetooth (1997).

Super! Thanks Nick.

If you reside in Queensland,  you can catch Nick and Terry putting in some effort to avoid Caractacus’ wrath and share their Top Secrets at one of this year’s Book Link QLD’s Romancing the Stars events during March. For details on where they will be appearing (there are Brisbane, Gold Coast and Sunshine Coast venues), and how to book, visit the Book Links site, here.

The Word Hunters Series including the Top Secret Files is available, here.

UQP December 2016

YA Books About Amnesia

In my enthusiastic career as a devourer of all things YA, I’ve discovered amnesia is a very popular theme in a lot of books! It can add so many elements of mystery to a novel, since you can’t tell if what the unreliable narrator is thinking is true or false. It also gets one’s heart beating tenderly to think of these people who have huge holes in their lives due to memory loss. Will they get their memories back? Will there be epic plot twists? What is it like to live with this disability?

Today I have a list of YA books that feature characters with anmesia!

9781760111069WE WERE LIARS


This is definitely one of the most small but brilliant books I’ve ever read. It’s the kind you go into with the “knowing less is best” motto. The plot twist at the end is the most devastating and yet brilliant thing ever and I think I sat like a shocked turtle for 9 years after I finished reading it.

It also features rich kids on an island and a disturbing summer and secrets that you’ll never possibly guess the answers to.

9781908435132THE MAZE RUNNER


This is of course an exceptionally famous series! It features Thomas, who has been forced into a dystopian maze for…well, who knows? He has no memories except this metal box he arrives in the maze in. It’s a confusing story, full of plot twists and intrigue. It also features a group of boys fighting for their lives in a monstrous maze that sends monsters and other horrors out at them. Chances of everyone surviving? BASICALLY NO.



This book has only just been released so it is still a small baby book just out in the world! It’s about Flora who has short-term-memory problems (basically like being a teen with dementia) after an operation to remove a tumour from her brain. She remembers nothing consistently until she’s kissed by a boy…and then begins her journey to find him again when he disappears into the Arctic. The prose sometimes goes in circles to represent Flora’s confused thinking patterns and I thought it was a realistic and excellent way to represent what Flora was going through.

9781408877807THE LEAVING


This one is about a group of teens who were kidnapped when they were small children. Years later they’ve returned, now as teens but with no memory of where they went or what happened to them. At first it’s joy that people get to put their families back together…and then it’s mistrust because who knows if these kids are telling the truth? It’s a rather heartbreaking book as kids have to learn who they were again and solve the mystery of their amnesia.



This is by an extremely excellent and talented and underrated author, and I suggest checking out all her books ASAP. This book features Molly Pierce (surprise!) who keeps blacking out and waking up in places she has no idea how she got there. She feels like her life is unravelling and she’s freaking out over how and why she has these random bursts of amnesia. Then a boy appears and claims they know each other and Molly discovers her life is absolutely not what it seems.

Bugs, Trains and Dragon Tales – Picture Books for Starting School

Starting school for a new year is definitely a big transition for most kids (and parents). Learning new routines, new skills, ways of managing change and making new friendships are all a part of the progression towards a happy and healthy school life. The following few picture books deal with these themes, friendship in particular, and will have your little ones starting the year with fresh and open eyes (and hearts).

imageMolly and Mae, Danny Parker (author), Freya Blackwood (illus.), Little Hare Books, October 2016.

Friendships are not always straightforward. Just like a train journey, there are bumps, bends, fun moments and impatient moments. Divinely structured text by Danny Parker, together with brilliant illustrator, Freya Blackwood, magically represent the adventure of ‘friendship’ via two girls travelling side by side through a countryside train ride.

Beginning on the platform, Molly and Mae giggle and play as they wait for the train to arrive. Beautifully rendered warming and cooling tones perfectly contrast with one another to create the backdrop for the long, scenic landscape pages as we travel through each moment, and emotion, of the trip. From excitement to boredom, frustration to solitary dreariness, forgiveness and absolution, the illustrations perfectly portray the bond between Molly and Mae, which inevitably reaches the distance.

Gorgeously rich and evocative in every sense, Molly and Mae is an enchanting voyage of the ups, downs, ins and outs of relationships; sweet, thought-provoking and heartwarming all at the same time. A wonderful book for children from age four.

imageMy Friend Ernest, Emma Allen (author), Hannah Sommerville (illus.), HarperCollinsPublishers, February 2016.

Another story exploring the complexities of friendship is My Friend Ernest. Oscar tries to be brave when he begins at his new school, with knight helmet and sword in full attire. But he is challenged at every turn when a kid with freckles, dressed as a dragon, bares his teeth and tramples on Oscar’s sandcastle. The battle between knight and dragon is finally surrendered when both boys admit they’re not as brave as they had planned for. Finding common ground is the ultimate solution and the boys share imaginative role play experiences together as new friends.

With gentle narrative written from Oscar’s point of view, and equally soft colours and textures in the illustrations, My Friend Ernest is an encouraging tale of overcoming initial discrepancies and building confidence when forming new friendships. Perfect for early years students in any new situation.

imageTwig, Aura Parker (author, illus.), Scholastic Australia, November 2016.

There is no camouflage when it comes to the gorgeousness of this book. Its messages of teamwork, compassion and friendship are clear, as is the sweetness of the whimsical illustrations in every minute little detail.

Finding the new girl, stick insect Heidi amongst the tall trees and scuttling of hundreds of tiny insect feet is no easy task, but a fun one for its readers, nonetheless. However, for Heidi, being invisible to her classmates makes for a lonely, dispiriting starting-school experience. Finally being discovered by others proves to be equally about self discovery and expression, and a beautifully-weaved gift from her new friends helps Heidi to bloom in full vibrancy.

Twig; an enchanting and gentle book for preschoolers and school starters to explore their own self identity and confidence when approaching new experiences, as well as an engaging and eye-catching story of hidden, ‘creepy-crawly’ gems and counting fun.

imageThe Ballad of Henry Hoplingsea, Julia Hubery (author), Lucia Masciullo (illus.), Little Hare Books, September 2016.

Talk about dedication! This young farmer would do anything for his princess, going as far as the farthest lands to prove he can be the bravest, most heroic knight that his princess desires. But Henry Hoplingsea soon realises that this life of swords and slaying is not what his own heart desires, for his passion still lies in a simple life with his love. And fortunately for Henry, his princess has had a change of heart, too. Maybe there’s still some room for a ‘spark’ of excitement!

The Ballad of Henry Hoplingsea is a sweet and romantic tale of making sacrifices for the ones you care about, following one’s heart and appreciating what you have. Rich and meaningful, full of warmth and energy, both in the text and illustrations, this book is an insightful example for early years children of tenaciousness and relationships.


Review: Radio Silence by Alice Oseman

Radio Silence by Alice Oseman was just an incredibly book that I fell absolutely in love with! But the entire story was so so relatable with its themes of teens not knowing what to do with their life, struggling with anxiety, being super stressed over school, and being total geeks and nerds of the internet. This book knows what it is to be a teen! And it sums everything up so beautiful and amazingly I can only clutch the novel and feel so very happy.

9780007559244The story is about Frances who has two interests: (1) be the best of her school and get into Cambridge University, and (2) be absolutely obsessed with a youtube podcast, called Radio Silence, and accidentally met and befriend its secretive creator: Aled. Frances and Aled used to know each other as kids but they drifted apart…and now Frances discovers she’s her ex-friend’s biggest fan?! The world is small. Teeny tiny, basically. The two have an amazing summer of creativity and the best friendship I’ve ever read. But obviously happiness can’t last and this book would rather have your heart broken. There is betrayal, emotional manipulation, missing people, accidents that ruin everything, and teens falling apart as the stresses of pre-uni-entrance mount up.

The characters were definitely a highlight for me. Everything from France’s dorkiness to Aled’s love of the internet. And plus they all wear the most fabulous clothes you have ever heard of. We’re talking about Monsters Inc leggings and unicorn shirts here. And the way the fandom life sneaked into all the pages just made my own fangirl heart continue the rabid flailing it’s been doing since the dawn of time. Plus I found all the characters so relatable and unique and complex!

I’m also a big fan of how the story focused on friendship first and foremost. A non-romantic relationship between a boy and a girl? YES PLEASE.

I’m also so pleased with the amount of diversity diversity representation here. Frances is biracial Ethiopian/caucasian. Aled has anxiety (probably also depression). And most of the characters are queer with bisexual, gay, and asexual characters featuring.

And shout out to Frances’ mum who was actually an awesome parent. Finding epic parents in YA books isn’t like…easy. So it was absolutely lovely to have France’s mum be (A) supporting, (B) geeky too, (C) wear a unicorn onesie, and (D) help out with the kids’ schemes when they needed it.

30628062The whole book was just so realistic. They stopped being characters and just became amazing people you could imagine meeting on the street.

At 500-pages I thought it might not have enough plot to keep me glued to the page. But I was wrong! (Obviously. Everything about this book is perfect.) It’s about being yourself and also discovering what it means to be yourself. It’s also about creating art and being an unapologetic fangirl. There’s also a mystery behind Aled’s disappearing sister (who used to be the crush of Frances’ life) and a subplot of Aled’s emotionally abusive mother. Then there’s like random sleepovers and discussions and midnight math sessions and SNACK BREAKS and everything an epic and beautiful friendship should include. I didn’t want the story to end.

This is a definitely the kind of book anyone facing highschool will relate to. And anyone who likes tumblr and fandom life. And anyone who’s ever felt alone and alienated. Basically: everyone should read it. Probably yesterday.


Review: Police at the Station and they Don’t Look Friendly by Adrian McKinty

Book 6 in the Sean Duffy “trilogy” is an absolute cracker. Each book in this series has gotten better and better and when you consider at what level he kicked the series off with The Cold, Cold Ground that is saying something.

It is 1989 and Sean Duffy must tackle his most complex case yet. A drug dealer has been shot and killed in Belfast. On the surface there is nothing startling about the case in a city where drug patches are drawn along sectarian lines and those that crossover to the wrong patch are swiftly and violently dealt with. However what makes this case different is that the murder weapon is a crossbow. In a country flooded with illegal guns, someone has taken the trouble of using a crossbow to kill their victim. Duffy’s interest is piqued but he is quickly stonewalled by witnesses and the victim’s wife who all know to keep their mouths shut and a murder weapon that is seemingly untraceable. With his new family, the media, special branch and even an IRA hit squad after him something might finally snap for Sean Duffy, that is unless he does what he does best, which is use his wits to fight back.

I have to say I think the Sean Duffy series has to now be ranked as one of the best crime series of all time. How this isn’t a mega-bestseller around the world is beyond me. This is an outstanding series on so many levels; plot, characters, politics, history to name just a few. Once again McKinty keeps the humour deliciously black and has you guessing until the final pages. I was instantly lost in this book and began to dread the book’s ending once I had read beyond the halfway point. I love Sean Duffy as a character and did not want the book to end and I do not want this series to end. Fingers crossed Sean Duffy makes it into the 1990s.

If the previous Sean Duffy novels earned Adrian McKinty the right to belly up to the bar alongside Ian Rankin, Michael Connelly, and the other contemporary crime writing greats, Police at the Station and They Don’t Look Friendly guarantees his place at the table forevermore. This is a sophisticated, stylish and engrossing crime thriller, which rips along at a cracking pace, and packs more twists and turns than a street map of Belfast. Not to mention the heart-stopping climax…

Belfast 1988: a drug dealer is found murdered in front of his house, killed with a bolt from a crossbow. Sean Duffy, of the Royal Ulster Constabulary, is called to investigate. Now a family man – girlfriend and baby daughter living at home – Duffy is initially grateful to be working a homicide; something a tad spicier than his recent fare. But solving this case leads Duffy to a confrontation with the dangerous villains he’s ever faced; the kind who won’t just be satisfied ending his life, but those he cares for most deeply. Duffy remains a superbly drawn character, sardonic yet assured, and now struggling to cope with his new responsibilities as a father.

McKinty writes laconic, sophisticated, well-paced thrillers, and Police at the Station and They Don’t Look Friendly is his most refined novel yet. Some authors make you laugh; others make you gasp. McKinty can do both, usually in the space of a couple of paragraphs. His latest is multifaceted, layered, and intense – the kind of novel you’ll blow through in one sitting.

In the past, when interrogated on my favourite crime writers by friends, family, and indeed customers at Pages & Pages, I’ve always said McKinty is up there with the best writers in the business. With Police at the Station and They Don’t Look Friendly he has set down a potentially unsurpassable marker.

Buy the book here…

That’s the Spirit – Aussie books that inform and thrill

With only a week to go before you sling a few more lamb chops onto the barbie, here is swag of ‘must read’ Aussie kids’ titles to put on your reading list, (not the barbie).

theres-a-magpie-in-my-soupThere’s a Magpie in my Soup Sean Farrar & Pat Kan

It’s that time of year when raucous baby magpies scream night and day for food. Seems they are no different when submersed in soup. Sean Farrar takes pre-schoolers on a merry epicurean romp through a menu of Australian critters as they pop up in the most extraordinary of places, (the only one that failed to make the endemic Aussie grade was the porcupine whom I felt could have been replaced by the Echidna). Snakes slither from cakes, cockatoos appear in loos. Possums get stuck in pies and blue tongues pop in for lunch. Kan’s chipper illustrations jockey this ditty merrily along  as rhyme and fauna are introduced to young readers in a fun, relatable way. A jolly little bedtime read.

Big Sky Publishing April 2016

stripes-in-the-forestStripes in the Forest – The Story of the Last Wild Thylacine Aleesah Darlison & Shane McGrath

Demonstrative illustrator, Shane McGrath teams with accomplished author, Aleesah Darlison in this picture book for mid primary readers about the last Tasmanian Tiger. Portrayed in a sweeping epic narrative from a female tiger’s viewpoint, Stripes in the Forest escorts readers through Tasmania’s pre-settlement days to present day, as she recalls a life of cyclical and human influenced changes. Gradually numbers of her kind reduce to the point of assumed extinction however, Stripes ends on a positive note of supposition; what if she is not the last of her kind?

Stripes in the Forest is alluring for its historical references, detailed Thylacine Facts and nod towards the need for environmental awareness and understanding. Full marks for this picture book for making a difference.

Big Sky Publishing July 2016

this-is-banjo-patersonThis is Banjo Paterson Tania McCartney & Christina Booth

Two leather clad gold embossed volumes of verse sit reverently upon my bookshelves: The Singer of the Bush and The Song of the Bush – the collected works of A B Banjo Paterson. Now another, smaller, more modest but equally as treasured title will accompany them; This is Banjo Paterson.

This inspired new picture book by the notable partnership of McCartney and Booth is as entertaining as it is beautiful. It begins in the middle of the Australian bush, at least Andrew Barton ‘Barty’s’ story does but do not be misled by the smooth  informative narrative of McCartney’s for Booth’s illustrations tell another story. Readers are invited into Barty’s urban backyard where they are introduced to his inclinations, desires, friends, and favourite pastimes. He has a hankering for horses and rhyming words but ‘is also a fine sportsman’.

Barty harbours a secret desire to write in verse as he grows and one day one of his anonymously submitted pieces is published. From then on end there is no stopping ‘Banjo’ as his name becomes synonymous with the classic bush inspired, character driven poetry and stories many of us know to this day.

Quiet and unassuming in its delivery, This is Banjo Paterson is visually rich and emotionally satisfying to read.  Many aspects of Banjo’s accomplished life are covered in a way that is both revealing and appreciable for young readers.  McCartney’s knack for conveying facts in a beguiling spirited fashion is put to good use in this picture book that broadens minds and warms hearts. The inspired broadsheet replication at the book’s conclusion includes sepia coloured photographs of Paterson and a more detailed chronological description of his life plus extracts from several of his most well-known poems. Highly recommended for early learners and primary aged readers, This is Banjo Paterson is a marvellous introduction to one of Australia’s literary heroes.

National Library of Australia Publishing (NLA) February 2017

lennie-the-legendLennie the Legend:  Solo to Sydney by Pony Stephanie Owen Reeder

Once upon a time, a nine-year-old boy named Lennie Gwyther took his pony, Ginger Mick for a ride. It was a very long ride, from country Victoria to Sydney, over 1,000 kilometres in fact but in the days of the Great Depression back in the early 1930s, people were accustomed to making such long arduous journeys.

Lennie’s mission was to be at the opening of the Sydney Harbour Bridge and his tenacity and determination were recognised and admired by the entire nation. Lennie’s story is adeptly told by Reeder with animated narrative and is interspersed with complementing historical snippets. Occasionally, comparisons are made between present day and last century living. Stunning photographs of this slice of Australia’s past are included along with fascinating statistics and notable people. The result is a feature-rich read, well endowed with fact and good story telling. Ideally suited for primary aged readers and those who love legends.

NLA February 2015

the-dreaming-treeThe Dreaming Tree Jo Oliver

Whilst suffused with the essence of the Australian landscape and renowned poets, let’s take a moment to appreciate the free verse poetic stylings of Jo Oliver whose, The Dreaming Tree reflects the ‘joy and freedom of being a child in Australia’.  Oliver’s poems, many of which are centred on the fierce and dramatic beauty of the Australian countryside, flow and ebb with all the finesse and passion of a verse novel. They are both uplifting and enlightening, and an extreme joy to read. This collection is presented in a picture book format accompanied by Oliver’s own dreamlike illustrations.  Her note at the end stresses that ‘poetry is fun’ and simply ‘feeling and thought playing together in words’. Oliver’s feelings and thought play magnificently together in The Dreaming Tree, for which I can list no favourites for I relished them all.

Highly recommended for primary and lower secondary school students as an excellent illustrative tool for capturing the essence of feeling in verse and injecting an appreciation for the enjoyment of poetry into the young.

New Frontier Publishing February 2016







Review: A List of Cages by Robin Roe

A List of Cages by Robin Roe is an incredibly heartfelt and raw story. The writing was beautiful and emotional, and the characters just sneaked off the page until they became incredibly real and relatable people. I was so invested!

I’m also endlessly impressed at how this is a debut book! This author is already on my auto-buy list and I can’t wait for whatever she writes next. A List of Cages was my first five-star read of the year!

Basically this is a story about friendship and abuse. I will warn you: it’s not easy to read. It heavily features child abuse and emotional and mental manipulation. It was thoroughly heartbreaking, also for the fact that these things happen when they shouldn’t. It had me near to tears several times.9781484763803

The story is dual narrated by Adam, a highschool senior with ADHD, and 14 year old Julian, who is a foster kid living with an abusive uncle. Back when Julian first lost his parents, he lived with Adam’s family for a while and they become like brothers. Then Julian vanished when his abusive uncle got custody of him and no one knows what’s going on. As the two attend the same school again, Adam tries to rekindle friendship with Julian and figure out what happened to the bright bubbly kid he once knew.

I loved the emphasis on friendship! Also how it was “unconventional” friendship because the boys aren’t the same age. And I think this is really important to represent in fiction. Not only does it show us that (A) it is awesome and great to be friends with people who aren’t necessarily your same age, and (B) Adam and Julian had an “adopted big brother / little brother” relationship which was absolutely adorable and precious. I love how Adam just stepped up to protect Julian and look out for him.

Even though it was dual narrated it was so easy to tell between the boys’ chapters because they had such different voices! This is just such excellent writing. Adam’s chapters were bouncy and bright and energetic, while Julian’s were reserved and laced with fear.

I also appreciated the representation of disability here! Although it is hard to read at times, because both boys face hurtful treatment due to people dismissing their disabilities. This is actually a sad and realistic truth about “invisible disabilities” like ADHD and Dyslexia. They both got into a lot of trouble at school and it’s heartbreaking. But what I loved was the support network amongst their family and friends and how the boys weren’t portrayed as broken or in need of curing. So encouraging! So wonderful!

The book is actually quite small, so I flew through it in just a few hours! Although sometimes the shortness did work against the novel, in that a few things were glossed over or rushed. Adam’s romance with Emerald didn’t feel nearly explored enough, nor Emerald really fleshed out. And I would’ve liked to know more about Adam’s personal life and have some other facts cleared up that I can’t talk about because of spoilers. But I still appreciated that the book was to the point and absolutely addictive. I just wanted to know if everyone would be okay!

I definitely recommend this book! It gave me so many emotions and absolutely caught me in the feels (a term here which basically says I’m mildly HEARTBROKEN but also filled with hope at the ending). I think it was realistic, relatable, and poignant. The power of friendship is important and knows no bounds!

[purchase here]

Mick Herron’s ‘Slough House’ Series: A review of books 1 – 3

1. Slow Horses

Banished to Jackson Lamb’s personal fiefdom, Slough House, from the higher echelons at Regent’s Park for a variety of shortcomings and vices, the ‘Slow Horses’ are a unit of MI5 misfits, desperate to atone for their past mistakes in order to escape purgatory, not entirely convinced Slough House isn’t an inescapable hell; that whatever they accomplish won’t be enough to circumvent their malpractice.

In erudition, action and temperament, Slow Horses proves Mick Herron is among the top tier of spy thriller writers. I ploughed through this first novel in the series and immediately started the second so I’ll be up to date when the fourth book, Spook Street, is published in February. In Slow Horses a boy is kidnapped and held hostage, and his beheading is scheduled for live broadcast on the internet. Whatever their personal and professional failings, Jackson Lamb’s team — if you can really call them that — can’t just sit on their hands when it’s within their capabilities — well, maybe — to do something. So they break from their remit and get involved. But this isn’t a novel about the redemption of spooks, nor a straightforward action thriller, in which the good guys serve deserved justice to the bad guys, and everyone goes home happy. This is a novel full of greys; it exposes the intricacies of inter-agency turf wars and puts human faces and human costs on those who make it their life’s work to shield us from those who seek to do us harm.

Despite the economy of Mick Herron’s work, the large cast is fleshed out, and although few are likeable — Jackson Lamb, in particular, is a bastard — they’re characters readers will root for, despite their flaws and foibles. Most impressive is Herron’s graceful prose, which reminded me of Daniel Silva’s long-running Gabriel Allon series. There’s an elegance to Herron’s storytelling, rarely seen among his contemporaries, many of whom rush to the explosion without lighting a fuse.

Slow Horses is packed full of evocative detail, movie-tense action sequences, and a credible plot. I’m so glad the book was shoved into my hands. As I write this, I am halfway through Dead Lions and enjoying it just as much as Slow Horses.

Buy Slow Horses here…
2. Dead Lions

Slough House — a disregarded echelon of MI5 — is comprised of disgraced and incompetent agents, who are assigned an endless supply of demeaning and feckless tasks in an effort to wear them down until the pull the pin on their careers. Ruled by the legendary Jackson Lamb — possibly the most abominable protagonist to have ever been spotlighted in espionage fiction —  the inhabitants of Slough House are skilled operators, whose vices and mistakes have demolished whatever usefulness they might have to the service. But when a former agent, Dickie Bow, is found dead on a London bus, Lamb and his subordinates take it upon themselves to investigate. Bow’s final text message — “cicadas” — has ominous repercussions:  it signifies the awakening of a sleeper cell of foreign agents, which dates back to the Cold War. Suddenly, Lamb’s Slow Horses are in a race against against time to determine their enemy’s target, and stop it from taking place.

Slow Horses was a remarkable spy novel, and this second in the series, Dead Lions, is a fine sequel. With the pieces already set up on the board, Mick Herron wastes no time in thrusting readers into a whirlwind, multi-stranded plot, which is orchestrated with Bach-like precision. Herron’s stories have the same complexity as Le Carre’s, but are written with the economy of Richard Stark, and this combination makes for an incredibly page-turning read. There is a large cast of characters involved, but each are fleshed out, and boast distinctive personalities; a rarity in this genre, when one could easily swap out James Bond for Jason Bourne, or Sean Dillon, or Jack Ryan, and not really notice any discernible difference.

Mick Herron has breathed new lie into the landscape of the espionage novel. I haven’t breezed through a series of books this quickly in a long, long time. As I write this, I’ve started the third novel, Real Tigers, and may well dig into Herron’s other novels while I wait for Spook Street in February.

Buy Dead Lions here…

3. Dead Lions

Over the course of a month I’ve smashed through Mick Herron’s three ‘Slough House’ novels — Real Tigers being the third in the series — as well as the standalone Nobody Walks. Prior to that, I’ll admit, I’d never heard of Herron, but thankfully, as a bookseller, I get to pay my newfound adoration forward, by shoving his books into customers’ hands and insisting he’s the modern equivalent of John le Carré. Which isn’t hyperbole, in case you were wondering: it’s a nailed-on fact.

So, for those who don’t know: Slough House is a disregarded echelon of MI5,  comprised of disgraced and incompetent agents, ruled by the abominable Jackson Lamb. But when one of their own is abducted —  Catherine Standish,  scooped into the van of her ex-lover, Sean Donovan — the Slow Horses leap into action amidst savage narcissistic in-fighting within the halls of her majesty’s government.

Real Tigers is visceral, gritty and cinematic. It’s Mick Herron’s novel best novel to date, which makes it something truly special indeed. The fuse is lit in the first few pages of the novel and burns through the rest of the story until its explosive ending.

Buy Real Tigers here…

Review: Normal by Warren Ellis

9780374534974“He was a futurist. They were all futurists. Everyone here gazed into the abyss for a living. Do it long enough, and the abyss would gaze back into you.” So writes Warren Ellis in his novella  — originally published as a digital short — Normal, a concise but immensely satisfying psychological thriller.

When futurist Adam Dearden suffers a nervous breakdown, he is taken to a secret hospital — the “Normal Head Research Station” — which is a recovery station for those whose minds have come apart as a consequence of their occupation. When you spend your life contemplating the direction of mankind — are we circling the drain or reaching for the stars? — you’re bound to unravel, and that’s precisely what’s happened to the patients at Normal. The futurists are themselves divided into distinct types, and their differences essentially boil down to those who’re optimists and those who’re pessimists; is the glass half full or half empty? Are we headed for catastrophe or greatness? Ellis’s text doesn’t provide an answer, but will certainly make you wonder…

After one a fellow patients disappears in impossible circumstances, the patients at Normal are advised that government officials are launching an investigation — which is something nobody wants. So Adam forms a necessary alliance with a section of his inmates in order to get to the bottom of this mystery: and the answer might just break him once and for all.

It’s rare for me to wish a book was longer — I’m always so quick to advise cuts and merges rather than more pages — but Ellis’s premise deserves more room to truly shine. Normal is a novella that’ll make you quiver, but really, it could’ve been something shook you to your core. It’s a blast while it lasts, and I suppose it’s always best to leave an audience wanting more rather than having them glancing at their watches, but with some expansion, Normal could’ve rivalled Ellis’s fantastic novel Gun Machine. Instead it’s a solid detour, and a fun sampling of the writer’s work. Bring on his next novel.

ISBN: 9780374534974
Format: Paperback (191mm x 127mm x 12mm)
Pages: 200
Imprint: Farrar, Straus & Giroux Inc
Publisher: Farrar, Straus & Giroux Inc
Publish Date: 11-May-2015
Country of Publication: United States

There’s no place like home – Aussie flavoured picture books

During my short sabbatical from all things digital over the festive season, I visited some exotic, mesmerising places, supped on mouth-watering local fare, and immersed myself in numerous colourful cultural experiences. It was invigorating and fun but like always after a hard stint abroad, it is great to be home, because for me, there is no place like home. Therefore, to kick off the New Year and in readiness for our annual Aussie Day celebrations, here are a few picture books to stir up your patriotism.

shearing-timeShearing Time by Allison Paterson & Shane McGrath

Nothing shouts Australia louder than sheep, blowies, and working dogs on bikes. I envy the ability the picture book team of Paterson and McGrath has at capturing the essence of the Aussie outback with such bold open sky appeal.

Colourful and engaging, Shearing Time begins during the school holidays with one farm girl’s exclamation, ‘I love shearing time!’ She goes on to explain why, inviting readers to share her shearing experiences from sunrise to sunset. Every aspect including herding cantankerous sheep, the arrival of the rowdy seasonal shearers, the racket and rumble of shearing time right up to the feeding of workers is ably depicted giving youngsters a realistic, close-up look of how wool is procured from paddock to jumper. The glossary of well-loved shearing terms is especially useful.

A great focus on rural life and one of our most significant primary industries for 4 – 8 year-olds.

Big Sky Publishing March 2017

gus-dog-goes-to-workGus Dog Goes to Work by Rachel Flynn & Craig Smith

Here is another picture book duo whose combination of imaginative images and engaging text I adore. Once again, there are strong visual and verbal connections with regional Australian life. Chock-a-block full of colloquial language and ribald observation, Gus Dog Goes to Work is an excellent read-aloud picture book allowing carers to inject plenty of iconic Aussie swagger in their rendering of it. Gus is your typical sheepdog who exists only to work and please his owner, Tom.  When he awakes one morning to find Tom and his Ute missing however, Gus decides to venture out on his own to work. His meanderings steer him a little off track and into some stinky, hilarious, quintessentially doggy dilemmas until finally he and Tom are reunited.

Dog lovers aged five and above will get a massive kick out of this entertaining expose of country life from a pooch’s point-view. Bursting with more Aussie flavour than a barbie full of beef sangers, Gus comes highly recommended.

Working Title Press February 2017

fabishFabish the horse that braved a bushfire by Neridah McMullin & Andrew McLean

This is a gem of a book that evokes considerable emotion; warm tears spring forth unbidden each time I read it. Based on the true story of the vicious bushfires that ripped through the Victorian bush in February 2009, this picture book introduces us to ex-thoroughbred racer, Fabish and his retired role as mentor to the younger flighty yearlings.

McMullin faithfully recreates the mood and atmosphere of that scorching summer’s day when fire menaced the region. Fabish’s trainer, Alan Evett released the yearlings and Fabish fatalistically to find their own way while he huddled with the remaining stock in the stone stables. Outside a firestorm blazed out of control. He never thought he would see Fabish and the yearlings again.

The next morning dawned charred and desolate. Not a single living thing remained and yet miraculously, through the choking smoky haze Fabish appeared leading his yearlings home. McLean’s raw rustic palette coupled with McMullin’s poignant interpretation of the tale is a beautiful tribute to human resilience, loyalty, the power of nature and a truly unforgettable horse.

Strongly recommended for 6 – 9 year-olds

Allen & Unwin July 2016

sparkSpark by Adam Wallace & Andrew Plant

I grew up in the Adelaide foothills and witnessed the horrors of several summer infernos like Ash Wednesday but never experienced one first hand as author Adam Wallace did. Spark is a fascinating picture book depicting Australia’s most recent and devastating bushfire event, Black Saturday but ostensibly describing the catastrophic destructiveness and formidable beauty of any firestorm. And, along with Plant, he does so indescribably well.

Wallace succeeds with what no other has attempted before, to give fire a voice.  From the uniquely omnipotent point-of-view of a tiny spark, Wallace characterises the burgeoning flame with an almost child-like persona, suggesting a helpless naivety that encourages an instant empathy. Together, with the growing flame, we are borne along with a capricious and irascible wind, intent it seems after at first befriending the flame, to cause as much upset as possible until all control is lost.

Exhilarating and wild, terrifying and violent, Spark rips through your emotions with a mere sprinkling of words but with the force of an atomic bomb. Soul serrating language is not the only draw card. Plant’s monochrome illustrations will make the hairs on the back of your neck stand on end. Textural and scented with the acrid bitterness of the aftermath of pure destruction, Spark ends on the same quiet unassuming note as it begins; with teardrops from above, a flash of light and glimmer of green hope, simply brilliant.

A potent and compelling picture book useful for prompting discussions on natural disasters, Australian history,  and looking at things unconventionally for older primary aged readers.

Ford Street Publishing imprint of Hybrid Publishing October 2016

Stick around for the next swag-load of Aussie titles coming soon.




Review: Spark by Rachael Craw

9781922179623Spark by Rachael Craw is an amazing superpowers origin story that focuses on friendship and punching things. Two fantastic things to read about honestly. Sure it fell into a few typical superpower themed cliches, but it still managed to be exciting and engaging! It featured a simple magnificent plot twist that is guaranteed to blow your mind and knock your socks off simultaneously.

Evie is basically an average girl, living with her single aunt after her mother died. But turns out she’s actually a Shield — an experiment gone wrong leaving her with DNA that means she’s programmed to protect her best friend from any killers. Her body starts changing until she looks like a superpowered warrior and she starts training for the oncoming surprise threats. Except she gets a little distracted by her best friend’s brother — Jamie. Who, being a Shield too, is out of bounds. Ha.

This concept of DNA modified humans who have compulsively programmed to protect people was extremely awesome. It made them into almost “default heroes” but just to their one charge. There were plenty of sci-fi themed DNA discussions which kind of befuddled me, but a more science-attuned reader would probably adore.

Evie is also a fantastic narrator! She’s deep in grief when the book starts and not sure what her life is going to look like now that she’s without her mother. But as her Shield tendencies start activating and she finds a whole secret organisation is waiting for her — things take on a very different and exciting turn. I only got annoyed at the emphasis on physical beauty. With only a few weeks of combat training, she’s suddenly fit and athletic and super-model level gorgeous. All the superpowered people in this book are very carefully emphasised to be gorgeous and I thought it was a little shallow. But if that was the only drawback in pages of action, great dialogue, and superpowers — then I think we’re still doing well!

The romance was also slow-burn and intriguing. Especially since it’s “forbidden”. And I love how friendship still was a major focus! Evie is destined to protect Kitty and they have a very close bond. Although Evie does gravitate towards Jamie. Of course. Evie and Jamie had a “thing” when they were younger, but it rekindles in the book. I liked Evie and Jamie’s relationship and it was well balanced with training and action scenes, school and family dynamics.

The ending features incredible plot twists of awesome. Intense awesome. I didn’t see any of the twists coming and it opened up so many questions to be explored in the next novel, Stray. I’m desperate for answers and therefore needed the sequel ASAP. Because sure we have people bound by DNA to protect others…but there are also those bound by DNA to kill certain people. The plot just kept getting more interesting and mysterious which is a definite win for me.

Definitely try Spark if you’re looking for… superpowers, fight scenes, friendship, and an awkward heroine who finds out she has Mr. Incredible level strength and isn’t quite sure what to do with it.

[purchase here]

Review: Tiny Pretty Things by Sona Charaipotra and Dhonielle Clayton

Tiny Pretty Things by Charaipotra and Clayton was an amazingly and addictive story set in a cutthroat ballet school. There’s nothing like a school of backstabbing ballerinas to make me very grateful I’m an un-athletic potato. I was absolutely glued to the page, however, desperately wondering who was going to survive to the end while my nerves shattered.9780062342393

The story centres around three ballerinas all competing for top of a prestigious ballet school. There can only be one “star” of the show, of course. And they all want it. Gigi is a black dancer and has left everything she’s ever loved and known to attend this dance school. June is a Korean dancer with an eating disorder and a mother who doesn’t believe ballet is worthwhile since June can never land the leading roll. And Bette is living in her older sister’s shadow while trying to dance to the top even though she’s not like her sister. There’s bullying and mental health discussions and the whispered danger of someone taking a prank too far and ballerinas potentially losing the chance to dance. Forever.

loved the writing. The story line was so captivating! It also had a huge cast and yet still managed to flesh everyone out. That is amazing. Most of the characters were completely awful to some degree. But I liked them despite also hating them. I cared about them and I wanted them to succeed even though they were really…horrible to each other.

I loved the three narrators and how their stories were so different yet interwove throughout the plot perfectly.

  • GIGI: She is the best. She’s the “new girl” to the school and an absolutely flawless ballerina. She’s black and the only black ballerina in the older classes, so she often feels ostracized. All the girls are really horrible to her because she’s very very good at dancing and is instantly the teacher’s favourite. She’s also really sweet and nice and kind.
  • BETTE: She’s basically the mean girl. She’s absolutely nasty and vicious and gorgeous and she hates Gigi and woah: please no one leave these girls in a room with a knife, okay? I really didn’t like Bette, but she had such a bad home life I couldn’t help but feel sorry for her.
  • JUNE: Her point-of-view wasn’t so important to the plot, but I still enjoyed it! She’s half Korean and her father was a mystery dancer, and her mother doesn’t want June to dance because of this. She really struggles with her anorexia and wants to be more than an understudy.

I also have much love for the secondary characters! I suspect Henri is a total psychopath. I loved Alec (Gigi’s boyfriend and Bette’s ex) and he was so sweet but yet oblivious to the damage the girls are causing each other. Will is sweet and gay and never gets lead roles and I feel bad for him. Although I’m furious at about 98% of all the kids’ parents. They pushed their children terribly and no wonder everyone was having a breakdown (me included).

The romance is very complicated and never healthy. Gigi is a better dancer than Bette and then Bette’s boyfriend dumped her and went with Gigi. Cue drama and angst and a lot of girl-on-girl hate. There’s lots of “stealing boyfriends” and cheating amongst the other characters and also emotional manipulation and it’s basically a trainwreck and hard to look away from.


  • set entirely in a ballet boarding school
  • it actually talks about the technical parts of ballet and, as someone who knows naught, I thought it was really interesting to learn
  • there’s so much diversity representation!
  • it addresses mental health issues, particularly eating disorders, and disabilities
  • it’s really suspenseful and darkly addictive
  • it leaves you with so many questions and a huge need for the sequel


Tiny Pretty Things is definitely the kind of enthralling story you want in your life! It has a huge mystery element of “who is behind the malicious bullying” and it’ll keep you guessing the whole time. The characters were complex, the writing amazing, and I am in such awe of the amazing ability and dedication it’d take to be a ballerina!