Review: Wild Beauty by Anna-Marie McLemore

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Wild Beauty by Anna-Marie McLemore is the most magical and richly lush story ever! The gorgeousness of the cover does not lie I tell you, absolutely not. This book is aesthetically stunning inside and out and it’s a story of magical gardens and families of women with curses and a dirt and dark secrets and missing people. I was absolutely swallowed whole by the magical and ethereal tones and honestly it’s the kind of book you do not want to miss.

The story is about the Nomeolvides women who live in a garden they can never leave. Or basically they’ll hack up a lung. It’s not great. The five girl cousins are all in love with the unattainable granddaughter of the estate, but they try to be careful about showing it because there seems to be a curse that whoever a Nomeolvides women loves — they’ll go missing. Sure enough, the girls’ beloved Bee disappears and in her place, they dig a mysterious boy out of the soil. He has no memory and no idea what’s going on. The gardens are under threat, dark secrets are rising, and they need to solve the mystery of this strange boy’s past and what it means. It might be their saving or their tragedy.

I can’t even sum up all the things I loved about this tale! It’s complicated and interesting, the plot never letting you down for a second. There are secrets fairly popping up like daisies. It features a cast of completely complex and strong women who you just admire from the first page. The gardens are MAGICAL and, I mean, they dug a boy out of the soil. What more do you want from a book?

Honestly the writing is what absolutely captured my heart. It really hones in on the details. It’s not going to say “she grew a flower”. It will say “she grew a midnight blue rose” or similar, and it just absolutely captivated me with luscious description and carefully designed details. Everything leapt off the pages. I felt like I fell into this magical fairy tale garden of mystery and sadness and utter beauty. The style is thick and luscious. This isn’t the kind of book you skim because it’s like a very rich chocolate cake.

Actually speaking of food: the food descriptions in here are fantastic. Plus the boy they pull out of the garden sees all the women are sad so he cooks food for them. Quality lad.

It’s absolutely FULL of complex and interesting women! The Nomeolvides women all live in this garden that the can never leave (or they die; super fun times) and they grow flowers and tend it etc. etc. Most people think they are witches. 3 generations of women live in the house, 5 grandmas, 5 mothers, and 5 daughters. The 5 cousins basically function as sisters and this pleases me so so much! The girls all love pretty things and they love being feminine, whcih was so refreshing. I loved the Latina culture and how most of the characters fit onto the lgbtqia+ spectrum too.

The book is mainly from the pov of Estrella and Fel. Fel is the boy they dig out of the garden who is quiet and tragic and somewhat confused at everything. Estrella falls in love with him. They are so beautiful, both of them.

Ultimately? Wild Beauty is, in a word: GORGEOUS. It is a celebration of magic and flowers and how beautiful things can often cover up deep suffering.

4 Great Historical Fiction Novels in 2017

Historical fiction is my favourite genre, so I thought I’d share 4 great historical fiction novels I read in 2017.


  1. Six Tudor Queens: Anne Boleyn, A King’s Obsession by Alison Weir
    In this series (Six Tudor Queens, Six Novels, Six Years), author Alison Weir takes us through Anne Boleyn’s upbringing in 16th Century French court and the powerful women she served, including Margaret of Austria, Henry VIII’s sister in France Queen Mary and later Queen Claude.
    Anne Boleyn’s relationship with King Henry VIII, marriage and subsequent fate is well known, but Alison Weir puts a fresh new spin on the well trodden story and I loved it. Highly recommended for fans of Philippa Gregory.


  2. A Column of Fire by Ken Follett
    A Column of Fire is the third in the The Pillars of the Earth series by Ken Follett, and we pick up the story 250 years after World Without End. This time, the story takes us through the reign of Elizabeth I and the political and religious turmoil between the Protestants and the Catholics. Rather than staying primarily within the town of Kingsbridge (as in the first two books in the series), Follett extends the plot as far as France and Spain and in doing so has provided a great insight into the era. A Column of Fire can be read as a stand-alone.


  3. The Last Tudor by Philippa Gregory
    The Last Tudor is essentially the story of the three Grey sisters: Jane Grey, Katherine Grey and Mary Grey. The Grey sisters were cousins to Mary Tudor and Elizabeth Tudor and this blood connection would prove to haunt them their entire lives. Commencing in 1550, the story unfolds from each sister’s point of view in three separate sections, giving us uninterrupted access to their lives. Each story is as compelling as the next and has been pieced together from the content of real letters and impeccable research into the period.


  4. The Last Hours by Minette Walters 
    The release of The Last Hours by Minette Walters caused a stir a few months ago, being the first novel the author had released in a decade. Set in Dorsetshire in the 1300s, this is the story of Lady Anne of Develish and her attempts to protect her serfs from the deadly plague. She employs new sanitation methods for her household and cares for her serfs in a fashion that makes her ahead of her time.
    Lady Anne’s approach to the threat of the plague is in direct conflict with the idea that the plague is God’s punishment, and with food and supplies running out, The Last Hours is a suspenseful and compelling read.


    Each of the novels above can be read as a stand-alone or part of their respective series. Let me know in the comments if you’ve discovered some great historical fiction novels this year.

Nostalgic about Aussie Summer – Picture Book Reviews

There’s nothing like an Aussie Christmas than the fresh scent of Summer mixed with a fragrance of fond memories and the savour of new ones. That’s how the following picture books will entice their readers, both young and old – with peace, unity and joy as we pleasure in the warmth of the festive and summery holiday season in Australia.

Corinne Fenton and Robin Cowcher return with another stunning ‘Little Dog’ story. From the iconic Melbourne in the previous, magical Christmas tale, Little Dog and the Summer Holiday takes Jonathan, Annie and their precious Westie, with caravan in tow, on holiday to the idyllic sites of Sydney. Immediately, Fenton paints a gloriously detailed adventure full of evocative language that is sure to bring about that nostalgic cue of wonderful family trips of yesteryear. Passing legendary landmarks such as the Dog on the Tuckerbox and Sydney Harbour Bridge, paddling at Bondi Beach and rattling “down the mountainside on the steepest scenic railway in the world” all make for an exciting, memorable holiday with family, friends, and of course, beloved pets.

Cowcher’s whimsical illustrations add a pleasurable sense of romanticism that capture the beauty and evocation of holidays like this. Parents and children will equally delight in Little Dog and the Summer Holiday, either reminding of the good old days, or enthusing a predilection for future family vacations. A beautiful book.

Black Dog Books, Walker Books, November 2017.

Summer – peaceful, tranquil, cheerful and contentment. Words that describe that special feeling of rest, fun and togetherness during the sunny season. And words that describe the special feeling emanating from this book by June Factor and sublime creator Alison Lester. Thirty years in print and Summer still feels as good as a homemade steamin’ puddin’ on a balmy Christmas Day.

Factor’s simple, silky and smooth Aussie voice shines through with robust rhyming character as we are swept up in a temperamental mix of family antics, Summer nuances and changing weather during the hot festive season. Lester’s legendary scenic art and winsome characters keep us occupied throughout with all the glorious combinations of farmyard outlooks and high-spirited busyness, respectively. From flies a gatherin’ to early morning rises, kin gatherin’ and present opening, pork a cracklin’ and raising glasses, clouds gatherin’ and making a bolt for cover, and finally napping and playing ‘til the stars are gatherin’ in the night sky.

Summer is a book of leisure, affection and ambience that will remain a classic to treasure and indulge in all the year round.

Viking Penguin Random House, November 2016. First edition 1987.

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian

Dim’s Christmas Cracker List # 5 – Meaningful Christmas Tales

The tinsel is hung, the carols are sung. Tchaikovsky’s, The Nutcracker courses merrily in the background and hope hovers amidst every batch of gingerbread cookies. There’s no doubt, Christmas is well and truly upon us. However, if you are still in search of a meaningful Christmas tale to share with your young ones, consider these. They are all full of heart and soul and more than just a little good old-fashioned Christmas magic.

Dim’s Pick of the Season

The Girl Who Saved Christmas by Matt Haig and Chris Mould

If you are ever in need of a little magic, if you ever find yourself questioning reason, if your festive spirit is ever waning, hope is here, with Matt Haig. This is superb storytelling for midgrade readers all the way through to 99-year-olds. Following on from Haig and Mould’s first collaboration, A Boy Called Christmas, this tale works so well at suspending belief and infusing hope, you’d be forgiven for feeling you’ve already met Father Christmas. Maybe you have. Haig takes what we have already been led to believe and crystallizes it into one big fat tangible beautiful believable Christmas miracle. Mould’s illustrations enhance an already magical tale with strokes of Dickenson brilliance. A Christmas must read – every year. Sublime to read aloud to little people or to cherish alone as you would the last fruit mince pie. Read, A Boy Called Christmas first to truly fortify your Christmas spirit, then Father Christmas and Me.

A & U Canongate November 2016

Continue reading Dim’s Christmas Cracker List # 5 – Meaningful Christmas Tales

Kids Will be Rapt to Find Even More Wrapped this Christmas – Part 3

Baubles and bunting, twinkling lights, wrapping of presents and fresh pudding delights… no doubt your homes are tingling and shimmering with the scent of Christmas looming in the air. With bursting wish lists at the ready, don’t forget to add some more bookish treats under your Christmas tree. Following the joyous suggestions for kids in part 1 and part 2, here are a few more gorgeous picture books to share and spread the holiday cheer.

Marvin and Marigold: A Christmas Surprise is a friendly, thoughtful and evocative story about sharing the joy of Christmas with loved ones. Mark Carthew’s rhyming verses flow smoothly like warm egg nog over a Christmas pudding. His tale emits strong feelings of tenderness overcoming loneliness, as well as sentimental memories and bonds between family and friends. Simon Prescott’s gentle illustrations provide a sense of generosity, cosyness and pure magic that beautifully match that festive warmth.

Marvin is devastated at the thought of spending Christmas alone with no tree or presents to give. However, best friend Marigold Mouse has just received a gift, this first day in December, and she is insistent that her mate spend the coming days helping her to prepare it for the season. What follows is a gorgeous celebration of fond memories, creating new ones and sharing the Christmas, ‘decorative’ spirit with a friend. There’s plenty to treasure in A Christmas Surprise for young and old. See Dimity’s review in her Cracker List.

New Frontier Publishing, November 2017.

Adorned with sparkling red embellishments on the cover, this book is wrapped in beauty and glamour to mark the beginning of the festive season. Pick a Pine Tree is an exquisite tale of the frivolity and togetherness one tree can bring as it transforms into a marvellous creation of lights, ornaments and a central piece of love.

The rollicking rhythm by Patricia Toht, supported by the cartoonesque, mixed media illustrations by Jarvis both emanate joy, innocence, sparkle and awe. The pine tree’s journey from the lot, to being sturdily assembled and then abundantly decorated with friends is a delightfully instructive process that ends in pure happiness.

Pick a Pine Tree is a simple story for young children to appreciate the tree-selection and preparation exercise, all the while setting a tone for the importance of unity and intimacy in a most jolly and ebullient manner.

Walker Books UK, October 2017.

Everything is oversized and over-the-top in this next picture book. Is there ever such a thing as too much Christmas? There is for one 7 year old. The sound of the greeting, ‘Merry Christmas, Mary Christmas!’ is not a very festive one as all her family care about is being the biggest and brashest in the neighbourhood. As good as their Christmas-loving intentions, Mary’s family are simply an embarrassment. Too many lights, too many presents, an oversized tree and a dog with a deafening singing voice. Charity, inclusion and a big heart prevail in a joyous and bright finale that embodies just the perfect fit.

Well-considered and humorous text by Laurie Friedman and energetic and vivid illustrations by Kathryn Durst make Merry Christmas, Mary Christmas! a story of benevolence and spirit that is sure to ‘over-stimulate’ young readers this season.

Carolrhoda Books, Lerner Books, September 2017.

Review: American Street by Ibi Zoboi

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American Street by Ibi Zoboi was so good and also a little bit like running face-first into a brick wall of emotions. I’n not even sure what to do with myself right now. It’s a really powerful story of immigration and poverty and family. It’s brutal and messy and the ending left me reeling.

It follows the story of Fabiola who’s immigrated from Haiti to be with her cousins in America. Her mother gets detained at customs and then sent to a detention centre while Fabiola, born in America, is allowed to proceed. She’s absolutely freaked out for her mother, but slowly has to make a life for herself with her extended family. She attends school and ends up caught up with a boy who truly wants to make her happy. However the street they live on isn’t the clean and safe haven Fabiola always imagined. She quickly gets caught up in drug rings and loan sharks and maybe will have to compromise her own safety to work with the police so they’ll help get her mother back. But if that means betraying people she loves, would she do it?

The emphasis on family was the best. This is not a “nice” family particularly, but I loved how complex they all were! Fabiola is basically just THROWN into American culture and I felt for her so much. Her three cousins are all around her age, and they immediately just adopt her as their 4th sister. But they do live in a poor part of town and they’re mixed up in a lot of stuff. Donna’s boyfriend is like Such Bad News and hits her and Pri is closet queer and Chantal has stuff going on and like their aunt is usually “sick” or hidden away in her room. Fabiola is attending school and trying to figure out how the American life works, plus find a way to help get her mother free.

Fabiola is also really precious and sweet! I was worried she’d be a passive character because of that but she’s not. I also loved how she really wanted to make America her home, But she didn’t give up her Haitian heritage. There’s a bit of magic in the book, because she firmly believes in Vodou and her culture is woven into everything she does. It’s so good!! (Also the author’s note says this is all out of her own experiences too! It makes a book so special and true when you know the experiences behind it are woven with an #ownvoices narrative.) I really loved that Fabiola wasn’t going to be pushed around, but at the same time voiced her insecurities and definitely didn’t always make good decisions.

I basically couldn’t stop reading! And the story just got more brutal and twisted as it went along. Like the plot is really tight and I loved how it woven things together at the end. It’s definitely the kind of book you’re going to want to put aside a full afternoon to just devour…constantly. Until it’s done and you’re a bit of a wide-eyed mess.

American Street is purely excellent #ownvoices story that doesn’t shy away from showing how complicated and brutal life can be. It’s not an “easy” read (although it is quite fast!) and there were so many times I was raging with Fabiola. Her situation is often a trainwreck but I loved her character arc and also her love of her culture. Definite recommend!

Dim’s Christmas Cracker List # 4 – Picture Books

You’d be forgiven for feeling a little overwhelmed at this time of year by all the demands of the Festive Season, with end of school and social obligations too numerous to count. Time out is as important for your children as it is for you, so why not take a precious moment or two to sit down, relax and share some of these sublime (new) picture books with them to rekindle your Christmas spirit. Some of these are so good, they feature in Romi’s roundup of Christmas must reads, too!

Fostering Festive Cheer

Merry Everything by Tania McCartney and Jess Racklyeft

McCartney’s matchless ability to appeal to little readers all over the world is reaching legendary status. Merry Everything epitomises this in the most deliriously dreamy way using evocative language, occasional merry rhyme and lashings of relatable love as readers reflect on animal families from all over the world hunkering down on Christmas Eve to wait for, you-know-who. It’s the focus on ‘cuddles and kisses’ and all the extraordinary departures from normal at this time of year that I love and young children will recognise and appreciate – fun and games with relatives, gorging on Christmas goodies, and falling into a seasonal stupor afterwards. Racklyeft’s illustrations are sweeter than a plate of choc cherry balls and just as enticing. Love Love Love this.

Windy Hollow Books October 2017

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Review: Daughter of The Burning City by Amanda Foody

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Daughter of the Burning City by Amanda Foody was dark and murderous and magical. So basically everything a good book should be. I’m in absolute awe of the world building, the dynamic characters, and the finale plot twist that totally caught me off guard! This was just incredible and I highly recommend it!
Why aren’t all books full of murder and magic. I ask.

The story is set in a moving carnival called the Gomorrah Festival. It features Sorina who is an illusionist and “freak” because she was born with no eyes but instead has magical powers. Her illusions are so real that they can basically have lives of their own and she calls them her family. Then one gets murdered which, as you can imagine, shouldn’t be possible for a person who isn’t even real. Sorina teams up with the local charming but cocky gossip-worker named Luca to try and solve the mystery, that might be more deeply imbedded in the festival’s history than she originally thought.

The setting was so exquisitely described and detailed! I totally felt I could see and taste and smell Gomorrah. It explodes off the page with kettle corn and liquorice cherries and smoke from the permanently burning and walking city. It’s definitely the kind of setting I’d love to visit.

The plot was deliciously twisty and rich. There are conspiracy theories and murder mysteries! I loved the sort of genre mash-up of having an epic fantasy setting, but mixed with mysteries and whodunnit vibes, not to mention there’s religious tension in the background and people with wicked magical skills. And of course you have all the carnival and performance shenanigans and dramas. Exciting.

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But the characters absolutely stole the show. (Har har, excuse the pun.) I adored them all. Sorina was amazing! She’s an illusionist, adopted by the proprietor of the carnival, and she is so incredibly powerful. Imagine making people up and then having them come to life and actually function as people. She loved her little made up “freak” family so much. I also loved how relatable Sorina was with her dedication to her family, her want to please her father and become Gomorrah’s next master, and her panic attacks and tears that made her so human.

And Luca was equally magnificent. He was entirely snarky and wore horrendous waistcoats that Sorina never let him live down and he trades in gossip and mysteries. He also asexual which was so refreshing to see on page! I loved how devious and cunning he was, and their relationship was slow burn and fraught with uncertainty.

The writing was also a piece of marvel. I couldn’t put the book down! Plus it really utilised the five-senses to make visually stunning words and paragraphs.

Basically if you are looking for a deliciously wicked story of magic, mystery, and mayhem…Daughter Of The Burning City is for you. It’ll totally capture your heart and your imagination and probably make you crave popcorn, but where exactly is the downside in that.

Utopia for Realists: Revisiting Ideas of Universal Basic Income

I dare say that few of us truly understand why our work and welfare systems are the way they are, and that many of us have thought, in at least in passing, that things seem a little back to front.

Dutchman Rutger Bregman has done more than think about the this-system-seems-broken concept. He’s researched and penned a case for universal basic income (UBI)—a foundational amount of no-strings-attached money for everyone—and other similarly counterintuitive concepts such as opening up international borders. (The latter warrants a post all of its own.) In the pragmatic, evidence-based Utopia for Realists, Bregman shows how these things could be not far-fetched idealism but economically viable realities.

‘The difficulty lies, not in the new ideas, but in escaping from the old ones’ is one of economist John Maynard Keynes’ famed quotes, which Bregman employs to emphasise his point. (Forewarning: Bregman quotes quite a few economists in this book.) And while many of the theories discussed in the Utopia for Realists have in truth been around for donkeys’ years, Bregman reintroduces us to them via fresh, illustrative case studies and wider historical contexts. Iconic popular culture cartoon The Jetsons even rates a mention.

A historian by trade, Bregman conveys traditionally fairly dense, dry subject matter in an accessible, engaging, storytelling- and context-based manner. That is, I actually kind of understood some of these concepts and their potential once Bregman had parsed their data. (Bregman’s Conversations with Richard Fidler interview also provides an audio overview of the book’s theories, and is fantastic to listen to to boot. I highly recommend queuing it up in your podcast rotation, stat.) Take the case studies for addressing poverty and, by happy proxy, a host of other issues.

One London-based 2009 study involved providing 13 men who had been sleeping rough long term with a modest, no-strings-attached sum of money. These were men who had spent decades on the streets and on whom the government inadvertently spent swathes of money through things like policing.

It turns out that, instead of frittering away the money as anticipated, the men were incredibly frugal and thoughtful in the way they spent it. Some even had some cash left over at the experiment’s close. This free-money experiment also saved the government a bunch of money as the need for policing and its ilk decreased.

Similar case studies, such as ones where entire poverty-wracked towns in Kenya, Uganda, and Namibia were provided a UBI, demonstrate equivalent results: people spent the money not on frivolous items but on things such as repairing homes and starting businesses. Although in the case of a Canadian experiment from decades ago, it’s only recently that they determined these results.

That’s because of a change in political climate mid-trial and a resultant nervousness about spending money analysing a ‘mincome’ (minimum income) experiment to give an entire town a UBI. It was one thing to have given away free money in the past, the powers that be surmised. It would be another to continue throwing money after it. So the analysis was shelved. Until recently.

It’s a sliding-doors moment because things might have been very different today if those decision-makers had had the courage to see the analysis through. It turns out the UBI was a resounding success and, rather than making people lazy, it improved life and society on a range of fronts. Truancy and teen pregnancy rates decreased, students stayed in school longer, and mental health issues and domestic violence rates improved too.

Similarly, a study of American First Peoples who benefited from the opening of a casino, of all things, reported similarly positive results. Bregman included this study to demonstrate that being poor affects your IQ and something as simple as having access to money improves it. Bregman cites economist Charles Kenny’s wise, if slightly circular, observation: ‘The big reason people are poor is because they don’t have enough money.’ He also cites, what is possibly my favourite quote of the book, which is from economist Joseph Hanlon: ‘Poverty is fundamentally about a lack of cash. It’s not about stupidity. You can’t pull yourself up by your bootstraps if you have no boots.’

To reinforce these quotes, Bregman points to findings consistent across these studies that giving money to people is more effective in addressing poverty than creating complicated bureaucratic and punitive-in-nature systems for them to navigate. Especially when their decision-making abilities are crippled by what’s termed a poverty-induced ‘scarcity mentality’.

Bregman cites George Orwell’s quote that poverty ‘annihilates the future’. It’s a statement Orwell was qualified to make having experienced poverty firsthand. UBI is, Bregman argues, an idea whose time has come, and I’m inclined to whole-heartedly agree.

Does Utopia for Realists contain all the answers to all the world’s problems? Obviously not. But it’s commendably at least trying to spark a rethink of how we’re rather unsuccessfully approaching wicked problems. The question is whether the people who have the power to introduce UBI and other similarly innovative concepts—to un-annihilate the future, if you’d like—are paying attention.