Review: The Lady’s Guide To Petticoats And Piracy by Mackenzie Lee

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The Lady’s Guide to Petticoats and Piracy by Mackenzie Lee contains such a delightful mixture of feminist rage and pastry appreciation. It’s the compantion novel to The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue (which has to be one of my all time favourite books!) and I’m so glad we get a spin-off focused entirely on Monty’s little sister: Felicity Montague. She is a ferocious and determined want-to-be-doctor and will knock down the doors of the men-centric 1700s to get the chance to study medicine. It features fantastic female friendships, a wild and scattered romp over land and sea, and a good deal of pirates. As one should hope.

The story takes off with Felicity awkwardly bolting from a marriage proposal because what she wants to do is study medicine. She’s so beaten down trying to convince hospitals to train her, though, so when she gets the opportunity to meet her very favourite doctor hero, Alexander Platt, she snatches the opportunity and travels across Europe to hopefully be hired after his wedding. But it just so happens that he’s marrying her old childhood friend, Joanna…and this creates some awkwardness because they had a massive falling out years ago. But Felicity is so desperate for this dream that she teams up with a slightly sketchy girl named Sim (who possibly is a thief?! who can know) and as things turn out to be not what she expected, she gets tossed into a whirlwind journey and adventure of pirates and dragons, heroes and villains, naturalists and famous doctors, thievery and saving.

My very favourite thing was our trio of fantastic leading women. Felicity is all ornery and focused: get to be a doctor. She literally cares about nothing else, and her drive is admirable as well as sad sometimes, because she misses out on a lot of things. Like friendships. Then we have Sim! She’s Muslim and brown skinned and Felicity isn’t quite sure if she’s a thief or not, but the two get bundled together to go on this adventure to find Alexander Platt…which is where Joanna Hoffman comes in! She’s loves parties and lace and frills…and she’s also a naturalist. The dynamics of the trio were thrilling and diverse and complex. Every character felt so incredibly well written, I loved every second getting to know them.

I also liked how it tackled the you’re not like the other girls” trope. Felicity herself was the one perpetuating it, and seeing her called out on it and forced to think about why she scorned women who liked feminine things was so refreshing to read. Felicity thinks being sensible and intelligent means being as far from “girly” as possible and this so isn’t true. I love how she grew and her character arc was amazing.

It has a very travel-centric plot! They romp over a lot of Europe and then end up on the high seas (ooh pirates!). It also focuses a bit on naturalists too…and mapping and exploring. I so could handle a book from Mackenzie Lee about women explorers in history too!

The feministic rants were very therapeutic to read. At times it did feel a bit repetitious and I wanted Felicity to think and feel about more than her single-minded focus to be trained as a doctor and how the arrogant men of the world were blocking her way. It consumed her, which made sense, but it also veered into preachy territory sometimes. But these things were so so topical to talk about, especially today, when women still face horrible sexism as they try to forge new paths and fight for the right to be held equal to men.

Also all the scenes where Monty and Percy came in were perfection. This is the part where we get to crack up and fall into the old banter of Monty and Felicity who love each other…aaand fight all the time.  It was also amazing to have a bit of a “what’s happening to them now” peek at Monty and Percy’s lives. Also their conclusion? So so good.

In fact the book, on the whole, had just such a stunningly winning ending, that I feel very warm and satisfied! Which is a perfect way to finish off reading a fantastic duology about the Montague siblings. The friendships and discussions on being asexual and the pirate adventures and cleverness and huger to learn all made this book an exceptional treat to read.

Meet the Frugalwoods

I set to reading Meet the Frugalwoods: Achieving Financial Independence Through Simple Living for three not-entirely-deep reasons:

  • The title seemed intriguing. I mean, what’s a frugalwood?
  • I’d just finished reading The Barefoot Investor and figured a book about frugality was a good way to continue refining my financial plans and processes.
  • The book was in demand at the library, which is the book-reading equivalent of seeing a long nightclub queue and figuring it that club is the place to be.

So, despite not having known anything about the Meet the Frugalwoods or its author, I was sufficiently intrigued.

While Meet the Frugalwoods didn’t explicitly impart financial advice in the same manner as The Barefoot Investor, it did chart the story of how a couple of 20-somethings had scrimped and saved enough to pay cash for their dream home and be financially independent by their early 30s.

And that’s without hyperbole but with plenty of mistakes. ‘I’m astounded at how many ways there are to waste money, and at how many of them I’ve personally fallen victim to,’ author Elizabeth Willard Thames writes, which is heartening. She wasn’t, like the kinds of people I tend to find write these kinds of books, born impossibly good with money and had been saving since she was seven.

Instead, Willard Thames kicks off the book with explaining that she found herself finishing uni with good grades but little to no experience and struggled to find anyone who would hire her. She eventually landed herself a job in New York that paid just US $10,000 per year and found herself having to live in a pretty dire Brooklyn neighbourhood and develop some extremely good money-conserving skills on the fly just to survive.

It seems like that forcibly lean year set her on the path to ensuring she never had to feel so financially stressed again. As she writes: ‘While I’m pretty sure the phrase “extreme frugality” sounds like penance, it’s actually the exact opposite. It’s deliverance … Frugality opened up my mind to what I can do with my life, as opposed to what I can buy.’

She makes some salient points throughout the book, not least: ‘It’s not about how much you like or dislike your job. It’s about how dependent upon it you are for your paycheck.’ Also: ‘Buying clothes didn’t automatically make me more confident or more beautiful; it just automatically meant I had less money.’

Meet the Frugalwoods centres around the premise that Willard Thames and her husband aimed to have enough money saved up so they could work if they chose (which they do choose), but that they don’t need to work to survive. It’s an aim almost everyone could relate to.

Spoiler alert: The couple achieved that and more, saving more money than I just about thought possible. Willard Thames even went so far as to give up make-up, a crutch she’d used to bolster her self-esteem since she was 14, and the couple used YouTube to teach themselves how to do their own haircuts.

All of which is probably a little extreme for most of us, but which illustrates what’s doable if you’re motivated enough.

But saving money isn’t the only boon. A byproduct of frugality, Willard Thames writes, is that it’s good for the environment because it involves ample use of second-hand items: ‘I’m of the belief that you can’t buy your way green because consumption, by its very action, usually has a negative impact on the environment.’

Not having known what a frugalwood is or what the book was going to be like other than the fact than it seemed to be in demand worked out ok for me. Meet the Frugalwoods was a pleasantly interesting, thought-provoking, and ultimately useful foray into frugalism and a no-nonsense look at achieving financial independence.

While I probably wouldn’t give up haircuts (and frankly couldn’t be trusted to cut my own hair—not now, not ever), there are plenty of other areas where I’m saving money and others this book has inspired me to try.

YA Thrillers: ‘Found’ & ‘After the Lights Go Out’

Fleur Ferris has endorsed Lili Wilkinson’s latest novel After the Lights Go Out (Allen & Unwin) with the words, “A terrifying yet hope-filled story of disaster, deceit, love, sacrifice and survival.” These words could also apply to her new book Found (Penguin Random House Australia). Both Australian YA novels have intriguing titles and are classy examples of thrillers set outside country towns in hidden bunkers. They complement, and could be read alongside, each other.

After the Lights Go Out begins with an absolutely riveting scene where homeschooled Pru and her younger twin sisters Grace and Blythe have to escape from their house on an isolated property on the edge of the desert to a hidden underground bunker. Their father, a mining engineer, built it in secret and named it the Paddock after Winston Churchill’s WWII bunker. We learn quickly that he is paranoid, anticipates secret government conspiracies and that he is a doomsday prepper. This is a training drill.

Later, when the lights go out, the girls know that this is The Big One and they execute their exhaustive training and protocols such as Eat perishables and Exchange worthless currency for supplies. Tension ratchets because Pru is anaphylactic, there has been an explosion at the zinc mine and her father is missing, and the girls aren’t sure whether they should share their supplies with the townspeople of Jubilee.

Bear, Elizabeth’s father in Found is also highly protective and intimidating. He wouldn’t be happy about her kiss with Jonah but he doesn’t witness it – he’s been taken by unknown people in a white van. When her mother realises what has happened she whisks Beth out of town and through a cross-country route along channels across the paddocks to a bunker under a dry dam on their farm. This bunker is made from shipping containers and is as well-equipped as Pru’s. Their flight is also just as original and exciting.

The reason for Beth’s family’s dangerous plight is quickly revealed and the story then steams ahead with help from Jonah (who shares the narration) and Trent, a bad boy who may be trying to reform. The stakes are raised even higher when Beth’s mother is shot.

Both Fleur and Lili describe their very Australian rural settings with authenticity and care. Lili’s diverse characters range from a British Asian church minister to warm-skinned love interest Mateo who has two mums. Found is action-packed and heartbreaking and will be relished by all high school readers who love a fast-paced, filmic read.

Other highly recommended books by these authors include:

Fleur Ferris Risk, Black, Wreck

Lili Wilkinson Green Valentine, The Boundless Sublime, A Pocketful of Eyes

Leaf Stone Beetle

Leaf Stone Beetle is written by Ursula Dubosarsky and illustrated by Gaye Chapman. Its publisher Dirt Lane Press is a ground-breaking new publishing company based in Orange, NSW. They believe in creating quality literature and are publishing books by some of Australia’s best, including Matt Ottley, Ursula Dubosarsky and Gaye Chapman.

http://www.dirtlanepress.com/

 

Leaf Stone Beetle is a deeply-considered, poignant tale telling the interlinked stories of leaf, stone and beetle. The book’s physical small, almost square shape is ideal for small hands and, along with its understated cover and ink and woodcut style illustrations, signals that it belongs outside the usual. Thoughtful, perceptive readers of all ages will find Leaf Stone Beetle resonant.

Little leaf is the smallest and greenest leaf on the tree. When the other leaves change colour and are tussled away by the wind, it stays behind until swept by a gentle breeze to a stream. A stone lies on the bottom of the water and notices the changes in tree, weather and stars without expecting any transformation itself. When a storm moves the stone near the gnarled roots of the tree, it is terrified.

Beetle is different from the other beetles. Without haste she absorbs the minutiae of her world. “She looked at the tiny purple flowers. She looked at a slip of golden pollen that fluttered by in the wind”. The other beetles realise that a storm is coming and scurry away. Beetle then has no one to follow home.

The stories intersect when Beetle is kept safe by leaf and stone in completely natural ways. They are all accepting of their transient safety, recognising their ultimate role in nature’s cycle. With interest and without angst, readers glean that change is an inevitable part of life.

Leaf Stone Beetle is a unique construct of narrative science and story in words and illustrations. It is simple, yet philosophical and profound.

Teacher Notes are available at https://static1.squarespace.com/static/50e75d6de4b0955e45fd2583/t/5b5e56b62b6a28400347ea34/1532909255781/Leaf+Stone+Beetle+Teachers+notes_01.pdf

Other books illustrated by Gaye Chapman include Little Blue, Incredibilia, Precious Little and In the Evening. 

Some books, amongst many, written by Ursula Dubosarsky include Brindabella, The Blue Cat, The Golden Day, The Red Shoe, The Word Spy and The Return of the Word Spy.

Other books published by Dirt Lane Press include The Sorry Tale of Fox & Bear by Margrete Lamond, illustrated by Heather Valence. This wily, nuanced tale was shortlisted for the 2018 NSW Premier’s Literary awards. The Dream Peddler by Irena Kobald and Christopher Nielsen is published this month.

Peace, Love, and Goats of Anarchy

I’ve written before about rescue goat animal sanctuary Goats of Anarchy (GoA), founded by event planner turned goat rescuer Leanne Lauricella. GoA cares for goats in need of a home, which often includes special-needs goats (AKA ‘robogoats’) who require prosthetics and/or carts to help them get about.

Lauricella has previously released children’s picture books about some of GoA’s residents, including Polly and her Duck Costume (a blind goat with a neurological disorder who is becalmed when she is swaddled in a duck onesie) and Angel and her Wonderful Wheels (a tiny black and white fainting goat who’d lost the tips of her ears and toes to frostbite and who’d survived some unnecessary amputation surgery and now gets about with the help of a custom-built cart).

Peace, Love, and Goats of Anarchy: How my Little Goats Taught Me Huge Lessons About Life is Lauricella’s latest book, but this time aimed more as a gift book for adults. Hardcover and petite-sized, the book features stunning images of many of the farm’s residents, including through a collage and some full-page portraits in the book’s initial pages over which I pored for minutes before eventually turning the page to start the book’s text. Also, its cover image is stellar.

Peace, Love, and Goats of Anarchy tells a little more about how Lauricella started rescuing the goats and what she’s learnt from them along the way. The super-short chapters are organised by themes of change, finding purpose, unconditional love, strength, confidence, patience, grief and courage, fight like a goat, and hope.

As with Lauricella’s previous books, the 120-page book’s writing is simple, spare, functional. It’ll never win prizes for the prose, and the advice-giving summaries at the end are a little rah rah and redundant, but it definitely gets the job done.

Especially in the latter sections, which recount some fairly difficult times around some of the goats we fell in love with, not least Lawson and Mellie, who both had terminal heart conditions. Having witnessed their stories via GoA’s Instagram, I cried some ugly tears reliving their stories via this book.

And really, if you do nothing other than skim the chapters and enjoy the images before bouncing off to social media to follow GoA, then Peace, Love, and Goats of Anarchy has done its job.

My three wishes for any future books Lauricella releases is, first, I’d like to put in a request for an Ansell the Destroyer book. AKA a book about an incredibly intelligent, curious, accidentally mischievous, and often misunderstood goat named Ansell who survived a horror of a start to life and has an unrivalled gentleness and zest for life. No hints, or anything.

Second, that Lauricella engages a professional writer to write above book and also to really uncover and convey the deeper stories we know exist about GoA. For example, just how hard it is to do the job she’s doing. The current books are a little superficial when we know there are some significant and significantly compelling stories that warrant telling.

Third, that she discusses how she can manage the farm financially. GoA is a registered charity, yes, but that can’t be the whole story. As someone who adopts ex-battery hens, I know only too well how expensive their medical care can be and really, really want to know how Lauricella is making it all work—is the charity pumping along or is she getting by by the skin of her teeth?

Regardless of these last two quibbles, Peace, Love, and Goats of Anarchy would make a good present for someone interested in animals and animal rescue, and would make an adult companion to the children’s book range Lauricella has published. At the rate she’s going with book releases, her books could comprise the entire range of Christmas presents I’ll be getting for the different people in my family.

Trace Times Two

I wasn’t familiar with Maria James or her 38-year-old murder cold case. The single mother from Thornbury, Melbourne, was stabbed 68 times in her bedroom one weekday morning by a person or persons never definitively identified. Coincidentally or otherwise, she was killed the morning she was going to confront the local priest about molesting her young, disabled son Adam.

What I refer to as ‘Trace times two’ are the astonishingly good podcast and book by the same name about James’ unsolved murder and the people tangentially affected by it—first, and foremost, her patient, polite, generous, trusting sons.

Brought to us by the team at the ABC, led by ABC journalist Rachael Brown, Trace features Ron Iddles—whose name literally condenses to ‘Riddles’—the kind of detective you’d definitely want investigating your or your loved ones’ untimely deaths, should they occur. James’ murder is the first case Iddles encountered as a fresh-faced 25-year-old homicide squad inductee and it’s the one case he hasn’t yet successfully solved.

For Iddles and the many people affected by James’ death and the events that occurred around the time of her death, re-opening investigations into the case is painful and an enormous responsibility—something Brown struggles with: ‘… we’ve been lost down countless rabbit holes. We’ve asked people to relive their nightmares and brought on tears, many of them our own.’ She also writes: ‘… interviewees unwittingly place a great amount faith in us, complete strangers, in handing over their story. It’s like a blind date with potentially far more damaging consequences.’

It’s also a blind date that almost came to nought, with Brown having first to fight to get the podcast picked up and second to ensure it got to see the light of day: ‘This is a story that’s crawled under my skin, stayed there, and is screaming to be told,’ she wrote to her bosses. ‘I set out to find if a priest murdered Maria. If one did, it’ll be a first for Australia’s modern history. Given the current climate of the Royal Commission, it’s a question that must be asked.’

Indeed, the tale is incredibly timely.

While it would be easy to dismiss the podcast and book as just another dip into the true crime wave (there are, admittedly, a lot of true crime podcasts finding their way to iTunes), this one is top-tier quality. Apart from stellar investigative journalism and storytelling, Trace times two breaks new ground of the ilk that Serial and Dirty John have before them, leveraging all available skills and platforms and giving a sense of what could be possible. As Brown writes:

‘It’s an odd synergy, this podcast’s reliance on old-school journalism techniques (federal roll checks, microfiche searches, handwritten letters), alongside the innovative element of interactivity, but that’s where I think its beauty lies …’

Trace the book is a handy companion piece to the podcast (and also works as a standalone text). I’d highly recommend reading it alongside or after listening to the podcast to enrich the podcast-listening experience. Here’s hoping Brown is able to help James’ sons and dogged detective Iddles find the answers they’ve been searching for for almost four decades.

World Mental Health Day | YA Book Book Recs

With World Mental Health Day having come and gone on the 10th of October, I thought this would make a great opportunity to give some mental health YA reading recommendations! Books are both excellent sources of knowledge and can help you be more empathetic to circumstances you might not be familiar with. If there are two things we all need, they are definitely empathy and knowledge.


TURTLES ALL THE WAY DOWN by John Green — featuring OCD and anxiety

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Of course John Green is an extremely common YA name and well deserved! His latest book features Aza Holmes, who struggles with severe OCD (although it’s not labelled on the page, but John Green has confirmed he based Aza’s experiences off his own OCD journey). It’s so incredibly and poignantly well written, and of course features a dash of Green-esque humour and heartbreak.

WORDS ON BATHROOM WALLS by Julia Walton — featuring schizophrenia

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This is a journal from the view of Adam as he starts a trial of new medication to manage his schizophrenia and not only is it absolutely well written, you can’t help but be so caught up in Adam’s world as he fights to have a life he’s proud of and also not be terrified of his own illness. It also features a delicious amount of baking.

STARFISH by Akemi Dawn Bowman — featuring social anxiety

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Hands down, this is one of the best social anxiety books I’ve read! Anxiety is such a complex beast and it’s amazing to find a book that both captures this and also tells a heartwrenching tale of a biracial girl with an abusive mother. Kiko will absolutely break your heart (and mend it a little) as she uses art to escape her terrible home life.

THE GENTLEMAN’S GUIDE TO VICE AND VIRTUE by Mackenzie Lee — featuring depression and PTSD

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This is a historical fiction romp and a half! It is downright hysterically hilarious and you will fall in love with Monty as he tours the continent in the 1700s and breaks his heart over loving a boy his forbidden to have. The themes of depression and PTSD are so well woven through the tale it will do it’s best to reduce you to tears on several occasions. One of my all time favourite books!

THE WICKER KING by K. Ancrum — featuring depression and hallucination disorder

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Ohh if this isn’t a stunningly told story that uses mixed-media to completely captivate your imagination. It’s the story of two boys whose lives are intricately woven together in a co-dependant relationship that is part friendship, part love, as they fall deeper into the dark spirals of a hallucination disorder. Jack is losing himself and August will do anything to hide it so no one takes Jack away.

ANGER IS A GIFT by Mark Oshiro — featuring anxiety

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Just in case you wanted to have your heart punched out of your chest…definitely try this one! It’s a story of a boy with intense anxiety (so well written) who is also battling to be heard in a world that wants him silent…or not existing at all. It’s such a powerful #BlackLivesMatter story from an #ownvoices author and gives a detailed look into what black kids go through in schools who’ve decided they’ll never achieve anything. Perfect book is utterly perfect.

YA Books About Magical Creatures

One thing we bookworms get quite enthusiastic about when it comes to fantasy stories must definitely be: magical creatures. Oh we have our cats in real life, but what could be better than a little pocket dragon or a suitcase full of weird and wonderful monsters? (Looking at you, Newt, from Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find them.)

So! If you are secretly mourning the lack of magical creatures in your life, do allow me to show you a list of books where you can vicariously live your dreams of having a pet who is possibly a shapeshifting kraken. Obviously what everyone wants.


GRIM LOVELIES by Megan Shepherd

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Not only is this a brand new shiny release…it features beasts turned human! You know the old Disney stories where the fairy godmother turns the mice into coachmen? Here we have it! Except the witches are evil and the beasties are her slaves and very very desperate not to turn back into their animals skins. It’s also set in Paris and features Anouk, a demure and quiet servant for her witch overlord…until the witch is murdered and suddenly she has 3 days to figure out how not to turn back into an animal.

 

SHIVER by Maggie Stiefvater

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Might as well thrown in a good oldie too…because werewolves are kind of adorable. Once you look past the part where they might eat you. but if you want a story about THE most sweet and soft werewolves in existence, please meet Grace and Sam. Grace is obsessed with the wolves that live in the woods and then she discovers one is a golden-eyed boy in the summer time. Come winter? He goes back into his wolf skin, but it’s getting hard and harder for him to shift. It is the worst luck that they just met when Sam is running out of time — and their sweet desperate romance drives them to look for a cure. Seriously, you have never read about a wolf who is sweeter than Sam Roth (he folds origami, I mean).

 

TEETH by Hannah Moskowitz

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This is set on a rainy miserable island where Rudy is trapped while his family try to get his little brother cured with the apparently “magical healing fish”. It appears to be doing zlich and Rudy is miserable and lonely…until he meets a boy in the water who is absolutely not just human. He appears to be part fish himself. He’s a tortured and nasty little biting thing, but Rudy can’t help being drawn to him. At night he listens to the fish boy’s screams. In the morning? He plans how to save him. All I’m saying is that if you can’t fall in love with a werewolf, the next option is a cute fish.

 

TESS OF THE ROAD by Rachael Hartman

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Look now we get to the real winner of the day: DRAGONS. If you’re going to take a fantasy roadtrip, you’re doing it wrong if you don’t bring your pet dragon. (Although if you want to be technical, this book features a quigutl, which is a sub-species of dragon and rather small and prone to too many opinions. However it is the best dragon companion. And Tess is a character you so easily feel for, after she escapes an abusive and oppressive life and dresses as a boy and heads off to find her fate on her own. It also deals with the oppression of women and the everyday abuse they suffer making it a very topical book, even with a setting of shapeshifting dragons and swords and very sharp cheese.

Review: The Barefoot Investor

The Barefoot Investor book isn’t new, but it’s one I’ve simultaneously been intrigued by and slightly dismissive of. I thought: Surely it’s a bit gimmicky? But I figured it’s unfair to write off a book before even reading it, so I recently dug in.

Reader, I’ve been wary of it for no good reason.

While Scott Pape’s The Barefoot Investor isn’t the best written book I’ve ever encountered, and I at times found its text and analogies a little cheesy and hyperbolic, I’ll also heartily acknowledge that that’s not its need or design. Rather, the book is functionally and accessibly written serves its purpose well.

That purpose is to make confusing and overwhelming financial issues interesting and understandable to lay readers. And also to offer an alternative to budgeting, which is akin to dieting and destined to fail.

Providing the advice in three parts with the umbrella themes of ‘plant’, ‘grow’, ‘harvest’, under which sit chapters that include information about scheduling a monthly date night to eat good food and make tackling financial talk fun, ‘domino-ing’ (i.e. lining up and knock over in planned succession) your debts, buying your own home, and maximising your super. None of which sound particularly exciting, but each of which are peppered with gems of achievable information that neither require a finance degree nor a tonne of time, and that together provide a cohesive approach to well and truly sorting yourself financially.

For example, I ended up downloading a useful spending tracking app and slightly tweaking my mortgage and superannuation set-ups based on some of the takeaways. I’ll be contacting my bank to renegotiate my mortgage interest rate once they’re open on Monday. (Pape handily even provides a script for such renegotiations.)

Through reading this book, I finally started to understand how not to budget, which has always seemed boring and inflexibly strict, but how to split money among buckets that then ensure there’s always money available at short notice for unexpected expenses while simultaneously building compound interest. For the first ever time in my life, I actually found myself enjoying reading about and figuring out how to finesse my finances. If that isn’t a resounding sign of the success of a book, I don’t know what is.

Hearteningly, Pape’s advice is about long-term financial control and comfort rather than getting rich quick. It’s solid, measured advice that he revisits and revises annually to ensure its information and pop culture references are still current.

So I happily write that I stand reminded that books become bestsellers for a reason. The Barefoot Investor conveys crucial information in ways that suit lay people like me. Which is to say it cuts through the guff few of us understand. It’s definitely worth at least a flick through if not a proper sit-down read.

Review: I’ll Be Gone in the Dark

I’ll Be Gone in the Dark, the book about a serial rapist and killer whose crimes terrorised Californian communities and have long stumped authorities, popped up on my radar the same way it did for many people: because of the tragic story behind it.

Writer Michelle McNamara died unexpectedly in her sleep while partway through writing the book. Her bereaved husband, actor, and fellow writer Patton Oswalt stepped in and, along with McNamara’s researcher and an award-winning author, finalised and published the book. Oswalt also recruited Gillian Flynn, AKA she of Gone Girl writing fame, to write a foreword.

All of which is heart-warming, but that hints that the book might be a bit patchy or uneven. So I’ll be honest that I didn’t know what to expect when I cracked its spine, and that at best my expectations were low.

But McNamara’s astonishingly good writing and storytelling that gets layers down deeper than traditional true crime tales is absolutely gripping. And, as with all quality writing, seems effortlessly so. Oswalt and co. have used editor’s notes to flag where they’ve assembled chapters or segments based on McNamara’s notes. The transparency is to be applauded, but in truth almost not needed—the book hangs together fairly seamlessly.

Essentially, the book documents McNamara’s efforts to uncover the identity of a prolific and bolshy rapist and serial killer variously termed the East Area Rapist, the Original Night Stalker, the Ransacker, and later, by McNamara, as the Golden State Killer (GSK) whose crime spree is as bizarre as it has been seemingly unsolvable. Well, until recently. But more about that later.

While I originally thought the book’s title might have been a reference to McNamara’s death during sleep, but it’s actually a reference to the GSK’s ominous threats to his victims, which took the form of words like: ‘Make one move and you’ll be silent forever and I’ll be gone in the dark.’

Some 50 women were bound, gagged, and brutally raped in their homes during his crime wave, and while it started out being women alone, couples were later targeted, with the men tied up in another room and the GSK taking odd keepsakes from his victims’ homes. Around 10 people were killed, with authorities still attributing other unsolved crimes to the GSK as DNA analysis and cross-jurisdictional co-operation improves.

In fact, as McNamara outlines, it was the lack of sharing of information between police forces that in some ways allowed the GSK to operate as he did. As one rape victim who lived in a southern suburb not thought to be frequented by the GSK told the police when they eventually arrived to rescue her: ‘Well, I guess the East Area Rapist is the South Area Rapist now.’

McNamara wrote: ‘A forensic match between the cases didn’t exist, but a feeling did, a sense that a single mind was at work, someone who didn’t leave many clues or talk or show his face, someone who strolled undetected in the middle-class swarm, an ordinary man with a resting-pulse derangement.’

The GSK disappeared just as suddenly as he appeared, with people postulating theories about what ended his efforts as that he was either incarcerated for another crime or dead. That didn’t stop people working together and individually for decades to solve the mystery, and McNamara features cops and crime scene forensic specialists and Reddit-hosted enthusiasts alike as she tries to identify the GSK.

Without wanting to ruin the ending, there have been some significant developments in the GSK case since the book was published. Which in no way diminishes it. I’d just recommend trying to resist googling the case until you’ve finished McNamara’s book.

Oswalt has written an afterword that talks about the daughter now growing up without McNamara, who asks: ‘“Daddy, why do you and Santa Claus have the same handwriting?” Michelle Eileen McNamara is gone. But she left behind a little detective. And a mystery.’

Posthumously publishing McNamara’s book is perhaps the greatest tribute he could have made. Meanwhile McNamara’s tireless work arguably at least partially contributed to authorities solving the GSK case. Make sure you allow some time after reading I’ll Be Gone in the Dark for some serious GSK googling.

Forever Inspiring; Elizabeth Mary Cummings on The Forever Kid

Children’s author and poet, with a background in education and psychology, Elizabeth Mary Cummings is known for her sensitive attention to difficult topics including mental health and anti-bullying issues. Following titles, such as The Disappearing Sister and Dinner on the Doorstep, Elizabeth has recently released her picture book on grief, The Forever Kid. She has paid careful consideration as to celebrate the life of a family’s son and brother in a joyous way, rather than treat this story as a sorrowful tragedy. Johnny, their forever kid, is beautifully and authentically remembered on his birthday – an event they honour every year, despite his absence. Vince, narrator and younger brother, portrays a host of emotions, including sadness, guilt and joy as the family look both back and forward on life with and without their Johnny. A narrative genuinely thought-through via the child’s perspective. Equally, the illustrations by Cheri Hughes add an extra layer of depth with their angelic, water-wash qualities to represent the softness and tenderness of the emotion and the family’s  tradition of telling ‘cloud stories’, as well as the vivacity that reflects their strong memories of their loved one. The Forever Kid is undoubtedly a book that children from age four will strongly remember and gain solace in knowing there are positive ways to cope in difficult situations.

Big Sky Publishing, October 2018.

Elizabeth is here today to talk with us at Boomerang Books!

Congratulations on the release of your heartfelt picture book.

A powerful and beautiful story such as The Forever Kid would grip the hearts of any audience coping with grief or change. What was your motivation for writing it, and what do you hope is gained by readers?

The story came to me one night when my parents were visiting, I woke at about 2a.m. and the story was there and I wrote it down immediately before I lost it. The trigger was probably talking through family times as well as having at that time just lost a dear friend to cancer. The idea of grief was right at the surface of my emotions I guess and being with my parents had made my mind turn to the story of my father losing his younger brother who was a teenager at the time of his death.

What have you found to be effective strategies in dealing with grief? How does your book show the processing of such sadness and mourning in a positive way?

In dealing with grief there is more of an understanding that this is complex and that does not go away once time passes. For those who have suffered loss and grieving, it is a process but it is also a state in which they live after the initial loss.

In The Forever Kid, Vince and his family celebrate and remember Johnny on the day of his birthday. On talking to many families who have suffered the loss of a child I have found that this is common practice. Although sadness is certainly present this can be the day where there is a reflection on the life of the loved one. This celebration of life in itself becomes the positive coming together and of that opportunity to talk about that loved one.

For children it is vital that they have access to the truth as well as have a chance to be involved in the grieving process both around the time of death and after. It is important that [children] have a safe adult or older sibling or child to talk to about how they feel.

What is your involvement in the community regarding help with family and mental health situations?

I have no official role. I obviously write on the topic and am a great believer in narrative therapy.

Your previous titles (the Verityville and Elephant in the Room series) were all published independently. This time you have gone down the trade publishing route with Big Sky Publishing. How have your experiences differed in terms of support and marketing opportunities?

Well, when publishing independently one has all the control and all of the responsibility. It is a double-edged sword. Traditional publishers have bigger budgets, more control and wider reach. The decision as to how to publish (independently or trade) and who to publish (publisher selection) much be made in the light of what one is writing about and what one’s intention is for the story. As I have been working on my own marketing for almost four years now I understood the publisher’s considerations better than a first time author might. Publishing is no easy task and it takes a team to develop a book all the way through. Even when working independently I am working with others – designers, beta readers, editors and other professional services I may need to contract in to help produce a book as best possible.

Anything else of excitement you’d like to add? News? Upcoming projects? TBR pile?

Some of my new projects include: two poetry collections, a new picture book called The Green Striped Hoodie about bullying and resilience, finding a publisher for a project I have been working on to do with trauma and recovery as well as a couple of environmental projects and some more Verityville stories!

That’s all very exciting! Thanks so much, Elizabeth! It’s been a pleasure!

Elizabeth can be found at her website, and on blog tour here.

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian

Review: The Boneless Mercies by April Genevieve Tucholke

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The Boneless Mercies by April Genevieve Tcholke is an exquisitely atmospheric fantasy tale that’s part Beowulf and part witchy glory. It’s the kind of book that you soak in because the world is so large and sprawls well beyond the page. Everything seemed so carefully crafted, from the delicious food descriptions to the scenery and the culture. It’s about girls who kill out of mercy, and sometimes out of vengeance, and it’s about monsters and witches and gentle magic and saving those who can’t save themselves.

I’d only read Wink Poppy Midnight by this author before (which is a treacherous and enthralling magical realism story) and I was so excited to see what she’d do with epic fantasy!

The story follows four girls who are known as Boneless Mercies: Frey, Ovie, Juniper and Runa. Their trade is death: they do mercy killings for those who are dying or sick, and sometimes they kill to save a vulnerable girl trapped in an abusive situation. But that’s rarer. The girls stick to their code and care their dark, dark burden that men won’t even touch. Frey narrates and as the story begins she’s so tired of this life, of being surrounded and permeated with death. So when there’s news of a monster that no one can kill and whoever conquers it will receive an immeasurable reward? She wants in. But she’ll have to travel through witch clans and dark magic to get there…and she’ll have to convince her close Mercies friends to help her. Because she can’t do it alone. Or will she have to?

The setting is very Norse-inspired and I loved this! There are jarls and snowy viking villages, all mixed with the magic of this new created world. We have witch clans and cut-queens and marshes and far off seas. I could feel the snow and the chill seeping from the pages. It’s easy to get absorbed in the setting, harsh and beautiful as it was.

The concept of Mercy Killers was so interesting too. They literally get hired to do this by people who just can’t keep going on. It’s really sad and very dark, and they often cut throats too, so it’s bloody and messy work. But the girls don’t revel in it. And they might be good at it, but they want another life too. Frey in particularly hates the idea of her life not being big enough.

We also get to meet this tight-knit group of five and travel the snowy worlds iwth them. I usually get a bit nervous by big casts and it took them a while to feel fully like individuals, but I loved them all by the end! Frey is our narrator, and a total selfless girl who wants to save all the things and wants to leap into danger. Then there’s Runa, who’s the feisty snarly one, and dreams of running through the forests with the Quicks (who felt like Robin Hood’s merry men!). Ovie is the solid and quiet one, the backbone of the group. Juniper is the actual sweetest of ever. She’s small and does the prayers and cares for the earth and is also a witch. And lastly we have the groups tagalong: Trigve. He’s the sole boy, who they basically scooped off the side of the road before he died. He follows them around loyally although he can never truly be one of them.

The story feels like a peek through a window into a world you only catch the corners of! It makes you desperate for more books, more sequels, to follow what happens next. And I love it when worlds do that. It also weaves in plenty of very apt storylines about women being dismissed and oppressed and how they’re not going to sit back and take it. It’s an empowering story about girls who save people that don’t even trust them. The Boneless Mercies is a heartfelt and strong and deeply magical tale.