‘Before You Forget’ and Julia Lawrinson

 

Meet Julia Lawrinson, author of Before You Forget, Penguin Australia

Thanks for talking to Boomerang Books, Julia.

Where are you based and what’s your background in books?

I am based in Western Australia, and I’ve published thirteen novels for children and young adults (lucky thirteen, I hope!)

I really enjoyed your 2006 YA novel, Bye Beautiful . Could you tell us about this and some of your other writing? bye-beautiful

Most of my books are realistic, contemporary novels. Bye, Beautiful is set in the wheatbelt in 1966, and so is a departure from that. It is about a policeman’s family, and what happens when two sisters fall in love with the same boy, who happens to be Aboriginal. Although it is fiction, it is based on my mother’s story: my grandfather was a policeman who became officer in charge of the North West before he retired, and his strong personality and morality has had a lasting effect on his family. I feel I work best as a writer when I have a strong emotional connection to what I’m writing about.

My earliest work was very ‘gritty’: dealing with bogan high schools and adolescent psychiatric hospitals. Those stories resonated a lot with readers, and were stories that needed to be told.

Your new novel Before You Forget has a devastating personal connection for you. Could you tell us about the genesis of this novel?

before-you-forgetThe novel was written in response to seeing the suffering that my daughter went through when her father developed early onset Alzheimer’s disease, which began as she was starting high school. It wasn’t just the loss of memory that was an issue: his whole personality changed, and he went through periods of being anxious and angry by turns, which was difficult for both me and my daughter. He would give money away, invite perfect strangers home, almost cause accidents when he was driving without the slightest awareness of it. He refused to see doctors, and when he finally did, they suspected he had depression, alcoholism and various other things until he saw a specialist. Being there with him when he was diagnosed remains the most awful day of my life.

It was incredibly painful for my daughter to see the father she knew disappear in this way, and nobody really seemed to understand. The only person who truly got it was her friend Gemma, whose mother had the same disease, and who tragically died the week the book was released. I want people to understand the impact of diseases like Alzheimer’s on the kids in the family, to have empathy for the extended grief such conditions create.

What is the most terrifying thing about Alzheimer’s?

That it strips away what defines you as yourself. Annie’s dad’s defining feature was his intelligence. It was so awful to see that disappear. Although he’s retained his sense of humour to the end.

How has the book helped your family?

It’s been cathartic, being able to describe some of the things that happened, and to reclaim some of what we lost through the story. The situations in the novel are common to most families where a parent develops Alzheimer’s or similar neurological diseases, so hopefully it will provide a sort of sense of community.

How can others help families in this situation?

By asking what they need. People often want to come in and take control, or offer what they think is best, but it’s really important to listen to what would make the family’s life easier. It will be different for everyone. Also, to be respectful of people’s emotions: taking care of a loved one with Alzheimer’s is an emotional rollercoaster. I remember someone saying to me early on that Alzheimer’s was a beautiful thing, which felt like being slapped in the face. Teenagers with parents with Alzheimer’s can become very impatient and frustrated, but this doesn’t mean they don’t love their parent. It means they are dealing with the grief of dealing with a parent who is no longer who they used to be.

flyawayWho are your favourite artists?

Visual artists? Monet, Van Gogh, Rene Magritte, Brett Whitely, Frida Kahlo, Jeffrey Smart, Margaret Olley.

The protagonist, Amelia, loves art. How have you used art to reflect Amelia’s experiences?

I tried to have Amelia’s struggle to express herself as an artist parallel her difficulties in expressing her feelings about what is happened to her and her dad. Amelia is quite self-contained, but her art shows what is important to her.

How have you incorporated 9/11 into the story?

Amelia obsessively watches 9/11 footage, reads about it, tries to imagine what it would have been like to be there. To her, it is her personal disaster writ large. Instead of having something slow and invisible up-end your life, there is something fast, immediate and visual. But she also learns that it is not just one story: there are lots of stories out of 9/11, including stories of hope and bravery and fellow-feeling.

Amelia’s best friend Gemma has a problem. Could you tell us about this?

Gemma develops an eating disorder almost by accident: she begins dieting and then finds herself on a path she can’t get off. I’ve seen this happen with a lot of young people, and it happened to me as a teenager. You can’t mess with restricting food: once you start, the problems you may have been using food to deal with get magnified. Amelia can’t understand it, because to her Gemma has everything, and she is also upset that Gemma can’t appreciate Amelia’s serious problems. They can’t help each other, in a sense, because of what’s going on in their own lives, but they do try to find a way back to each other.

I should note that I used my daughter’s best friend’s name with permission in the novel, but the real Gemma bears no resemblance to the fictional one!

1b28f-chessnutscoverAmelia’s neighbour, Will, plays chess and one of your earlier books is called Chess Nuts. Why have you used chess in your YA novel, rather than another pastime or point of contact?

Again, this was part of the autobiographical aspect of the novel: my daughter played chess, and her dad was a chess coach (which is how Chess Nuts came about). It was also one of the first things that alerted me to his mental decline: a man who remembered every move of his year seven chess final to suddenly forget how to move a knight. It was a clear sign something was wrong.

What other books have left a deep impression on you?

I read a lot of books featuring bodily or mental illness when I was a teenager. Lois Lowry’s A Summer to Die had a big impact on me, as did The Bell Jar, A Patch of Blue by Elizabeth Kata, and Second Star to the Right by Deborah Hautzig.

Thanks very much, Julia, and all the best with your new book and your family. Your story will no doubt help many others.

All creatures great and small – animal inspired picture books

Animal antics, you can’t beat them. Creatures great and small, they make us laugh, cry, and ponder. As characters in picture books, they are culturally neutral, globally recognisable conduits for expressing a range of emotions that small children (and adults) are readily able to relate to. In short, their appeal is universal. Today we get up close and personal with a few new animal orientated picture books bound to stir up the David Attenborough in you.

mopokeMopoke by Philip Bunting

Hot new author illustrator, Philip Bunting has produced a veritable winner. Mopoke’s cultivated, impossibly restrained colour palette and fierce economy of words positively exudes brilliance. It’s the genius absence of colour and preamble that snaps readers into full alert, squaring their attention on the one and only character, a small southern boobook owl, aka Mopoke (although there is an incongruous cameo appearance by a certain nocturnal marsupial, as well).

Mopoke is quiet and unassuming, clearly one who relishes peace and tranquillity. The Australian bush at night, however is rife with annoyances forcing Mopoke to assume various airs of tolerance until finally, he makes a dramatic move.

Covertly comical and clever, one could interpret this picture book as a subtle poke, pardon the pun, at our social media addictions and the intrusive way they interrupt our daily lives. Of course, none of this will matter to readers under seven or so. They will simply be enthralled by Mopoke’s milk chocolate coloured marvellousness. An experience to be savoured.

Omnibus Books February 2017

my-friend-tertiusMy Friend Tertius by Corinne Fenton and Owen Swan

Until I’d open the sepia hued covers of My Friend Tertius, I had no clue this zoo/war time story even existed. Fenton has, however not just written an historical, fact based picture book. She has encased the true-life story of a British Intelligence covert living in pre-war Hong Kong with that of Tertius, a small-orphaned gibbon into a kind of love story.

Told from Arthur Cooper’s point of view, Tertius soon becomes an inextricable part of Cooper’s life. Together they work and savour the steamy tropical pastimes of Singapore and Hong Kong until the onset of World War II finally forces Cooper to evacuate to Australia. He is loath to leave his best mate behind, though so smuggles him into the country before having to surrender him to the Melbourne Zoo.

This is a story of turbulent times, separation, and unconventional friendships that somehow endure. Despite Tertius’ imperfect circumstances, one cannot help but feel a certain warmth for his relationship with Cooper. A fascinating picture book for older readers revealing yet more amazing wartime alliances thoughtfully illustrated by Swan.

Allen & Unwin February 2017

one-keen-koalaOne Keen Koala by Margaret Wild and Bruce Whatley

Not since One Woolly Wombat have I come across an animal counting book that is so full of bounce and spirit, I thought I might have to a lie down after reading it. Wild’s wondrous way with words is so pleasing to read, you’ll wish this continues beyond the count of 12 happy possums. Light, breezy, and bristling with Australiana, her verse escorts young readers from numbers one to twelve whilst gently stimulating them with the notion that new beginnings are indeed enjoyable. The appeal for new pre-schoolers or primary schoolers is therefore ten out of ten.

Whatley’s illustrations are soft and unobtrusive albeit awfully cute and fun. He even manages to inject new life into an old favourite, the perennial wombat.

One Keen Koala is a counting / back to school book that almost makes me want to troop back off to Kindy. Highly recommended.

Scholastic Press February 2017

Stay posted for another instalment of animal inspired reads, soon.

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian

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?!

[PURCHASE HERE]

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.

READING

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.

WRITING

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.

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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

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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.

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian

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

[buy]

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

[buy]

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.


9780141368511THE ONE MEMORY OF FLORA BANKS

[buy]

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

[buy]

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.


9780062231185THE HALF LIFE OF MOLLY PIERCE

[buy]

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.

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian

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.

[PURCHASE HERE]

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

HAPPY AUSTRALIA DAY!

#byAustralianBuyAustralian

 

 

 

 

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.

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian

 

 

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.

BRIEF LIST OF THINGS I LOVED:

  • 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!

 

[BUY HERE]

Words and Pictures

Words and pictures can be so much more powerful together than apart. Comics, graphic novels, picture books, illustrated novels. So many possibilities.

As a writer, I love art. I love handing over my words to see what an illustrator will do with them. I had my first picture book published in October this year – Meet… the Flying Doctors. It was illustrated by Ben Wood, who did such a wonderful job. Each and every double-page spread is a stunning work of art worthy of gallery exhibition. I feel extremely lucky and privileged to have these illustrations inside a book with my name on it.

9780143780687

Books 11 and 12 in my YOU CHOOSE series of interactive stories will hit the shelves on 3 January 2017. The covers and internal illustrations for this series are by the talented James Hart. Even after twelve books he still manages to impress and surprise me with his dynamic covers. The success of these books is in no small part due to the fact that James’s art grabs casual book browsers and screams “PICK ME UP”!

9780143782988 9780143783008

 

As a reader, I love art. There are so many wonderful works out there. Here are a few I’ve read recently…

9781742378527KidGlovz (2015) by Julie Hunt, illustrated by Dale Newman

An extraordinary graphic novel for kids in glorious black and white. A musical prodigy is a prisoner of his talent, until a young thief helps him escape. What follows is a magical journey of discovery. This book won a 2016 Queensland Premier’s Literary Award and was shortlisted for both the CBCA Book of the Year and the Crichton Award for New Illustrators. It certainly deserves all the accolades.

 

9780670078684The Greatest Gatsby: A Visual Book of Grammar (2015) by Tohby Riddle

Who would have thought grammar could be fun? It certainly is with this book. What is remarkable, is how Riddle uses a combination of words and pictures to make even the most complex oddities of grammar quite simple and understandable. This book would be great for kids who are struggling with grammar. But it’s also a pretty wonderful book for grown-ups who want to brush up on their gerunds, reflexive pronouns and superlative adjectives. But is this book GREAT? GREATER? GREATEST?

Withering-by-Sea (2014) and Wormwood Mire (2016) by Judith Rossell

These Victorian-set Stella Montgomery Intrigues are magical! A young orphan girl, raised by her three ghastly aunts (Aunt Temperance, Aunt Condolence and Aunt Deliverance) finds herself caught up in all manner of supernatural events. These books are beautifully written and illustrated with a light, old-fashioned touch. They are hard to put down as they transport you into the past and plunge you into their mysterious intrigues.

9780733333002 9780733333019

 

9780330404365The 13-Story Treehouse (2011) by Andy Griffith, illustrated by Terry Denton

Kids have been going nuts for the Treehouse books ever since they hit the shelves… and I’ve been meaning to get around to reading one of them for ages. I wanted to see what all the fuss was about. Well, I can certainly see why kids love them so much. This book is so RANDOM. It’s full of MAD, BONKERS FUN! The words and pictures working seamlessly together. Loved it!

 

9781627389877The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina (2016) by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, illustrated by Robert Hack

The writer behind the rather awesome zombie apocalypse re-imagining of Archie and his fellow Riverdale residents in Afterlife With Archie (see my review) now sets his sights on Sabrina. Set in the 1960s, it takes a rather dark and gruesome approach to the story. Perhaps not as immediately engaging as the Archie graphic novel, this one takes a while to warm up… but once it does, it’s pretty damn good. Another comic book character, Madam Satan, is also re-imagined and woven into the story.

 

9781401245009Injustice: Gods Among Us, Vol.1. (2013) and Vol.2. (2014) by Tom Taylor, with art by Jheremy Raapack, Mike S Miller, Tom Derenick and Bruno Redondo

Wow! This has got to be one of the best superhero comics I’ve read in ages. Bold, dark and relentless, it looks at what might happen if superheros decided that they knew what was best for the human race, and that the ends justified the means. Will have to seek out the rest of this series.

Well, that’s it from me for 2016. See you all in the New Year.

Catch ya later, George

PS. Follow me on Twitter

Check out my DVD blog, Viewing Clutter.

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Media Tie-in Books

9781405926508I’m a bit of a pop culture junkie. So I tend to read a fair few books that are tied in to other media – film, television, games. Mostly Doctor Who, as this is my particular area of obsession. This year I’ve read less than I normally would. But here are a few that I’ve really liked.

Night of the Kraken (Doctor Who: Choose The Future) (2016) by Jonathan Green

Looks like we’re getting a new series of interactive Doctor Who books. Yay! BBC Books tried this a few years ago with the Decide Your Destiny series. I only read a couple of those and found them a little disappointing. Night of the Kraken is the first book in the new Choose The Future series, and it’s showing a great deal more promise. Rather than putting the reader into the story with a second person narrative (which is what the previous series did), this book is in third person with the reader making decisions on behalf of the Doctor. It works well and moves at a good pace. Not all the plot strands fit together neatly and I found too many of them being a bit same-ish, but overall it was a fun read. More please!

Lethbridge-Stewart: The Forgotten Son (2015) by Andy Frankham-Allen

This is the first in a series of spin-off books about Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart from Doctor Who, prior to him being promoted to Brigadier and put in charge of U.N.I.T. (United Nations Intelligence Taskforce). Set immediately after the events of the television story “The Web of Fear”, L-S must deal with his own past as well as the Great Intelligence making another invasion attempt. So the Yeti are back! This is an excellent start to the series. There is a wonderful sense of time and place, a great build up and pretty much perfect characterisation. The plot gets a little muddy towards the end, but not enough to prevent this book from being a wonderful read for Doctor Who fans.

Lethbridge-Stewart: The Schizoid Earth (2015) by David A McIntee

The second book in the series doesn’t get off to as great a start as the first. I found the style a bit hard to get in to. But once I got used to it, the story hooked me in and I really enjoyed it. This story again involves L-S’s past, this time with some time travel to get the plot moving. I’m looking forward to reading more in this series.

9780993119156 9780993322112

The X-Files anthologies edited by Jonathan Maberry – Vol.1: Trust No One (2015); Vol.2: The Truth is Out There (2016); Vol.3: Secret Agendas (2016).

Fans of The X-Files rejoice! This is a glorious set of anthologies, with stories set in a range of time periods – from before the series, to each of the seasons, and beyond. Not all the stories were to my taste, but they were all well-written and well thought out. No stinkers in these collections. And I’m sorry, but I can’t help bragging a little here… I have a story in Vol.3. – “An Eye For an Eye”. I’m very proud of it and super excited to be included alongside so many famous writers. My story was recently reviewed on THE X CAST blog, and I am thrilled with getting such a great review that picks up on all the things I was trying to achieve with the story.

9781631402784 9781631405266 9781631407208

9781772752045Guardians of the Galaxy: Castaways (2016) by David McDonald

I never really read the comic books, but I loved the Guardians of the Galaxy film… and since I knew the author and liked his work, I thought I’d give this book a go. I’m so glad that I did! This is a fun, fast-paced, rollicking adventure, but with a good sense of character. It’s funny and exciting. Although focussing on Star-Lord Peter Quill, each of the team gets relevant time in the plot and moments in which to shine. I particularly loved Gamora’s sub-plot as protector of a monastery. And the ending! It’s an explanation I could easily imagine in an ep of Doctor Who (which is high praise in my book). This is not some quick cash-in on a hot property… it’s a quality read!

I’ve got a really tall to-be-read stack for 2017, and a good chunk of those book are tie-ins. Looking forward to reading them… and telling you all about them.

Catch ya later, George

PS. Follow me on Twitter

Check out my DVD blog, Viewing Clutter.

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List of YA Alice in Wonderland Retellings

If there’s one thing I absolutely adore it’s: fairy tale retellings. And what could be better than an entire list of Alice in Wonderland retellings?! Lewis Carroll’s Wonderland is such a classic and it’s inspired so many writers to work madly at their own versions, from prequels to sequels to reinventions of the original tale completely. I love it! I can’t get enough! And just in case you can’t get enough either, I have compiled a list for you.

May we all think of six impossible things before breakfast and fight our daily Jabberwockies.

(Also see my list of Peter Pan retellings!)

 

ALICE IN WONDERLAND RETELLINGS


9781925479478HEARTLESS

[buy]

Written by the NYT bestselling author of the Lunar Chronicles — this is a prequel story from the point of view of the Queen of Hearts! You know that lovely lady who says “OFF WITH THEIR HEADS” frequently throughout the Alice tales? Yup. Here she is. But before she was a head chopping queen, she was called Cath and loved to bake. This is one of the most delicious books in existence basically since it’s loaded with delicious foodie descriptions. Expect desserts, mad tea parties, and a Victorian setting with balls and talking cats and a swoon-worthy Joker that might just steal a girl’s heart.


9781419706271SPLINTERED

[buy]

This is an “after Alice” sort of story and centres around one of Alice’s descendants, a girl named Alyssa who is visited each night by a wickedly charming moth named Morpheus who means to lure her into Wonderland to fight evil and return Wonderland to its former glory. Except her magical moth boy guide isn’t being honest and Wonderland is out to, well, kill all the things. This is a retelling worthy of Tim Burton’s dark and twisted Alice movies. It’s beyond brilliant and the descriptions are so lush and entrancing!


9780008175399QUEEN OF HEARTS

[buy]

Another tale that starts with the origin story of the Queen of Hearts before she was into lopping off heads. (This is a popular point of view it seems.) It follows the story of Dinah, an unloved and neglected princess who must suffer with her royal father’s maliciousness and try to stay ahead of enemies that want to kill her, all the while vying for the throne. Life ain’t easy when your royalty apparently.


25926238MAD ABOUT THE HATTER

[buy]

This one takes a sequel sort of approach and follows the brother of the original Alice as he too loses his way into Wonderland. Henry isn’t exactly fond of nonsense and magical worlds, but he accidentally gets caught up in Wonderland and ends up being taken to the Red Queen by none other than the Mad Hatter. The two hate each other as they journey through Wonderland until they gradually find hate turning to love. It features a lovely whimsical Wonderland and grand character development and a romance to fall for.


9780142409411THE LOOKING GLASS WARS

[buy]

What if Alice wasn’t really a girl falling through a rabbit hole into Wonderland? What if she was a princess and on the run from her evil aunt (the Red Queen) before she’s murdered for her crown?! This is a very imaginative approach to the original tale and completely changes everything. It features wars and conspiracies and Alice trying to convince a writer of her tale and reclaim her kingdom.

The Best Aussie YA of 2016

2016 has been an excellent year for books! A few weeks ago, I cheered about the best YA fantasy that has graced our shelves, but now it’s time to talk about a very important topic: Aussie YA! Our homegrown authors have been hard at work giving us delicious books to devour at dawn (or at any time, really, they’re not picky) and I today have an exciting list of excellent 2016 Aussie books.

You should probably read them all. Just saying.


9781742612386WORDS IN DEEP BLUE

[buy]

Cath Crowley is an amazingly profilic author and her books never disappoint! I was so excited for Words In Deep Blue because it’s about (A) bookstores, and (B) people who love books, and (C) people writing love letters to strangers and leaving them folded between pages of books. Isn’t that amazing?! Well guess what: THE BOOK WAS AMAZING TOO. It was exquisitely written with complex and relatable characters, who were a little bit self-depreciating and a little bit tragic and entirely winning.


9780143573630THE THINGS I DIDN’T SAY

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This is about a girl named Piper with selective mutism who’s trying to make a fresh start in a new school. She has severe social anxiety, which results in her not always being able to talk. Although Piper’s plan is just to improve her photography and finish out her last year of highschool…she just happens to meet an amazing boy (who is coincidentally an amazing cook and I don’t know about you, but I fell in love with him right then) who really likes her. But Piper’s worried he won’t stick around if she never talks. It’s such a moving and incredible story about the power of words, with a great representation of anxiety. There is no “romance cures all” themes, which is bliss. And the characters are so entirely adorable I couldn’t help but root for them!


9780702253942ONE WOULD THINK THE DEEP

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This is about Sam who’s just lost his mother to an aneurysm and is forced to live with his relatives…who may or may not kind of subtly hate him. Sam’s life is falling to pieces. He’s so angry at being abandoned and he’s neglected and unloved, and your heart will probably bleed for this poor kid. He takes up surfing and tries to make a new life for himself. This is my 3rd read by Claire Zorn and perhaps my favourite?! I can’t get enough of her incredible characters and the way her books always rip at my heartstrings.


9781760112226MY SISTER ROSA

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This is about Che, whose sister is probably a psychopath. The book is mostly set in the USA, but Che and his family are Australian, and Che is not really happy to have left his life in Oz to come here. He’s a boxer but he suddenly has no friends and he’s the “new” weird kid. Plus there’s his 10 year old sister, Rosa, to worry about with her vaguely psychopathic tendencies. Che has no idea what she’ll do next. Right now it’s callous pranks and manipulation of everyone around her — but what if it ends up with murder? This story will keep you 100% glued to the page, wondering what is going to happen next. It’s part coming-of-age story of Che and his boxing and first serious romance. And it’s part thriller as you watch a young psychopath at work. It’s entirely one of the best books in the universe!

Review: Slow Horses by Mick Herron

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 grays; 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 the book here…

Under the Christmas Tree Part 6 – Tis better to give than receive

It’s almost time to step away from the desk and wrap up the year. What a year it’s been, brimful of incredible stories and pictures, all of which have been a delight to share with you. It is, as they say; better to give than receive, so here are some final last minute helpful hints for something worth tucking under the Christmas tree.

was-not-me Was Not Me! by Shannon Horsfall

This fits the Naught but Nice list. Perfect for the school holidays, this picture book by talented newcomer, Shannon Horsfall will have kids swinging from the chandeliers and surging through the high seas with her calamitous Not Me character. He is cheeky and illusive and always hangs the blame for the mess on the carpet or the floods in the bathroom on his twin brother, Me. Mum suspects foul play and is not so easily fooled.

was-not-me-illos-spreadKids and mischief is a mix that portends all sorts of hilarious possibilities. Horsfall has managed to bottle that common go-to-get-out-of-jail card-catch-cry that kids so frequently use, ‘Was not me!’ with lightly rhyming humour and very likeable illustrations. Something fun for bored would-be house wreckers these holidays aged four to eight.

Harper Collins Children’s Books July 2016

twigTwig by Aura Parker

Another author illustrator production this time by Aura Parker whose unique organically inspired illustrations turn this gentle story about making friends and starting school into an obvious holiday choice for four to six-year-olds.

Heidi is a stick insect. She is tall and slender and blends in incredibly well with her surroundings so much so that she goes virtually unnoticed by all those around her. Such anonymity does not bode well for a creature as unassuming as Heidi and she fails to make an impact on her new classmates or even her energetic teacher, Mrs Orb. Dejected and miserable, it is not until Scarlett inadvertently unearths Heidi’s indignation that the rest see Heidi for who and what she is for the first time. From then on, the webs of friendship begin to spin.

twig-and-aura-parkerTwig is a sweet tale about finding the confidence to embark on new adventures. It is also a glorious detailed experience of visual discovery. Each of the end papers is crawling with critters and bugs of every description with prompts to seek them out. Twig is a marvellous way of getting real with bugs with a captivating nod to counting, species classification, biology, and colour. A picture book to truly pour over.

Scholastic Press November 2016

elephants-have-wingsElephants Have Wings by Susanne Gervay and Anna Pignataro

We have reviewed this one before (read Julie Fison’s encounter with Susanne Gervay, here) but it’s worth special mention and a prime place under the Christmas tree.

At a time in our history when there should be no child that suffers comes this powerful picture book by the accomplished team of Susanne Gervay and Anna Pignataro. Based partly on the ancient parable the Blind Men and the Elephant, this outstanding work is suffused with elegance, immense spirit and a beauty that young children will recognise and draw from even if they are not able to comprehend the complexities that lie within each page.

My daughter was nine when she first read it and stated, ‘It is great out of the box thinking isn’t it? I mean, who would have thought that elephants could fly.’ Indeed, capturing the essence of the blind men and the elephant in a picture book is one thing. Exhibiting it with such exquisite heart and sensitivity as the team of Gervay and Pignataro do is higher than commendable.

The journey of discovery begins one night as two young siblings beg their father for a bedtime tale. This particular night he tells their grandfather’s story, thus spanning the generations. From his recount, we learn of a group of children from varying cultural backgrounds intent on going out one dark night in search of a secret. They each find part of something, each certain they are right in their assumption of what it is, each unwilling to accept that their interpretation of their discovery whilst subjectively correct in one instance could also be part some bigger picture. They ‘argued until everyone was angry’ – my favourite line in the book, also one of the most disparagingly accurate of observations. It is not until grandfather appears with his candlelight that the children discover that each of them ‘was right, but also wrong’ and the magnificent elephant is revealed.

But what of the secret? As brother and sister embark upon the elephant’s sturdy back and soar with him over the many glorious fabrics of their world, they come to appreciate not only the beauty that surrounds them but also the cracks that threaten that beauty, until finally they arrive home, conscious now of their differences and sameness.

elephants-have-wings-illos-spreadThe subtle nuances so intricately and delicately woven into this creation are numerous. Pignataro’s textured, collaged illustrations, lift and transport, defying gravity and borders. They convey a rich tapestry of multiculturalism, religion, and ultimately, Nirvana – a divine realisation of self and the ability to see past fear, a call to reach out for harmony. The use of the colours of the Chakra, of pages drained of any pigment and then restored, provide reasons to clutch tightly to life, ride out derision, to hope – to forge forward.

Gervay’s impossibly expressive narrative articulates confusion, disaccord, reconciliation, and understanding, prompting young readers to ponder and question all that which they see (and hear) around them. To paraphrase the words of George R R Martin ‘Just open your eyes… is all that is needing. The eyes see true…then comes the thinking and in that knowing the truth.’

Supremely brave, eloquent and masterful, Elephants Have Wings will initiate discussion over many shared readings; it is one to treasure and grow with.

Ford Street Publishing October 2014

Find your elephant within as soon as you possibly can.

Cherish your Christmas moments. Give a Book. Read lots!

See you in 2017!

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian

Reading goals and challenges

Do you set reading goals or participate in reading challenges? Participating in a reading challenge can encourage you to read books you wouldn’t ordinarily come across. I also love the sense of achievement when I can tick off my goals as I accomplish them. With my reading year close to wrapping up (see what I did there?), I’m taking stock of my reading challenges and goals for 2016 and looking ahead to next year.

At the beginning of the year I made a goal to read 60 books and 20,000 pages and I track my progress using GoodReads. At the time of writing I’ve read 59 books and 19,640 pages, so I think I can safely say I’ll achieve these two goals before the year is out.

Two reading challenges I participate in every year are the Australian Women Writers Challenge and the Aussie Author Challenge.

Australian Women Writers Challenge

The Australian Women Writers Challenge has been running for five years now and aims to encourage avid readers and book bloggers, male and female, living in or outside Australia, to read and review books by Australian women. In 2016 I committed to reading 10 books by female Australian authors and to date I’ve read 11, so I can tick that one off.

Registrations are now open for 2017, so if you want to participate next year, just click here for the challenge details.

Aussie Author Challenge2017-aussie-author-challenge

Naturally I love to support Aussie authors wherever I can, and one way I do this is by participating in the Aussie Author Challenge. This reading challenge has been running for seven years now and the objective is to showcase the diversity of work being produced by Australian authors. In 2016 I signed up for the Kangaroo level to read 12 books by Australian authors. I had to read 4 male authors, 4 female authors, 4 new-to-me authors and at least 3 different genres. I’ve blitzed this challenge by meeting the criteria and reading 17 books in total and had a great time along the way.

Registrations are now open for 2017. If you want to join me on the challenge next year, click here for the details.

2017 Plans

Do you have any reading goals or plans for 2017? I’m going to participate in the two reading challenges above and am considering whether to increase my reading goal back up to 65. If you have any book related new year resolutions, I’d love to hear about them in the comments section below.

I hope you all have something great to read over Christmas and perhaps a book or two under the Christmas tree.

Review: Whisper To Me by Nick Lake

Whisper to Me by Nick Lake is an incredibly story about mental health, love and family. I CONFESS: I went into it with very low expectations because the cover didn’t grab me and I was left rather befuddled by the author’s previous book There Will Be Lies. But Whisper To Me was amazing and it’s totally underrated! I think it’s one of the best mental illness books I’ve ever read in a long time.

9781408853863The story is by Cass, who is a quiet reserved girl who’s reeling after losing her mother in an accident. She’s writing this book as a letter to a boy she hurt to try and explain what happened and why she broke his heart. The truth is she is hearing voices and is trying to cope and handle it, along with the anxiety, depression, and PTSD of witnessing her mother’s death. Not only that, but there’s a serial killer in town and Cass gets slightly caught up in finding out who it is.

Cass’ exact diagnosis isn’t given. It’s eluded that it could be bipolar or schizophrenia. But it felt so well written and so real. The author’s note says he briefly actually experienced hearing voices…and I think that really added a lot of relatability to the story because it felt honest, raw, and real.

Cass is also an incredible protagonist to read about. She’s quiet. She thinks a lot and says the wrong things. She’s really self-depreciating which I loved reading. Honestly, it’s quite hard to write about such heavy topics and still perfectly incorporate humour, but this book pulls it off with an A+. Cass does a lot of ridiculous things and you will probably get very frustrated with her at several points. But that made her realistic. The book was so brilliantly written that I felt like I understood Cass’ decisions, because we are so deep in her thought process, that even when I know they’re dumb things to do, I also understood why she made them. Cass was relatable and I so rooted for her.

It has an epic focus on relationships. Cass and her kinda-scary-ex-Navy-dad (who honestly has untreated PTSD) have to do a lot of work on their relationship. And later on Cass makes friends with Paris, a girl she met in hospital who has bipolar disorder. Paris was incredible. The book continually described her was “weird”, but she owned it and was kind and wasn’t afraid to be her wild self. I loved Cass and Paris’ friendship and how they were there for each other.

The romance is a bit of cuteness. There’s a boy (who actually is never named, because the book is written in the “to you” format)  renting the spare flat attached to Cass’ house and he was adorable. This is probably the most awkward romance ever. And to be honest it doesn’t have much chemistry. But I really wanted it to work out for them.

The letter format worked really well. It is quite the long email, honestly. This book is 500+ pages and written as an email to this boy Cass loves. It made me quite desperate to find out why she keeps saying she broke his heart. We know WHAT happened but we don’t know WHY it happened.

The ending isn’t “tidy.” I give this book all the points for being realistic. The ending is very open, be ye warned, but I felt like the story doesn’t end when the pages do and I like that!  Life is not a neat little box. Plus the writing is just a pleasure to devour. And even though the book was a small brick to read, I enjoyed every page.

It is a story that balances darkness and light. The things the Voice tells Cass to do can be brutal and horrifying and I wanted to cry with her several times. I love the character development and the message and the way it all felt so real. Definitely an excellent book about mental health.

 

[BUY HERE]

Renee Price Sings with Digby and the Yodelayhee… Who?

imageI just love sequels that cleverly, though subtly, intertwine with small connections but take you on a whole new, unique adventure. Renee Price, author, educator and entertainer extraordinaire has done just that with her second book in the Digby series – an enthusiastic, lively and inquisitive romp jam-packed with mystery, melody and rhythm. Not to mention its upbeat and dynamic illustrations. Today we are fortunate enough to have the opportunity of a sneak peek into the soon-to-be-released, anticipated Digby and the Yodelayhee… Who?! Doesn’t the title just make you want to get out your maracas and microphones and shimmy to your heart’s content!

Renee is here to tell us more about her book. Welcome, Renee!

Digby and the Yodelayhee… Who? is the fun sequel to the intriguing quest of Digby’s Moon Mission. Please tell us a bit about your latest book.

imageDigby and the Yodelayhee… Who?, much like Digby’s Moon Mission, portrays the joy and innocence of children’s imagination and curiosity. Digby and his friends have solved the mystery of a hungry moon, now it’s up to them (and some useful tools) to solve the mystery of a noisy noise! I’m really excited to release this book as it combines my two writing loves; stories and (spoiler alert!) song. J

How do you hope the concepts addressed in the story will resonate with readers?

I hope they will resonate really well! Digby’s stories celebrate friendship and teamwork, curiosity, creativity and problem-solving. I always write with these concepts in mind, yet rather than driving the messages home, deliver them in an entertaining and humorous way, and kids really engage and become enthused about getting involved, becoming part of the story, and problem-solving too.

What is your favourite part of the book? Why?

imageI have three favourite parts (is that allowed?)! I am once again, in love with Anil Tortop’s visual representation of my words. I swear she has a device that can tap into my brain and extract my exact thoughts on how I see my words looking on a page. I also LOVE the barcode design by Ozan Tortop (wait ‘til you see it, it’s so cool!). My third favourite part, and one I hold close to my heart is the musical element of the story. Combining words, pictures and music completes me! J

You are naturally musical yourself. What do you see as the main benefits of ‘tapping’ into one’s musical side? How have you seen children respond through your entertaining show performances?

I could rattle on all day about this one! Music is a universal language. Not only can we communicate through music, we can immerse ourselves in music to soothe, comfort, inspire, excite, entertain… there are no limits. We are all musical! I love visiting schools and preschools, seeing all kids engage in the story-telling that music offers and how it complements the written word. I can’t wait to launch the live performance for Digby and the Yodelayhee… Who?. Music and story-telling galore!

You worked with the talented design team at Tadaa Book previously on Digby’s Moon Mission. Did Anil and Ozan Tortop meet all your expectations second time round? What did you enjoy most about your collaboration on Digby and the Yodelayhee… Who??

imageI will never be able to properly articulate just how awesome this duo is. Not only are they incredibly professional and easy to work with, but they are so supportive and nothing is ever too much to ask. Their communication is top-notch and their work is utterly awesome. The entire collaboration with them has been enjoyable, from storyboard drafts right through to prepping files for print. I urge anyone contemplating a self-publishing journey to get in contact with them at tadaabook.com.

Being self-published you did quite a lot of work to get both Digby books off the ground and onto the shelves. Were you more confident this time? Did you do anything differently? What have been the advantages of already having the initial book under your belt, both in ways of publishing and marketing?

In some ways, I felt more confident because it was familiar and I knew what to expect, but it was also overwhelming at times because I knew what to expect! It’s a challenging journey, and at times, I wondered why I was putting myself through it all again, especially having two young children and little time to juggle everything. Through my first book, there were many things I missed as well, such as wider distribution channels, timing of publication date to meet Book Awards entry criteria, further research into print-on-demand services versus off-shore/bulk printing. But the advantages of having my first book out there, meeting more and more wonderful industry professionals to chat with and seek advice has been invaluable. One big thing I did differently this time was print offshore with a company who publishes a lot of trade-published titles. I’m really excited about the higher quality of my second book.

Fun Question! If you could be any musical instrument, what would it be and why?

Ooh, now this is a tricky one! I’d have to say a double bass – because then I’d finally be tall! J What would you be?

Hmm… I’d have to think about that!

Please share your book’s release date and what we can look forward to in the lead up to launch day and beyond. What exciting activities and events have you got planned?

Digby and the Yodelayhee… Who? will be released on March 1 2017. A book trailer is now available (see below), previewing a little of the musical element of the book, too, and there will be some more sneak-peeks coming in the lead up to the launch. We’ll also have some giveaways and fun stuff via Digby’s Facebook page and website.

Launch Day is Saturday March 4 2017 at Wallsend Library (Newcastle NSW) and is shaping up to be an exciting morning, featuring a book reading, signing, colouring activities and a special music performance! Follow Digby’s blog for updates at www.digbyfixit.com.

Thanks so much, Renee! Looking forward to jammin’ with Digby and his friends very soon! 🙂

BIG thanks to you, Romi! You’re a superstar. J

Pre-order your copy of Digby and the Yodelayhee… Who? here.

Published by Create It Kids, March 2017.

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian

Hope Farm, A Guide to Berlin, Between a Wolf and a Dog and other awarded lit fiction

hope-farmAward long and short lists continue to showcase our excellent Australian contemporary literature, much of which is written by female authors. Peggy Frew’s superlative Hope Farm (Scribe) has just been longlisted for the 2017 International Dublin Literary award and this year has already been longlisted for the Indie Book award and shortlisted for the Miles Franklin, Stella Prize, Australian Book Designers’ award and won the Barbara Jefferis award.

Hope Farm is narrated by thirteen-year old Silver who lives a peripatetic life, moving each time her mother Ishtar’s relationship breaks down. They follow Miller from warm Queensland to freezing Victoria but the situation becomes inflammatory.

An unnamed character’s point of view is revealed in notebooks. These entries describe a naïve, poorly educated young woman who falls pregnant and is cast out of her family, taking refuge in an ashram.

The descriptions of the Australian bush are tactile and inspired. The sense of dread is perfectly crafted. The character of Silver is portrayed as longing, awkward and yet knowing, as befits a girl with vulnerable and disrupted life experiences.

berlinAnother outstanding work of literary fiction still being nominated for awards this year is A Guide to Berlin (Penguin Random House Australia) by Gail Jones.

Protagonist Cass meets regularly with five other foreigners in Berlin who share their lives through story. The writing is exquisite. There are references throughout to the work of Vladimir Nabokov who “likened the bishop’s move (in chess) to a torchlight, scanning in the dark, swinging into angles”. There are butterfly motifs and exploration of rich words used by Nabokov such as “lemniscate” – the shape of infinity; “conchometrist” – one who measures the curves of seashells and “drisk” – a drizzly European rain. The novel’s title also comes from a short story by Nabokov. The beautifully crafted insights remind me that I need to re-read Hermann Hesse’s The Glass Bead Game.

A Guide to Berlin has been shortlisted for the 2016 NSW Premier’s awards, longlisted for the 2016 Stella Prize, ABIA awards and the Sisters in Crime 2016 Davitt award. In October it won the 2016 Colin Roderick Award.

housesTwo other acclaimed books, which I applaud for their fine writing, are The Life of Houses (Giramondo) by Lisa Gorton (which jointly won the 2016 Prime Minister’s Award for Fiction with Charlotte’s Woods’ The Natural Way of Things – reviewed here), and Between a Wolf and a Dog (Scribe) by Georgia Blain (which has just been shortlisted for the 2017 Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for Fiction and won the 2016 Qld Literary Award for Fiction).

Like Hope Farm, The Life of Houses is a dual narrative, one strand of which is from the viewpoint of a teenage girl, Kit. Her mother, Anna, is a most unlikeable character.

Georgia Blain’s writing in Between a Wolf and a Dog has a sparkling clarity and beauty. It addresses euthanasia. It is devastating that this gifted writer has just been felled by cancer. wolf

Between them these books have won and been long and shortlisted for many awards. We no doubt have a surfeit of fine Australian contemporary female writers of literary fiction.

Anthologies for Christmas

I love anthologies – books collecting together short stories from numerous authors. I love them as a reader. And I love them as a writer. Anthologies have a lot of things going for them…

Anthologies make great tasters. They are a wonderful way of trying out a whole batch of authors without having to commit to an entire novel. Then, when you click with the style of a particular author, you can go on to read their longer works.

Anthologies are great for reluctant readers. Bite-sized chunks are not as daunting as a massive tome. A person can read one story, rather than having to read an entire book. And a short story, finished off quickly, can give a reluctant reader a wonderful feeling of satisfaction… perhaps encouraging her/him to read some more.

Anthologies are great for time-poor readers. You can read individual stories in short bursts as time permits. Dip in and out of the book without losing track.

Anthologies make great presents. (Hey! Isn’t Christmas just around the corner?) Not sure of the recipient’s taste in authors? Then a book with multiple authors is the perfect solution.

I’ve got stories in three kids’ anthologies that have been released in the last few months. Each of these books also has tales from heaps of other great kids’ authors. Check these out…

 9780143780991Cat Stories
For kids who like felines, you can’t do better that this. Ten stories from the likes of Aleesah Darlison, Anne Mangan, Davina Bell, RA Spratt, Patrick Loughlin, Belinda Murrell, Martin Chatterton, Christina Briones and Bruce Dawe. I read this book with my seven-year-old daughter. Her favourite story was Spratt’s “Nanny Piggins and the Problem Cat”. In fact, she loved it so much that she desperately wanted more… and was delighted when I told her that there was a whole series of books about Nanny Piggins. We have now completed The Adventures of Nanny Piggins and are about to move on to Nanny Piggins: The Wicked Plan. See… I told you anthologies were great for discovering new favourite authors!

 

 9780143780977Dog Stories
So, if cats are not your thing there’s a companion volume about dogs. Lots of fun, slobbery stories from Nick Falk, Sofie Laguna, Tristan Bancks, Christina Briones, RA Spratt, Jacqueline Harvey, Martin Chatterton, Bronwyn O’Reilly, Rae Murdie and Aleesah Darlison.

 

 9780994234063A Toy Christmas [edited by Sophie Masson]
Now this is a perfect book for Christmas gift giving. Thirteen stories about the most magical time of year. It’s got everything from Santa Claus to nativity toys, from dragons to Christmas puddings… and even a story about the Jewish celebration of Chanukah. There are stories from Natalie Jane Prior, Kathy Creamer, Fiona McDonald, Michael Grey, Goldie Alexander, Rebecca Fung, Meredith Costain, Anna Bell, Ian Irvine, Juliet Marillier, Beattie Alvarez and David Allan. They are a wonderful bunch of tales, but my two favourites are, without a doubt, Michael Grey’s “An Unexpected Gift”, which defies gender stereotyping in a beautifully heart-felt story; and Goldie Alexander’s “ Avi and the Chanukah Surprise”, which shows how not all people celebrate Christmas.

And finally, I’d like to finish up by mentioning a book that I am looking forward to with much excitement…

 9781460752319Begin, End, Begin: A #LoveOzYA Anthology
No, I haven’t got a story in this one… but it’s got an amazing list of contributors, including Amie Kaufman, Melissa Keil, Will Kostakis, Ellie Marney, Jaclyn Moriarty, Michael Pryor, Alice Pung, Gabrielle Tozer and Lili Wilkinson. Sounds like it’s going to be a brilliant collection of Young Adult goodness. Can’t wait to get my hands on it. [BTW… check out the #LoveOzYA website.]

Catch ya later, George

PS. Follow me on Twitter

Check out my DVD blog, Viewing Clutter.

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

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5 Reasons You Should Read Nevernight

9780008179991As a rather rabid fan of epic fantasy, I was very keen to try Nevernight by Jay Kristoff. It’s an adult fantasy that features teen characters and it promised to be dark, gritty, and sassy. It absolutely was. It was brilliant! And not only that, it’s by an Australian author, so obviously it has my pledge of intense fangirling for evermore. (No no, I’m not dramatic at all.)

Today I have a list of 5 reasons why YOU should try Nevernight! It’s a very sensible list and you’re going to want to listen to it. Trust me now.

 

1. IT’S ABOUT A SCHOOL FOR ASSASSINS.

Which I’m sure we’ve all read a lot of, because it’s a very popular trope. But this one just brought a whole new level of DANGER! ALERT! to the page. This school is actually vicious, cutthroat, and unforgiving. The tests the students go through are pretty creative — and also terrifying. There’s also a good helping of magic too. And poisons. And really creepy teachers who might kill you or train you. Either/or.

 

2. IT FEATURES A TOUGH AND SASSY PROTAGONIST.

Mia is 16, which originally made me think the book is YA…but it’s probably a little too dark and graphic with the violence and sex to be strictly considered YA. Still! Mia is a vicious little poppet who wants revenge on her father after he was wrongfully murdered by the most powerful men in the city. She travels across deserts and survives rigoursous initiation tests to get into the Red Church assassin school. And she still manages to find time to throw around some barbed quips that made me snicker.

 

3. SPEAKING OF SASS…THERE IS AN INCREDIBLE NON-CAT.

When I say “non-cat” I mean the cat is made entirely out of shadows. Because…SURPRISE. Mia can also manipulate shadows because she’s a Darkin. Not sure what this means? Be calm, my friend, neither does Mia. She really really wants to learn more about her powers which is another reason she’s at the Red Church. But she has an adorable animal companion, named Mister Kindly, (hey no judgment, she found him when she was only 10) who can talk and they have the most epic banter sessions. Mister Kindly is always there for Mia. Let’s just look past the fact he’s made of shadows. He is too precious, too pure.

9781250073020

4. THE BOOK HAS UNIQUE FORMATTING.

I really love this because it helps keep my attention! It has 2 gorgeously designed maps that made my map-loving heart sing. And it also features footnotes! The book is told by an “unknown narrator” who has a little running commentary on Mia’s life, put on the page via footnotes. Sometimes the footnotes add in extra details to the world building, and sometimes they just snarkily make fun of how terrible Mia’s luck is.

 

5. IT HAS SO MANY PLOT TWISTS!

Obviously I won’t share what, because you want the surprises. TRUST ME. But I was so thrilled with the finale plot twists, where people aren’t who they seem and surprises leap out of every corner to stab the characters, and also stab my feels. But who needs calmness while reading epic fantasy?! Not I. The plot of Nevernight will keep you glued to the page and entirely alert!

 

[buy here] 

Review – Sage Cookson’s Ring of Truth by Sally Murphy

Sometimes, you just need some good food, good spirit, or a good book to make your day, or week, or holiday season. Well, how about all three rolled into one? Sally Murphy’s Sage Cookson early reader series certainly satisfies. Here’s the latest book, ‘Ring of Truth’.

imageA bright, eager to please young Sage is the luckiest daughter of world famous TV star chefs, enjoying an exciting life of adventure, travel and delicious culinary delights. Content to take a back seat from the limelight, Sage Cookson is off on another enlightening trip with her parents to watch the filming in the beautiful Harmon Island. There they meet two sisters who will feature on the show; pastry chefs of the most scrumptious pastries, pies and bread. But the success of the segment, and Sage’s good-natured reputation, hang in the balance when one of the sister’s treasured emerald ring goes missing. Can Sage clear her name? Will they go on with the show? There is one ‘pie’-ticular piece of evidence that will reveal the truth.

Within the ten short chapters is a plot that is straightforward and easy for early readers to grasp. Charmingly, the peppering of feeling and warmth throughout adds that extra flavour of drama and emotive goodness. Murphy cleverly integrates themes of friendship, sincerity and modesty within the exhilaration that unfolds in the final scenes. And decorated at each chapter heading are the rich, black and white pencil shadings of illustrator Celeste Hulme, tantalising our senses for what’s ahead.

imageInfused with zest and a sense of refreshment, Ring of Truth satisfies its readers with honesty, passion and aplomb. This series is a treat for all chefs in the making from age seven.

Check out Sage Cookson’s Sweet Escape, and Sage Cookson’s Fishy Surprise, out January 2017.

New Frontier Publishing, September 2016.

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian

Under the Christmas Tree Part 5 – Festive boredom busters

For most of us, it is now officially school holiday time, the season of fraught mothers, constant interruptions, drained purses, and frazzled tempers. Or, if you’re clever, blissful moments spent with your darlings in between extended periods of boredom busting activity. Festive harmony is easy to achieve, you just need the right materials.  Here are a handful of books that entertain and instil serenity.

the-anti-boredom-christmas-bookThe Anti-Boredom Christmas Book by Andy Seed and Scott Garrett

The title speaks for itself but does this book hold the eggnog? Ecstatic to report, it does and some! If you love trivia, jokes, silliness, and just good old-fashioned fun quizzes this is the boredom-busting book for you (and your kids). Perfect for slipping into your carry-on luggage if you happen to be going away or tucking into the backpack for those incurably long family lunches, we force our children to endure over the holiday season, The Anti-Boredom Christmas Book is stuffed with things to do, think about and act out – no pencils required!  (Although there are plenty of arty / crafty options to get creative with.)

Seed’s zany laugh-out-loud facts and games challenge the curious reader: would you rather wear frozen undies or sleep in a bed of snow? You can even learn how to say snow in 18 languages – always good to know. Wacky and wonderful insanity to fill the holidays with whilst simultaneously inspiring sanity.

Bloomsbury Publishing December 2016

wonderful-world-colouring-bookWonderful World Colouring book by Alison Lester

For a more Australian flavoured boredom buster, sample Alison Lester’s Wonderful World kids’ colouring-in book. Whether you are a fan of colour-the- drawings type productions or not, this one is sure to please and entrance the budding artists in your home. Focusing on the art of illustration, Lester ingeniously includes dozens of helpful illustrative snippets and hints to nudge would be artists on their way. Suggestions like: ‘try drawing with your left hand’, ‘always leave a little bit of white in the eyes’, and ‘don’t try to make everything perfect’, are secreted away among her own iconic images on the end pages and in an introductory ‘Drawing Tips’ prologue.

wonderful-world-illo-spreadInside, there is a treasure trove of thick sturdy pages of assorted images and scenes just begging for colour and personalisation.  Exceedingly so much more than just a colouring in book, Wonderful World will inspire, occupy, and educate for days.

Allen & Unwin 2016

my-lovely-christmas-bookMy Lovely Christmas Book

While their creative juices are still flowing, consider this as a sweeter than sweet stocking filler. My Lovely Christmas Book is a quaint diary sized festive book, brimming with blank pages and cheery prompts that allows readers to fill it with their own lists, notes, poems, and wishes, in short, to create a lovely Christmas book for them by them. It ostensibly covers the 12 days of Christmas so could be substituted as a tooth-friendly form of advent calendar, as well.

There is space for photos, favourite listings, and recordings of all the best bits of Christmas a kid can have. Sublimely illustrated, this is an exquisite combination of meditative colouring in book, crafty hang out and personal journal, which subtly encourages youngsters to observe and cherish this most magical time of the year.

Bloomsbury Publishing November 2016

the-kids-survival-guideThe Kids’ Survival Guide – Avoiding ‘When I was young…’ and other brain-exploding lectures by Susan Berran

I’m not sure I should be recommending this but it is insidiously brilliant no matter how potentially detrimental it may prove for we struggling parental types just trying to do our jobs. The Kids’ Survival Guide, is a crafty (not in the arty sense) cheeky, wickedly funny and devilishly useful hand book for kids who’ve had a gutful of the lectures, rules and dumb sayings adults dole out to them day after day of their young lives.

Thoughtfully sectioned into handy parts, the Guide escorts and educates readers on how to remain calm and cope with brain exploding stupidities like ‘You can have a motorbike when you’re older’ -how much older? A day, a month, a minute? Or, what about, ‘You should know, I’ve told you a hundred times’. Berran could be right or at least her character Sam could be right; parents do say the lamest things. Apparently, it’s all in the manual Sam and his mate, Jared found. I just hope they don’t strike back too hard as he shares some of his ‘brain-blowing close encounters’ and teaches fellow sufferers how to ‘twist, flip and turn’ the rules around. Heaven help us. Essential and absorbing reading that is sure to occupy young minds for precious minutes this Silly Season. Warning: Adults should read first to allow time to come up with some witty counter-attacks. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Big Sky Publishing October 2016

 

 

The Best YA Fantasy of 2016

If I could only choose one genre to devour forever, it would definitely be fantasy. I adore the possibilities! And the action, adventure, magic, and probability of talking dragons. So today I’m going to list my favourite 2016 fantastical Young Adult releases. Since it’s nearly Christmas time, you can gift one or two or all of them to yourself. Isn’t that a great idea? It’s a great idea.

There were so many amazing sequels and finales come out this year! It’s so hard to only pick a few, but I’ll be brave and do my best. Here are my top 5 favourites!


9781780622309CROOKED KINGDOM

[buy]

This is the sequel (and finale) to the Six of Crows duology and … can I just say right now that it was pure perfection?! It’s a story about a heist crew out for revenge on a nobleman who cheated them. (Ah, irony.) And the complexity of the heists they pull and the mind games they weave are just incredible and will keep you glued to the page. But make sure you put aside a free weekend to begin devouring this because you will not want to put it down. Ever.


9781407136646THE RAVEN KING

[buy]

Another series finale! This is the 4th and final book to The Raven Cycle collection and it, arguably, has the most beautiful cover of them all. Also the words inside are good. In fact, they’re amazing. This finale will take you on a whirlwind of emotions and make your heart pound as the time towards Gansey’s foretold death draws ever nearer. The demon awoken in the last book is also wreaking havoc and draining the magic of Henrietta and it looks like everyone is going to die. A delightful nail-biter. Also leave the weekend free for this one too? Basically just cancel life and read.


9781481441902THE IMPOSTOR QUEEN

[buy]

This is like a very dark version of Disney’s Frozen! Meet Elli who is supposed to be the next queen who will wield fierce and amazing powers to protect her people — except her powers haven’t shown up yet. People are getting worried. And violent. It’s filled with snow and magic and betrayal and harsh terrain and is absolutely magical to read. Also it has a gorgeous map. Which is a priority for all fantasy books honestly.


9780062380852THIS SAVAGE SONG

[buy]

This is set in a dark, Gotham-like city where monsters roam the streets and the humans rage a constant turf war with them. People look to mafia lords for safety. And caught up in the middle is the vicious and slightly stabby daughter of a Mafia lord, Kate, and a violin-playing-kind-monster boy, August. They get throw together and end up running for their lives. It’s possible, perhaps, that not all monsters are as bad as they seem.


9780008179991NEVERNIGHT

[buy]

And lastly we have a book by Aussie author, Jay Kristoff, who has written an amazingly complex and darkly vicious fantasy starring Mia, a prospective assassin. It’s full of tests and trials and torture and bleeding and you probably won’t be able to look away from the page because you’ll be so worried about who will live and die. The world building is intensely detailed. And it features a talking cat made of shadows. What more convincing do you need?

Mini-reviews

As the end of the year approaches and I desperately attempt to catch up on telling you about what I’ve been reading, may I present another bunch of mini-reviews…

Grimsdon (2010) and New City (2014) by Deborah Abila
9780857983220   9781742758558
Is it possible for a book to be both a dystopian sci-fi and a charming kids’ story? These two tales certainly manage it. Plus they throw in some environmental messages. A captivating read about kids in a flooded city after an environmental disaster, and their subsequent move to a new city as refugees.
thriveThrive (2015) by Mary Borsellino

An intriguing YA dystopian novel. Interesting characters and world, but the story is a bit disjointed and oddly paced. I enjoyed it, but it didn’t quite gel for me. It’s one of those books that I really wanted to love more than I actually did.

9781760154035300 Minutes of Danger (2015) by Jack Heath

Ten linked short stories that are fast-paced and EXCITING! Suspense, danger and action are the driving forces here. I love the concept of linked story collections like this. You get the immediacy of short fiction with the bigger picture of longer fiction, all in one book.

9780575086937Patient Zero (2009) by Jonathan Maberry

This is the first book in the popular Joe Ledger series, about a cop who goes to work for a special ops government agency, The Department of Military Sciences. This is a hard-edged, fast-paced techno-thriller about terrorists using a bio-weapon that turns people into zombies. Ledger is a wonderfully engaging character and Maberry is a master of this genre. The rest of the series is lined up on my to-be-read pile.

51gqzolrwll-_sx354_bo1204203200_Just Plain Cat (1981) by Nancy K Robinson

A nice story about a young boy and his newly acquired pet cat. Below this surface story are family relationships and the experiences of starting at a new school. All handled with quite a lovely old fashioned touch.

9780994469335Zombie Inspiration (2016) by Adam Wallace, illustrated by James Hart

Mad, bonkers fun! During a zombie apocalypse, with much brain-eating, Adam, James and Stacey run, hide, dispatch zombies and learn a little about themselves. A unique and innovative idea, this book is linked to an online course about using zombies as inspiration to be all you can be. Check it out!

9781741663099The Laws of Magic: Moment of Truth (2010) by Michael Pryor

This is the second-last book in Pryor’s wonderful, magical, engaging and totally awesome series set in an alternative history Edwardian period, where magic and science co-exist. I love then so much, I’ve been reading one book a year in order to try and make them last. I’ll read the final one next year.

thumb_cover_not_just_a_piece_of_cake_jpgNot Just a Piece of Cake: Being an Author (2015) by Hazel Edwards

Hazel Edwards, author of the famed picture book, There’s A Hippopotamus on Our Roof Eating Cake, has dipped into her own life story for this engaging memoir. It has a lovely conversational tone that makes you feel like you’re privy to a private chat rather than reading a book. Edwards doesn’t shy away from difficult topics, presenting a warts and all story. Loved it!

9780994358356Hijabi Girl (2016) by Hazel Edwards and Ozge Alkan, illustrated by Serena Geddes

Fiction, especially children’s fiction, can do extraordinary things. It can often achieve outcomes that no amount of lecturing or shouting from rooftops can. It can be enlightening while also being entertaining. It can promote understanding while also telling a good story. And this is what Hijabi Girl does. It’s a good story about kids in a school. Like all kids they have their friendships and difficulties; they deal with teachers and teasing; they have their likes and dislikes. They are ordinary kids doing ordinary things. But one of them happens to be Vietnamese. And another is a Muslim girl who wears a hijab. The cultural differences among these kids are simply part of everyday life, along with all the other little differences between them. One character likes soccer, another likes drawing; one character is into princesses, another likes Aussie Rules footy; one character eats rice paper rolls, another eats only halal food; one character has a pet rat, the others don’t; one character wears a hijab, the others don’t. In the end, difference is not only accepted, but celebrated. As it should be in real life. More kids books like this please!

Catch ya later, George

PS. Follow me on Twitter

Check out my DVD blog, Viewing Clutter.

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

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Under the Christmas Tree Part 4

It’s time for some fun fiction for kids. This little cluster of Christmas inspired picture books is sure to generate a smile or two and plenty of sage head nodding, perfect for slipping under the Christmas tree.

christmas-at-homeChristmas at Home by Claire Saxby and Janine Dawson

I adore the homegrown simplicity juxtaposed with the bustling busy detail Dawson’s illustrations project in this seasonal picture book. Saxby’s narrative is snugly woven to fit the meter of O Tannenbaum however instead of endless verses about pine branches, it’s the lines applauding classic Aussie Christmas lunching and community Christmas light displays that demand your cheery attention. From decorating the tree and touring the neighbourhood streets in search of the most  razzle dazzle to squeezing around the table and forcing down a feast, Christmas at Home is a jazzed up observation of a typical Aussie silly season enjoyed with those you love… at home.

The Five Mile Press November 2016

pig-the-elfPig the Elf by Aaron Blabey

Oh dear, he’s back and behaving badly as per usual. Resounding full marks for this festive episode of the world’s most self-centred pooch. Pig the Elf is a hilarious cautionary tale of greed and arrogance vs compassion and gratefulness. Blabey’s lilting and often times, cutting verse is almost of sing song quality, the carolling type no less (I had to hold myself back) and puts readers nicely in a ‘night before Christmas’ mood. Pig wants stuff for Christmas, lots of stuff and is not shy about slugging old Santa up for it. He does get his just desserts in the end although I’m not sure if he requested them as part of his kilometre long Wish List and I’m not altogether convinced he will mend his gluttonous ways; which I guess bodes well for future puggish adventures. Unbridled fun for pre-schoolers, pug lovers, and kids with Christmas lists that may warrant a hefty bout of structural editing.

Scholastic November 2016

the-naughtiest-reindeer-goes-southThe Naughtiest Reindeer Goes South by Nicki Greenberg

How can you not love a picture book with real snow and ice on the cover? Well at least that’s what the cover of the latest joyful instalment from Greenberg feels like. This type of tactile teasing instantly puts readers in the mood for some frisky frolicking about with Ruby, the naughtiest reindeer on Santa’s team. She and brother, Rudolf are bickering over sleigh-lead-pulling rights until Mrs S steps in and awards both of them poll position in the sleigh line up. Ruby however is having none of it. She swoops and swerves rebelliously, eventually causing sever upset and capsizes the sleigh. Stranded in Antarctica, Ruby has to overcome chilling reality and hostile penguins to make amends and deliver Santa’s presents on time. Greenberg’s rippling verse and super jolly illustrations transport young pre and primary school readers on a glorious special-delivery ride.

Allen & Unwin September 2016

all-i-want-for-christmas-is-rainAll I want for Christmas is Rain by Cori Brooke and Megan Forward

Two front teeth. A hippopotamus. A visit from Old St Nick. Not a lot to ask for, so why not some relief from the crucifying clutches of drought? Jane’s Christmas wish is about to take on a dramatic realisation. She lives with her farmer parents in Australia’s drought stricken Outback.  One day she makes the long trek into town to see Santa to place an extra special order with him. It’s not toys and presents that she yearns for as she counts the sun shot days down to Christmas morning. When it dawns, magic rains forth.

Brooke’s soulful text expresses the exact type of childlike innocence that allows such magic to spill into our lives. Believe, hope, and wish hard enough for something and it will eventually come to pass. If only that were true for our farmers.  Still, this picture book sings hope. Forward’s stunning watercolour illustrations drag us from bone dry dusty paddocks into mud-splattered pastures. Her end pages depict the stark before and after contrasts that epitomises our harsh Australian climate with such eloquent beauty, it will make your heart dance for joy, too.

At a time of year where in many parts of Australia, holiday cheer withers under the savage heat of summer, All I Want for Christmas is Rain is a timely reminder of the spirit of Christmas with a stout-hearted nod to those amazing Australians who feed us, the farmers. Evocative and poignant.

New Frontier Publishing November 2016

kids-reading-guide-2016-2017For more cool gifts for kids this Christmas check out Romi Sharp’s recommendations and Cait Drew’s list for older readers, or visit the Kids Reading Guide, here.

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian

 

YA Books Christmas Books To Get You into the Festive Spirit

As December sneaks into view, many of us start thinking about Christmas. And what better way to get you int the Christmas spirit than to read some books with delightful scenes of holly jolly festivities?! Well an alternative way to get into the Christmas spirit would be to eat lots of festive food and sit on your Christmas tree…but I think books are a nice secondary option if you’ve exhausted those first two.

So let’s list some delightful Christmas-themed books to compliment your holiday reading!


9781442426719TO ALL THE BOYS I’VE LOVED BEFORE

[buy]

This book isn’t strictly all about Christmas, but it does have several chapters that focus on it! And better yet: they focus on the food part of Christmas. We all know that’s the reason for the season. I particularly adore how Lara Jean and her sisters had an annual Christmas Cookie Bonanza, where they’d bake so many cookies of all different flavours. Warning: this book will make you  hungry. It’s also incredibly cute and heartwarming and has an adorable romance! It’s perfect light reading for the holiday season.


9781408845653HARRY POTTER AND THE CHAMBER OF SECRETS

[buy]

Well of course I have to Harry Potter on the list, since almost all the books feature Christmas quite spectacularly! Who hasn’t quietly dreamed of a Christmas spent at Hogwarts in an ugly-Weasley sweater and eating all the delicious food the great hall has to offer?! Hush. I know you have. And don’t forget about the new illustrated Harry Potter books that have been recently released. Because you can never have too many editions.


9781760293826THE TWELVE DAYS OF DASH AND LILY

[buy]

It’s been 4 years since Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares came out, a Christmassy story which involved two teens falling in love while writing each other letters and dares and leaving them anonymously in a bookstore. Now they’re back! Although they’re not…as happy. Lily’s had a rough year and has lost her happiness for Christmas (which used to be her favourite time of year). Time to throw some shiny baubles in the air and find a way to make Lily smile again.


9781509840762WHAT LIGHT

[buy]

This is set on a Christmas Tree farm! It’s about Sierra who’s life is split in half since her family must leave their home and life each year to set up their Christmas Tree shop in another state. But this Christmas she meets a boy with a dubious past. The blurb promises “disapproval, misconceptions, and suspicions” which is always fun and very promising for an exciting story.


9780062342409TINY PRETTY THINGS

[buy]

Again this book isn’t centred on Christmas things, but it is about ballet! And one of the important ballets they put on is the Nutcracker! That part of the book is set around the holiday season. Except don’t dive into here expecting mistletoe and candy canes. Ha, no. This is a cutthroat ballet school where three girls, Bette, Gigi and June, will do anything to rise to the top of their class. And I mean anything. It’s beautifully written and contains a complex and diverse cast of characters.

Review: The Mothers by Brit Bennett

mothers-britThe Mothers is an outstanding debut novel: an engaging, poignant, and thought-provoking read about the importance of motherhood, and the hardships faced by girls who don’t have a female figure in their lives to help guide them. Bennett’s novel explores friendship, the impact of secrets, and the consequences of disloyalty, as three teenagers grow into young adults. Most importantly, it bestows insight into the lives of middle-class people of colour; a viewpoint I’ve rarely seen explored in all my years reading fiction, which is possibly my own fault — I don’t go looking for such stories, when I really should — but equally, such stories don’t seem to be published, which says a lot about the state of the industry, sure, but also about readers’ willingness to read such tales. As author Angela Flournoy put it in a New York Times article: “Writing about ordinary black people is actually extraordinary. It’s absolutely its own form of advocacy.” That’s the point, I think: teenagers Nadia, Luke and Aubrey could easily be characters of any race. Their coming-of-age story — their interwoven destinies — has nothing to do with their race.

Few novels are as poetically searing as Brit Bennett’s The Mothers. Few books are able to say so much with so little. These three teens are united by the hardships they’ve already been exposed to: Nadia’s mother committed suicide, leaving no note, no explanation; Luke’s promising football career was ended by a freak injury; and Aubrey was forced away from home because of her abusive stepfather. When Nadia learns she’s carrying Luke’s baby, she decides not to keep it; Luke reluctantly scrounges the money for the abortion. It becomes their secret, which endures, leakily, for decades; it brings them together and tears them apart, time and time again, trailing them into adulthood. Even though I sensed where the story was headed, and the heartbreak that awaited, I couldn’t put the book down. I was crushed, repeatedly, by the ill-fated decisions made by the trio; but I continued reading, hoping for the best.

The eponymous “mothers” of the Upper Room church community serve as the novel’s narrator — their introspection frames Bennett’s novel — but if I’m honest, the conceit feels a little forced and unnecessary. There’s no need for the meta narrative, and it can be a tad intrusive at times; but in no way does it detract from the brilliance of Bennett’s debut.

Truly one of my favourite books of the year.

Buy the book here…

Christmas Crackers – Picture Book Reviews

As we mark the first day of December, the Christmas countdown has officially begun. A time for snuggles, a time for giggles, a time for togetherness, a time for giving, a time for remembering and making new memories. Here are a few glorious picture books that have all the joy, laughter and magic of Christmas covered.

imageThere is Something Weird in Santa’s Beard, Chrissie Krebs (author, illus.), Random House Australia, October 2016.

Argh! It’s like The Dreadful Fluff in disguise! Yes, there is a dreadful, terrorising mutant refusing to depart the comfort of Santa’s beard. Created by tired and grotty Santa’s leftover crumbs of bubble gum, candy canes, French fries and mince pies, the hideous, squatting blob threatens to ruin Christmas. It devours toys from the workshop and snaps up the elves’ trap. Santa attempts to remove it but to no avail. At last, it is the skilled, king fu-fighting reindeer that save the day. All is well with Santa until he treats himself after a training session with a sticky ice cream.

Chrissie Krebs has written this story with the great gusto and rollicking rhyme that it deserves. I love the depiction of Mrs Claus, too – homely and caring, but let’s face it, everyone’s patience has its limits! With its slapstick comedy, unfaltering rhyming couplets and vibrantly bright and energetic illustrations, this book makes for a highly engaging and fun read-aloud experience.

There is Something Weird in Santa’s Beard will take your preschoolers on a belly-rolling, chin-tickling journey as Santa overcomes the most terrible experience imaginable. But you can count on poor, messy Santa reliving it over and over again, as he did in our household!

imageI Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas, John Rox (author), Simon Williams (illus.), Scholastic Australia, October 2016.

Here lies the renewal of the classic 1950 song originally written by John Rox, and performed by a young Gayla Peevey in 1953, which resulted in the Oklahoma City zoo acquiring a baby hippo named Matilda.

The story subtly portrays a sweet innocence, yet the narrator is firm with complete conviction on why s/he should have a hippopotamus for Christmas. Written in first person with its irregular upper and lower case handwriting as the main text, this is a fun, lyrical narrative (with bonus CD by Indigenous singer Miranda Tapsell) perfectly capturing the magic of childhood and Christmas for its preschool listeners.

Simon Williams gorgeously ties in this magical essence with his own interpretation of the humour and playfulness through his whimsical illustrations. Pairing a ginger kitten as narrator with its ‘Hippo Hero’ is an inspiring move portraying a wonderful unlikely friendship. The kitten makes promises to feed and care for it, and is excited by the hope of being surprised by its presence on Christmas morning. No crocodile or rhino would do, “I only like hippopotamuses. And hippopotamuses like me too!”

Adorably energetic, bouncy and joyful, children from age three will be adamant that they want I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas for Christmas.

imageThe Night Before Christmas, Clement Clarke Moore (text), Helene Magisson (illus.), New Frontier Publishing, November 2016.

With illustrations that are soft with warmth, deep with texture and rich with love, this newest edition of The Night Before Christmas is truly one to treasure.

With the timeless poem by Clement Clarke Moore, talented illustrator Helene Magisson works her magic to create a stunning gift for any family celebrating Christmas. As Santa and his eight reindeer journey through the snow-speckled sky to below the snow-crested rooftop, we are soothed by the pale watercolour tones that beautifully contrast the outdoor shades of blues with the indoor hues of reds. I also love the little whimsical subtleties like Santa’s cheeky expressions, the playful cat and the koala toy for our Australian readers.

With a special story and exquisite illustrations that represent togetherness, comfort and the undeniable joy that is Christmas, The Night Before Christmas is a beautiful keepsake for children between four and six years old.

You can find more fantastic gifts in the Kids Reading Guide 2016.

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian

Glorious Gift Books

annualExceptional children’s gift books for Christmas this year include Annual, edited by Kate De Goldi and Susan Paris (Gecko Press). It’s a treasure book in the vein of an old-style yearly annual, here packaged in the highest quality hardback form as a sumptuous possible Christmas present and absorbing holiday read.

The editors have excelled in their commissioned works, which range from short stories to non-fiction, poems, comics, art pieces, a song with sheet music included (Always on Your Phone) and activities such as a board game called Naked Grandmother and This is not a bottle – instructions on how to make a minaret, a spaceship or a hound with a bottle.

Contributors include Bernard Beckett, Barbara Else and Steve Braunias who has written a satire about various celebrities turning up to work at your house. Lorde and Taylor Swift turn up to wash the dishes but not much work actually takes place.

classicClassic Nursery Rhymes (Bloomsbury) is for younger children and showcases exquisite artwork by Dorothy M. Wheeler, who illustrated Enid Blyton’s books. Each nursery rhyme is generously illustrated with a full-page colour picture inside an elaborately sketched black and white border, which spills over to surround the printed rhyme on the opposite page.

There are too many favourite rhymes to name but they include Hickory, Dickory Dock and Jack and Jill as well as lesser-known gems such as A Frog He Would A-Wooing Go and Cock-A-Doodle-Doo. Little Jack Horner is ideal to read for Christmas.

The sheet music is provided for a number of the rhymes such as Polly Put the Kettle On and Baa, Baa! Black Sheep.

Studies show that children who know nursery rhymes have a higher success rate in early literacy. Mem Fox has also been sharing this belief: ‘If a borrowed story book or nursery-rhyme book becomes favourite, do your utmost to purchase it for your child. Children who have lived in book-filled homes prior to going to school are known to be scholastically advantaged for the rest of their lives. And children who have memorised eight nursery rhymes by the age of three, so I have been told, are always the best readers by the age of eight.’ (quote from Mem Fox’s website)

oddThere is a foreword in Classic Nursery Rhymes by Chris Riddell, who has also been busy illustrating a reissue of Neil Gaiman’s interpretation of a Norse myth, Odd and the Frost Giants (Bloomsbury). This is a very classy publication, extravagantly produced with illustrations throughout, touches of silver ink and cut-away icicles on the front cover. It is sophisticated, creative writing for older primary or gifted younger readers.

It is always worth exposing young readers to folktales, whether in original or reinterpreted form. Here a Viking boy with the unusual name of Odd suffers a terrible injury to his foot and encounters beasts in the woods that are actually Norse gods. As well as the often-argumentative male gods we also meet that most lovely and capable goddess, Freya.

The Best Books of 2016

best-books

The 18 books you need to read this year, as selected by the well-read staff at Boomerang Books (and our 11 year-old reviewer!)

shopping-1

commonwealth

BEST FICTION

COMMONWEALTH BY ANN PATCHETT

Ann Patchett is fast becoming one of my all-time favourite authors, and Commonwealth takes her talent to a new level, totally engrossing you in the lives of two families who themselves get tangled up over the years due to a few choices of fate.

The novel opens in 1964 at a seemingly innocuous christening party. An uninvited guest arrives bearing a bottle of gin and a chain of events gets set in motion. Patchett jumps around with her timeline and doesn’t immediately follow the most sympathetic characters choosing instead to flesh out the least as you piece together how two completely separate families join together and how a tragic event begins to unwind them apart again.

Ann Patchett has written a novel of immense beauty, charm, sadness and tragedy. She will have you laughing out loud as you read one minute and wiping a tear away the next. This is a book I could have, and still want, to read forever. I did not want it to end so lost I became, not just in the story and the characters Ann Patchett so vividly brings to life, but also in the words and way she tells her story. This book is quite simply marvellous. This is an American Classic in the making.

— Jon Page

dryuBEST CRIME FICTION

THE DRY BY JANE HARPER

A small farming community in the grip of drought is rocked by the murder-suicide of a young local family. Farms are failing, tensions are high and almost no one is surprised that the stress has finally gotten to Luke Hadler. It is his final actions which have filled the town with horror.

Aaron Falk returns to farewell his childhood friend but he’s not welcome. His family were run out of town when Aaron and Luke were just kids and he’s never been back. Questions surrounding a 20 year old suicide and Falk’s part in it are reignited and an already tense situation becomes a tinderbox. The community is split and those who wish Faulk gone are not shy in making their opinions felt. All he wants is the truth and in finding that to maybe bring comfort to Luke’s grieving parents… and to himself. Yet finding the truth among so many secrets and lies is never an easy thing.

Jane Harper vividly portrays the harshness and beauty of the Australian landscape and the small-town prejudices and petty grievances which escalate under the unrelenting Australian sun. The twists and turns will leave you in turns gasping from surprise and then in anticipation as each time you think you have it all worked out and you realise you don’t. This is a page-turner in the truest sense of the word. You will not be able to put this book down.

A single spark is all it will take to ignite a whole town. A single page is all it will take to have you hooked!

— Kate Page

everyone-braveBEST HISTORICAL FICTION

EVERYONE BRAVE IS FORGIVEN BY CHRIS CLEAVE

This is a truly wonderful novel that captures the outbreak of the Second World War in London. We follow Mary North, who from the war’s outset, is determined to use this tumultuous time to change the status quo. Mary is from a well to do family and rather than rest on her family name she wants to get involved in the war effort. She signs up immediately with dreams of becoming a spy or being involved in the newly forming war machine. Instead she is assigned as a school teacher and sent off to prepare the school children of London for evacuation. Mary takes this all in her stride and is even more determined to throw herself wholeheartedly into her new vocation.

Through Mary we meet Tom whose job it is to organise the schooling of those not evacuated. We also meet Tom’s roommate Alistair, an art restorer at the Tate, who also signs up immediately and is sent to France. Through Tom and Alistair we explore another side of the war; the guilt of those who stay behind and the transformation of those from civilian to soldier. After surviving the disaster at Dunkirk Alistair is transferred to Malta, where like those in London, he must survive the endless siege from the air of the Germans.

Cleave expertly captures the early days of the war with everybody disbelieving it can possibly be as bad as the government is trying to prepare them for. When the blitz does begin, much to everyone’s shock and sincere disappointment, he skillfully portrays the change of mood and stiff upper lip attitude employed by Londoners to get by. He contrasts all this with Alistair’s experience of the war showing that despite the contrasts between the Homefront and the frontlines there are also many similarities. Survival and sanity the key ones in both. As the war progresses Cleave conveys the steadfastness of this demeanour, both in London and in Malta, despite everything that happens to the contrary.

This is a truly amazing novel that left me shattered at many different moments. I haven’t read such an original take on the Second World War like this since Life After Life and A God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson, and those were both streets ahead of any other novel of the last ten to fifteen years. Cleave captures the spirit of a people so subtly and honestly and how that spirit is harnessed in order to survive. The sense of humour in the book is pitch perfect; dark, sardonic, self-deprecating, infused with camaraderie. At the same time Cleave also shows the darker side of human behaviour.

— Jon Page

 secret-recBEST ROMANCE

THE SECRET RECIPE FOR SECOND CHANCES BY J.D. BARRETT

Lucy’s husband is a liar, a cheat and a recipe stealer so she is leaving him and their popular Sydney restaurant. The only problem is she has no money and no idea what comes next! When she stumbles across the dilapidated remains of the once famous Woolloomoloo restaurant, Fortune, it feels like fate. Except there is a catch – and he’s moody and handsome with a penchant for women. Which is exactly what she doesn’t need. With a lovable, quirky cast of characters JD Barrett’s debut is a little bit Mostly Martha and a little bit Ratatouille!

— Kate Page

dark-matterBEST SCIENCE FICTION

DARK MATTER BY BLAKE CROUCH

Dark Matter is an unabashed science fiction thriller. If the thought of multi-dimension travel – of our protagonist traversing alternate worlds – is too much of a leap from the grounded reality in which you prefer your fiction, okay, fair enough, perhaps this one’s not for you. But for everybody else, willing and able to suspend their disbelief, and accept the parameters of Crouch’s fiction, Dark Matter is a relentless and thrilling ride. What glues it together – what makes this novel work – is its heart. Dark Matter is a love story – punctuated with action and science fiction elements, certainly – but its romantic core, one man’s desire to reunite with his wife and son, is what makes the novel tick along.

Dark Matter is about the roads not taken. It’s about the choices we make – those large, momentous decisions we identify as important, and the smaller ones we barely recognise. Jason Dessen chose his family over his career as a physicist; so too his wife Daniela, who gave up her dream of being an artist. It’s not a decision they regret – they’re a content family unit, blessed with a teenage son – but inevitably there are moments when they wonder what might have been. And thanks to the Jason Dessen from an alternate reality – a world in which he focused on his career in science rather than his family, and created a multidimensional travel device – our Jason is about to discover what might’ve been.

Crouch sends Dessen to a range of close-but-not quite realities as he attempts to find his journey home, to his wife, to his son. In putting Dessen through such an emotional rollercoaster we bear witness to some truly gut-wrenching and poignant scenes. And just when you think the novel’s demonstrated all it’s got to offer – that Crouch is leading readers down a thrilling, but somewhat routine path as Dessen attempts to return to his world – he throws a curveball; an unforeseen plot twist that raises the states even higher, and propels the narrative through to its fitting climax.

Plenty of fiction has explored the idea of multidimensional travel, but rather than focus on the science, Dark Matterkeeps the reader riveted because of its heart. How far is one man willing to go to reunite with his family? How much can he witness before he loses himself? You’ll tear through Dark Matter in one sitting to find out. Truly, it’s one of the best thrillers I’ve read in years.

— Simon McDonald

fireman-joe-hillBEST HORROR

THE FIREMAN BY JOE HILL

Cormac McCarthy’s literary masterpiece The Road presents a hopeless, post-apocalyptic world navigated by an adult and a child. The specifics of the extinction event are not clarified. It doesn’t matter why society crumbled, just that it has, because all that matters for its populace now is survival. The Road is a novel about the repercussions of the unspecified catastrophe that decimated society; decidedly post-crisis. Joe Hill’s The Fireman takes a different route, set at the very beginning of society’s decline, as the Dragonscale pandemic seizes hold, drawing patterns on people’s skin and eventually literally igniting them, causing them to spontaneously combust. Whereas the characters in The Road are surrounded by nothing but absolute despair, in The Fireman trappings of pre-pandemic lives still exist; tangible reminders of what once was. Both worlds are perpetually dangerous and unpredictable. And both novels are hallmarks of the narrative malleability of the post-apocalyptic concept.

Though operatic in scope, The Fireman is centred firmly around Harper Grayson, a school nurse who becomes a volunteer at her local hospital when society starts to decay, and school becomes a thing of the past. When Harper discovers she, too, is infected by Dragonscale — and pregnant! — she vows to bring her baby safely into the world. Her husband Jakob has other ideas, disgusted by the mere thought of bringing another human into a world such as this, and attacks Harper, determined to abort her life and their child’s. During her escape she encounters John Rockwood — the near-mythical figure known as The Fireman — who welcomes her into a secluded camp of infected survivors, who have learned to control their infection. Jakob, meanwhile, joins the Cremation Crews; marauders who kill the infected on sight. Thus, the board is set, the terrain unknown. Husband and wife are destined to meet again; the question is, in what circumstances?

Survival in a Dragonscale-infected world is unglamorous, and Joe Hill doesn’t pull any punches as he exposes readers to the bleak reality of a world beginning its rapid spiral. He showcases a warped evangelical religion based on ‘the bright’ – an aftereffect of the Dragonscale infection – and demonstrates, as these types of stories so often do, that man’s greatest threat to its own survival is itself rather than the wider crisis. The characters that populate these pages are diverse and vibrant, with distinct follies and histories. Harper is an empathetic heroine, far stronger than we (and she) first realise; desperately clinging onto survival against all odds, as everything she’s ever known degenerates. The Fireman is a mammoth tome: to work, it needs a superior protagonist, and Hill has granted his readers a supremely memorable one.

The Fireman is Joe Hill’s most ambitious novel yet, and will inevitably be compared to his father’s seminal work. The thing is, these comparisons are warranted. Hill’s latest novel is indeed reminiscent of Stephen King’s greatest work – but never derivative. Like King, Hill is a master storyteller – it’s in his blood, clearly – and this novel elevates him into a new literary stratosphere. It has been a long, long time since I was last able to lose myself in an epic like this.

— Simon McDonald

mothersBEST DEBUT

THE MOTHERS BY BRIT BENNETT

The Mothers is an outstanding debut novel: an engaging, poignant, and thought-provoking read about the importance of motherhood, and the hardships faced by girls who don’t have a female figure in their lives to help guide them. Bennett’s novel explores friendship, the impact of secrets, and the consequences of disloyalty, as three teenagers grow into young adults. Most importantly, it bestows insight into the lives of middle-class people of colour; a viewpoint I’ve rarely seen explored in all my years reading fiction, which is possibly my own fault — I don’t go looking for such stories, when I really should — but equally, such stories don’t seem to be published, which says a lot about the state of the industry, sure, but also about readers’ willingness to read such tales. As author Angela Flournoy put it in a New York Times article: “Writing about ordinary black people is actually extraordinary. It’s absolutely its own form of advocacy.” That’s the point, I think: teenagers Nadia, Luke and Aubrey could easily be characters of any race. Their coming-of-age story — their interwoven destinies — has nothing to do with their race.

Few novels are as poetically searing as Brit Bennett’s The Mothers. Few books are able to say so much with so little. These three teens are united by the hardships they’ve already been exposed to: Nadia’s mother committed suicide, leaving no note, no explanation; Luke’s promising football career was ended by a freak injury; and Aubrey was forced away from home because of her abusive stepfather. When Nadia learns she’s carrying Luke’s baby, she decides not to keep it; Luke reluctantly scrounges the money for the abortion. It becomes their secret, which endures, leakily, for decades; it brings them together and tears them apart, time and time again, trailing them into adulthood. Even though I sensed where the story was headed, and the heartbreak that awaited, I couldn’t put the book down. I was crushed, repeatedly, by the ill-fated decisions made by the trio; but I continued reading, hoping for the best.

The eponymous “mothers” of the Upper Room church community serve as the novel’s narrator — their introspection frames Bennett’s novel — but if I’m honest, the conceit feels a little forced and unnecessary. There’s no need for the meta narrative, and it can be a tad intrusive at times; but in no way does it detract from the brilliance of Bennett’s debut.

Truly one of my favourite books of the year.

— Simon McDonald

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homo-deusBEST NON-FICTION

HOMO DEUS BY YUVAL NOAH HARARI

The author of Sapiens — also a must-read — returns with another enthralling work of potent brain fuel. Seriously, whatever Yuval Noah Harari writes, I will read. And I’m not a guy who reads a ton of non-fiction.

This time, Harari explains humanity’s rise and ponders our future. He poses that humanism is the dominant ideology of the modern age, but warns it carries the seeds of its own destruction.  Homo Deus is less of a prophecy and more of a conversation: what sort of future do we want? Human nature will be transformed in the 21st century — into what? 

Whether or not you agree with Harari’s assertions and proclamations, his latest work is highly captivating.  Will his outlandish visions come to pass? Well, who knows? But the very idea of it’s possibility — that it might happen — is chilling.

— Simon McDonald

paul-ham-paschBEST HISTORY

PASSCHENDAELE BY PAUL HAM

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

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

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

— Jon Page

hate-raceBEST MEMOIR

THE HATE RACE BY MAXINE BENEBA CLARKE

I don’t read short story collections and I certainly never read biographies or memoirs. Maxine has now blown me away writing both. She has been described as “a powerful new voice in Australian literature”. I’d like to make a few adjustments to that quote. Maxine Beneba Clarke is the powerful voice of Australian literature. Reading Foreign Soil was like being introduced to a raw power. Like most short story collections there were stories that burst out of the book and others that slowly simmered but in every story Maxine’s power as a writer was apparent and you came away from the collection knowing that when she turned her attention to one subject, one narrative for a whole book, it was going to be something to behold. And that is exactly what she had done with The Hate Race turning her attention on herself and her childhood growing up in Western Sydney.

Maxine recounts the story of her parent’s emigration to Australia from England in the early days after The White Australia policy was dismantled by The Whitlam Government of the 1970s. She tells her story growing up in Western Sydney as one of the few families of colour and the systemic, casual, overt and unrelenting racism she had to deal with from kindergarten through to high school; from teachers, parents and classmates alike. She shows how that affected her, how that changed her, how that made her who she is and how it unmade who she is. At times it is painful to read and at other times infuriating. Anger that is tempered by your own shame when you remember similar incidents from your own childhood growing up where you looked the other way, did or said nothing or maybe even contributed in one way or another through your own ignorance of what was going on around you and the pain it was causing. Maxine recounts all this with humour, humility and honesty.

For anyone who thinks Australia isn’t a racist country, read this book. For anyone who thinks casual racism isn’t hurtful, read this book. For anyone who thinks Australia has changed a lot in the last 30 years, read this book. For anyone that has ignored a racist comment because they haven’t wanted to get involved, read this book. For anyone who wants to know what Australia is really like, read this book.

There are books that are often described as important. It is a phrase that can get thrown about a bit too much and it’s true meaning gets lost or is diminished. But every now and then a book comes along that makes you sit up. A book that quite literally takes your breath away. Sucks it out of you and it is not until you stop reading that you truly notice what the book has done. A book that opens your eyes to something you knew was there but have failed to really acknowledge. A book that confronts you with its honesty and raw emotion. A book you wish everybody around you would read so that they too can have the same realization. A book like that is important. Maxine Beneba Clarke has written a very important book. An extraordinary book. A truly remarkable and powerful book. A book I hope as many people as possible will read.

— Jon Page

cooks-tableBEST COOKBOOK

THE COOK’S TABLE BY STEPHANIE ALEXANDER

In this milestone book, The Cook’s Table, Stephanie Alexander shares some of her favourite menus, most precious memories, and decades of experience in the kitchen, to make any dinner party you are planning a special occasion.

Featuring 25 menus ranging from far and wide to close at hand, Stephanie begins each menu with an introduction, sharing the particular moments from her life that inspired each one. From trips to Peru, Italy and Istanbul to memories such as creating a ground breaking Valentine’s Day menu at Stephanie’s Restaurant and remembering Elizabeth David.

Each menu provides a meticulous timetable for the cook, starting days leading up to your dinner party, to the morning of, right up to minutes before your guests arrive. The essence of Stephanie’s planning is to be away from the table as little as possible, so as not to miss out on those valuable moments and stories shared with friends and family.

Every dish in this book can be successfully made by a careful home cook. They are seasonally minded and cater to modern palates while respecting traditional methods and flavours. The vibrant photography from acclaimed photographer Mark Chew bring Stephanie’s wonderful menus to life.

The Cook’s Table will sit alongside all your other Stephanie Alexander favourites to be read, shared, cooked from and enjoyed for years to come.

patienceBEST GRAPHIC NOVEL

PATIENCE BY DANIEL CLOWES

In Daniel Clowes’s Patience, things go terribly awry when Jack Barlow attempts to travel through time to circumvent his wife’s murder.

In 2012, mere days after discovering he is going to be a father, Jack returns home from his dead-end job and finds Patience sprawled out on their living room floor. Immediately the police’s number one suspect, when Jack is eventually cleared of the crime, he makes it his life’s mission to avenge his wife’s death. Patience was the one good thing in life. Without her, he has nothing.

But things don’t quite go as Jack planned. When the book smash-cuts to 2029 we find a much harder, far more jaded – and older, obviously – Jack Barlow sitting in a futuristic bar, relaying his crapped out life to a barman. He never avenged Patience – though he tried, the crime remains unsolved – and the passing of time has only further sullied his soul. A chance encounter with a hooker leads to his discovery of a time machine, and the concoction of a new plan: why take vengeance when he can eradicate the entire event from the timeline?

Like everything else Jack touches though, he ends up making more of a mess of things. As he bears witness to key events in Patience’s teenage years – learning about the multiple hardships and abusers she encountered – his incessant interventions start affecting the timeline. And veteran science fiction readers, and those schooled on time travel will know: it’s not a good idea to mess with what’s come before, because there’s no telling where the new chips might fall.

Part science fiction epic, part love story, Patience brims with heart and soul. Clowes’s focus on the emotions of his characters rather than the physics of time travel elevates the book above stories of a similar ilk. While Jack’s quest to change the timeline is the book’s driving force, it’s the insights into Patience’s youth that proves the most captivating aspect. Truly a stunning graphic novel, and a worthy addition to Daniel Clowes’s collection of stunning masterworks. This sits proudly alongside Adrian Tomine’s Killing and Dying as one of the best graphic novels of the year.

— Simon McDonald

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deep-blueBEST YOUNG ADULT BOOK

WORDS IN DEEP BLUE BY CATH CROWLEY

This is a beautiful book about love, loss, literature and growing up.

After moving away and losing touch with her friends, Rachel Sweetie returns to town. She is working at Howling Books, grieving for her brother Cal, and trying not to be in love with Henry Jones.

— Talie Gottlieb



fennBEST BOOK FOR YOUNG READERS

FENN HALFIN AND THE FEARZERO BY FRANCESCA ARMOUR-CHELU

One of my passions as a bookseller is reading fantastic kids books. I have always felt that some children’s books are have better storylines than adult books. Fenn Halflin and the Fearzero is one of those titles.

Fenn Halflin has spent his life hidden away in the swamplands with his Grandfather. He longs for the freedom to live in the world outside – to have a bit of excitement in his life. The world however is not safe and he is in danger if anyone finds out about him.

Water levels are rising and land is becoming scarce. The land dwellers have built a wall and without a permit no Seafarer is allowed to live on land. Life is tough. Resources are dwindling and the dreaded Terra Firma, under the control of their leader Chilstone, patrol the waterways destroying boats always searching for something (or someone). The Resistance was crushed years ago but there is a rumour of a baby that escaped Chilstone’s clutches. They say this baby might save them all.

Francesca Armour-Chelu has created a world at once recognisable, yet not. Fenns world could be a very real future for us all if we continue to ignore the environmental damage we are creating. I am not normally a fan of kids books that deal with “Issues” however, Francesca explores the themes of migration, refugees, the uneven distribution of the world’s resources and global warming with subtlety. Kids will read Fenn Halflin and the Fearzero purely as a great adventure story but hopefully subconsciously they might take away some ideas about how we need to look after our planet and the people on it in equal measures.

Fenn Halflin and the Fearzero is a rollicking adventure story which had me completely hooked from the very first chapter! Resistance fighters, bad guys, kids using their wits to outsmart evil adults, friendship, sacrifice, and fulfilling ones destiny – Fenn Halflin and the Fearzero is at times part Mad Max, part Oliver Twist and part Waterworld. I absolutely cannot wait for part two to find out the conclusion of this thrill-ride of a book.

— Kate Page


OUR ELEVEN-YEAR-OLD BOOK REVIEWER RECOMMENDS….

turners-1THE TURNERS BY MICK ELLIOTT

On his thirteenth birthday, Leo grows a tail and turns into a Komodo Dragon in the middle of the library! He finds out that he is a Turner, and can turn into any animal he thinks of, but must keep it a secret! He must fight Vipermen, hairless hamsters and flesh eating pigs! I enjoyed this so much and it was very funny, too! I couldn’t put it down!

turners-2THE TURNERS: CAMP FREAKOUT BY MICK ELLIOTT

Leo has finally persuaded Vernon and Abbie to go to school camp, but he soon finds out that it’s a big mistake! Disgusting camp foods (which might be poisonous), turnimals (animals that can turn!), a strange shy boy and nasty bullies. Will Leo survive the horrors of school camp?

The Turners are in danger! An evil mastermind has made a monster race and Leo is the secret ingredient to finish these horrible monsters! Will he stop the fiendish plot? Find out in the 2nd book in this awesome series!

I loved this book even more than the first one! The Turners Camp Freakout is such a funny adventure and I couldn’t put it down! It has a surprise twist at the end AND a cliffhanger til book 3! This series is truly amazing! The turnimals are a very creative idea and it came at the perfect time – just before most schools go for camp! I can’t wait for book 3 to find out what happens next to Leo, Abbie and the rest of the turners whose secret lives are at stake!

— Molly (age 11)


rabbit-and-bearBEST BOOK FOR EARLY READERS

RABBIT AND BEAR BY JULIAN GOUGH AND JIM FIELD

They say don’t judge a book by its cover, but it’s hard not to when you see this fabulously illustrated book!

It’s my favourite children’s book of the year because of the laugh-out-loud, fun, tale of friendship, not to forget a little bit of poo. Young children will delight in this new series (the second book is out in January 2017) brimming with humour and adventure, with a wild fox chase, snow men and avalanches.

— Jan Ekins

ada-twistBEST PICTURE BOOK

ADA TWIST, SCIENTIST BY ANDREA BEATTY

It only takes a few seconds to fall in love with this curious little girl. Inspired by scientists, Ada Lovelace and Marie Curie, Ada Marie Twist starts exploring the world around her as soon as she turns three. Ada’s constant questions and curiosity teaches children that the most effective way to know the world is through exploration and asking questions. Similar to Iggy Peck, Architect and Rosie Revere, Engineer, Ada inspires children to follow their intuition and be creative. Ada Twist, Scientist is among the few examples of picture books that wisely depicts a powerful passionate girl who wants to learn more about science.

— Mahsa Salamati


WHAT WERE YOUR FAVOURITE BOOKS OF THE YEAR?