Amazing Creatures of the World – Stunning Non-Fiction Books for Kids

When non-fiction texts are presented in the most visually and perceptively- arousing ways that leave the mundane behind and turn into a curious adventure of the wild variety. That’s what these following graphic information books about nature’s amazing creatures do to nurture and sharpen our hearts and minds.

A is for Australian Animals, Frané Lessac (author, illus.), Walker Books, August 2017.

Internationally renown for her striking illustrations is USA-born, Frané Lessac, artist to books including Pattan’s Pumpkin (by Chitra Soundar), Simpson and his Donkey, Ned Kelly and the Green Sash, and Midnight (all by Mark Greenwood). Her remarkable A is for Australia (review) precedes this stunning addition; the factastic tour, A is for Australian Animals.

A necessary introduction neatly begins the book at ‘A’; a map of Australia surrounded by general facts about the unique qualities of our native fauna. What’s to follow is a detailed alphabetic collection of fascinating facts and characteristics all the way through to ‘Z’. With one or two animals featured on each double page spread, this resource is a compendium of colour and life. Each page is divided with large, bold headers and accompanied by smaller font paragraphs interwoven between the pictures. Beautiful, vibrant earthy tones in a production of silky gouache and etched naive-style paintings capture the eclectic mix of wildlife characters in their surroundings.

Equipped with animal distribution maps in the index and enough mind-blowing information to forge the most knowledgable animal experts, A is for Australian Animals is a highly valuable and engaging learning tool for students in primary school. I am now a fan of the long-necked, mosquito-devouring oblong turtle!

Koala, Claire Saxby (author), Julie Vivas (illus.), Walker Books, August 2017.

One particular favourite is the native Aussie fluffball- the koala. With other best-selling Australian animal themed books by award-winning non-fiction author Claire Saxby, including Emu and Big Red Kangaroo (review), here is a gripping exploration of the symbolic Koala.

Written in both a story tale and informative format, and masterfully illustrated by the legendary Julie Vivas (Possum Magic), Koala’s journey begins high in a tree fork with his nurturing mother. But he is old enough to look after himself now, and being challenged by another male sees little Koala lost in search for another home. Factually, males fight in their need for a mate between late spring and the end of summer. Navigating his way around the bushland and avoiding dangers like predators and human deforestation, Koala eventually finds his own tree where he is safe and independently sufficient.

Here is a book that is so beautifully descriptive, with sensational watercolour scenes you could hang on your wall. Koala enforces enough compassion to reinforce proactive pledges for wildlife sustainability, but is also simply a pleasurable and captivating read for its primary school aged readers.

Rock Pool Secrets, Narelle Oliver (author, illus.), Walker Books, April 2017.

With her final contribution to the children’s literature world, the superlative Narelle Oliver leaves a lasting testament of her undeniable passion for the creatures of our world and her abundance of talent. Oliver has blessed us with numerous award-winning treasures, like Baby Bilby, where do you sleep?, The Best Beak in Boonaroo Bay, Sand Swimmers, and this last one; Rock Pool Secrets.

A scrupulously crafted linocut print, etch and watercolour portfolio of art make up this glorious exploration into the shallows of the pools. Each spread contains secrets nestled in and amongst the exhibition of line, shape, colour and texture. Cleverly integrated lift-the-flaps intersect between what is hiding and its unveiling. Whether it’s bubble-coloured shrimp tangled in seaweed, rock-fronting, ‘bumpy’ starfish, octopuses in ink clouds, or turban sea snails sealed in their shells with ‘lids called cat’s eyes’, there’s plenty to peruse and discover in this satisfyingly magical, concealed realm of the rock pool.

Beautifully descriptive turns and phrases add more depth and interest to the stunning visuals that facilitate factual knowledge about this richly diverse world of sea organisms. Huge amounts of detail to be learned about some of the smallest and most fascinating creatures! Children from four will absolutely delight in the Rock Pool Secrets search, but it will be no secret how much they love it!

Wild Animals of the South, Dieter Braun (author, illus.), Walker Books, June 2017. First edition by Flying Eye Books, London.

German author-illustrator, Dieter Braun, presents a spectacular array of animals from the southern hemisphere in this delectably gorgeous encyclopaedia-style graphic volume. Wild Animals of the South is the sequel to Wild Animals of the North.

A powerfully persuasive introduction leads the opening with a dedication to the wonderfully colourful, diverse, rich and rare wildlife that lives within these pages. Unfortunately, many will, and have already disappeared. What would the world be like without the power and beauty of these creatures in the animal kingdom? Despite their unique differences, their individual ways of living, it is with such importance that we take cognisance; “their will to live and their freedom” is what ties them together.

The book is divided into five regions; Africa, South America, Asia, Australia and Antarctica. Fun, fascinating and witty facts of various animals are explained in short paragraphs (just the right amount to prevent brain-overload!), along with its common and more scientific name, and striking, crisp and textured prints that fill the large-face pages. Meet majestic lions, impressive giraffes and even the unceremonious mantis in Africa, the glowing toucan and lazy sloths in South America, and zesty crocs, powerful kangaroos and our cuddly wombats in Australia, plus so much more!

There are 140 pages, including a pictorial index of each animal in their region, of breathtaking images and banks of useful, modest and age-appropriate information to add to your brain trust. Wild Animals of the South is a must-have resource for any home or school bookshelf.

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian

8 books set in cemeteries

There’s something eerie yet somewhat peaceful about cemeteries, and the untold tales of those resting there for eternity. And if you’re a taphophile – someone who takes an interest in cemeteries, funerals, tombstones, or memory of past lives – you’ll agree with me. I’ve always enjoyed books set in cemeteries so I’ve compiled a list for like-minded readers.


8 Books Set in Cemeteries


  1. The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman is a fantasy novel for children about a young boy who escapes the night his family is murdered in their home. He wanders up the street and eventually into a graveyard. The ghosts in the graveyard discuss his predicament and agree to raise the young boy as their own. That’s how the life of Nobody Owens (Bod for short) begins. The Graveyard Book has won a tonne of awards, including the Newbery Medal and Carnegie Medal.
  2. Pet Sematary by Stephen King is a horror novel known to many readers. A horror story that only Stephen King could write, it’s about a young family and an ancient Indian burial ground. It’s also been made into a film. No more needs to be said.
  3. Pure by Andrew Miller is an historical fiction novel set amidst Les Innocents, the oldest cemetery in Paris. In 1875, the cemetery has been closed to burials for 5 years because it’s overflowing with 2 million corpses and emitting a foul stench.
    Jean-Baptiste Baratte is employed by the Minister to demolish the cemetery and relocate the human remains outside the city of Paris. We witness his struggle with the dark task of disturbing the final resting place of thousands of Parisian occupants. The descriptions of the cemetery and surrounds (including church, charnel houses and graveyards) were deeply evocative of this grisly yet soulful place.
  4. Falling Angels by Tracy Chevalier is an historical fiction novel set in Edwardian London between January 1901 to May 1910 with many of the scenes taking place in Highgate cemetery. Told from the perspective of different characters, the novel covers the journey of two girls from different families.
    The chapters are narrated in the first person by several of the main characters (including my favourite character, the gravedigger’s son). It includes themes of mourning, mourning etiquette, class and the suffragette movement.


    While I enjoyed reading the above, I have plenty more in this genre to look forward to, including:

  5. Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger, is set in and around Highgate Cemetery and is a novel / ghost story about twin sisters, love and identity, secrets and sisterhood.
  6. Necropolis: London and Its Dead by Catharine Arnold has been on my TBR pile forever. It’s a non fiction look at London’s dead through the lens of archaeology, architecture and anecdotes. London is filled with the remains of previous eras – pagan, Roman, medieval and Victorian and I look forward to learning more as soon as I can get to it.
  7. The Restorer by Amanda Stevens is a paranormal novel about Amelia Gray – a cemetery restorer who sees ghosts – and is the first of six in the Graveyard Queen series.
  8. Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders is a new release historical fiction novel about Abraham Lincoln and his grief at the death of his son. It is said that Lincoln was so grief-stricken over the loss of his beloved son, he visited the family crypt several times to hold his body. Lincoln in the Bardo takes place in a single night.

    I hope you’ve enjoyed this collection of books set in cemeteries. What have you read or hope to read in the future?

Review: Shelter

ShelterPhotographer and stylist Kara Rosenlund spent a year traversing Australia, towing her trusty vintage caravan to homes to photograph based on word-of-mouth recommendations.

The result is Shelter, an exquisite coffee table keepsake with a whole heap of heart.

Shelter wasn’t the book Rosenlund was supposed to write. She had a contract to create another book altogether about vintage caravans (she was into these caravans long before they were cool). But a wrong turn in rural Australia put paid to that: Rosenlund spotted a dilapidated house and was curious about its history, its residents, and how it came to be in the rundown state it was.

By the time she’d found her way home, she was convinced the book she needed to produce was about how Australians live. And she managed to convince her publisher of that too.

I’m generalising, but I think that those of us addicted to Pinterest (I’ll wholly admit I’m included in that group) tend to pin images of houses and apartments from other regions in the world. My own feed is full of New York, Swedish, and other all-white, architecturally designed spaces styled to within an inch of their lives.

Shelter departs from this aesthetic, showcasing real, lived-in homes and their broader, contextualising landscapes. They’re not homes that would necessarily appear in house and garden magazines, but I mean this as a compliment. They’re the homes we haven’t known about and for which images aren’t readily available to pin.

They also depart from the stereotypical ‘outback’ Australian imagery we’re used to seeing. For too long, it’s felt as though our landscape and our lifestyles had to occupy a truly urban or quintessentially outback identity.

Nor did Rosenlund, despite her background, ever style the spaces. She captured them as they were and the book is better for it. Unlike those Pinterest images I tend to pin, which are comparatively sterile or at least impossible to actually live in lest you muck up the aesthetics straight up, you get an unmediated sense of how people live.

As someone who rather fancies becoming a hermit (Seriously, I said that was what I wanted to be when I grew up as early as Year 2. Suffice to say, it didn’t wash well with the teacher I told and I sensed quickly it wasn’t an appropriate thing to say), this book speaks to me.

The bespoke homes, be they made from an old tram or shipping containers or simply an old cottage built from gathered materials, and surrounded by nature, seem absolutely heavenly. Some are lived in full time, while others provide humble getaways. Still others seemed like short-term shelters that have come to be long-term homes.

As a photographer and stylist, Rosenlund has an eye for creating and capturing composition and detail that is almost unrivalled. Her images are textured, detail-rich artworks in and of themselves. The book is wholly hers too. She put together the images and words for it, with the text containing brief tales of how she found the building’s owners.

To encounter Rosenlund (as I did when I attended one of her book launches recently) is to realise how warm she is. She writes in the introduction that she wasn’t sure how she was going to convince people to let her inside their homes. I’d argue that was never going to be the issue—I doubt anyone ever says no to her—and that finding the properties was more likely the challenge. Australia is, after all, a vast continent and the kinds of homes she was keen to photograph were not clustered together in easily accessible urban locations.

That’s evidenced in the continuing theme in the book that many of the homeowners who ended up in the book rarely go into town, have the internet, or check email. Regardless, through persistence and the occasional old-fashioned asking at the local pub, Rosenlund managed to track these people down.

From there, she often found herself often staying overnight and spending time with the homeowners—a far more personal and in-depth approach than most styling and book production practices entail. She writes in the introduction that she would come away from the experience ‘happy, and topped up with human spirit’.

That’s kind of how I feel encountering Shelter. It’s a tribute to lives lived deeply and a brief peek into, and inspiration for, those of us who’ve been seeking out inspiration for new and fulfilling ways to live.

Review: Fun Home

Fun HomeI bought Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home tragicomic some years ago despite not really having considered myself a graphic novel reader.

My purchasing decision came off the back of some glowing recommendations from people whose reading opinions I completely value. But then, as so often happens, the book got relegated to the books-I’ll-get-to-one-day shelf of good intentions.

I picked it up recently after a personally devastating few months that left me unable to tackle anything too arduous. After all, an image-led book with minimal but exquisite writing with subject matter about someone whose life was slightly more pear-shaped than my own seemed the fitting choice.

So I found myself reading the memoir about Bechdel’s upbringing and coming out. Her father, an emotionally distant obsessive house restorer, funeral home director, and English teacher, features heavily. He was gay in a time when it was wholly unacceptable to be so and the repercussions for the Bechdel family are enormous. The book also examines Bechdel’s realisation she too was gay and her emergence as a gay woman comfortable in her own skin.

Although covering subject matter vastly different from my own experiences, it proved the perfect book for an imperfect time: little enough text to give my racing mind a rest and strong enough images to help me enjoy the story in a not-too-taxing way.

At once sombre and blackly comic and containing richly wrought images I was admittedly too devastated to completely appreciate, Fun Home is unlike any book I’ve previously read.

‘Like many fathers,’ Bechdel writes, ‘mine could occasionally be prevailed upon for a spot of “Airplane”.’ That is, he was in some ways like any father. ‘…but it was impossible to tell if the minotaur lay beyond the next corner…And the constant tension was heightened by the fact that some encounters could be quite pleasant. His bursts of kindness were as incandescent as his tantrums were dark.’

Are You My Mother?Bechdel conveys the minutiae of life in ways that both provide insight and that seem bittersweet: ‘My mother must have bathed me hundreds of times. But it’s my father rinsing me off with the purple metal cup that I remember most clearly.’

Bechdel’s father died when she was 20 under circumstances that looked accidental but most likely involved suicide. This book is as much her attempt to reconcile his death as his life, and especially his emotional absence even when he was physically present.

It’s recently been turned into a Broadway production that is, by all accounts, utterly, transfixingly stellar.

In researching this blog I discovered that Bechdel has written a follow-up graphic novel. Named Are You My Mother?, a nod to the popular children’s book, it explores her relationship with her mother—something that would be complicated with any daughter and mother, but especially so given her mother was an aspiring actor trapped in a marriage to a man who was gay but who couldn’t openly be so.

It seems to fulfil the one part of the Fun Home story I felt was missing: her mother. Suffice to say, I’ll be ordering that one shortly. But this time, it’s unlikely it’ll go on my to-be-read-eventually book pile of good intentions.

(As a side note, Bechdel is widely credited with establishing the gender inequality-determining Bechdel Test, AKA the Bechdel–Wallace Test, with Bechdel preferring her friend Liz Wallace be co-credited for the concept.

Whichever name it’s called, the test involves asking whether a work of fiction features at least two women who talk to each other about something other than a man. It was apparently intended as ‘a little lesbian joke in an alternative feminist newspaper’, but has since been adopted more widely. It’s presumably helped change both the number of women included in such works and how they’re portrayed.)

Queensland Literary Awards 2015 – still time to vote

After its recent tumultuous history, the Qld Literary Awards are growing from strength to strength under the banner of the State Library of Queensland and a bevy of eminent sponsors.

The 2015 shortlists have just been announced and the winners will be revealed at the Awards Ceremony on Friday 9th October in Brisbane.

Some categories showcase Queensland authors. These include the Queensland Premier’s Award for a Work of State Significance

Shortlisted authors are:Heat and light

The impressive Ellen van Neerven  for Heat and Light  (University of Queensland Press)

Zoe Boccabella  Joe’s Fruit Shop and Milk Bar  (Harper Collins Publishers)

Mark Bahnisch  Queensland; Everything you ever wanted to know, but were afraid to ask  (NewSouth Publishing)

Anna Bligh  Through the Wall: Reflections on Leadership, Love and Survival  (Harper Collins Publishers)

Libby Connors  Warrior  (Allen & Unwin)

Emerging Queensland Writer – Manuscript Award

Imogen Smith  Araluen

Elizabeth Kasmer  Aurora

W. George Sargasso

Kate Elkington  Wool Spin Burn

 Queensland Premier’s Young Publishers and Writers Awards

Andrew McMillen

Megan McGrath, Program Coordinator at the Brisbane Writers Festival

Michelle Law

Rebecca Jessen

Sam George-Allen

It is impressive how these state awards nurture and promote Qld authors.

The Qld Literary Awards are also notable for their support of Indigenous authors with the David Unaipon Award for Unpublished Indigenous Writer –

Andrew Booth  The First Octoroon or Report of an Experimental Child

Mayrah Yarragah Dreise  Social Consciousness Series

Patricia Lees with Adam C. Lees  A Question of Colour

Other categories celebrate the finest Australian writers (and some illustrators) across the country.

These include the

Griffith University Children’s Book AwardNew Boy

Meg McKinlay  A Single Stone  (Walker Books Australia)

Tasmin Janu  Figgy in the World  (Omnibus Books)

David Mackintosh  Lucky  (Harper Collins Publishers)

Nick Earls New Boy (Penguin)

Rebecca Young and Matt Ottley Teacup (Scholastic Australia)

There was a strong selection of novels, picture books and others to whittle down into a shortlist this year.

Griffith University Young Adult Book AwardAre You Seeing Me

Darren Groth  Are You Seeing Me?  (Random House Australia)

Justine Larbalestier  Razorhurst  (Allen & Unwin) This won the Aurealis spec fiction award for Horror Novel.

Diana Sweeney  The Minnow  (Text Publishing) This was a CBCA Honour Book.

John Larkin  The Pause  (Random House Australia)

Jeri Kroll  Vanishing Point  (Puncher and Wattman)

I have read these except for Vanishing Point and so am now keen to read this also. It’s great to see a publisher I know for its poetry publishing YA.

University of Queensland Fiction Book AwardSnow Kimono

Amanda Lohrey  A Short History of Richard Kline  (Black Inc)

Joan London  The Golden Age  (Random House Australia) Reviewed here

Mark Henshaw  The Snow Kimono  (Text Publishing) Reviewed here

Malcolm Knox  The Wonder Lover  (Allen & Unwin)

Rohan Wilson  To Name Those Lost  (Allen & Unwin)

University of Queensland Non-fiction Book Award

Brenda Niall  Mannix  (Text Publishing)

Don Watson  The Bush: Travels in the Heart of Australia  (Penguin)

Anne Manne  The Life of I: The New Culture of Narcissism  (Melbourne University Press)

Annabel Crabb  The Wife Drought  (Random House Australia)

Karen Lamb  Thea Astley: Inventing Her Own Weather  (University of Queensland Press)

University of Southern Queensland History Book AwardCyclone

Carolyn Holbrook  ANZAC, The Unauthorised Biography  (NewSouth Publishing)

Angela Woollacott  Settler Society in the Australian Colonies: Self-Government and Imperial Culture  (Oxford University Press)

Christine Kenneally  The Invisible History of the Human Race  (Black Inc)

Agnieszka Sobocinska  Visiting the Neighbours: Australians in Asia  (NewSouth Publishing)

Sophie Cunningham  Warning: The Story of Cyclone Tracy  (Text Publishing)

University of Southern Queensland Australian Short Story Collection – Steele Rudd Award

Nic Low  Arms Race and Other Stories  (Text Publishing)

Nick Jose  Bapo  (Giramondo)

Ellen van Neerven  Heat and Light  (University of Queensland Press)

Christos Tsiolkas  Merciless Gods  (Allen & Unwin)

J.M. Coetzee  Three Stories  (Text Publishing

State Library of Queensland Poetry Collection – Judith Wright Calanthe Award

Susan Bradley Smith  Beds for All Who Come  (Five Islands Press)

Robert Adamson  Net Needle  (Black Inc)

David Brooks  Open House  (University of Queensland Press)

Lucy Dougan  The Guardians  (Giramondo)

Les Murray  Waiting for the Past  (Black Inc)

Thanks to the State Library of Queensland and supporters, including those who sponsor and give their names to specific awards.

And vote now until 5pm Friday 18 September 2015 for

The Courier-Mail 2015 People’s Choice Queensland Book of the YearNavigatio

 Nick Earls Analogue Men

Patrick Holland Navigatio

Inga Simpson Nest

Kari Gislason The Ash Burner

Zoe Boccabella Joe’s Fruit Shop and Milk Bar

John Ahern On the Road…With the Kids

David Murray The Murder of Allison Baden-Clay

Mary Lou Simpson From Convict to Politician

Books about the English language with a dash of humour

Being a booklover and an avid reader, I occasionally enjoy reading and learning more about the English language. I’ve read some great books on the topic over the years and thought I’d share some of them with you below. Let’s start with two Australian books for those with a general interest in the origins and future direction of our English language.Aitch Factor by Susan Butler

The Aitch Factor, Adventures in Australian English by Susan Butler (Australian)
Susan Butler is the Editor at Macquarie Dictionary, having started there in 1970 as a Research Assistant. Butler regularly engages the community collecting new words, and providing advice on the correct spelling and usage of a variety of words. She’s even been consulted by politicians and has some funny and interesting anecdotes to share.

According to the blurb: “The Aitch Factor is the perfect book for word warriors, punctuation pedants and everyday lovers of language,” so you can’t go wrong.

Gift of the Gob: Morsels of English Language History by Kate Burridge (Australian)
Kate Burridge is a Professor of Linguistics here in Australia, and covers many categories in her book, some of which include: slanguage on the move, shocking words, word origins, and pronunciation on the move. Burridge takes an amusing and insightful look at how the meaning of a word – as well as its pronunciation – can change over time, and I found it fascinating and educational.Gift of the Gob Kate Burridge

As in The Aitch Factor, Gift of the Gob comes with a dash of humour and looks at the language of the past and where the English language is taking us in the future.

Literally the Best Language Book Ever – Annoying Words and Abused Phrases You Should Never Use Again by Paul Yeager
Hopefully the title of Paul Yeager’s book captured your interest immediately, but if it didn’t, perhaps some of the chapter titles will hook you in: Illogical Words and Phrases, Excessively Trendy Words and Expressions, and Inarticulate Language.

Yeager writes about the cliches, buzz words and double speak that irritate him on a regular basis, and I was laughing out loud and wanting to share them with anyone who happened to be close by.

Amidst the humour, buzz words and misused phrases it’s hard not to learn something along the way. I realised I was guilty of committing one of his grammar errors early on, but was determined to press on, ever hopeful that would be the one and only offence.

Literally the Best Language Book Ever is a terrific read, and makes the perfect coffee table book.

Between You and Me by Mary NorrisOne book in this genre I haven’t read yet is the bestselling book from Lynne Truss called Eats, Shoots & Leaves – The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation. According to the blurb: “in Eats, Shoots & Leaves, former editor Truss dares to say, in her delightfully urbane, witty, and very English way, that it is time to look at our commas and semicolons and see them as the wonderful and necessary things they are. This is a book for people who love punctuation and get upset when it is mishandled.”

This definitely sounds like a book for me, but I haven’t read it yet in the fear that it could be a little too serious. If you’ve read it, what did you think?

Between You & Me: Confessions of a Comma Queen by Mary Norris is another on my radar at the moment, has anyone read it? Are there any in this genre you’d like to recommend?

What I’m reading this Christmas: Anna O’Grady, Simon & Schuster

Anna O'Grady in front of her home library
Anna O’Grady in front of her home library

Thanks to Anna O’Grady for talking to Boomerang Books today, and sharing your Christmas picks with us. First, let’s find out more about you and some of the books you’ve been working on.

You’re the Marketing and Publicity Manager at Simon & Schuster. What does your job entail?
How much time do we have? I like describing it as ‘parenting’ a book and making sure that I find the best possible home for it. It all starts by understanding who would enjoy the particular title, and then the fun part of thinking of the best means of reaching that audience. Nowadays there are so many different ways that this can be achieved.

In the last few months I’ve worked on creating online trailers and ads, organized blog tours, pitched titles to festivals, events and media and talked to our book loving community over various social media channels.

How did you get this job?
I am the third generation working in the book world from a family of booksellers and publishers. For the better part of my life I have been lucky enough to continue our family tradition across six different countries. However, bookselling is rapidly changing and for a few years I have wanted to try my hand in a publishing house. All the stars aligned really well this year and I ended up with the amazing team at Simon & Schuster Australia. I have learnt a tremendous amount but it also has been a lot of fun.The Fly Trap by Fredrik Sjoberg

What is different/special about Simon & Schuster?
One of the things I really like about Simon & Schuster is that it is a small publishing house. There are just over 20 people in the office and that means that there are opportunities to try different things in different areas of the book business. For example, even though my official role is within the marketing and publicity department, I am also part of the acquisition team – so I have a chance to read new manuscripts and contribute to the decision on publishing these.

I also really love the staff’s passion for books we publish within the Simon & Schuster program. A lot of larger houses release so many books that it is physically impossible for everybody to be familiar with all titles. Our publishing program is small enough that almost everybody in-house can read all the books we publish and be able to meet all the authors in person. I really love being in an office where everybody reads and where books are celebrated every day.

I suspect you love all the books you work on, but could you tell us about some that you are particularly proud of?
It has been quite a year for me, and I often feel in awe of the amazing authors that I have been taking care of. I will highlight two – only because they are so completely different. The first one was my campaign for debut author Ellie O’Neill’s book Reluctantly Charmed. Debuts are notoriously difficult to break out, but I felt special pressure on this one because everybody at Simon & Schuster loved this book. In the end we had a great campaign that was embraced by a major sponsor – Tourism Ireland – and also created a lot of buzz in the book blogging community. I am already looking forward to the second book from Ellie coming next year.A Thousand Shards of Glass cover by Michael Katakis

The other campaign that will probably stay in mind for a very long time was A Thousand Shards of Glass by Michael Katakis. Although Michael is a world class photographer, an overseer of the intellectual property of Hemingway and an author of very thought provoking books, he is very little known in Australia. We decided to bring him here for a tour and I had the task of arranging events and media for his tour. This took several months and many, many phone calls and emails to organize. Because Michael is relatively unknown some event organizers took some persuasion and were hesitant to the last moment. In the end the response to Michael’s tour was exceptional and well worth all our efforts. I have never seen such an emotional reader–writer reaction, with many people moved to tears at events, and many readers calling and sending emails – and in one instance hand delivering a letter of thank you to our offices. There is nothing more special than seeing that connection in front of my eyes and knowing that I helped make it happen.This Changes Everything Naomi Klein

What do you see as the way forward in the book industry?
I have been watching the book industry very carefully for at least 20 years now and I find some changes painful, but I also see a lot of great things on the horizon. I think that we might be experiencing a new golden age of storytelling. There are more people reading than ever before, and they access books in many formats and ways. But what is even more exciting is that readers have more to say, and the means to say it, than ever before. The future of the publishing industry is in deepening the connection to readers and embracing new ways of telling and experiencing stories. I have no doubt that great books and storytellers will always find their audience.

What are your must-reads over Christmas?
I have been building my little Christmas stack for a while now – and as usual I am probably overambitious. Here are the titles that are currently sitting in my Christmas pile: The Fly Trap by Fredrik Sjoberg; The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher by Hilary Mantel; In Certain Circles by Elizabeth Harrower; The Book of Strange New Things by Michel Faber; and This Changes Everything by Naomi Klein – but who knows what other gems I might find under my Christmas tree.In Certain Circles by Elizabeth Harrower

What is your secret reading pleasure?
I really enjoy many YA novels, love a good mystery, and have a fascination with horror fiction. For me some of the great horror and crime writers are amongst the best at the craft of writing – although critics often disregard them.

Thanks very much for speaking with us, Anna.
You’re most welcome, it’s been a pleasure.

The Highlights of a Professional Life: An Interview With Ursula Dubosarsky

Ursula_Dubosarsky_publicity_photo_A_2011Ursula Dubosarsky has written over 40 books for children and young adults. Some of which include The Terrible Plop, Too Many Elephants in This House, Tim and Ed (Tim and Ed Review), The Carousel, The Word Spy series, and The Cryptic Casebook of Coco Carlomagno and Alberta series.

She is a multi-award winner of many national and international literary prizes including The Premier’s and State Literary Awards, The Children’s Book Council Book of the Year Awards, The Children’s Choice Awards, The Prime Minister’s Literary Awards and The Speech Pathology Australia Awards.

Ursula’s books have been characterised as timeless classics with universal accessibility, always heartwarming, funny and indelible. Her picture books, in particular, emanate energy and delight, wit and ingenuity. She has worked with some legendary illustrators who have brought Ursula’s playful words to life, including Terry Denton, Tohby Riddle and Andrew Joyner.    

I am absolutely thrilled and honoured to have had this opportunity to discover more about Ursula Dubosarsky’s writerly mind, joys, achievements and plans for the future, and she has been so gracious in sharing her views with our readers.

Where do you get your creativity from? Were you born into a creative family?
Well I was born into a family of writers, although they are more non-fiction writers than fiction writers. But non-fiction demands plenty of creativity, as I discovered when I tried to write non-fiction myself (my “Word Spy” books.) My mother also had an amazingly vivid dream-life -I sometimes wonder if that’s where the story ideas come from…  

What or who are your biggest motivators?
For some reason I find this a very confronting question! and I don’t know how to answer it. Perhaps it’s one of the biggest mysteries of creative acts – why do it? It feels like a compulsion.  

Which age group do you most prefer to write for, younger or older children?
I love the succinctness that is demanded of you in writing for younger children – I love throwing out all the words until you have just that bare minimum. The other nice thing about writing for younger children is you get to work with illustrators, which has been such a pleasure in my life. But of course as anyone would say, each form has its particular rewards (and hardships.)  

the-word-spyWhat has been the greatest response / fan mail to you and your books?
That would be my three “Word Spy” books – non-fiction books about language, particularly the English language. I think one reason they get the most fan mail is that the books are written in character. They are narrated by a mysterious person called The Word Spy. So I think children really enjoy the fantasy of writing to an imaginary person – I enjoy the fantasy of writing back as a character! The Word Spy even has her own blog “Dear Word Spy” where you can see lots of the letters children have written to her – and her answers! http://wordsnoop.blogspot.com.au/

What is your working relationship like with illustrator, Andrew Joyner? Do you or the publisher choose to pair you together?
Oh I love working with Andrew.The pairing came about quite naturally. At the time I was working for the NSW Department of Education’s School Magazine, which is a monthly literary magazine for primary school children. I was doing some editing there, and Andrew happened to send in some illustrations. I just so responded to his work, immediately. Anyway then when I had written the text for “The Terrible Plop” he was a natural person to suggest to Penguin, the publisher, as an illustrator for the book.

Cover_0What was your reaction when ‘Too Many Elephants in This House’ was selected for this year’s ALIA’s National Simultaneous Storytime? How were you involved in the lead up and on the day?
That was truly the most thrilling and touching experience. We were just delighted to hear it had been chosen, and I can’t tell you how heartwarming it was to see children (and adults!) all over Australia reading our book. ALIA did a brilliant job of organising and promoting the event – we hardly had to do a thing. On the actual day Andrew and I read the book aloud at the Customs House branch of the City of Sydney library down at Circular Quay. I can truly say the National Simultaneous Storytime was one of the great highlights of my professional life.  

IMG_6741You’ve had two of your picture books turned into successful stage productions; ‘The Terrible Plop’ (2009-2012) and ‘Too Many Elephants in This House’ (2014). How were you approached / told about the news? What creative input did you (and Andrew Joyner) have in the productions?
In both cases it was a matter of the theatre company (Adelaide’s Windmill Theatre for “The Terrible Plop” and NIDA for “Too Many Elephants”) seeing the book and then approaching the publisher to see if we’d be willing to have the book staged. We were very willing! In neither case did we have a lot of input into the production. The writer/director at NIDA did keep us informed and sent us draft scripts -but I think we both felt it was better to stand back and let her and the actors and the rest of the creative team follow their own instincts. Again, for me and Andrew it was a tremendous experience to see the books transformed and re-imagined.  

What are you currently working on? What can your fans look forward to seeing from you in the near future?
Well Andrew and I will be working together on an illustrated novel, so much longer than and very different to our picture book collaborations. It’s called “Brindabella” and is about a kangaroo. I have written the text already – and am now looking forward enormously to seeing what Andrew does with it.  

What other hobbies do you enjoy besides writing?
I wish I could say something strange and unexpected but it’s just walking! I love to walk the dog, but I also just like walking altogether. And I do like looking for very unusual cake recipes, researching their history and then having a go at baking them. I’m not much of a cook but I enjoy it!

the-terrible-plopFan Question –
Katharine: In The Terrible Plop, where did the bear run to? Did he ever find out what the Terrible Plop really was?

(This question is) something I’ve never been asked before and never thought about! I guess the bear would run home to all his brother and sister and mother and father and granny and grandpa and uncle and auntie bears, who listen to his story and tell him that’s what comes of sitting in folding chairs and that in future he should stay safely inside their big dark cave. So I don’t think he OR any of the others ever find out what the Terrible Plop really is – in fact over time it becomes part of the Great Bear Mythology…

Ursula, thank you so much for answering my questions for Boomerang Books! It’s been an absolute pleasure!

Find out more about Ursula Dubosarsky:
www.ursuladubosarsky.com
http://wordsnoop.blogspot.com.au/

Interview by Romi Sharp
www.romisharp.wordpress.com
www.facebook.com/mylittlestorycorner

Talking about crime with Sue Bursztynski

I’m a firm believer in the old adage that “the truth is stranger than fiction”. In fact, I’ve living proof. Not too long ago I was swimming at Four Mile Beach in North Queensland when a garfish, not much bigger than my middle finger, jumped out of the water and speared me in the ear. I needed a three- hour operation to remove the spear! While I was in hospital, my son fell out of a tree and broke his wrist. I couldn’t make that stuff up!

Sue BursztynskiChildren’s author, Sue Bursztynski clearly has an eye for bizarre true stories, too. In her book, Crime Time, she’s unearthed the antics of Australia’s weirdest criminals – from the poison toting granny to the robbers who wore name tags. There are more than a hundred crime stories in the book, all packaged up for children.

Sue joins me today to share an insight into writing non-fiction.

JF: What prompted you to delve into Australia’s most notorious characters?

SB: I was commissioned to write a companion volume to Meredith Costain’s book Fifty Famous Australians, as Fifty Infamous Australians. I said, “Okay, but that title has to go! Kids will think it’s for helping with their homework.” As it happened, I’d just done a piece on forensics for the NSW School Magazine, which covered everything from Otzi the Ice Man (a 5000 year old murder victim) to the murderer who was caught because of some white cat hairs, and I was absolutely thrilled to be able to continue the crime theme. And there’s an embarrassment of riches in Australia’s crime history.

JF: Can you share a couple of the more unusual stories that you unearthed?

SB: One I liked was the story of the con man Murray Beresford Roberts, who actually wrote a book about his crimes! Out of print, but I found a copy online. He tells of the time when he was in India and managed to con a jeweller into giving him a diamond tiara, which he broke up and swallowed. Then he took a plane to England, where he went to the toilet to expel the gems, cleaned them up and sold them.

I had been asked to write something about Tony Mokbel, who was in the news at the time. I couldn’t think of anything about him that would entertain children, but I was having a coffee one day and reading the papers, when I found a double page spread about his bizarre escape from Australia and knew I had my story.

Crime TimeJF: How much time did you spend researching the book?

SB: I spent about three months reading and reading, choosing and drafting. I have a full time day job, but I was on long service leave when I was commissioned, so I could go to the library for books and read newspapers both print and online. The editing continued after that, of course, and I went back to research some more. I had fifty main stories and was asked to also add some “Did You Knows”. There must be around a hundred stories, long and short, in the book, and I researched them all thoroughly. I wouldn’t write a chapter unless I’d read a bare minimum of two sources, usually more, because of potential bias. That takes time – and when my leave was over I’d have to go back to work. So it was an intense three months.

JF: Did you ever find yourself so disturbed by the subject matter that you questioned the project?

SB: Sometimes I did feel queasy, though never to the extent of wanting to pack it in. My poor editor, Saralinda Turner, was a lot more stressed than I was, after I’d turned in several chapters about serial killers, and she asked if there was a lot more of this stuff coming, but she bravely kept going, bless her. I asked my friends to suggest crimes that weren’t serial killing. Kerry Greenwood suggested the story of the murderer who got his idea from a campfire discussion with the novelist Arthur Upfield. She said it was every crime writer’s nightmare. There was a murder, but it was so over the top, I couldn’t resist going off and researching it. And my friend Chris Wheat (author of the YA novel Screwloose) told me about the April Fool’s Day attempted robbery at the Cuckoo restaurant at Olinda, where a couple of klutzy robbers escaped with a bag of stale bread rolls and one of them was accidentally shot in the backside. I have that chapter up on my blog, if any of your readers want to look at it. There were other quirky crime stories in the book, so that helped keep it balance.

JF: How did you convert the information into a book suitable for children?

SB: I had to tread carefully. On the one hand, kids simply love gruesome tales. On the other hand, you do want parents and libraries to buy it – and you want the kids to say, “Oh, brilliant!” and not to get nightmares. There were things I had to leave out – but not enough to lose my readers’ interest. This isn’t a book to help with homework. It’s reading for enjoyment. I chose a lot of quirky stories, especially for my “Did You Know?” sections. In the Ned Kelly chapter I added a “Did You Know?” about a Kelly brother who lived a quiet, law-abiding life and died in about the 1940s. I wrote about the Dumb And Dumber robbers, who kept on their name tags while committing a robbery and flashed their staff passes to use transport after. The kids to whom I read this, love it. One day, at a bookshop event, I found myself surrounded by a bunch of children about five or six years old and simply couldn’t read to them from the book, so I told them, instead, about the “very naughty nana” who poisoned her family (“YOUR nana wouldn’t do that!”). That got a lot of giggles and some older siblings who were listening bought the book.

JF: Tell us about some of your other work?

SB: For many years, I wrote fiction and non-fiction for small-press science fiction magazines before I won the Mary Grant Bruce Award for children’s literature and realised that what I enjoyed most was writing for young people. I have written ten books, one of which, Potions to Pulsars: Women doing science, was a Notable Book in the Children’s Book Council Awards. Another, Starwalkers: Explorers of the Unknown, was nominated for the NSW Premier’s History Award.

When not writing, I work in a school in Melbourne’s western suburbs. I enjoy reading, music, handcraft and old science fiction movies. My current books are Crime Time and Wolfborn. 

JF: What’s next for you?

SB: Mostly short fiction, possibly including a story for the next Ford Street anthology – that will require research too, because I’ve been asked for historical fiction. I have a story coming up in the Christmas Press anthology, Once Upon A Christmas, and I’m working, very slowly, on a prequel to my novel Wolfborn. There’s not much market for non-fiction in the trade publishing industry, alas, and it’s very hard to get into the education industry these days, as they tend to have stables of regular writers. So it’s fiction for now.

JF: Thank you for joining me at Boomerang Books, Sue. All the best with Crime Time.

Aussie New Releases To Look Forward To

There are several books by Australian authors being published in the last six months of the year that I’m really looking forward to, so I thought I’d share them with you.

The first is already out, and it’s Kate Forsyth‘s Dancing With Knives.  Set on a farm outside Narooma in NSW, Dancing With Knives is a rural murder mystery and a story about love and family secrets.

Rebecca James (author of Beautiful Malice and Sweet Damage) is gearing up for the launch of Cooper Bartholomew is Dead in early October.  Cooper Bartholomew is Dead is a psychological thriller centred around the death of Cooper Bartholomew, and his group of friends, one of which is keeping a dangerous secret.

Kate Morton (author of The Forgotten Garden and The Secret Keeper) is releasing her fifth novel in October this year and I’m so excited about it.  Untitled and simply called Book 5 for now, we don’t know what’s it’s about yet, but given she’s one of my favourite Australian authors, I’m sure it’s going to be a delicious page-turner.Matthew Reilly book cover The Great Zoo of China

Matthew Reilly is releasing a block-buster action monster-movie of a novel (his words) called The Great Zoo of China on 10 November.  China has discovered a new species of animal and is preparing to unveil their amazing find in the form of the largest zoo in human history.  The Chinese re-assure a media contingent invited to tour the zoo that it’s perfectly safe; however if Matthew Reilly is involved, you know that nothing’s ever safe.  You can click here to watch a short video of Matthew Reilly telling us about The Great Zoo of China, or pre-order it now and receive 30% off.

Candice Fox (author of Hades) featured here on the blog in January this year, and her latest book in the Bennett/Archer series Eden, is due out later this year.  Click here to read the Player Profile with Candice conducted by Jon Page.

Australian music personality Molly Meldrum has written a memoir called The Never Ever Ending Story, and is said to contain plenty of stories about some of the many rock and pop stars he interviewed throughout his career.  The Never Ever Ending Story is due to be released in November.

Another iconic member of the Australian music industry has to be John Williamson.  In the aptly named Hey, True Blue, John Williamson takes readers through his life story and his success as a singer.

So, that’s it from me, but what new Australian books are you looking forward to?

What is the Eve Pownall Award?

Meet Capt CookThe CBCA (Children’s Book Council of Australia) shortlist is Australia’s most important award for children’s and YA literature. These books are celebrated in Book Week.

The CBCA shortlist generates most sales of awarded books – for children’s books, although perhaps not for YA books – in Australia. The shortlist is used as a buying guide for parents, grandparents and community members. Schools (especially primary schools) use it extensively for the build-up and culmination of Book Week.

These awards are unusual because there is such a long lead-time between the announcement of the 30 shortlisted books (around April) and the announcement of the winning and honour books in Book Week in August – this year on August 15th. The shortlist is possibly even more important than the winners. http://cbca.org.au/ShortList-2014.htm

There are five categories of shortlisted books, each with six books. Four of the categories are fiction and judged by a panel of 8 judges, 1 from each state and territory, who have a two-year judging term. The fiction books are judged on literary merit.

So, what is the Eve Pownall Award? This is not the place to look into the background of the award but its purpose is to judge non-fiction – Information Books. A panel of judges from the one state, as distinct from the fiction judging panel, selects the Eve Pownall shortlist.

The 2014 shortlist is generally aimed at primary age children and has a focus on our Indigenous people:

Jandamarra

Jandamarra is in picture book form. It is written by Mark Greenwood and illustrated by Terry Denton (Allen & Unwin) and looks at the conflicted Aboriginal hero or villain, Jandamarra. Welcome to My Country is written by Laklak Burrarrwanga and family (A&U) and is aimed at upper primary and secondary students. We are given an insight into NE Arnhem Land, particularly into ‘Yothu Yindi’ – the relationship between mother and child, people and land, land and land… Meet … Captain Cook by Rae Murdie, illustrated by Chris Nixon (Random House) naturally touches on Australia’s first people. It is an outstanding book in this series for younger readers. The design and stylised illustrations are excellent and the writing is understated and enhanced with humour.

Jeremy

Jeremywritten by Christopher Faille, illustrated by Danny Snell (Working Title Press) is for the youngest readers here. In picture book format it shows what could happen to a baby kookaburra. Ice, Wind, Rock by Peter Gouldthorpe (Lothian) is an evocative picture book about our Antarctica hero, Douglas Mawson. And finally, Yoko’s Diary: The Life of a Young Girl in Hiroshima, edited by Paul Ham (ABC Books) is a heart-breaking first-hand account of Japan in WWII by a twelve-year-old girl.

Which Information Book do you think will win the Eve Pownall award on 15th August?

Ice, Wind, Rock

What Is It? Genre, Part I

In this What Is It? article we’re going to take a look at genre.  Identifying a genre of books you love can be exciting and rewarding, but readers can become lost in the terminology; so let’s look at the very basics of genre.

Fiction & Non Fiction
All books can be separated into either fiction or non fiction.  Fiction books contain stories that are ‘made up’ whereas non fiction books contain information that is factual.  A novel is the same as a book, but not all books are novels, so what’s the difference?  A novel contains ‘fictitious prose’ which means a non fiction book will never be a novel (because it’s not fictitious).

From there, there are literally thousands of genres that fall under the headings of fiction or non fiction.  An easy way to think of genre is by considering the categories of shelves (or sections) in a bookshop.

Fiction shelves in a bookshop will house crime, romance and fantasy novels.  Each of these categories is a genre.

Non Fiction shelves will usually include: travel, art and history books, and each of these is a genre.

Let’s take a closer look at some of the fiction genres that may be new to you.  Most readers will recognise science fiction, horror, YA (Young Adult), classic and short story genres, but what about these:

Cozy mystery: a murder mystery without violence, usually featuring an amateur sleuth.

Farm lit & rural romance: romance novels that take place in the outback or towns in rural areas.  (Australian authors of note in this genre include: Nicole Alexander, Loretta HillRachael Johns, Fiona McCallum and Rachael Treasure).

Historical fiction: a story that takes place in an historical setting and which can include fictional accounts of famous people from history.  Popular historical fiction books from Australian authors include: The Secret River by Kate Grenville, Maralinga by Judy Nunn and Cloudstreet by Tim Winton.

Urban fantasy: a book with supernatural themes (such as magic, werewolves, witches, vampires) that take place in a real-world setting, hence ‘urban.’  In other words, the setting is not a make-believe world.WordItOut-word-cloud-441198

Let’s take a closer look at some of the genres within non fiction that you may not have explored.

For Dummies: the yellow and black instructional manuals tackle every topic under the sun in an easy-to-read and understand format.

Literary criticism: essentially the study of literature, or other books. Authors and works are subtly and overtly analysed and interpreted resulting in positive and negative criticism of existing works.  If you are reading (or have read) a great classic and want to know more about it, then the literary criticism genre is a great resource.

Survival: books detailing the survival of individuals from tragedy, natural disaster or crime can be inspirational and informative.  An Australian survival book that comes to mind is Everything To Live For by Turia Pitt.  An international bestseller is I Am Malala by Malala Yousafzai.

Travelogue or travel writing: the author informs the reader about their travel experiences.  Travel writing (and TV shows) continue to increase in popularity and give the reader the opportunity to experience travel and adventure from the safety of their armchair.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this introduction to genre.  Stay tuned for the next instalment in the series, What Is It? Genre Part II.  In the meantime, please leave a comment below and let us know what genre is your favourite.  Mine is historical fiction.

Tara Moss, The Fictional Woman and Feminism

The Fictional WomanI had the great fortune to attend an author event for Tara Moss who was promoting her new book The Fictional Woman. For those who don’t know, Moss is a Canadian-Australian author that started out as a model at 14 years old. She claimed she was a tall nerdy girl at the time but kept hearing people say “you should be a model” so much that she eventually did. Her dream was to be an author but you aren’t much encouragement as a teenage girl to pursue a dream like that. To date Tara Moss has nine novels and The Fictional Woman is her first non-fiction title.

I was hoping to have had a chance to read The Fictional Woman before going into the event but you know what it is like, sometimes life and, more importantly, other books get in the way. I didn’t even have a chance to read a few pages to get an idea of what the book would be like but I have had a quick look since the event. There is something about an author event that I love, the experience to hear them talk about the book often makes me excited about it as well; even if it is an event for a book I hate.

Putting aside the fact I haven’t read the book, I still want to talk about it. The title comes from that idea that everyone seems to have a fictional element to their life, we tend to be placed into moulds and people don’t always believe everything we do or say. Tara Moss, like most people have had this experience; she even took a polygraph test to prove that she wrote her novels. It is important to note that this is not strictly a memoir but also a social critique on our modern world and feminism.

For Moss to write this topic, she needed to provide some historical context, how women have been treated from out the ages, etc. Looking at women in fiction we often see similar archetypes, like the rags to riches story from Cinderella, which requires a man to be happy. Look at the heroines; they are normally facing off against an evil woman, often a crazy old woman that has been depicted as a witch. Thinking about these archetypes and we see they all stem from fairy tales or medieval fiction, a time where woman weren’t considered as equals. There is also the historical context of Tara Moss‘ life that is important to look at; how a model changes peoples’ opinions of herself and all the choices of her life that have influenced her views on feminism, this is why people tend to treat this book as a memoir rather than a social critique.

It is obvious that I’m very impressed with Tara Moss; she is an intelligent woman that puts a lot of thought and research into her books and her interests. I think as far as role models go, she makes for an excellent choice. She went as far as creating Makedde Vanderwall (from her crime series) so she could learn about the world of psychology, forensics and so on. But she takes her research much more serious that that; becoming a qualified private investigator, and taking lessons on how to use weapons. She was even set on fire and choked unconscious just to understand what it felt like. She is an impressive person and even though I was looking forward to reading her new book, seeing her live has really excited me. I’ve since started reading The Fictional Woman and can confirm this book is well worth picking up.

Return of the Slow Cooker

Winter is almost upon us, and as the days grow darker and the nights become cooler, my mind turns to comfort food from my slow cooker.  Anyone with me? It’s time to pull out your slow cooker from the back of the cupboard, box or garage and begin to look forward to some delicious meals.  Slow cookers are a fabulous time-saving appliance, and there’s nothing better than coming home from a busy day out to a delicious concoction cooking away on your bench top.

Now, if you’re anything like me you’ll have your tried and true favourites (lamb shanks, beef hot pot) but I’ve pulled together a collection of Australian books for you to spice up your repertoire.  The best thing about this collection is that each of these books have been selected from the Boomerang Books list of Australia’s Top 1000 Bestselling Books, which means you can enjoy an additional 20% off the RRP.

250 Must Have Slow Cooked RecipesFirst, I bring you the 250 Must-Have Slow Cooker Recipes (pictured left), which contains recipes for time-strapped cooks and busy households, including breakfasts and desserts.  Recipes include cooking with meat, poultry, seafood, vegetables, pulses, rice or pasta to create soul-warming dishes.  Yum!

If 250 recipes isn’t enough, try the The 1000 Recipe Collection – Slow Cooking, which has (as the title suggests) an astonishing 1000 recipes to choose from.  Getting hungry?

The Complete Slow Cooker By Sally Wise is a combination of two of her previous slow cooker books and is appropriately jam packed full of great recipes.  If you’re looking for ideas for delicious and nutritious meals from an experienced cook, you can’t go past The Complete Slow Cooker by Sally Wise.  According to the publisher, Sally Wise is the: “best known, best loved and the biggest selling author of books on slow cooking,” so you really can’t go wrong with this one.Women's Weekly Cook It Slow

Finally, a collection of Australian cook books wouldn’t be complete without including an Australian Women’s Weekly edition, and so I give you Cook it Slow by Australian Women’s Weekly.  Cook it Slow contains almost 500 pages of recipes and also includes other methods of cooking slow including oven and stove top recipes; making this book perfect for those without a slow cooker at home.

Let me know if you’re a slow cooker devotee, and if you have a favourite recipe you’d like to share with us.

If you’re still hungry for more, check out Slow Cooking By Hinkler Books.

Review – FIVE DAYS AT MEMORIAL by Sheri Fink

9781782393740 (1)The disaster that was Hurricane Katrina meets the disaster that is the American healthcare system.

There is something about Hurricane Katrina and it’s aftermath that continues to fascinate me, even nine years on from the disaster. The storm and the subsequent flooding of New Orleans exposed a part of America that is often hidden, ignored and overlooked. The image America projects of itself at home and abroad as the land of the free and a first world superpower was shown up as a brilliant city and it’s people were reduced to the third world status. The failure and breakdown of governments and their institutions before, during and after the hurricane was shocking in its totality. Coupled with a hysteria fed on and spread by the media and Katrina was truly a disaster like no other. And the political, economic and social fallout is still being felt.

The truth of what happened in New Orleans during and after the storm is as murky as the flood water that inundated the city. Rumours of looting and violence spread like a wildfire and while some incidents did occur many reports were exaggerated and unverified yet remain part of Katrina’s folklore. One of the most harrowing incidents reported after the storm was the alleged mercy killings of patients at nursing homes and hospitals. Sheri Fink has spent six years investigating what happened at one at one of these hospitals, Memorial Medical Center.

The book is told in two parts. Fink meticulously reconstructs what happened at Memorial Hospital during and after the storm. As the flood waters rose following the hurricane, doctors and nurses trapped in Memorial Hospital had to make painful decisions over which patients were evacuated first and which had to wait. With rumours and counter rumours about rescue swirling around confusion was rife. In the aftermath of the chaos several hospital staff were accused of euthanizing patients. Fink then follows the legal proceedings that took two years to go to a grand jury.

The story is told from all sides. The narrative is gripping, switching from survival drama to legal investigation with ease. Fink skillfully puts each viewpoint forward. She is both sympathetic and critical of both the accused doctors and nurses as well as the investigators and prosecutors. Fink also examines the role the hospital played and how its structure compounded other institutional failures. She debates the issue of mercy killing and euthanasia and examines the role the media played both during the storm and over the next two years.

Hurricane Katrina and New Orleans became (and still is) a microcosm of institutional and government failure. What occurred at Memorial hospital is another sad chapter but an important one. In a world where hearsay and rumour is reported instantaneously as fact, where big business has taken over the management of healthcare truth, justice and basic humanity not only gets buried it can get completely washed away.

Buy the book here…

Non-fiction prize casts a wide net

The shortlist for the 2012 Samuel Johnson Prize for Non-Fiction was been announced on Friday 5 October and it’s an impressively mixed bag.

The nominated books will are as varied in location as they are in subject matter. They will take you up Everest, across UK on foot, and down into the slums of Mumbai. They look at humanity from the darkest moments of Franco’s reign in Spain, to the innovation of the man who invented modern theatre, and go further into a long difficult look at mankind’s history of violence and what we can expect from it today.

David Willetts, the UK’s Minister for Universities and Science and chair of the judging panel, said the prize was looking for significant books which would “change our view of the world” and “make a lasting contribution to their genres”.

‘Their broad range of subject matter reflects the diversity of English-language non-fiction, and has the potential to inspire readers of all interests. It was partly deliberate to have such a wide range. Even though quality is so important all of the judges have still tried to show a range, from magisterial science from Steven Pinker, to Macfarlane’s extraordinary response to the natural world.”

I’m most excited getting my hands on Steven Pinker’s history of violence and humanity, The Better Angels of our Nature. Pinker, who is the author of the excellent “The Language Instinct” and “Blank Slate“, argues that humankind is becoming progressively less violent and that modernity and its cultural institutions are actually making us better people. And although I’ve loved reading his previous books I completely forgot to pick Better Angels up, so the announcement of the prize was a timely reminder to get my hands on a copy.

I’ll probably try to get my hands on a copy of all six books short-listed, which is at least one of the good results of having a non-fiction prize this prestigious and well publicised. As I have said (okay, whinged before) non-fiction is often left in the cold when it comes to awards and prizes, so it’s good to see it rewarded. And even better when the net is cast this wide, pulling in so many excellent and diverse books.

The full shortlist is:

The award is worth £20,000 (approximately $30,000AUD) to the winner and aims to reward the best of English language non-fiction. It is open to authors of all non-fiction books in the areas of current affairs, history, politics, science, sport, travel, biography autobiography and the arts. The winner will be announced on 12 November.

The first rule of book club is…

…bring a bottle of wine, apparently. I’m not sure what the rest of the rules are – this is my first ever book club – but everyone was very clear about the wine.

Despite a lifetime of loving books and reading books and obsessing about books and occasionally fresking people about by thrusting books at them shouting, “Take this! You must read it!” (and then calling them to check if they are), I have never been to a book club. I’m not sure how this has happened; I love talking about books and I love drinking booze, and apparently book clubs exist to combine the two, but somehow I have missed out. So when a mate recently suggested a book-club meet, I was eager to jump in. Many of the book clubs I have seen seem to exclusively deal with fiction so I was chuffed when I spotted a non-fiction book under the possible reads, and even more chuffed when people said the non-fiction one sounded ideal. (It’s nice to know I am not alone in my real-life read loving ways.)

The book we chose is Amy Chua’s Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, which created no small amount of conversation and controversary on its release in 2011. This was at least partially fuelled by a Wall Street Journal publishing an exerpt from the book with the headline “Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior” which suffered, apparently, from the same problem as the book did – many readers completely missed what Chua claims is irony and self-deprecating humour implicit in the title and believed that Chua was bombastically advocating the superiority of a very strict and ethnically defined approach to parenting.

To be fair, it’s easy to see how this could happen; although Chua describes her book as a self-depreciating memoir, anecdotes such as the “Little White Donkey” one, where Chua describes how she got her  unwilling younger daughter to learn a very difficult piano piece by threatening no lunch, no dinner, no Christmas or Hanukkah presents, no birthday parties for years, and the donation of her dollhouse to the Salvation Army don’t exactly evoke an image of a self-depreciating but loving Mum so much as  a harpy on the rampage. And Chua seems delighted to horrify her audience by emphasising the excesses of her approach and her opinion of other methods of raising children.

“Some might think that the American sports parent is an analog to the  Chinese mother. This is so wrong. Unlike your typical Western overscheduling soccer mom, the Chinese mother believes that (1)  schoolwork always comes first; (2) an A-minus is a bad grade; (3) your  children must be two years ahead of their classmates in math; (4) you  must never compliment your children in public; (5) if your child ever  disagrees with a teacher or coach, you must always take the side of the  teacher or coach; (6) the only activities your children should be  permitted to do are those in which they can eventually win a medal; and  (7) that medal must be gold.”

Unlike the over-achieving and occasionally terrifying Chua I have just done the basics for tonight’s book club meet. I have read the Battle Hymn, and a little extra in the form of looking up a few reviews and interviews with Chua (I’m not sure if you get extra points for that, or if you get accused of cheating), and asked the organiser what else is required and will happen on the night. Wine drinking, apparently. Lots of it.

I’ve even ended up looking up the normal conventions for book clubs, finding this set of 6 rules from some bloke called Nick, who has declared himself “Official Book Club Rule Master of the Universe”. (My mental image of a book club Master of the Universe has a librarian in a He-Man style-outfit, somewhat like Conan the Librarian. I am not sure if this is what he was going for.) His rules are helpful in that they specify munchie types (chips are bad as they crunch, apparently, and accidentally picking a terrible book means you have to provide a good dessert or snack to make up for it!), unhelpful in that he suggests cleaning toilets more throughly and slightly worrying in that he is very clear that “what happens in Book Club STAYS in Book Club”.

…which begs the question, what is going to happen in book club? Do I need to be nervous? Should I have brought a mask in case we end up out burgling book-store or will we be reclining on cushions, dicussing literature, while nubile assistants peel grapes for us? Should I be expecting lively conversation or structured questions? Should I bring my beret, in order to look like a more serious reader? I can always dig my old reading glasses out – as they’re slightly the wrong prescription these days they give me a rather ferocious-looking squint and can be some help if I go for the Conan the Librarian look.

And, hey, if that doesn’t work, at least I know my bottle of wine is good.

Review – Children’s Book of Sport

It’s Australia Day and we’re a nation of sport-lovers. Want to know the score? This is what you need. DK’s remarkable and very visual stylings bring sport alive in this encyclopedic hardcover book.

Starting with Team Sports, the astonishing photos begin with a double-page photo of a mid-play NFL tackle, followed by football (soccer or ‘le foot’), baseball, basketball, volleyball, netball – and, well . . . practically anything ending in ‘ball’ or using a ball.

Racket Sports, Athletics and Gymnastics, Target Sports and Water Sports sections are next, followed by Combat, Winter, Horse, Wheels and Motors, Extreme Sports and of course – the crème de la crème – the Olympic Games.

There’s so much included, sports enthusiasts will suffer an endorphin rush without even contracting a single muscle, let alone breaking a sweat.

Each entry is awash with the striking photography DK is renowned for, as well as information on the way the game is played, the equipment used, techniques, scoring, the ‘essentials’ and the aim of the game. There’s even ‘jargon busters’.

A glossary and index round out this comprehensive yet clearly laid-out book that will attract both younger and older kids.

Children’s Book of Sport is published by Dorling Kindersley.

Mid-month round-up – the strange edition

Strange World – John Long’s Hung Like an Argentine Duck

The truth is stranger than fiction and Dr John Long has (literally) dug up some of the weirdest evidence and facts from the evolution of sex for this book; he’s the discoverer of the Gogo Fish, a 380-million-year-old fossilised armoured shark-like fish replete with a perfectly preserved embryo which provides the first evidence we have of sexual behaviour in the prehistoric past. In this book, which he describes as a journey back to the origins of sexual intimacy, he explores the questions of why organisms started using sex to reproduce and how the act – and the equipment – has adapted and evolved over time and across species.

With a cast of homosexual penguins, lesbian ostriches, necrophiliac snakes and fellating fruitbats, this book is hilarious, horrifying and fascinating – often all on the same page. Jared Diamond, (author of another favourite of mine; Guns, Germs, and Steel) described it as “a compromise between a book that you should carry hidden inside an opaque bag, and a sober respectable scientific treatise, a deliciously written account of the evolution of sex, in all of its bizarre manifestations.”

(And, for those of you are wondering where the book’s title comes from, the duck in question is an Argentine lake duck and boasts an organ nearly half a metre in length – fully the same length as its body.

Strange times – Stephen King’s 11.22.63

What if you could go back in time, but only to the same point again and again? Would you choose to just visit, or could you live there? Would you lie low and live simply or use your knowledge of the future for fortune and fame? Or would you want to change the course of history itself?

In 11.22.63 Stephen King weaves nonfiction with fiction when he sends his protagonist, Jake Epping, down a “rabbithole” in time from the twenty-first century to 1958 and to a moment when the whole world changed – JFK’s assassination in Dallas on November 22nd, 1963.  Stephen King is known for his horror but his true strength isn’t in his ability to shock and scare but his ability to crawl inside his characters’ heads and present them, warts and all, to the reader.

11.22.63 isn’t the story of JFK’s death but rather Jake Epping’s chance at a different life and his struggle with reconciling what he knows with what he wants. It’s a gripping read and one long in the making; Stephen King tried to write this book at the beginning of his career but was defeated by the sheer amount of research it required. Having devoured it over Christmas (leading to more than a few entreaties to “put down that book and answer me”), I can tell you that it is well worth the wait.

Strange places – Ben Aaronovitch’s Rivers of London

“My name is Peter Grant and until January I was just probationary constable in that mighty army for justice known to all right-thinking people as the Metropolitan Police Service (as the Filth to everybody else). One night, in pursuance of a murder inquiry, I tried to take a witness statement from someone who was dead but disturbingly voluable, and that brought me to the attention of Inspector Nightingale, the last wizard in England. Now I’m a Detective Constable and a trainee wizard, the first apprentice in fifty years, and my world has become somewhat more complicated: nests of vampires in Purley, negotiating a truce between the warring god and goddess of the Thames, and digging up graves in Covent Garden . . . and there’s something festering at the heart of the city I love, a malicious vengeful spirit that takes ordinary Londoners and twists them into grotesque mannequins to act out its drama of violence and despair. The spirit of riot and rebellion has awakened in the city, and it’s falling to me to bring order out of chaos – or die trying.”

This book was recommended by a friend who (knowing my weaknesses well) described it as a cross between Terry Pratchett and a detective novel. That’s a pretty big billing and one that the book easily lived up to. Aaronovitch blends the real world worries of a young mixed-race working  policeman with a touch of magic to create a fast-paced and funny story that manages to be irreverent and touching.  It’s not just my friends recommending him; he was shortlisted for the Galaxy New Writer of the Year award in 2011 and his books have been favourably compared to the Dresden Files and Jasper Fforde. I have the follow-up, Moon Over Soho, downloaded to my e-reader already and I’m looking forward to making the time to read it.

Review – Every Minute in Australia by Yvette Poshoglian

There’s many a fact book on the Australian market – and there’s a reason for this. Kids love them. I mean, who doesn’t? Isn’t fact stranger and sometimes more mind-boggling than fiction?

We may be a young country with a small populace but there’s a heck of a lot going on here at any given minute in time. Author Poshoglian has done an awful lot of research to share her findings with kids keen for some super cool facts.

Divided into sections, starting with Aussie Food, we quickly learn that every minute 1,903 cups of cordial are being drunk, 33 tins of Milo and 41 jars of Vegemite are being sold in this country – and lo and behold – 761 Tim Tams are being nibbled.

In the Aussie Animals section, we learn koalas can eat up to half a gram of gum leaves per minute (ravenous little furballs), kangaroos can hop up to 1.16km per minute and 444 species are threatened with extinction.

In Aussie Sport, facts and figures come thick and fast with boggling speed and skill stats per minute, and in Aussie Technology, 111 vehicles cross the Sydney Harbour Bridge, 600-720 frames comprise a stop-motion claymation movie and Halley’s comet whizzed by in 1986 at a speedy 3km a minute.

Also covering Aussie Bodies, Pop Culture Down Under and Only In Australia, the author fleshes out each entry with some fascinating information and history, and several activities at the end of the book make for a very interactive book that should have the kids occupied very nicely indeed, these summer holidays.

Every Minute in Australia is published by Scholastic.

 

Not For Sale (But For Loan)

Not For SaleThe other day both my friend and my father voiced what I had myself been feeling—that although they loved the current crop of books I’ve been distributing to them as must-reads, that they might need to inject a few slightly trashier ones for some light relief. Phew. Me too.

I’d encountered a bumper crop of books, including Into The Woods (which I’ve already blogged about), Silent Spring (which I will blog about), and revisited the brilliant (if logic-defying) Confessions of an Economic Hit Man (which I’ll also blog about soon), but was feeling pretty disillusioned with and weighed down by social and environmental problems. And specifically gobsmacked and frustrated that we humans are the initial and ongoing root of all this evil.

While on one level I am empowered and invigorated and inspired to enact change after reading these kinds of books, on almost every other level I feel like sitting in a corner, wallowing, and wishing it would all go away. So why, out of the 50-ish books I have sitting waiting to be read (see previous blog and feel free to send some pointers my way), I finally picked out David Batstone’s Not For Sale, I’ll never know.

Confessions of an Economic Hit ManIt’s a book about abolishing human trafficking. As in slavery. As in the horror happens in developing nations but also, more frighteningly, right here, right now, in our backyard. I can feel the friends I plan to pass the book on to wince already. What happened to me finding them some cotton-candy airport fiction, right?

The good news is that the topic sounds (and is) heavy, Batstone covers it with a light touch. He threads stats with real-life examples, short chapters, and segments of case studies. You’re introduced to a person at the beginning of the chapter and then return to them at its close to find out how their story ended up.

I’m now equal parts fascinated and disturbed how the parts of the world where people (often women or children) who are trafficked (often for sex crimes) changes a little like fashion does—wars, famines, poor financial prospects, a lack of international pressure or sanctions, or governments looking the other way, all play a part in determining who’s trafficked from and to where.

Into The WoodsThe book covers the stories of women and children forced into sexual slavery in Thailand or Uganda or [insert name of just about any nation here] through poverty or the promise of education for their children or through nightmarish village razing and abduction.

I now understand how people get there and stay/are kept there. I also now understand how it’s a very profitable industry—globalisation at its worst—because Batstone unpacks what’s an entirely complex and murkily moralled issue in a straightforward, commonsense manner.

While the awfulness of the violence and rape perpetrated against women and children really did make me wince, I both winced more knowing that slavery goes on in first-world nations (seriously, in suburban USA and probably in suburban Australia) and that I should be doing more to stop it.

I’m making it sound bleak, though, which it’s really not. Especially as Batstone features the people who, often through random encounters or split-second decisions, have found themselves dedicating their lives to stamping human trafficking out.

I know I’m going to have a hard time selling Not For Sale to my friends as family right now as they all need a less complex carbohydrate non-fiction call to action, more mindlessly consumable simple carbohydrate Twilight-style tale, but I am still going to try. If not now, then at some stage, Not For Sale should be on the list of books I loan out.

The Leak That Launched a Thousand Political Memoirs

News surfaced today of a cache of over a quarter million confidential US diplomatic cables between embassies and consulates and the US State Department. The leak has been released to news organisations and has been made available to the public via the website WikiLeaks, a not-for-profit organisation devoted to releasing confidential documents that may have relevance to public debate. You can read an initial breakdown of the latest and greatest leak on the New York Times website.

The leak, the scale of which is unprecedented, cements WikiLeaks as an institution on the web and as an important tool for journalists the world over. It also raises the stakes for the organisation, as the leaks look to be quite embarrassing for the United States. But although WikiLeaks itself may eventually be destroyed by outside forces, lack of funding or its sheer infamy, it is representative of what the open web means for modern publishing.

The instantaneous availability of confidential source material to anyone with an internet connection is something the publishing industry is really only beginning to respond to. The existence of WikiLeaks (or any organisation like it) is further motivation for publishers to move faster and simultaneously provide deeper and more comprehensive analysis in order to justify the longer schedules involved in putting a full-length book together based on this kind of information.

The other big issue the open web raises for publishers is accountability. Traditionally, publishers rely on authors to do the due diligence in terms of fact checking in non-fiction. Although potentially contentious books are checked by lawyers, and editors certainly do a certain amount of fact checking, the buck generally stops with the author. As readers find it increasingly easy to check facts themselves on the web, it will become more important for this most basic level of quality assurance to take place before publication.

Quite aside from any of these points, there’s something essentially unromantic and lacking in smell-of-bookishness that turns me off WikiLeaks. Although the Watergate scandal would still have happened without All the President’s Men, there is something a bit depressing about Deep Throat uploading his information to WikiLeak’s online drop box.

My question for you all today is this: what do you look for in book-length journalism? Do you want a narrative? Do you want a big-name journalist attached? Does the story just have to be so huge it justifies the length and price? What draws you to reading journalism of this size? Or is the art of book-length journalism dead? Post your thoughts in the comments below.

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