Information Overload – Informative Kids’ Books

If reading is the fount of knowledge and knowledge is power, then this list of informative kids’ books contains enough intellect to keep your youngsters gasping in awe for days, weeks, even years! Prepare your minds to be boggled.

The Awesome Book of Animals – The World’s Most Awesome Facts in Pictures by Adam Frost

Can you name the first animal to have babies in space? I can now! I promised this book to my nephew, who is ga ga for it, but it’s so good, I wish I could keep it on my own bookshelf. Crammed solid with truly jaw-dropping, disgusting, hilarious, weird and wacky facts, this paperback compendium is easy to read and flick through allowing young readers to absorb an astonishing amount of info very quickly. Brilliantly illustrated and thoughtfully arranged with enticing titles, The Awesome Book of Animals is a 20 out of 10 from me! Check out Frost’s other awesome titles of discovery, here.

Bloomsbury Children’s Books October 2017

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Unbelievably Good – Strange but True Mid-Grade Reads

Tweens and teens love dipping into the world of fantasy. The more quirky the premise, the more unbelievable the outcomes, the better. These middle grade novels serve up a mind-bending mixture of almost too-whacky-to-believe storylines showcasing time travel, ghosts and gigantic invisible felines. Strange but delightfully, true.

Frankie Fish and the Sonic Suitcase by Peter Helliar and Lesley Vamos

A forever morphing, triple paced collision of Doctor Who meets Top Gear is one way of describing Pete Helliar’s first foray into writing for kids. His enthusiastic use of wacky, over the top metaphors is a touch extravagant at times but oh, do they provoke some face-wrinkling chuckles.

Francis (aka Frankie) Fish’s race against time back into time has all the hallmarks of a mega time travelling adventure with one difference; he is making the journey in desperation to preserve the existence of the Fish family line of which he may or may not still be a part of (it all depends on the battery!). And he’s doing it with his very grumpy, slightly geriatric, grandfather.

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The book or the movie? The Martian by Andy Weir or The Martian with Matt Damon?

The MartianThe Martian by Andy Weir by Andy Weir has a fabulous back story. Initially published chapter by chapter and made available for free on the author’s website, readers soon fell in love with the story. First, they asked him to make it available as an ebook, so they could enjoy it on their e-readers rather than having to read it from his website. Fans then asked Weir to make his novel available as a Kindle ebook on Amazon, and the rest is (as they say) history. The novel took off, and Weir sold the rights in 2013 for more than $100,000US.

The Martian is a science fiction novel inspired by the TV hero MacGyver and the fix-it scene in Apollo 13, and has now been adapted for the big screen in a film starring Matt Damon, directed by Ridley Scott. The movie is in cinemas now and having adored the book, I went to see the movie last week, hardly able to contain my excitement.

Matt Damon plays astronaut Mark Watney in the film The Martian, who is injured and left behind on planet Mars after a dust storm. He must overcome many obstacles in order to survive the harsh conditions and come up with a plan to ensure he doesn’t starve before help or supplies arrive.

The novel by Andy Weir is funny and clever, with complex science somehow made accessible to the average ‘layman’ reader, even for first time readers of science fiction. Sections of the novel are log entries recorded by Watney and are laugh out loud funny. Watney’s ingenuity and character really shine through in the book and Matt Damon did a magnificent job playing the character in the movie.TheMartian film poster

There were some marked differences in the movie adaptation that are worth noting though.
– The book contains quite a bit of scene-appropriate swearing, and without it in the movie, Watney’s character loses a little of his edge.
– One of my favourite scenes (where Watney spells out letters on the surface of mars with rocks) wasn’t included in the film and I couldn’t help but be disappointed.
– The names and nationality of several supporting characters were changed for the movie, and I have no idea why.
– The trip in the rover forms so much of the book (it’s over 3,000 miles) but in the movie, he seems to ‘arrive’ at his location without the audience being aware of the true perils of the journey.
– They changed the ending. I won’t elaborate so I don’t spoil it for anyone, but some of the changes in the movie improved on the original ending and some were a waste of time.

The Martian was one of my favourite books of 2015, and I knew it’d be hard to match on screen, but sadly the movie left me wanting more. At 141 minutes duration, the film is longer than the average block buster, but the time really flies. It was entertaining, and on its own, a very fine movie, I just thought the book was better. Such a cliche right?

So, what’s your opinion, which is better? The Martian movie or The Martian book? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.

Mid-month reading list – the Sex edition

Regular readers will remember that I spent most of last month engrossed, entertained and occasionally utterly grossed out by John Long’s Hung Like an Argentine Duck, which literally digs up some of the weirdest evidence and facts from the evolution of sexual reproduction, including necrophiliac snakes and the possible inventor of sex from our very own WA – the armoured shark-like Gogo fish. (Apparently 380 million years ago you didn’t need to flash a lot of flesh to be sexy.)

It was a fascinating read, and I’m blaming it for a month of non-stop reading about nookie and the many and myriad ways in which the drive to procreate affects the world we live in.

Sex, Bombs and Burgers by Peter Nowak

Nope, it’s not the latest Michael Bay movie (that would be Sex, Bombs and EXPLOSIONS EXPLOSIONS EXPLOSIONS). This is a far more thoughtful, but still fabulously entertaining, read in which Nowak argues that most of the major technological advances of the last sixty years have stemmed straight from the trio of billion-dollar industries that cater to our basest impulses. War. Fast Food. Pornography.

They get a deservedly bad rep but Novak argue that without the intellectual – and financial – investment that humanity is willing to spend on satisfying its rage, lust and greed, we’d all be living in cave.  From cars to aerosols, cameras to cold medicine, most of the technology that make life easy today can be traced back to either the porn, military or fast food industry. The investment in the military that gave us missile systems also gave us Silly Putty, developed as a war-time replacement for rubber. The food innovations that happened during the war paved the way for the rest of the 20th century and for the fast food industry to capitalise on our urge to sate our appetites. And when we’re not hungry for food anymore, well, that’s where the pornographic industry – with its innovative genius for using new technology to make a buck while more traditional media is still wondering if this internet thing will catch on – comes in.

Novak, who admits that he was inspired to research and write the book by the Paris Hilton sex-tape (specifically the fact that it was shot using the newly-developed night vision mode, meaning that military technology had gone, ahem, hardcore in quick time) is a writer with a knack for making the technical easy to understand and the quirky hilarious. A really excellent read, and certainly a better story than anything Michael Bay has stuck his name on recently.

The Red Queen by Matt Ridley

If Novak wants to blame war and fast food as well, Ridley is laying the blame purely at the feet of sex – or specifically, sexual reproduction and evolution. He argues that reproduction is the sole goal for which human beings are designed, with everything in our nature and physical form being carefully chosen to get us over the finish line of reproductive success. It uses the Red Queen from ‘Alice in Wonderland’ – who has to run at full speed to stay where she is – as a metaphor for the evolution of a whole range of sexual behaviors. Using scientific studies it explores the whole gamut of sexual behaviour; from polygamy to attempted monogamy, from harems to homosexuality, to how individuals choose their mates and what traits they find attractive, and comes up with a fairly persuasive argument for sex being the motivating force behind, well, pretty much everything.

It’s not a new book – published in 1994 and shortlisted for Rhone Poulenc General Prize for Science Books that same year,  I really should have read this one already. For those of you who have, you might find his in more recent offering – Rational Optimist, how prosperity evolves – something to take your mind off sex, if only for a few moments.

90 Day Geisha by Chelsea Haywood

90 Day Geisha details 20-year-old Canadian model Chelsea’s 90 day crash course in art of “hostessing” in Japan. It’s not, as Chelsea quickly learns, about sexual favours; a hostess is someone to talk to, to provide small talks and drinks, to light cigarettes and flatter clients and occasionally accompany them on karaoke duets, and over-worked businessmen will pay very handsomely for the privilege of a hostesses’ attention for the evening.

Made infamous by the murder of Lucie Blackman in 2000, hostessing is little understood and Chelsea’s book is both an explanation of it and her exploration of it. It’s not a simple thing to understand or to do, as she soon discovers as her clients charm her with wit and personality, sweet words and lavish and expensive gifts. Even though sex is meant to be off the cards, in the hard-partying, no consequences, all-night culture of Tokyo’s Roppongi district, Chelsea finds that both her determination and her marriage will be tested under the late-night neon lights.

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Great Expectations – 2012 and Australian non-fiction

It’s only Tuesday, but it’s been a good week so far for Australian non-fiction and for those of us looking to get our hands on some great new books to read.

First off, the shortlist for the 2012 Indie Awards has been announced and it has highlight four of Australia’s best non-fiction books released in the last year, just in case you missed reading them. The Indie Awards recognise independent booksellers’ favourite Australian authors from the past 12 months in the fiction, non-fiction and children’s categories, with a special award for debut fiction. The category winners will be chosen by panels of readers and independent booksellers, and independent booksellers then vote on the ‘Book of the Year’ with the winners announced on 10 March at the Leading Edge Books conference.

Last year’s Book of the Year winner was Boomerang bestseller The Happiest Refugee by Anh Do. His adaptation for children, The Little Refugee (co-written with Suzanne Do), is nominated in this year’s Children’s category. You can see a full list on our blog, but here are the four non-fiction books picked out as  some of the best reads in the genre in 2011, and all are well worth picking up for your reading pleasure.

  • Worse Things Happen at Sea by William McInnes & Sarah Watt. This memoir is a charming, hilarious and touching tribute to family and everyday life, celebrating the simple things that make up the normal life of a family in the suburbs;  raising children, renovations that never end and the trials and joys of daily life and dog obedience classes.
  • Notebooks by Betty Churcher. Betty, who was recently on ABC’s “Hidden Treasures” presenting obscure and amazing items from National Gallery of Australia, has penned and sketched this gloriously illustrated book guide to her most beloved artworks.  Betty is justly famous for her knack for making art accessible and fascinating and this book, revealing the secrets in masterpieces such as those by Rembrandt, Manet, Vermeer and Cezanne, will captivate art novices and lovers alike.
  • After Words: Post Prime Ministerial Speeches by Paul Keating. Love him or hate him, there’s no doubting that Keating has a memorable way with words (his insults, for example, have their own website). This book of speeches are all his work and range over a huge range of topics from international relations to the role of the monarchy, to the current direction and future of Australian politics, economics and society, leaving the reader in no doubt that Keating is still a man with plenty to say and a stirring way of saying it.
  • A Private Life by Michael Kirby. Michael Kirby is a very public figure, known for his work as a judge, academic and former Justice of the High Court. This book offers a look at his private life, the challenges he faced both growing up as and coming out as gay and the convictions and relationships that have kept him going throughout his career and personal life. Kirby’s writing is warm and humourous and this memoir explores and entertains without navel-gazing.

If the highlighting of four of the best non-fiction books wasn’t reason enough to look forward to hitting the bookstores, a new annual prize promises to reward excellence in Australian science writing and make it easier to access. NewSouth Publishing has established a prize for the best short non-fiction piece on science written for a general audience; the Bragg UNSW Press Prize for Science Writing.  Named in honour of Australia’s first Nobel Laureates William Henry Bragg and his son William Lawrence Bragg, and supported by the Copyright Agency Cultural Fund, all winning entries will be included in an anthology (The Best Australian Science Writing 2012) which will be published late in 2012.

Scientific books can get a bad rap for being impenetrable but, as any regular readers will know, there is plenty of wonderfully written, surprising and inspiring scientific writing out there. While this isn’t the first book that NewSouth have into this area (they published The Best Australian Science Writing 2011 in November last year) the establishment of an annual prize shows an ongoing commitment to the accessible in Australian Science writing that can only be a great thing for those of us who love to curl up with a good book that educates as it fascinates.

2012 has barely started, but I’m confident that it’s going to be a year with some seriously enjoyable Australian non-fiction to get into. What are you looking forward to getting your hands on?

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.