18 October 2016

We're All Going to Die

'All living things are structured for death. It is an intrinsic part of us.’

If the title suggests that this is a morbid book, I can assure you it’s not. We’re All Going To Die is a well-researched, cleverly written book about the inevitable in every living being’s life. This book will enrich your life, for it teaches you to embrace each day and live it as if it was your last; mindfully and with gratitude.

The passages shared by Kaminsky about her own life and feelings are candid and brave. She’s not an observer. She is part of it all. ~

Dr Leah Kaminsky has taken four years to write this book. She has gone to great lengths to collect data and information through countless research methods, interviews, and personal experiences about dying from famous and not-so-famous people.  She uses it all to inform and entertain, and teach people to except the word death as part of life.

Kaminsky is one of the many people that live in fear of death. She confesses death has been her greatest anxiety. Writing this book helped her accept the truth and become a more compassionate healer. She delves into the many fears associated with death - including suicide, ageing, Aged Care, and assisted dying-in an insightful and enlightened way.

I found this book inspirational. The passages shared by Kaminsky about her own life and feelings are candid and brave. She’s not an observer. She is part of it all.

Each story and experience has been perfectly positioned so that the whole book is interspersed with surprises that produce gasps of pleasure just when you think you’ve read the best part. The stories amuse, make you reflect, and count your blessings. Lots of extended reading is noted in detail for those interested in more.

So many things about death are hidden from us in dark places.  Kaminsky moves them into the light. I applaud her courage and craftsmanship in creating such an entertaining and informative book about such a difficult subject.

‘Thinking about death and dying is an important part of finding a better way to live.’ Therefore, while the book reminds us how fragile and temporary life is, it simultaneously encourages us to live boldly, and accept the changes that life brings.

Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

Title: We’re all Going to Die
Author: Dr. Leah Kaminsky
Publisher:  Harper Collins
Publication Date: June 2016   $27.99 RRP
 Format: Paperback
ISBN: 9781460749999

Type:  Non Fiction

17 October 2016

The Fourteenth Summer of Angus Jack

Angus Jack, his sister Martha and his almost always distracted father, the Prof, moved to Australia four years ago to start a new life. They continued moving from place to place every six months but this last move is the strangest of all. It is about to get a whole lot stranger.

~ There are no boring bits in this story. A quirky fantasy adventure for readers 8-12 years ~

The Fourteenth Summer of Angus Jack is packed with fantastical characters. There’s Reafen, the strange old woman who opens a curiosity shop next door. Something is very unusual about her and her wares, especially her snow globes.

Then there’s the Donut Lady who lives in the Caravan of Delight on the beach and makes the most delicious donuts ever. The goblin girls Ava and Graini arrive on a living Viking ship. Evil Varla appears in a mirror.

The story is underpinned by strong elements of Norse mythology. Wild Magick is afoot because an object has passed from the Old Realm into the human world. When the Wishing Stones are cast, secrets are revealed and Angus Jack must risk everything for his family.

Black and white illustrations add emphasis to exotic descriptions and full page drawings are rich with detail. Short chapters and odd happenings move the action along. There are no boring bits in this story.

A quirky fantasy adventure for readers 8-12 years

Title: The Fourteenth Summer of Angus Jack
Author: Jen Storer
Publisher: ABC Books
Date: September 2015 
Type: JuniorFiction

30 July 2016

Don't Think About Purple Elephants

Sophie doesn’t worry during the day, when there are friends and family to play with and new things to learn at school.

She worries at night when she’s lying in bed, waiting to fall asleep. What if she forgets to take her lunch to school? What if Mum cooks brussel sprouts for dinner?

Her family tries to help. Emily offers her teddy but Sophie worries Emily won’t be able to sleep. Dad suggests warm milk but Sophie worries she might wet the bed.

Mum tells Sophie not to think about purple elephants. Now Sophie can’t think of anything else, until she falls asleep.

Clever illustrations reflect Sophie’s feelings. When she worries, the world is grey. When she is happy, it is bright and colourful and when the elephants arrive the pages are filled with purple exuberance.

Written with gentle humour, this is a special book – a story that a child will want to hear over and over again and a resource for parents with children who worry.

Reviewed by Sandy Fussell

Title: Don't Think About Purple Elephants
Author: Susan Whelan and Gwynneth Jones
Publisher: Exisle Publishing
Date: April 2015 $24.99 RRP
Type: Picture Book

18 June 2016

Gotham: WIsdom Tree

Nick Earls has begun an ambitious project with his new writing. Gotham is the first story of five
linked novellas, being released in May 2016. The other four will follow with one each month.

It introduces Jeff Foster, an Australian journalist who has come to the US to interview the over-indulged and newly famous rapper, nineteen year-old Na$ti Boi. To get his interview, he must spend time at Bloomingdales with the rapper and his keeper Smokey. He is then forced to accompany them around town while Na$ti feeds his ego with sex, drugs and name-dropping, as he builds ‘the present to write over the past’.

The story is half way through before we learn that the reason Jeff needs this interview to succeed, is so the money he’s paid, can cover his sick daughter’s treatment. It is as if two stories converge, to prepare for another direction. This no doubt, sets up the following novella, titled, Venice.

This brilliant piece of work has prose that is sharp, clever and precise. It showcases the price of fame, how it can destroy not only the very young and famous, but also their minders. The character Smokey’s role is highly significant to the story. Through him we see what he sacrifices of his family life to keep his job. We witness his personal ethics compromised to satisfy the selfish and pampered whims of the superficial Na$ti, who while having everything wants more, but is never satisfied.

Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

Title: Gotham: Wisdom Tree – Novella #1
Author: Nick Earls
Publisher: Inkerman Blunt
Publication Date: May 2016 $19.95RRP
Format: Paperback
ISBN: 9780992498580
Type: Contemporary Fiction

01 May 2016

Choosing Xaverique

From the very first paragraph, the story reaches out to pull the reader in.

I died this morning. At exactly 8.17 am my heart stopped beating and I lay cold and still in the street. At 8.24 am my heart resumed beating, and I jumped up from the dusty pavement and ran home. Confused? Well, that makes two of us.

Gabby discovers she is a Xaverique, a species similar to humans, but more advanced.

Her father, who is also a Xaverique, explains that on her fifteenth birthday, her Xaverique DNA changed from being human but if she doesn’t use her powers, it will revert and she can live a normal life.

If she chooses to be a Xaverique, she will be stronger and faster than any human. Even more amazing, she’ll be able to heal herself and no-one will be able to kill her. The accident when she first died doesn’t count because she didn’t choose to use her powers. Her body automatically reacted to ensure she survived.

Gabby decides she doesn’t want to be different but there are other Xaveriques, a renegade group, whose powerful and cruel master has plans that include her.

When she meets Noah at school, Gabby is smitten for the first time. Noah is a complex character and the emotive heart of the story pivots on his inner struggle and his deepening relationship with her. Noah is a renegade but he didn’t choose to be that way. He cares deeply about Gabby and is conflicted by the role his master, Zlanythe, has given him.

Can Gabby trust him after he lied to her? Can she forgive him because he tried to help? Is Noah able to change? Is he free to choose love?

Xaverique is a story about the struggle between good and evil, between darkness and light but it is equally about how choosing between the two is far more difficult than it appears.

The ending will surprise and it will leave some readers wondering if there is more to come.

Reviewed by Sandy Fussell

Title: Choosing Xaverique
Author: Karyn Sepulveda
Publisher:  Vivid Publishing
Publication Date: $18.95 RRP
Format: Paperback

Type: Young Adult fiction 

29 March 2016

Good + Simple

In this hefty (350 page) book, these two sisters have developed over 140 recipes which they say make use of ingredients that are readily available and which are ‘delicious, nourishing home-cooked foods made with love.’ Their focus is on healthy food. One breakfast dish which caught my eye was butternut and almond butter porridge, made with squash, which can be served with fruit such as blueberries -- certainly different and ideal for anyone wishing to eliminate grain from their diet!

Advocating ‘mindful eating’, the Hemsleys outline 15 principles for eating well which includes ‘forget calories, think nutrients,’ ‘fat is your friend’ and ‘prepare, chew and combine.’ The book’s first pages really establish the theory behind the recipes.

In the contents pages are listed the various types of meals, including soups and stews, and sides and snacks which too often seem left out in cooking books.

There are also notes for readers on how to plan ahead, stocking the kitchen and eating on the go, while there are two weekly menu plans (complete with shopping lists). Checking over the meals offered, one can see the following for a one-day meal plan: breakfast – leftover cinnamon, raisin and quinoa muffins; lunch – leftover flaxseed bun with leftover squash and ginger soup, and dinner – slow-cooked no-fry chicken curry with cauliflower rice. Certainly nutritious and healthy foods!

The book is beautifully designed with frequent, brightly coloured photographs that make all of the dishes sing with appeal. As I flicked through the pages, I came to a double-page spread introduction to vegetable mains. The dishes all sound delicious – beetroot feta cake, green goddess noodle salad, easy cheesy broccoli risotto, simple and spiced mung bean salad to name a few of the 15 dishes.

Good + Simple has inspired me to work from it when guests come next weekend. The proof, as they say, will be in the pudding (and the entrée and mains)!

Reviewed by Dianne Bates

Title: Good and Simple
Author: Jasmine Hemsley and Melissa Hemsley
Publisher:  Random House Australia (Ebury Press)
Publication Date: 1 March 2016
Cost: $55.00 RRP
Format: Hardback
Type: Non-fiction

04 December 2015

The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly

This powerful and riveting cross-over novel is not for the faint-hearted. It begins: ‘I am a blood-soaked girl. Before me, a body. Pulped. My boots are drenched with his blood.’ The girl, seventeen year old Minnow Bly, raised in the Kevinian cult from the age of five, goes on to say, ‘I wonder if this is how the Prophet felt the moment he ordered my hands ripped from me.’

Is the Minnow handless? The answer is yes, and it was her father who used a hatchet to dispatch them. Within minutes after this scene, Minnow is arrested by the police (‘blurry white shapes, like ghosts, stuffed inside tight uniforms’); subsequently she appears in court and is sentenced to juvie.

It is never clear who the victim of her crime is, or what eventually happened to him, or even why Minnow attacked him. Suffice to say, most of the story is set – despite frequent flash-backs -- inside a correctional centre. There the brain-washed, illiterate girl tries to scratch at The Truth. She does this by questioning all around her who have different beliefs, and by learning to read. She befriends Angel, a convicted murderer who is wise beyond her years, and gradually forms a relationship with Dr Martin, an FBI detective who tries to make a deal with her to solve the mystery of the death of The Community and its leader, a man who once tried to ‘marry’ Minnow and her younger sister, Constance.

At almost 400 pages, this is a long read but the writing is always poetic and compelling. Constantly one is wondering what will become of Minnow; will she survive the endless internment away from the woods where she has lived for so long, will she confess to Martin, will she go to live with her lover Jude when she is released.

Stephanie Oakes’ debut novel is a powerful, dark, horrifying and atmospheric novel that totally engages the reader and lingers long in the memory. It is highly recommended for those who can cope with the dark side of life.

Reviewed by Dianne Bates

Title: The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly
Author: Stephanie Oakes
Publisher:  Harper Collins
Publication Date: 1 July 2015
Cost: $19.99 RRP
Format: Paperback
Type: Young Adult fiction

02 December 2015

The Looking Glass House

Readers who love Alice in Wonderland will delight in this fictional telling of the relationship between young Alice Liddell and Christ Church mathematics tutor Charles Dodgson, who would eventually publish under the pen name Lewis Carroll.

The Looking Glass House is told through the eyes of Mary Prickett, governess to Alice and her sisters. Mary is a real person in history but much of her narrative is fictional. Mary aspires to an increase in station, one she hopes to gain from her association with the Liddell family, the most important family in Oxford.

The role of governess quickly proves limited and tedious. Her charges are unappreciative, her life is bland and her suitor Mr Wilson is much less than she desires and feels she deserves.

Mr Dodgson gradually becomes part of the family and develops a close relationship with Alice. Mary looks at the educated, cultured young teacher with different eyes, mistaking his eagerness to be included in Liddle family occasions as an expression of his interest in herself.

Mr Dodgson is fascinated by young children and in particular Alice. He takes her photo, writes her letters professing his affection and lavishes her with attention. One lazy afternoon on a boat trip down the river, Alice demands a story.

“Alice,’ he said. His voice was unsure. “Alice… Alice was beginning to get very tired of sitting on the riverbank and of having nothing to do.”

Mary sabotages the friendship by presenting it in an unsavoury light to Mrs Liddell and Charles and Alice are separated. Charles focuses on his stories and the rest is literary history.

Vanessa Tait is Alice Liddell’s granddaughter and provides a section at the end of story explaining what is fact and what is fiction. The two are cleverly and closely woven together as Vanessa had access to family letters and oral history in addition to public references. The fiction has a deliciously believable flavour.

I found the issue of Dodgson’s relationship with Alice thought provoking. It came under scrutiny at the time and led to Mrs Liddell ending his relationship with Alice and her family. While this was portrayed as the result of Mary’s rumor mongering and that the affections was excessive rather than inappropriate, I found myself wondering.

In the summary explanation, Vanessa Tait notes: The gossip at the time in Oxford and the tradition in my family too, was that Dodgson was too fond of Alice. But she decides based on her research that Dodgson’s intentions were not romantic or otherwise but “that does not mean is was not in love with her in his own way.”

I felt visibly relieved that the fairy tale was still intact.

The Looking Glass House is an entertaining read and lovers of historical fiction will thoroughly enjoy it. Fans of Alice in Wonderland will enjoy it even more

Reviewed by Sandy Fussell

Title: The Looking Glass House
Author: Vanessa Tait
Publisher:  Allen & Unwin (Corvus)
Publication Date: August 2015
RRP: $39.99 
Format: Paperback
Type: Adult fiction

13 November 2015

What We Left Behind

For Gretchen and Toni (also known as T), it was love at first sight. The only gay couple in high school, they were popular and happy, absolutely devoted to each other.

They carefully plan for the inevitable separation college will bring, but with Toni at Harvard and Gretchen at a college in Boston, they knew they won’t be very far apart.

Except Gretchen accepts a waiting list offer for NYC when she hasn’t even told T she applied. The first crack in their perfect relationship appears just as they separate for the first time.

Although Gretchen instigates the change, she has the greatest difficulty coping with her new circumstances. T, who identifies as genderqueer, finds immediate friendship with a group of older transgender students and slowly develops a sense of belonging. She gradually detaches herself from Gretchen, finding excuses not to meet up, as she becomes less sure of her identity and consequently, their relationship.

As T is finding her way, Gretchen becomes more disorientated. What does it mean if your girlfriend is a guy?” … “Do you still get to tell people you’re a lesbian?”  Gretchen struggles to accept the changes in Toni and their relationship. Her confusion leads to hasty decisions.

T and Gretchen are both powerful personas, taking it in turn to drive the narrative. I strongly disliked one and I really liked the other but I cared about both their stories. I found T selfish and self-righteous but I felt for her struggle to find herself and her growing awareness of what this meant for her and Gretchen. Gretchen irritated me with her dependence on others but I empathised with her need for love and support, and her growth into a stronger, more singular person.

I believe What We Left Behind will read very differently for different people and I can only speak from my own experience which I would frankly describe as narrow in terms LGBT issues. So for me personally, this was a book that packed a wallop. It felt honest and real. My eyes were opened to sexual and gender identification issues I’d never thought about.

I finished the book realising I need to read more widely. I’m going to start with Robin Talley’s earlier novel, Lies We Tell Ourselves, about an interracial lesbian love affair set against a background of school desegregation. Already nominated for the 2016 CILIP Carnegie Medal.

What We Left Behind is a must-have title for any YA diversity bookshelf. One that entertains and elucidates, whatever direction you’re reading from.

Highly recommended.

Reviewed by Sandy Fussell

Title:  What We Left Behind
Author: Robin Talley
Publisher:  Harlequin Teen
Publication Date: Nov, 2015
RRP: $17.99
Format: Paperback
Type: Young Adult Fiction

02 November 2015


Are you having problems being heard? Does your voice come out in a whisper when you’re trying to convey an important message? Help is at hand.

Voice coach Dr Louise Mahler has created an intelligent how-to book full of helpful ideas on how to use the link between voice, body, posture and state of mind. Through her own experience as an opera singer which she left to study communication skills, Louise’s pioneering PhD research demonstrates how life can be improved in boardrooms and business, speaking engagements, interviews, and leadership roles of every kind – minor or major ones. In fact, whenever the voice is used. It addresses how the response and perception of an audience or listener depends on voice control, gesture, correct posture and breathing, and how results can be achieved.

Have you ever watched how famous people present themselves in front of an audience? They exude ease and confidence. They use their hands and voice in a specific way, they work the audience from varying points of the room or stage with ease. This ease be learnt by everyone.

This book is an outstanding tool for anyone who’s looking to overcome nerves, or any other mental stumbling block that is keeping them from success. Endorsed by countless well-known people, Dr Louise Mahler teaches you how to ‘Lift the Seven Veils’ and release yourself from limitation. Her book is filled with personal, inspiring stories from people who have benefited from ‘vocal intelligence’ and have reshaped their lives by reclaiming their voice.

If none of the above interests you, this book is still a great read. It will teach you amazing things about your body that you didn’t know, and that you can apply to other areas of your life. I found this an enlightening and inspiring read. It left me with tasty food for thought, and skills to put into practise.

Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

Title: Resonate: For People Who Need to be Heard
Author: Dr Louise Mahler
Publisher: Penguin Random House Australia
Publication Date: 26 August 2015 $32.99 RRP
Format: Paperback
ISBN: 9780670078905
Type: Self Help

04 September 2015

Why Did They Do it? Inside the Minds of Australia’s Most Unlikely Killers

Here’s a terrific book for readers who are interested in analysing personalities and their motives, especially where a crime is involved. An investigative journalist and a psychologist have here collaborated to write a book revealing reasons for murders committed in Australia over our more recent past. There’s Kathryn Knight, for instance, who stabbed and skinned her partner with the intention of serving his cooked body to his children, Peter Caruso who bashed his wife to death after almost fifty years of seemingly happy marriage, and eight murderous others. All of their cases have been on the public record, making headlines all over the country.

Why did these people kill (usually loved ones)? Motives differ in each case, but co-writer McGrath shifts most of the blame on personality disorders that all of the killers suffer from. She is at pains to point out that personality disorder is not a mental illness; instead it is a mental disorder (such as avoidant, narcissistic and antisocial borderline personality disorder). All the killers in this book have problems with appropriate response, interpersonal relations and impulse control. People with personality disorders have difficulty dealing with everyday stresses and problems; under stress they try to control an outcome which can lead to an interpersonal crisis – and sometimes to committing hideous crimes.

Of great interest, especially in the book’s introduction, is an insight into the effects of parenting styles; later, as each murder case is analysed, the reader learns about each killer’s childhood, how they were parented and how their life experiences led them to commit the crimes that stunned the nation. In the body of the book, the journalist and the psychologist dissect the crimes, the evidence, the testimony, the confessions and the overwhelming diagnostic evidence to analyse the minds and motivations behind the murders.

The setting out of each chapter is different from the usual, starting with a cast list of those involved in the crime – victims, murderers and relatives and friends. Sub-headings include motive, lead-up to the crime, the murders, the sentencing and the perpetrator’s background. Following this is a diagnostic chart with DSM 5 indicators such as that used by psychologists and psychiatrists when diagnosing mental disorders (and mental illness). Then there’s a timeline of key events. The authors have worked hard – and succeeded – in trying to make the book comprehensive, and yet the whole is easily accessible to any curious lay-person. At the conclusion of each part of the book is an oversight into what we can learn from the murders committed – say, for example, by Robert Farquharson (who drowned his three small sons as an act of revenge against his wife) and John Myles Sharpe (who murdered his small daughter and his wife because she was pregnant and he couldn’t cope with the thought of another child).

In most of the cases written about here, the perpetrator is generally described by people who knew them as average, ordinary or normal. But, as the book reveals, they all carry the burden of disorder. Words to describe Why Did they Do It? Fascinating, well-researched and documented, highly readable, and recommended if you can stomach what some people will do some of the time. 

Reviewed by Di Bates

Title: Why Did They Do it? Inside the Minds of Australia’s Most Unlikely Killers
Author:  Cheryl Critchley and Dr Helen McGrath
Publisher: Pan Macmillan
Publication Date:  August 2015
RRP: $32.99
Format: Paperback
ISBN: 9781743533178
Type: Non Fiction - True Crime

Musing From the Inner Duck

Michael Leunig’s new creation has 138 cartoons that illustrate the many forms of Man’s existential
angst, the cause of it, and the simple remedies which few people access. There are poems, reflections, recommendations, musings, mysteries, humour, thought-provoking issues, road rage, and so much more. Leunig touches on politics and politicians, the loss of humanity’s most valuable assets due to technology, Man’s obsession with power and material belongings, the lost art of moping, the loss of thought and creativity, and so many more personal, spiritual, philosophical and environmental issues.

 ‘How long will my life be? As long as a piece of string! Will my life have knots in it with loops and tangle-ing?’ When there are too many labyrinths to find a way through, Leunig’s captions and cartoons inspire. When forgetting who and what we are, where we began, and what our end is, Mister Curly and the man are always there to set you straight.

Leunig’s meaningful words and cartoons are profound, entertaining, and of great worth. There is comfort to be found in this book as with all his others. Reminders are logged to renew one’s self and recall what is important in life; that the world will keep on turning and the daily grind will go on regardless. There is visual reinforcement of these truths to be found in the reflection and silence promoted here.

There is no question that this is a valuable book for those who forget to soul search, turn inwards, examine, simply sit quietly, and persevere against the odds, and for those that do. When we lose our way, there is always the duck to give us direction.

Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

Title: Musings from the Inner Duck
Author: Michael Leunig
Publisher:  Penguin
Publication Date: May 20105    $24.99 RRP
 Format: Paperback
ISBN: 9780143573173
ISBN: 9780143573173
Type: Reflections/Gift Book

20 August 2015

The Ratcatcher's Daughter

In Brisbane, early 1900, a new disease has broken out. Thirteen year old Issy, a strong-minded and courageous girl, goes to work as a maid for an undertaker. It is a time of rat-infested houses, factories and warehouses. Smart people keep and train terriers to catch rats for a living. Issy’s dad is one of them. 

Disease breaks out, and the first death from the Black Death occurs, spread from the fleas on rats. All contacts are isolated and quarantined. Everyone is filled with fear and suspicion. People in the town report their neighbours at the slightest hint of sickness. Even so, people refuse to be inoculated.

 After Issy and her family are quarantined, they return to find their home stripped bare of furniture and household belongs and everything burnt in the yard. Everyone stays away from them believing them to be contaminated, although cleared by the authorities. Friendless and alone, the family fights for survival.

Issy’s father’s dogs have been cared for by a friend and he launches back into the ratcatching business, making a good income now with the increased demand. When he becomes ill and the business is in danger of collapse, the ingenious Issy steps into the role, regardless of her distaste for both the dogs and the procedure.

Issy discovers that she’s good at business. She saves the extra money people give her for doing a good job, to build the life she wants for herself.

This interesting novel shows the social culture of the day; the double-standards and differing rules that applied for the rich, and the way they were protected, in contrast to those for the poor and powerless. There is a strong sense of time throughout the story and a clear picture of living and working conditions. A well-researched book, that that makes riveting reading, and brings to life an era of death and condemnation, but also one of courage and resilience.

Reviewed by Aurora Bale

Title: The Ratcatcher’s Daughter
Author:  Pamela Rushby
Publisher: Harper Collins
Publication Date:  April 2014 $ 16.99 RRP
Format: Paperback
ISBN: 9780732297138
Type: Junior Historical Fiction 

07 August 2015

The Warlock's Child Series

Book 1 The Burning Sea, Book 2 Dragonfall Mountain, Book 3 The Dragon Claw.

It’s not very often I start a review with the front cover but when the covers contain dragons of all shapes and hues, drawn by the Dragon Master himself, Marc Mcbride, it’s a good place to begin. The covers are eye-catching and glorious. 

The series is complete with Book 6 to be released in September 2015. Each of the first five books ends with the greater story still unresolved and a cliff-hanger leading the reader directly into the following book.

This structure suits a reluctant reader who is overwhelmed by a wad of pages but will devour the longer story as action-packed, manageable block-sized books. For the more avid reader, as all six books are being released in quick succession, it’s not long to wait for the final resolution.

On the first pages of each book, there’s a map which the reader will find invaluable as the story unfolds in Savaria and Darvinia and on the Centralian Sea that separates the kingdoms.

This is a grand tale of dragons and forbidden magic, of warlocks and sewer rats, of battles and capture, of devious plans and an unlikely hero. And that’s just the first three books.

In The Burning Sea, war has been declared by the Emperor of Darvinia. The Savarians are suspected of working forbidden magic. Long ago the four magics, earth, air water and fire, were divided by the Dragons who continue to ensure no human will ever wield the magics together again. The last time a human did that, it caused the greatest war ever imagined.

We meet Dantar and Velza, brother and sister, travelling on the ship Davarian Invincible with their father, the warlock, Calbaras, Dantar is a lowly overworked cabin boy but Velza is a shapeshifter and an officer. It’s not surprising they don’t get along.

Somewhere hidden on board is a dragon chick and the Dragon Drauvard is taking a keen interest in the ship

In Dragonfall Mountain, the Invincible is sunk in battle.  Velza learns some unpleasant truths about her father and brother and sister find themselves on the same side. Dantar discovers a new strength and the possibility of his own magic. And a dragon dies, the first dragon death in over a thousand years.

Ironclaw opens with the Dragons demanding the Savarian king explain why forbidden magic is being practised in the city of Teliz:

In the entire world there are few things that can strike fear into the heart of a king. The sight of his army retreating would be high on the list… at the very top, however there could be nothing to rival three very angry dragons the size of warships towering over you and asking questions for which you have no answers.

The story progresses with multiple plot strands. Calbaras has created a copy of Dantar and this shell now needs to be filled. Dantar continues to emerge as the one who matters and it seems a shapeshifting dragon always appears to protect him when he is in danger.

At the end of Iron Claw, Dantar, his friend Marko and Merikus the sewer rat are captives, waiting to be hung and arguing about which one of them might be a shapeshifted baby dragon in disguise. The young reader is perfectly primed and positioned to read on to the next book in the series

Recommended for children 9 years and up, in particular suitable for those who like their books short but their fantasy story a little longer.

Reviewed by Sandy Fussell

Title: The Warlock’s Child Series – Book 1: The Burning Sea, Book 2: Dragonfall Mountain, Book 3:The Iron Claw
Author: Paul Collins and Sean Mullins
Illustrator: Marc McBride
Publisher:  Ford Street Publishing
Publication Date: $12.95 RRP
Format: Paperback

Type: Junior Fiction, Fantasy

27 July 2015

Arkie's Pilgrimage To the Next Big Thing

Arkie, a former (and now failed) professional trendspotter, is in Byron Bay, having recently lost her partner and considering suicide. For her, the world seems deeply mysterious in a way it isn’t for others. She is contemplating the final step to end her life when she is unexpectedly approached by a young Japanese tourist with a radical agenda, who instantly engages her.

As a result of this meeting, Arkie convinces the woman, Haruko (a former prostitute), to help her revitalise her flagging career. Pilgrimages, Haruko claims, are the next big thing, a way in which people can transform themselves. Haruko’s behavior leads Arkie to believe she has the gift of trendspotting -- in fact, she is even better at it than Arkie was in her prime.

Haruko, she decides ‘is a genius of metamorphosis’, and it is through her new friend that Arkie begins her own metamorphosis – leading her away from destructive thoughts and into a whole new life. With Haruko as her guide, Arkie undergoes a pilgrimage where she discovers a new, unimagined and fascinating life right in her own country, a land of ‘Big Things’.

This highly readable, fast-paced book is really an adventure story, not just in a physical sense, but it’s also a psychological adventure, leading Arkie to realise that despite her previously celebrated foresight, she had been missing what was right before her eyes. Thus she is informed -- and transformed -- all because of a chance meeting with an eccentric (and endearing) stranger.

There is no doubt that any perceptive reader can travel in tandem with Arkie, not just on her adventure, but on realising, through exploring this whimsical and inspiring world that Walker has created, that their own life can possibly be opened up and a whole new dimension added to it. Big things are all around us, not just standing on the side of Australian roads!

Reviewed by Di Bates

Title: Arkie’s Pilgrimage to the Next Big Thing
Author: Lisa Walker
Publisher: Bantam Books
Publication Date: 2015 $32.99RRP
Format: Paperback
ISBN: 9780857984401
Type:  Adult Fiction

26 July 2015

Night Bird

‘People should be careful about the stories they spread’, Twig Fowler says about the rumour that a mysterious creature is living in Sidwell. Twig, the narrator, is twelve years old, gawky, awkward and shy, and too tall for her age. She is nothing like her mother - graceful and beautiful, and the best cook in the county. Their farmhouse is 200 acres of apple orchards. It is here they come back to hide after leaving New York.

Twig and her mum have a secret and he hides in the attic. It’s her seventeen year old brother James, who was born with wings. It was the result of a spell cast by Agnes Early, witch of Sidwell, on the Fowler male line two hundred years ago, after being left by the man she was to marry.

James is a night bird. He has learnt the language of all the birds in the Montgomery Woods and they flock around him when he appears, especially the small saw whet owls. Twig knows this because James takes her on his outings. This is a secret she keeps from her mother.

A family with two delightful and friendly girls, Agate and Julia, moves into Mourning Dove Cottage next to Twig’s property. She tries to keep her distance. It is too dangerous for James if she makes friends. But life has its own plans and secrets are there to be discovered. Friendships take root in the strangest ground and sometimes nothing can stop them.

How will Twig and Julia find the way to break the spell and save James?

Then she finds the diary.

This is a mesmerising, magical tale. A story of love and mystery told in lyrical prose.  It carries themes of friendship and trust; community and sharing. There is a search, a journey, and a discovery that demonstrates how tightly the past is tied to the present and the future.

The story is powerful; elemental and environmental, filled with an energy that comes from the children’s characters, and that stems from their passion for the natural world that surrounds them. It focuses on the importance of living things, and reflects on how things aren’t always how they appear.

Quite a lot in one book, you may say. I loved this book: the storyline, characters, settings, images, descriptions and language. It’s perfect in every way. Alice Hoffman has a gift, and each book she writes is her gift to her readers.

Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

Title: Night Bird
Author: Alice Hoffman
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
 Publication Date: April 2015 $16.99RRP
Format: Paperback
ISBN: 9781471124211
Type:  Teenage Fiction

08 July 2015

An Aussie Year

An Aussie Year is a fun-filled peek into the lives of five young children, and Warrigal, the dog. Each child has a different cultural background and together they introduce readers to the wonderful multicultural mix that is Australia.

I love the format of this book. It’s about learning while having a lot of fun reading. Each page is full of details to find and things to investigate as the reader follows Ned, Zoe, Lily, Kirra and Matilda on a year-long journey. They go to school, play, celebrate cultural diversity and visit amazing Australian places.

Special days are emphasized including those associated with other cultures. I challenge any reader, young or old, not to open the page for their birthday month without hoping to find something on their special day. Even if no birthday event exists, every child will find days to identify with. There’s weather, food, geography, flora, fauna, city life and country life. Even Book Week.

A sense of humour and a clever way with words, twisted, wound around and wrapped in speech bubbles make this book perfect for shared reading.

Tina Snerling’s distinctive images and world trails are colourful and bold. My favourite picture is Children’s Week where the kids are jumping through puddles. That joyful sense of fun is everywhere in Tina’s illustrations.

This is a clever example of an interactive book with no technology necessary. An Aussie Year will make children want to plan and share their own stories and adventures.

Recommended for schools, parents, independent young readers, in fact, recommended for everybody.

Reviewed by Sandy Fussell

Title: An Aussie Year
Author: Tania McCartney and Tina Snerling
Publisher:  Exisle Publishing
Publication Date: $19.99 RRP
Format: Hardback
Type: Picture Book

The Eye of the Sheep

The Eye of the Sheep, the second adult book by Sofie Laguna, is the winner of the 2015 Miles Franklin Literary Award. It is a magnificent piece of literary work as was her previous book, One Foot Wrong. When I read the first book I sat for a long time in wondrous adoration at the language and expressive ability of this gifted writer. Right at the beginning of this six part book, I could see why it had won the award.

Jimmy the narrator is six years old when the story begins. He is a child with learning difficulties and small for his age. He is hyperactive and his external mind is limited and so is his expression. But, his internal world of thought and powers of observation, are rich and sharp.  It is the internal voice that narrates the story. It is to this voice that readers will offer accolades.

Robby is Jimmy’s older brother. He loves Jimmy but feels resentful because his mother pours all of herself into caring for Jimmy and Robby feels there is nothing left for him. He retreats into silence which is his salvation as it dams up all the churning emotions inside that he must at all cost, keep locked away. His body lives in the house but the rest of him has left his limited life, and gone far away where it beckons his body to join it.

 Paula, their asthmatic mother, is physically abused by her drunken husband Gavin who is the end product of a violent and abusive father. She offers herself to him when he’s angry at the fact that he with her, created an imperfect child. This is how she shields her children from any onslaught. She eats cakes and sweets to fill the emptiness created by promises that follow each bashing, that things will change.

These powerful characters and their at times brutal roles weave through themes of family and generational abuse, alcoholism, love and sacrifice. It is in the outstanding climax, when the superb character Liam appears, that we see the effect that abandonment and other mistreatment has on children and how it shapes their lives.

This book has so much in it I feel unable to do justice to such outstanding work. The writing speaks for itself. Sofie Laguna has created a moving book of incredible beauty and substance. It will be thought about and reread many times.

Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

Title: The Eye of the Sheep
Author: Sofie Laguna
Publisher: Allen & Unwin
Publication Date: 23 July, 2015 $29.99 RRP
Format: Paperback 
ISBN: 9781743319598
Type:  Literary Fiction

24 June 2015

Skin: Song of the Kendra

I was only half a chapter into Skin when I started looking for signs of a sequel. I checked the media release. I checked the author notes. Unfortunately, there was no mention of more books to follow so I read this book much slower than I usually would. I wanted to savour.

Skin is my favourite kind of historical storytelling - a well-researched ancient history backdrop woven into skillful fantasy story-telling that mirrors the myth and magic beliefs of the period.

The time is 28 AD. The place is Southwest Britain. It’s a pivotal moment in history, when the Britons are to meet the Romans in battle for second time. There’s no spoiler here. History has already told us they didn’t win. This book is about the events in Ailia’s tribelands directly preceding the Roman invasion.

Ailia is a young woman of ‘no skin’ in a tribe where skin is everything. It’s identity, the right to learn and the right to marry. It’s freedom, choice and spiritual inclusion. Only those with skin can participate in the tribal ceremonies that celebrate the Mothers, the guardians of the earth.

Deer. Salmon. Stone. Beetle. The North wind. Skin was our greeting, our mother, our ancestors, our land. Nothing existed outside its reach.

Beyond skin there was only darkness. Only chaos.

Ailia has a good life, given the times and her lack of skin. Abandoned as a baby at Cookwoman’s door, the old woman took her in and treated Ailia as if she was her daughter. Ailia is the favourite of the Tribe Queen who allows Aila to help her bathe and dress. She even draws the attention of an elite young warrior.

But Ailia is destined to be more than a maid in Cookwoman’s kitchen and a warrior’s mistress. Being denied learning can’t smother her desire for knowledge. When she meets the mysterious Taliesen and falls in love, she begins an illicit journey. The Mothers have a plan for Ailia. Britain needs its Kendra and Ailia might be the chosen one.

Every obstacle is placed in her way because without skin, she is unworthy. Even Ailia doubts her calling.

This is a novel about identity and belonging as Ailia struggles to find out who she is. She desperately needs to know her skin so she can be part of the tribe and be found worthy by the Mothers. But skin is more than a name and the Mothers already know this. Skin is something far bigger than humanity.

What I love most about this novel is it is tangible. The world is realistic and the fantasy rings true. I felt like I was walking the grass of Car Cad and the Mothers didn’t mind at all.

PS Dear Ilka, please write a sequel. Or a prequel. Or another book set in Iron Age Britain.

Book Club Notes can be found here. This book would make an excellent Book Club choice.

Reviewed by Sandy Fussell

Title: Skin
Author: Ilka Tampke
Publisher:  Text Publishing
Publication Date: $19.99 RRP
Format: Paperback
Type: Adult fiction 

Unsolved Australia

To have a loved one go missing must be one of the worse tragedies that could befall a family or friend; yet in Australia 38,000 people go missing every year. Some of course, return home or eventually make contact with loved ones. But this book, with its sub-heading Terrible Crimes, Incredible Stories, tells of 18 infamous cases of true life from Australia’s past where people, from children to adults, have mysteriously disappeared and never found.  The stories certainly make for gripping reading, but the publication of the book also offers hope. The hope is a reader – or readers -- of this book might have their memory pricked and thus provide further clues to help cold case investigators in their quest to solve find their loved ones – or even the remains of their loved ones.

Author Justine Ford has reported on the top-rating TV series Australia’s Most Wanted; as well, she has covered scores of chilling homicides and missing persons’ cases, has access to police all over Australia, and has interviewed surviving relatives, all of whom want to know the truth so their minds can be finally put to rest.  

All of her stories here are chilling and sad, but perhaps the story which most lingers in this reader’s mind is that of seven-year-old Linda Stillwell who disappeared from St Kilda, a Melbourne suburb, in 1969. Shortly after this, a 21-year old-sailor, Derek Percy, grabbed another Melbourne girl, Yvonne Tuohy, held a dagger to her throat and abducted her. In this case there was enough evidence to convict Percy and he was sentenced to prison. However, detectives then, and decades later, believed that Percy – a vile, sexually violent man – had abducted and murdered other children (perhaps nine of them), including Linda Stillwell.

More than a decade ago, Detective Senior Sergeant Wayne Newman was handed Linda’s case. By this time Percy was in the terminal stages of lung cancer. Faced with the possibility that Percy might confess to his crimes, the cold case detective spent hours by his bedside trying to build up a rapport. Percy denied harming Linda, as well as the other innocent victims whose names were sadly associated with his own. However, he gave enough information for a coroner to decide that Percy had caused Linda’s death even though her body was never recovered.

Not all relatives of missing people are able to have such closure. There are numerous stories in Unsolved Australia where relatives still know nothing about the whereabouts of their loved ones even decades later. But what is obvious in these stories is that there is always hope. The stories are all detailed and fascinating, and it is gratifying to know that detectives still work on cases to try to bring closure to relatives. The book also includes interesting interviews and profiles of personnel in the murder ‘industry’, such as a forensic pathologist, a hair examiner and forensic biologist, an archaeologist, a forensic anthropologist, a defense barrister, a missing person’s counselor and a victims’ advocate and crime crusader.

It is hoped that Ford’s well-researched and well-written accounts will achieve one of the book’s main goals – to have readers come forward to provide evidence which might help to solve at least one of these dastardly and heart-breaking crimes.

Reviewed by Dianne Bates

Title: Unsolved Australia
Author: Justine Ford
Publisher:  Pan Macmillan
Publication Date: $32.99 RRP
Format: Paperback
Type: Adult Non Fiction                                                                                                               


I read the ending three times. I’m still not 100% sure what happened. I love that I’m still thinking about it and have been for weeks.

Renee and Theo are twin brothers but there’s little the same about them. A freak accident leaves Theo with severely damaged brain functioning. The only hope is a controversial new medical procedure. There are questions about whether it can even be done and a big question about whether it should be.

Only Renee can give the necessary consent. Without him, there is no procedure.

Renee decides he can make the necessary sacrifice to hopefully save his brother, but will the medical experts let him? Will the psychologist deem he is able to make an informed decision?

Maggie begins to question Renee and the more she probes, the more Renee is forced to unravel his relationship with Theo and question what he should do. The relationship Renee reveals is not one of loving brothers but of betrayal and misplaced trust. Sometimes the analysis helps him collect his thoughts and sometimes it hinders. Is trauma changing the reality or was it always this way?

“Stories never come loose cleanly; everything’s always tangled up with something else.”

The deadline for decision time approaches quickly. Dr Huxley has his agenda and Maggie finds her own questions to answer. Now, Renee must decide what he really feels about his brother and whether that even matters.

This is both a complex and readable book. It’s a provoking look the ethics of death and technology through the story of two brothers. It can’t fail to make the reader think long past the last chapter. Or are there two last chapters? Is that even possible?

Reviewed by Sandy Fussell

Title: Lullaby
Author: Bernard Beckett
Publisher:  Text Publishing
Publication Date: $19.99 RRP
Format: Paperback
Type: Young Adult Fiction

22 May 2015

The First Third

Some books sit on my reading horizon for an inordinately long time. And so it was with The First Third. I’m not sure why. I knew it would be an excellent read, CBCA Older Readers shortlisted in 2014 and well recommended by my reading friends.

One page in and I regretted not reading it sooner. This is a story that truly belongs to its characters. Not just the protagonist Billy, but Sticks (his best mate) Yiayia (his grandmother), Kate (his mum), Hayley (the girl he meets at the hospital) and his brothers Peter and Simon.

Yiayia Filyo is an indomitable force in Billy’s life. Her presence holds the family and the story together. While some people face possible death by putting their affairs in order, Yiayia puts her family in order from her hospital bed, providing Billy with a list of tasks to complete on her behalf.

Sometimes the solution she has in mind isn’t quite right and Billy has to improvise. He also adds a task of his own. Sticks has cerebral palsy and reluctantly ended a developing relationship before his partner could find out. But first, Mum needs a husband and there are many humorous moments as Billy and Sticks try to make that happen.

Billy’s brothers are an even more difficult task. Simon is contentedly happy but far away and Peter is so sullen and inaccessible it makes no difference that he lives in the same house. Billy cannot change their lives, not even for Yiayia, but sometimes change finds a different way through and the ultimately life-changing event for them all, brings the family together.

With Hayley and her young son, Billy finds a new appreciation for the value of family. One Yiayia knew he had all along, when she entrusted him with her bucket list, giving it first to Hayley to pass on to Billy.

Through skilful characterisation, themes of culture and identity and of family and friendship are explored.

I loved this book. It’s a testament to why older adults like myself read Young Adult fiction. We never grow out of the need for stories like The First Third.

There is laughter and love, humour and wit in these pages. If you haven’t read it, don’t wait like I did.

Reviewed by Sandy Fussell

Title: The First Third
Author: Will Kostakis
Publisher:  Penguin Australia
Publication Date: $17.99 RRP
Format: Paperback
ISBN: 9780143568179
Type: Young Adult Fiction

21 May 2015


My Story from Body Loather to Body Lover

‘You are fat and you are ugly and you are disgusting!’ That’s what the beautiful Taryn Brumfitt told herself each time she looked in the mirror. ‘I loathed my body. I hated my body!’ She asked a hundred women to describe their body with one word.  Not one had a good word to say.

After having her first child Taryn began to hate her body and the changes that had come with childbirth. Her negative body image began to consume her. After her third child - a daughter, she decided to get the ‘perfect body’ so she entered herself in a Body Building competition and got what she wanted. But that didn’t change the way she felt about herself. She prepared to undergo plastic surgery. But something stopped her. If she went through with it, what message was she sending to her daughter about her body? This was her ‘epiphany’. She left her successful photography business to begin what would become a global movement.

This is the story that Taryn brings to the world with passion. She speaks about how she learnt to love her body just the way it was. This gave birth to the world-wide Body Image Movement which was funded by a Kickstarter campaign, and raised 300,000 dollars for a documentary which is currently underway called Embrace. She also has an online program, Unstoppable, and gives her powerful Developing Daughters and Supporting Sons seminars amongst other programs.

Taryn has appeared on many major television programs and newspapers here in Australia and overseas. She tells her story honestly, withholding nothing, unafraid to show what she was, how she felt, and how she became the person she is today. Now a motivational speaker, she travels extensively, encouraging women to ‘be the change (they) want to be in the world.’  

This inspiring story is about a movement for global change. Embrace advocates body diversity and encourages the fight against the pressure exerted on women to become thin, model-like and ageless, through brainwashing advertising, magazines features, and the billion dollar industries that promote diets and anti-ageing creams.
 Embrace is about women releasing their negative body images and accepting how they are now; choosing internal beauty and good health against external appearance which will ever live up to expectations.
Reviewed by Aurora Bale

Title: Embrace: My Story from Body Loather to Body Lover
Author: Taryn Brumfitt
Publisher:  New Holland Publishers
Publication Date: February 2015    $26.99 RRP
 Format: Paperback
ISBN: 9781742576183
Type:  Inspirational

07 May 2015

The Trivia Man

Kevin struggles to make sense of the world. Women in particular are extremely confusing but his social awkwardness doesn't worry him because he prefers his own company. Even when he plays in the trivia competitions he loves, he’s happiest as a table of one.

The only person Kevin is comfortable with is his nephew, Patrick. Kevin’s sister, Elizabeth, is dismissive and barely tolerant of her brother, amazed when one of her friends takes an interest in him. She disapproves of his friendship with Patrick because she is afraid that her son will grow up to be like his uncle.

At a trivia game, Kevin meets Maggie. Maggie is entangled with an old boyfriend, who uses their past relationship and her desire to rekindle it, to his advantage. Kevin and Maggie are nothing alike but they understand each other.

The Trivia Man is narrated from multiple viewpoints – Kevin, Maggie, Elizabeth and Patrick – which cleverly gives the reader three different insights into who Kevin is and why he behaves the way he does. Maggie’s clear perception, Elizabeth’s derisive disdain and Patrick’s childhood innocence add layers to Kevin’s characterisation.

This is a warming story of friendship and family – and fitting in – even if you are a square peg.

Reviewed by Sandy Fussell

Title: The Trivia Man
Author: Deborah O’Brien
Publisher:  Bantam, Random House
Publication Date: $32.99 RRP
Format: Paperback
ISBN: 9780857988027
Type: Adult Fiction