Wednesday, 7 November 2018

The Puffin Book of Summer Stories

The Puffin Book of Summer Stories (Puffin Books) HB RRP $29.99 ISBN 9780143793540

Reviewed by Dianne Bates

Featuring eight favourite picture book stories by well-loved Australian authors, this beautifully presented, heavy (and thick) collection makes an ideal gift, especially with Christmas coming up.

The classic books included are: Summer by June Factor and Alison Lester; Max by Marc Martin; Grandpa and Thomas by Pamela Allen; Castles by Allan Baillie and Caroline Magerl; My Hippopotamus is on our Caravan Roof Getting Sunburnt by Hazel Edwards and Deborah Niland; Seadog by Claire Saxby and Tom Jellett; There’s a Sea in My Bedroom by Margaret Wild and Jane Tanner, and Eve and Elly by Mike Dumbleton and Laura Wood.

All the stories feature the outdoors, mostly by the sea, and all are set out so that the reader can appreciate the wide variety of story-telling and illustrations. What a wonderful diversity of artwork there is, from Alison Lester’s detailed wash and pen pictures of an Australian family indoors and out on Christmas Day to Pamela Allen’s watercolour pictures with lots of white space with a grandfather and boy enjoying the seaside. After Allen’s pages come full-page very colourful pictures of a huge hippopotamus, so familiar to young readers, eating cake, this time while on family holiday. This contrasts with the more delicate colours with wash and line of Caroline Magerl’s rendering of a fanciful and imaginative story of a girl and boy creating a magical story on the beach and in the sea. Then there’s the realistic, beautifully realised beach illustrations by the equally talented Jane Tanner in Margaret Wild’s story where a boy imagines a sea in his bedroom.

There are so many excellent illustrations in this multi-story book which is sure to become a family favourite to be read and re-read by children aged 6 to 11 years, who will, no doubt, hand the book onto their children in the future.

Tuesday, 6 November 2018

Diamond for a Ruby

Diamond for a Ruby by Stefan Nicholson (Amazon Print) PB RRP AU $5.00 (Kindle), AU$20.00 (Print) ISBN 9780648295334

Reviewed by Sam McNeil

This is a stand-alone spy-thriller book for the cross-over market that follows on from Nicholson’s first self-published book, Spy within a Ruby.

Set in England, the book begins with Ruby Peters, a M16 agent, in a pub paying tribute to her former boss, Roger Davis, when the barman slips her a note. It is from Davis who speaks from the grave with a coded message. Not knowing her drink is spiked, Peters returns home in a drunken state. From there she is arrested and taken to M16 where she is accused of murdering her friend Ilya Kasparov, a senior foreign agent, who is in fact a double agent. Thereafter Peters is in danger, fighting – with the help of her partner, Eric -- double-agents entrenched in MI6 who recruit mercenaries and a psychotic madman to kill her. Peter’s friends are injured and killed because of her involvement with Davis and she is betrayed by her own people.

There are numerous problems with this novel not the least of which is that it needs a good structural and copy edit. The narrative viewpoint shifts constantly and at random, and the story climax comes about two-thirds in with the remaining third about planning a wedding for someone Ruby hated at school. At times an unknown bad guy drops in an internal monologue. Notwithstanding this, there is a lot of exposition and telling the reader how the characters are feeling. Even the formatting of the book is problematic: there are no indented paragraphs, just blank lines between paragraphs.

One must admire an author who puts in so much effort and expense in writing and publishing his book, but this story could have been so much better if he had employed an editor and book designer.

Diamond for a Ruby is available from Amazon Print, Google-books and Kindle, and from the author PO Box 370, South Hobart TAS 7004. 

Sunday, 4 November 2018


Marian McGuinness is delighted to have her very scary story “The Haunted Holiday” published in The School Magazine’s November issue of Touchdown. Spooky illustrations are by Douglas Holgate.    

Saturday, 3 November 2018

The Centre of my Everything

The Centre of my Everything by Allayne Webster (Penguin Random House)
PB RRP $19.99   ISBN 9780143783336

Reviewed by Liz Ledden

The Centre of my Everything is a distinctly Australian, gritty YA novel set in the regional town of Mildura. Told in the alternating points of view of four main characters, Justin, Tara, Corey and Margo, it’s about the intertwining lives of the teens, plus their families, too.

Justin has just returned to town post-rehab and is trying to move on from his drug-addicted past. Corey is a school drop-out struggling with employment, Tara feels unloved by her mother and has a bad girl reputation, while Indigenous character Margo is intelligent and headstrong, with a plan to escape the stifling confines of her small town environment for uni in the city.

The novel opens with Corey extremely hungover, and piecing together the events of the night before – a destructive, drunken high school party, culminating in digging up bones at the local cemetery. This event drives the plot forward and links the characters in a way you never see coming, providing a gripping read.

Often confronting, the story deals with themes including binge drinking, violence and sexual assault, so it’s one for older teens and up. The writing is truly compelling, the plot tightly woven, and the voices of each character feel authentic, raw and real. 

Webster has captured the essence of teen drinking culture in a lower social economic, regional Australian environment, yet manages to infuse heart and hope.

Friday, 2 November 2018


The anthology Shakespeare Now! contains all three novels: The Trytth Chronicles (The Tempest), Gap Year Nanny (Macbeth), and Changing History? (Romeo and Juliet)

Did you struggle with Shakespeare when you were at school? Or are you a teacher battling students’ disinterest and spending too much valuable time translating?
I taught secondary English for twenty five years, so I have experienced all this.

Here are new adaptations of three well known plays aimed at young adults 15+.
But instead of the all-male 17th century actors and 17th century colloquial language, they have been replaced with feisty young women in recognisable contemporary settings. The concept is to show how these characters and plots still hold significance and relevance for students today. And that might lead them on to go back and read the originals.

The three novels include:
 GAP YEAR NANNY (MACBETH) set in present day Melbourne.
Alongside Merri’s slow coming of age as nanny, we follow Stuart Macbeth’s rise and fall in the corporate world from Merri's perspective as she discovers there are other ways of destroying rivals apart from murder.

THE TRYTTH CHRONICLES.  (THE TEMPEST) science fiction. After Prospero destroys a small space-ship owned by his brother Alonso, and Miranda and Ferdie fall in love, Ariel and the young couple are kidnapped by Caliban and flown to the dangerous planet of Trytth. The story continues on from the original play.

CHANGING HISTORY? (ROMEO AND JULIET) A time-warp set in 21st Century Melbourne and 1928 Berlin. When Melbourne based Taylor, finds herself in 1928 Berlin, she befriends Juliet and Rom who can’t marry because of their differing religions. Meanwhile, knowing what the future holds, Taylor tries to stop the world heading into the second world war. But can one really change history?

The publisher is They can be contacted on  0298389265

These books are available at all Readings bookshops and can be ordered from others.
Prices: RRP $16.95. Or $34.95 for ‘SHAKESPEARE NOW!’ Or as an ANTHOLOGY containing all three novels.

Thursday, 1 November 2018

The Christmas Tale of Peter Rabbit

The Christmas Tale of Peter Rabbit by Emma Thompson illustrated by Eleanor Turner (Frederick Warne) HB RRP $16.99 ISBN 978-241352885

Reviewed by Dianne Bates

This is a small board book based on the original tales of Beatrix Potter and illustrated in the same style as the famous author/illustrator. Peter Rabbit is in trouble for knocking mincemeat onto his burrow floor so is sent to his Aunt’s to fetch a cup of suet. On the way he catches up with his cousin Benjamin Bunny who is also in trouble. While they are playing, along comes William the turkey. The two boys reveal to him that Mrs McGregor, the farmer’s wife, is planning to bake him for Christmas dinner.
What follows are (unsuccessful) ways in which the rabbit cousins try to hide William. When Mr McGregor comes into the yard waving a cleaver, he is unable to find his turkey so has a turkey-less Christmas dinner.

This is a simple story with a happy outcome which is sure to be enjoyed by young readers. It is most suitable to be read by an adult to children aged 3 to 5 years.

Wednesday, 31 October 2018


It really pays some time to go to a writing workshop. In 2017, author Tristan Bancks ran ‘Go Nuts!” This is what he instructed his students: “Get yourself a notepad. Write the words 'I remember' at the top of the first page. Set a timer for five or ten minutes. Press start and write down everything you remember happening in your life. Big things, little things, sad things. Write for the whole time without stopping:.

Pat Simmons, a Buzz Worder who attended the workshop and did the above exercise, re-worked it, and submitted it as a picture book. Lo and behold, the manuscript has been accepted for publication and will appear in 2021. Well done, Pat!