Aussie Kids: Meet Dooley on the Farm by Sally Odgers and Christina Booth

meet dooley on the farmTitle: Aussie Kids: Meet Dooley on the Farm

Author: Sally Odgers and Christina Booth

Genre: Fiction

Publisher: Puffin

Published: 1st September 2020

Format: Paperback

Pages: 64

Price: $12.99

Synopsis: Aussie Kids is an exciting new series for emerging readers 6-8 years.

From a NSW Zoo to a Victorian lighthouse, or an outback sheep farm in WA to a beach in QLD, this junior fiction series celebrates stories about children living in unique places in every state and territory in Australia.8 characters, 8 stories, 8 authors and illustrators from all 8 states and territories!

Come on an adventure with Aussie Kids and meet Dooley from Tasmania.

Hi! I’m Dooley! My cousin is visiting our farm.

We’ll swim in the river, feed the calves and collect berries. But best of all, we’re going to sleep out in the barn!


Dooley is excited that his cousin, Sienna, is coming to his farm in Tasmania. He can’t wait to show her everything he loves, but when she arrives, she keeps saying the everything pongs! How will Dooley convince her that the farm isn’t as pongy as she thinks?


This is the seventh in the Aussie Kids series, and I’ve read six of them so far. They celebrate the diversity of Australia, from each state and territory, across gender, race and communities, as well as the environs that the characters live in. These short stories are delightful, and Dooley’s story brings farm life in Tasmania to life, and the adventures of sleeping in the barn and renegade animals from neighbouring farms.

Where the previous stories have taken place over one day this one takes place overnight, evoking a sense of fun and unease in a gentle way that kids will relate to and enjoy. The beauty of these books is in the simple way they evoke emotion and setting for younger readers who are starting to learn to read or reading independently. Whilst we only see a small portion of each state or territory, it is a relevant section to the character and what the setting means to them, which fits in with the theme of the series and what it is aiming to achieve for readers.

A great addition to this series!

Aussie Kids: Meet Matilda at the Festival by Jacqueline de Rose-Ahern, and Tania McCartney

meet matildaTitle: Aussie Kids: Meet Matilda at the Festival

Author: Jacqueline de Rose-Ahern, and Tania McCartney

Genre: Fiction

Publisher: Puffin

Published: 1st September 2020

Format: Paperback

Pages: 64

Price: $12.99

Synopsis: Aussie Kids is an exciting new series for emerging readers 6-8 years.

From a NSW Zoo to a Victorian lighthouse, or an outback sheep farm in WA to a beach in QLD, this junior fiction series celebrates stories about children living in unique places in every state and territory in Australia.

8 characters, 8 stories, 8 authors and illustrators from all 8 states and territories!

Come on an adventure with Aussie Kids and meet Matilda from the ACT.

Hi! I’m Matilda!

Today there’s a festival at the Japanese Embassy. That’s where my friend Hansuke lives. We’ll have lots of fun. But Hansuke is going back to Japan soon. How will I be able to say goodbye?


The final book in this series takes us to Canberra, and the world of embassies and Parliament, seen through the eyes of a child. Matilda is friends with the son of the Japanese Ambassador. But Hansuke is about to move back to Japan, and Matilda must say goodbye to her friend at a special Japanese festival at the embassy. She will miss him forever, and wonders if she can say goodbye.

AWW2020Most of the other books in this series are told in first person, but this one is told in third person, and has a few days with relevant time jumps to make the passing of time and major plot points work well for kids, and the characters. Like many of the other books in the series, Meet Matilda at the Festival is filled with diverse characters, and celebrates different nationalities and cultures, and the power of friendship. It evokes the same emotions we all had as kids when we had to say goodbye to friends, and the realistic way Matilda reacts will give comfort to kids that they are not alone when they farewell friends or go through changes in their lives.

With this book, the breadth of Australia and its diversity has been represented, and hopefully, all kids will have found something they can relate to in these books, whether its location, culture, race, or the activities the characters enjoy, and the universal feelings we all have linked to friendship and family.

The beauty of these books is in the simple way they evoke emotion and setting for younger readers who are starting to learn to read or reading independently. Whilst we only see a small portion of each state or territory, it is a relevant section to the character and what the setting means to them, which fits in with the theme of the series and what it is aiming to achieve for readers.

A great addition to this series!


The Fire Star (A Maven and Reeve Mystery) by A.L. Tait

the fire starTitle: The Fire Star (A Maven and Reeve Mystery)

Author: A.L. Tait

Genre: Fantasy, Mystery

Publisher: Penguin Random House

Published: 1st September 2020

Format: Paperback

Pages: 320

Price: $16.99

Synopsis: ‘I was up past midnight finishing this book! The mystery kept me turning the pages, and I felt like I’d known Maven and Reeve forever.’ – Amie Kaufman, New York Times bestselling author of Ice Wolves

A maid with a plan. A squire with a secret. A missing jewel. A kingdom in turmoil.

Maven and Reeve have three days to solve the mystery of the Fire Star. If they don’t, they’ll lose everything.

This could be a complete disaster . . . or the beginning of a friendship.

Bestselling author A. L. Tait is back with the intriguing story of two unlikely allies and a mystery to solve that could change their lives.


A new series from the fabulous and energetic A.L. Tait! Enter a world of knights and ladies, maids and witches, where a magical jewel is handed down from youngest daughter to youngest daughter on the day of her wedding and goes with her to her new home. Lady Cassandra is set to marry Sir Garrick, and has arrived at the castle with her maid, Maven, when the precious stone goes missing. Maven is thrown together with squire, Reeve, to solve the mystery of the missing jewel before Lady Cassandra and Sir Garrick get married.

Taking place across three days, Maven and Reeve must find the Firestar in time, and meet up with witches, and find out who don’t want to see this happen or see the unlikely pair succeed. Who is behind the missing stone, and why did they steal it? Only Maven and Reeve can find out!

AWW2020Maven and Reeve tell the story in alternating chapters–Maven in first person, and Reeve in second person. This moves the novel along nicely, setting the pace and characters up for the rest of the series to come. The world is fantastical, with a sensory medieval feel to it, seen through the eyes of two children from vastly different positions in life and who have very different roles in their new home. A.L. Tait has woven a wonderful mystery around the magic and knights, lords and ladies, in this story, and encapsulated the essence of what a mystery has at its core: something missing, a villain and a whole lot of red herrings along the way as the two key detective characters–Maven and Reeve–investigate the theft, or crime at hand. This intriguing mystery draws the reader in and captures their imagination as they explore this wild new world that is both known from other fantasy books, yet a completely new world that works exquisitely well for this series.

What a bang to begin with. This introduction cements the ongoing characters, settings, and Maven and Reeve’s friendship and investigative skills powerfully and ensures that these themes and characteristics will be central to the rest of the series. Red herrings in this series are sure to be imaginative yet recognisable within the crime genre, and that work within the fantasy world. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and am very eager for the next one in the series, which I am sure will deliver with just as much oomph and gusto. A spectacular read for all readers aged nine and older.

When the Ground is Hard by Malla Nunn

When the ground is hardTitle: When the Ground is Hard
Author: Malla Nunn
Genre: Crime/Mystery, Historical Fiction
Publisher: Allen and Unwin
Published: June 2019
Format: Paperback
Pages: 272
Price: $19.99
Synopsis: This CBCA short-listed book is a stunning and heartrending mystery set in a Swaziland boarding school about two girls of different castes who bond over a shared copy of Jane Eyre.
SHORTLISTED: CBCA 2020 Awards, Book of the Year, Older Readers

Adele loves being one of the popular girls at Keziah Christian Academy. She knows the upcoming semester at school will be great with her best friend Delia at her side. Then Delia dumps her for a new girl with more money, and Adele is forced to share a room with Lottie, the school pariah, who doesn’t pray and defies teachers’ orders.

As they share a copy of Jane Eyre, Lottie’s gruff exterior and honesty grow on Adele, and together they take on bullies and protect each other from the vindictive and prejudiced teachers. When a boy goes missing on campus, Adele and Lottie must work together to solve the mystery, in the process learning the true meaning of friendship.

A Children’s Book Council of Australia’s 2020 Notable Book, Highly Commended in the Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards, winner of the 2019 Junior Library Guild Gold Standard Selection, winner of the Children’s Book Committee’s 2020 Josette Frank Award and shortlisted for the 2020 LA Times Book Prize for Young Adults.


In apartheid-era Swaziland, Adele Joubert and Lottie Diamond attend Keziah Christian Academy – a boarding school for mixed race students. These are the students who are somewhere in the middle of the racial and social rankings based on the apartheid system but are still separated from white and black communities based on the laws of the time. Adele has been part of the popular crowd. That is, until her slot in the pretties is taken by a richer girl. Adele is relegated to sharing a room with the poor student, Lottie Diamond, and Dead Lorraine’s room.

At first, Adele and Lottie struggle to get along, but find connection in books, specifically Jane Eyre, and a time when you can be cast out and bullied for the slightest difference. As Lottie and Adele’s friendship with each other, and fellow student, Darnell, grows, the two girls face bullies and tragedy together. They fight for their place to belong, and stand up against vindictive and at times, racist teachers.

AWW2020The disappearance of a fellow student brings them closer together, and they learn more about themselves, each other and their heritage than they ever knew, and Adele finds that she can be herself with Lottie. She doesn’t have to pretend like she had to with her former friends. Lottie is a true friend, and she guides Adele through a tricky few weeks as the two girls form a bond that ensures they will always have each other when they face the cruelties of their school, society and the Bosman family.

Set in the 1960s, this book is threaded with the undercurrents and impacts of
racism, oppression and apartheid in a world that isn’t accepting of difference, illustrated through the treatment of students based on wealth, how the Bosman family treats Keziah students through racism, and the power he thinks he should have over them. It is also shown through the teachers – the assumption that the American missionary teachers are better than those they work with, and how Adele is also treated differently to Lottie at times, based on wealth and preconceived ideas.

This book speaks to the heart and difficulties of South Africa and Swaziland under the rule of apartheid. The rules and laws are threaded throughout as Adele tells her story of the first few weeks of the new school year, and her experiences. Some are universal, and some are unique to her and her society. This is what makes the book powerful. The thrum of an African heart beats throughout this novel, and evokes a sense of time, place and character. The land is a strong aspect a strong character. It is perhaps stronger than the Christian religion Adele tries to uphold. It is Lottie who unlocks this power within Adele, the shared Swazi and Zulu identity, and shows her that she can accept all parts of her identity.

I can see why this book has received so many awards, commendations and nominations. It is diverse yet seen through eyes that not many of us have. It is an experience that some readers won’t know much about, but there are universal themes of friendship, class, race, and gender that everyone will find something they can relate to. Adele and Lottie were powerful, diverse and complicated characters, who helped each other grow throughout the novel and found something that connected them more than anything that had ever connected Adele to the popular girls.

As I read this book, I could smell and hear Africa, I could feel Africa. The animals, the grass, the voices and the music. It is woven delicately and subliminally through the narrative, and presents a backdrop that gives When the Ground is Hard a true sense of place and transports the reader to a time and place when things were grim, but where the power of friendship could bring light to people’s lives.

Jinxed! The Curious Curse of Cora Bell by Rebecca McRitchie, Illustrated by Sharon O’Connor

JinxedTitle: Jinxed! The Curious Curse of Cora Bell
Author: Rebecca McRitchie
Genre: Fantasy
Publisher: HarperCollins Australia
Published: 19th August 2019
Format: Paperback
Pages: 320
Price: $19.99
Synopsis: Magic awaits around every corner …
Cora is eleven years old and missing one eye. She lives with an elderly lady named Dot in a room hidden behind a wall. In a crowded, industrial city, where everyone looks out for themselves, Cora and Dot hunt and sell rare and exotic things – apple seeds, silver forks, shoe polish. Until one day, Cora finds a few words scribbled on a piece of paper.
She takes it home and says the words aloud. Then two plump, hairy fairies named Tick and Tock crash land in her path to warn her that she is in terrible danger. Cora has unknowingly summoned a sinister creature known as a Jinx. Jinxes eat magical beings and once they have a scent, they never forget it. But Cora isn’t a magical being . . . is she?
Quickly, Cora is thrown headfirst into a world filled with magic, necromancers, shape-shifters, enchantresses, fairies, nightwalkers, witches and giants.
Richly illustrated throughout by Sharon O’Connor, this is a very exciting magical new series from the talented author of Whimsy & Woe.

Shortlisted – 2019 Aurealis Awards (Best Children’s Fiction)

Cora Bell has lived with Dot for years. She has one eye, is eleven years old and unless she is collecting with Dot, lives behind a wall. She’s out collecting one day when she stumbles across a strange piece of paper. It seems harmless enough, yet when she reads it out loud, two fairies – Tick and Tock – appear with a warning and whisk her away on an adventure to find out what magic she has. Tick and Tock take her across the magical land that Urt is part of as they try to outrun the Jinx.

Along the way, Cora meets witches, wizards, hobgoblins, giants and fairies, as well as enchantresses and nightwalkers and many more as she seeks to uncover her identity.

Jinxed is the start of a magical, energetic series about Cora Bell, whose life has been quiet and normal for eleven years, until everything changes. The world she lives in is filled with dangers, from Jinxes to the warlock, Drake, to those who fear anything they don’t know, or want to know about. Cora sits within this latter category. For years, she’s only had Dot and her cat, Scratch. But Tick and Tock stick with her, and never give up.

AWW2020They’re determined to help her and find the Jinx. In this rollicking fantasy adventure, combined with an industrial feel to the world, which is fresh, unique and at the same time familiar to fans of fantasy. It pulls together well-known tropes present in many fantasy novels and fairy tales, such as magical gateways, and fairy kingdoms, but puts a unique twist on them, pulling together a story that is filled with light and dark moments, and examines what it truly means to be a friend.

Cora is alone, apart from Tick and Tock as she journeys through the various fairy and magical worlds. Her identity has been a secret for years. But will this series of events finally reveal who, and what she is, and how will the world respond to her when they find out what she is capable of?

Starting a new series is always exciting, and as the second book comes out at the beginning of September, I have that to read next. Following Cora’s journey is going to be fun, thrilling and engaging, and I am keen to see where she goes next with Tick and Tock.

The Daughter of Victory Lights by Kerri Turner

cov-daughterofvictorylights-final_2_origTitle: The Daughter of Victory Lights

Author: Kerri Turner

Genre: Historical Fiction

Publisher: HarperCollins

Published: 20th January 2020

Format: Paperback

Pages: 384

Price: $29.99

Synopsis: An enthralling story of one woman’s determined grab for freedom after WW2 from a talented new Australian voice.



1945: After the thrill and danger of volunteering in an all-female searchlight regiment protecting Londoners from German bombers overhead, Evelyn Bell is secretly dismayed to be sent back to her rigid domestic life when the war is over. But then she comes across a secret night-time show, hidden from the law on a boat in the middle of the Thames. Entranced by the risqué and lively performance, she grabs the opportunity to join the misfit crew and escape her dreary future.

At first the Victory travels from port to port to raucous applause, but as the shows get bigger and bigger, so too do the risks the performers are driven to take, as well as the growing emotional complications among the crew. Until one desperate night …

1963: Lucy, an unloved and unwanted little girl, is rescued by a mysterious stranger who says he knows her mother. On the Isle of Wight, Lucy is welcomed into an eclectic family of ex-performers. She is showered with kindness and love, but gradually it becomes clear that there are secrets they refuse to share. Who is Evelyn Bell?


World War Two. Evelyn Bell volunteers for an all-female searchlight regiment during the Blitz, much to her sister, Cynthia’s chagrin. Once the war ends, she is lost, and for several years she is trapped in her sister’s home. She’s forced to take care of things there, and help with her nephew, Spencer, whom she loves. Her sister is traditional, but Evelyn longs for something more. When she stumbles upon a secret dance show at night, she knows she has found a way to break free and forge her own path, and her own identity away from what everyone around her expects her to do. Here, aboard the Victory, she finds her place, and she finds family, friendship and love, as well as tragedy.

AWW2020In 1963, ten-year-old Lucy is living with her aunt, unwanted and unloved, when she is whisked away to the Isle of Wight. Here, she finds a home where she is loved and accepted, but where she still has many unanswered questions. Will her new family answer them?

I interviewed Kerri at the end of April as part of my Isolation Publicity series, and as a thank you, she sent me a signed copy of her latest book, The Daughter of Victory Lights. Four months later, I have managed to get to this after managing to get on top of my very large review stack that kept coming for so long, and that will no doubt start to pile up again. This book is set partly in World War Two, but mostly during the post-war years of the early fifties and the early sixties.

Evie’s story is exceptional. She led a life of freedom and danger during the war, and going back has not been an easy adjustment for her, and nor were the years aboard the Victory, yet she was accepted in this place, as was her daughter, Lucy, whose life informs the second half of the novel. Drawing on imagination and various historical accounts and instances, Kerri has created an evocative and emotionally charged book that celebrates uniqueness, family, and the idea that family is what we make of it, not always those we are related to. It also examines the idea that sometimes, the two are intertwined, often in unique and unexpected ways.

Double narratives like this are always intriguing, and often, they alternate between the different time periods as the future character uncovers information about their relative in the past. Yet that wouldn’t have worked with this one. Evelyn’s story needed to be told in one go, as did Lucy’s, to grasp the tragedy and heroism, and inner strength of these characters and their lives. Lucy’s story was equally important and gave the novel its emotional pull and the strength of familial love and support that as a reader, I wished Evelyn had received from her family.

It is at times turbulent and there are moments filled with worry, hoping the worst won’t happen, followed by revelations that are bittersweet and hopeful. Lucy is a strong character and determined not to let anyone continue to lie to her as her aunts have done. I devoured this book within two days, engaging with the characters and their struggles.

The power in this story is in the family relationships, and the role certain people play in our lives, whether they are biologically related or not. It is tragic and hopeful, and a testament to the power of the human spirit and our ability to recover physically, mentally and emotionally after experiencing trauma, and the lengths we will go to so we can pull through.


Isolation Publicity with Candice Lemon-Scott


Due to recent events, many Australian authors have had to cancel book launches and festival appearances. For some, this means new novels, series continuations and debut novels are heading into this scary, strange world without much publicity or attention. The good news is, you can still buy books – online or get your local bookstore to deliver if they’re offering that service. Buying these books, talking about them, sharing them, reading them, reviewing them – are all ways that for the next six months at least, we can ensure that these books don’t fall by the wayside.

EcoRangers1_email signature[3]

Over the next few months, a lot of us will be consuming some form of art – entertainment, movies, TV, radio, music, books – the list goes on. It is something we will be turning to take our minds off things and to occupy vast swathes of free time. One of the things I will be doing to support the arts, and specifically, Australian Authors, will be reading and reviewing as many books as possible, conducting interviews like this where possible, and participating in virtual book tours for authors.


In my final Isolation Publicity interview, wrapping up five months of work, I speak to Candice Lemon-Scott, author of the Eco-Rangers books, was lucky enough to release the third Eco-Rangers book pre-pandemic lockdown, but had other events and appearances cancelled or put on hold. Candice’s series focuses on eco themes for children in an accessible way. I first came to know her books through my job as a quiz writer and have planned to go back and read them all. Candice appears here to discuss her books, her writing and what she hopes Eco-Rangers teaches kids.

Hi Candice, and welcome to The Book Muse

  1. The first time I heard of your books was when I was sent one of the Eco-Rangers books – Microbat Mayhem – to write a quiz on for work with Scholastic Australia – what is the basic premise of Eco-Rangers for those who don’t know it, and where did the idea come from?

How lovely, it’s always wonderful to hear how people get to know my books.  The Eco Rangers books are about two adventurous, nature-loving friends, Ebony and Jay, who help rescue and look after sick and injured wildlife, with a little help from the local wildlife hospital vets. They also get involved in solving environmental mysteries. The idea came from my own love of nature and wildlife, and the Eco Rangers are based on my own kids who love animals too. The idea of kids who help rescue wildlife stemmed from my own experience rescuing a koala from my backyard. I’ve always loved mystery stories, so it seemed only natural to tie it in with an environmental adventure.

  1. What do you hope Eco-Rangers teaches, or inspires readers to do?

I hope the Eco Rangers books teach kids about some of our amazing animals and inspires readers to care for and love nature and wildlife, as well as enjoy the adventures.

  1. Eco-Rangers is aimed at junior to middle grade readers – what is the appeal to this age group, and do any of your other books target this readership?

I love writing for this age group because it’s the age I was most connected with my own imagination as a child. It’s also a time of discovery, curiosity and learning to become more independent, which is a wonderful base for storytelling. Most of my books fit within this readership range, from my Little Rockets titles at the junior end to Eco Rangers and Jake in Space in the middle, and Stinky Ferret & the JJs at the upper end.

  1. Have any new books in the series, another series or stand-alone books been released in recent months, and what have they been?

The third in this series, ‘Eco Rangers: Wildfire Rescue’ was released in January this year.

  1. Have you had to cancel any appearances, events or launches due to the COVID-10 pandemic, and which of these were you most looking forward to?

Thankfully, I’d already launched my third Eco Rangers book, but a lot of my other appearances and events around the promotion of the series have been either cancelled or postponed, which is sad and disappointing when books have a short shelf life. I look forward to all events where I have the opportunity to connect with my readers, but I will really miss the school visits and Romancing the Stars event, as that one is usually held here in my home city at the Gold Coast.

  1. Following on from the last question, have you adapted any of these events or workshops to an online form for the time being?

Yes, absolutely. I’ve already done one online author visit with a school and there are other upcoming workshops and presentations that will also be conducted online. It’s not the same as being there in person, but the teachers and parents have been very grateful for the technology to keep their kids connected while at home, which is so rewarding.

  1. What genres and styles do you mostly like to combine and use in your writing for children?

I write in quite a range of genres including magic, science fiction, environmental and realistic fiction, but the commonality is a mystery element. I can’t help myself – I grew up on mysteries, so I just love including elements of surprise and adventure.

  1. Do you find that writing different styles and genres, and for different age groups keeps your writing process fresh?

For sure, I’m not someone who enjoys writing the same style and genre, or age group all the time because I like change and variety. To me, it’s also about the idea first, and the rest stems from that, so naturally the type of story varies.

  1. When it comes to research, how in-depth do you go, and how much never makes it into the books?

I always start out thinking not much research will be involved, but inevitably I need to do quite a lot to make the stories authentic and plausible, which is important in even the most magical tales. For example, in my Jake in Space series I went so far as to interview an astrophysicist about living on other planets. I had to learn soccer rules for Hubert and the Magic Glasses and about skateboarding moves for Stinky Ferret & the JJs. The most in-depth research has been for the Eco Rangers though, and I did my wildlife carer course to learn more about how sick and injured wildlife are rescued, rehabilitated and released. It was very hands on – I even held a python, eek!

  1. How many Eco-Rangers books do you have planned, and does the most recent one draw on the recent bushfire crisis that Australia faced?

Wildfire Rescue is the third book in the three-book series. Ironically, I’d written the story about a year and a half before the bushfire crisis, and the book’s release coincidentally tied in with the tragedy. It was a strange time, having my book come out then, but I hope it offers additional opportunity to help younger readers dealing with their feelings associated with the bushfires by reading an educative but positive story.

  1. Eco and environmental themes seem to be big in books at the moment – how does Eco-Rangers differ, for you, from all the other options out there?

I actually wrote the first Eco Rangers book about four years ago, so there wasn’t much else out there on these themes at the time. Again, it’s coincidental that the books have come out as these themes have begun to be explored more fully. From the others out there, I guess the Eco Rangers differs in that I first wrote them purely because of my love of animals, so they were mystery/adventures first. To me, it’s more of a bonus that kids can learn a little bit about taking care of the environment while being entertained. At least, that’s my hope.

  1. Do you think the Eco-Rangers would head overseas for a safari adventure?

That would be a lot of fun to write – the books are being published in the UK and US, so I can’t see why Ebony and Jay couldn’t go on their own overseas adventure.

  1. How long have you been writing for, and when did you decide to begin your writing career?

I’ve been writing professionally for about 12 years now. I decided to begin my writing career a few years before my first book was published when I began my Diploma of Arts in Professional Writing and Editing. I then went on and completed my Bachelor of Communication and the book was published around the same time.

  1. Knowing some of your books have been chosen as Lexile readers, and working with Books in Home which empowers childhood literacy, do you feel like you’re helping children with their literacy at home and at school?

I certainly hope that I do, especially because mine are mostly chapter books, which are aimed specifically at fostering a love of reading in children, and developing independent readers.

  1. You also run the Young Authors Academy – what is that about, and where did it start?

I run a lot of in-person writing workshops but they’re usually time limited to around an hour, so there’s only so much that can be achieved in that time. My goal with the Young Authors Academy was to create a more comprehensive course for young writers where they could create an entire story in their own time, in their own space, and at their own pace because that’s how I write as an author myself.

  1. Do you find the Young Authors Academy and Books in Homes have any overlap at all in terms of reading, writing and childhood literacy?

Though they’re quite different programs I think the overlap is that both are designed to give children access to resources and support to develop literacy, which also comes from developing a love of reading and writing.

  1. Working in the arts, and in childhood literacy, what do you find the most rewarding about these industries and sectors?

Seeing children express themselves and gain confidence during their literacy journey is the greatest reward of all for me.


  1. Do you have a favourite local bookseller you always head back to?

There are so many wonderful booksellers who support authors and who are doing an amazing job providing a fantastic range of books for readers. I adore Under the Greenwood Tree at Mount Tamborine and a little further afield Where the Wild Things Are Bookshop, The Mad Hatters Bookshop, and Books@Stones.

  1. Do you have a favourite furry writing companion or are there many?

There have always been furry writing companions in my life, and also feathery and scaly ones. At the moment, my dog Tiny and bearded dragon Toffee (who belongs to my eldest daughter) keep me company while I write.


  1. Finally, what do you have planned next for your writing?

I’m currently doing my Masters, focusing on middle grade fantasy, so that’s what I’m writing at the moment. It’s heaps of fun!

Anything I may have missed?

For any teachers or librarians interested, I’m currently doing virtual author visits through Speakers Ink and ALIA.

Thanks Candice!

Thank you for the wonderful interview.


Moonflower Murders by Anthony Horowitz

Moonflower MurdersTitle: Moonflower Murders
Author: Anthony Horowitz
Genre: Crime
Publisher: Penguin Random House
Published: 18th August 2020
Format: Paperback
Pages: 608
Price: $32.99
Synopsis: Featuring his famous literary detective Atticus Pund and Susan Ryeland, hero of the worldwide bestseller Magpie Murders, a brilliantly complex literary thriller by Anthony Horowitz. The follow-up to Magpie Murders. A labyrinth of clues. A mystery novel hiding a deadly secret. A killer with a fiendish plot: a brilliantly intricate and original thriller from the bestselling author of Magpie Murders,
‘A beautiful puzzle: fiendishly clever and hugely entertaining. A masterpiece.’ Lucy Foley, author of The Hunting Party
Retired publisher Susan Ryeland is running a small hotel on a Greek island with her long-term boyfriend. But life isn’t as idyllic as it should be: exhausted by the responsibility of making everything work on an island where nothing ever does, Susan is beginning to miss her literary life in London – even though her publishing career once entangled her in a lethal literary murder plot.
So when an English couple come to visit with tales of a murder that took place in a hotel the same day their daughter Cecily was married there, Susan can’t help but find herself fascinated.
And when they tell her that Cecily has gone missing a few short hours after reading Atticus Pund Takes The Case, a crime novel Susan edited some years previously, Susan knows she must return to London to find out what has happened.
The clues to the murder and to Cecily’s disappearance must lie within the pages of this novel.
But to save Cecily, Susan must place her own life in mortal danger…Want to read more Atticus Pund and Susan Ryeland? Order a copy of Sunday Times bestseller and the #1 ebook bestseller MAGPIE MURDERS, out now.

Moonflower Murders brings the mysteries of Magpie Murders back after a four-year interlude. Susan Ryeland is now retired, living in Greece and running a hotel with partner, Andreas. Yet Alan Conway and his final novel, Atticus Pünd Takes the Case, are back to haunt her when the Trehernes come to her to help them find Cecily, their daughter. They’re convinced that the editor of the last book Cecily read can help them, as the events fictionalised in the book happened at the same place Cecily got married. And so the mystery within a mystery begins.

The first third of the book is Susan’s story as she travels from Greece to London to help the Treherne family, where she is drawn back into the world of Alan and his detective. In this novel however, we get a treat. The manuscript referred to in the first book is ‘published’ in this book as part of the story – the novel within a novel that is at the heart of Magpie Murders and Moonflower Murders.

This book builds on the cozy crime genre, first with Susan’s story, and second, with the Attius Pünd novel that she reads, and that readers get to read in rea; time, so to speak, with her. The clues to the case are cleverly peppered throughout both Susan’s story and Conway’s novel, which is also set out just like a published novel – a nod to the publishing world and the metafiction aspect of this novel and series that Horowitz has cleverly created, whilst paying homage to the Golden Age of crime fiction – Agatha Christie, Arthur Conan Doyle and so many others that have shaped the crime fiction genre.

This self-referential work – to the crime genre, the publishing world and writing in general, also uses word play to tell this story. It allows Anthony to explore the story in a unique yet classical way that suits the story and plot, and when read all together, makes sense. The clues are subtle enough for the reveal to be a surprise, yet at the same time, honours and uses the tropes that are well-known in crime fiction yet feels fresh and unique at the same time.

I’d recommend reading Magpie Murders first. Otherwise, you may be confused whilst reading this one, and some aspects won’t fit in nicely. It follows on well from the second, and takes place in a pre-COVID world, around 2015. This ensures the story takes place unhindered by the current pandemic, so the characters can move freely. I really enjoyed this one and think fans of the series and Anthony Horowitz will enjoy it.


Isolation Publicity with Zana Fraillon

Due to recent events, many Australian authors have had to cancel book launches and festival appearances. For some, this means new novels, series continuations and debut novels are heading into this scary, strange world without much publicity or attention. The good news is, you can still buy books – online or get your local bookstore to deliver if they’re offering that service. Buying these books, talking about them, sharing them, reading them, reviewing them – are all ways that for the next six months at least, we can ensure that these books don’t fall by the wayside.

Over the next few months, a lot of us will be consuming some form of art – entertainment, movies, TV, radio, music, books – the list goes on. It is something we will be turning to take our minds off things and to occupy vast swathes of free time. One of the things I will be doing to support the arts, and specifically, Australian Authors, will be reading and reviewing as many books as possible, conducting interviews like this where possible, and participating in virtual book tours for authors.

Zana Fraillon is a middle grade author, best known for The Bone Sparrow, and has a new book – The Lost Soul Atlas coming out in July.  Like many authors, she has had events and launches cancelled due to the pandemic. Where other authors have had releases pushed to later in the year, or next year, Zana has not had this happen (at the time of writing this post). She has used her platform as an author for activism, and has explored themes in her books that might not always be spoken about, or seen in ways that are more complex, and more human than we see on the news. Zana appears below to discuss her books and writing with me.


Hi Zana, and welcome to The Book Muse


  1. Where did your love for reading and writing come from?


I have always been an avid reader. I would – and still do – retreat into a book at any and every chance I got. I have very poor eyesight, and can’t focus on anything more than five centimetres away, however no one realised until I was seven. I suspect that one of the reasons I turned to books so readily was that they were the only part of my world that I could see! When you read a lot, it feels natural to write a lot as well. I had all those voices from all those books and stories in my head, and I guess they just had to come out. I also came from a family that loves and values books. My favourite place in my childhood home was an entire room filled with books and comfy chairs. Bookshelves lined the walls from floor to ceiling, and there was a kind of silent awe that would come over you when you entered that room – as if all the books on the shelves were just waiting for you to pick them and enter their world.


  1. Prior to being a writer – you studied history, and primary school teaching – what made you take the leap into writing?


I never thought of myself as becoming a writer – I’m not sure why – my mother had written a book and my uncle is quite a prolific author. But it wasn’t until I was at home with my first born that I even thought about writing as a professional possibility. I would quite often write picture books with and for my son, and a friend of mine saw one of these and suggested that I send it in to a publisher. At that moment the world seemed to stop spinning for a moment – I remember the realisation dawning on me that I could possibly become an author and spend my days writing, and it was like everything was suddenly clear. I was very lucky that the picture book was picked up from the slush pile and published.


  1. Do these previous careers inform how you write and research?


Definitely. I suspect teaching is where my love of writing for young people comes from. I have such respect for young people and enthusiasm for the way they think about the world – when I am creating my own worlds, the world of a young person, the mind of a young person, is where I want to be spending time. I also really enjoy doing research, and my background in history is hugely helpful. I am quite at home trawling through databases and texts and analysing what small seemingly insignificant pieces of information might be able to tell us. The hardest part is actually in putting the facts aside to let the story take over.


  1. What books have you released, and what are they about?


I have released ten books so far, and my eleventh is coming out in July. They vary greatly from pre-school books about the secret lives of animals, to young adult fiction about modern day child slavery. Perhaps the best known of them all is The Bone Sparrow which is about a young boy born inside an immigration detention centre. Lots of schools have picked this up now, which is thrilling for me, because it means that more people are engaging with the issue of asylum seekers and talking about our role in the way refugees and asylum seekers are treated. Similarly, my picture book Wisp, which is also about refugees, is being used in a lot of primary schools, especially in the UK.


  1. The Lost Soul Atlas is coming out in July – have you had to cancel any events or launches around this book?


I’ve had to cancel everything! Of course, we are all very adaptable and are moving to online events, but it is always hard not to be with people to celebrate and discuss in person. There was a beautiful proof copy that had been planned and that I was going to hand deliver to as many bookshops as I could; there were launches and panels; and I had a book tour to the UK all locked in and ready to go.


  1. Are there any other literary events that were cancelled or postponed that you were excited about – either as a guest or an author?


The wonderful Danielle Binks and I had planned an author Q&A session to discuss our new books and I was really looking forward to this. I also had a number of school visits and workshops lined up – but hopefully these will move online as well.

I love going to all things literary – Clunes Book festival is one of my favourites – as well as all the other festivals and author events that happen throughout the year. Thankfully, some of these have moved online so we can still get our bookish fix!


  1. Have any of your events moved online since they were cancelled?


Most of them have. I am currently working with my publishers to work out just what we can do online, and how we can best live event things while in lockdown.


  1. Each book is a stand-alone novel – was this a conscious choice, and do you think you’d ever write a series?


My first novels for middle grade were part of a series called Monstrum House. There were four books in the series and it was great fun to write. I don’t really think about the choice of series or stand alone when I start writing a book – I tend to let the story set the audience, length, genre etc and go from there.


  1. Your books are primarily for upper middle grade to young adult readers – what made you choose this readership?


I love the way kids’ minds work. They see the world so differently from adults. I especially like writing for this readership because they are at that moment in their lives – which I remember so clearly – of trying to work out the kind of person they want to become, and the kind of world they want to live in. They question everything. They wonder about everything. The world is so full of possibility. They are standing right on the cusp. It’s an exciting time of life.


  1. When writing, what kind of research do you undertake, and how do you begin this research?


I do a lot of research before I start writing. Partly this helps me get inside the world of my characters, and partly because I am trying to work out exactly what my story is about and where it will take me. I write to find things out and explore, and research is all part of that. The majority of research is done online, but libraries are a gold mine of information and I often go to libraries to see what I can find. Also, if there is any hands on activity I can do that will help with some aspect of the story, then I will do that too. I am also very moved by other forms of creative expression, and quite often ideas are sparked by looking at a painting, or a sculpture, or – as was the case in The Lost Soul Atlas – street art. Almost all of the Afterlife scenes were inspired by street art.


  1. Can you explain a bit more about the themes in your books, and do you find that they appear in all books, or does each book explore different themes?


I guess the overriding theme in all of my books is the empowerment of young people. I want readers to go away and feel as though they can make a difference, whether this is to their own lives or other people’s. Young people have to be so courageous just to survive this world, and we too often forget that. I want young people to feel seen and heard and valued, no matter who they are, or what their circumstances.


  1. What authors made you feel like you could be an author when you were younger?


All of them. Anyone who ever set a story down on paper showed me what was possible. When I was a teenager, my favourite author was Isabelle Allende. I loved how she used magical realism to address serious political ideas and commentary. I also loved Cynthia Voigt and her Homecoming series. Her characters were so true and honest and really resonated with me.


  1. When you began writing, did you think it would take you on the adventures you’ve been on?


Absolutely! I knew the adventures that reading provided, and I equally knew that these same adventures could be taken by writing. The bonus is, that with writing, you have slightly more control over the adventure. Not a lot more, but a bit more…


  1. When you begin writing, how do you choose which character’s perspective to tell the story from?


I don’t really. I wait for the voice to come to me. All of my stories start with a character, so when that character emerges, I know it is their story I am telling. Very occasionally I have to make a deliberate change because the story isn’t working, but that has only happened once so far.


  1. Do you have a favourite writing or reading spot in your house?


I am fortunate enough to have a partner who knows how to build, and so I have a wonderful studio up the back of the garden where I go to write. It is perfectly set up to get me into the writing headspace. There are bits and pieces of collected inspiration and luck, there are cork boards and white boards and books to reference, and paper to doodle on, there is room for the dogs, and a wonderful outlook over our garden. Stepping through the door is like stepping inside my bookmind.


  1. When not writing, or reading, what do you enjoy doing when you have the time?


Spending time with my family – playing games, taking the dogs for long, long walks, going to museums. I have also become quite obsessed with making maps…


  1. Do you have a favourite writing companion?


I don’t just have one companion, I have a coven! The wonderful Penni Russon, Penny Harrison and Kate Mildenhall are wonderful friends and fantastic writing companions. We meet weekly and work our magic for each other. Writing is such a solitary experience, it is so helpful to have people in the industry who you trust to nut out ideas with, experiment with, discuss things and to support each other through all the ups and downs.


  1. Working in the arts is hard – how do you manage it, and for those who might not think the arts need support, what would you say to them?


I think people only work in the arts because they need to – it’s part of who they are. No one does it for the money, mostly because the money isn’t there. The average income for an Australian author is $12,500 a year. You can’t live on that. There are very few authors who are able to support themselves through writing alone. We find other ways to try and make money – school visits, author talks, other forms of writing – but it only takes a quick look at the ASA rates of pay to see how unsustainable that is. Without funding, people can’t create. And we will be a far poorer society because of it.


  1. Do you have a favourite local bookseller that you frequent?


I have many favourite booksellers! The ones I tend to go to most though are Readings and Readings Kids, Eltham Bookshop, The Little Bookroom and Fairfield Books.


  1. Finally, what is in the works at the moment?


I am working on a couple of things at the moment. I have another picture book and a middle-grade verse novel I am trying to find a home for, I’m playing around with a junior fiction novel, and I am currently co-writing a middle-grade book with the amazing Bren MacDibble. On top of that, I have also just started a PhD in Creative Writing at LaTrobe University.


Anything I may have missed?


Thanks Zana!



Rocky Lobstar #2: Time Travel Tangle by Rove McManus

time travel tangleTitle: Rocky Lobstar #2: Time Travel Tangle
Author: Rove McManus
Genre: Humour
Publisher: Scholastic
Published: 1st August 2020
Format: Paperback
Pages: 192
Price: $14.99
• Synopsis: A NEW fiction series written AND illustrated by Australian actor and TV Personality ROVE McMANUS!
• Hilarious tale of Rocky Lobstar—the star of Felidi’s Fabulous Sideshow Carnival!
• Highly illustrated funny stories, perfect for all reading levels.
• An appealing mix of narrative, comic panels, speech
bubbles and hilarious illustrations.
• Rocky and his friend Goober go on an hilarious time
travelling adventure.
‘Hi! I’m Rocky Lobstar. I’m part-boy, part lobster!’
Rocky and his best mate, Goober, accidentally break Mr Felidi’s prized tea set. But as luck would have it, a visiting professor has brought her time machine along to Felidi’s Fabulous Sideshow Carnival. Can Rocky and Goober turn back time and save the tea set? Or will they cause an epic time travel catastrophe?


Rocky Lobstar and his friends from Felidi’s Fabulous Sideshow Carnival are getting ready for their next show when Rocky and his best friend, Goober, accidentally break a prized tea set. When they find the time machine of a visiting professor that responds to rhymes and politeness, they hatch a plan to go back in time and fix things. Yet they need to be careful and make sure they go back to the right moment in time, and ensure nobody sees them to avoid time tangling in a way that can never be repaired, as they go back to the beginning of time, to where they need to be and almost tearing time into so many pieces that it cannot be repaired!

This fun and engaging series is perfect for newly minted readers aged seven and older, taking that next step towards confident and independent reading. The child characters are animals, or part animals, which suits the genre perfectly and the fast pace is sure to capture the attention of younger readers.

The joy of this book is in the words and illustrations, done by Rove McManus himself, and the whimsical feeling that Rove also brings to his presenting and comedy, but for children. His delightful style and voice are richly embroidered throughout the story, and the characters bring such joy to story. I had a lot of fun and laughs whilst reading this book.

What a fun series – readers of all ages will enjoy this, and it can be read out loud, to yourself and to others by kids, adults, in class, or at home, and for a time, fall into a unique and magical world that entrances and captures the imagination of readers young and old. I enjoyed reading this for review for Scholastic, and hope other readers will enjoy it too.