Tag Archives: #BookReview

Booko Book Reviews

What are the best books of all time?

If you’re going to write a blog about the best books of all time, you’re not going to satisfy everyone, right?  It’s also pretty important to separate out your personal favourites and get some perspective on how to calculate the ‘importance’ or significance of a book to a group of people.  The other considerations are, of course, how the perceived importance of a book might change over time – many books and other creative outputs have become of increased significance after their creator has passed away.  There are other things to bear in mind: Fiction/Non-Fiction?  So finding the best books of all time is a bit of a challenge.

Based on all of this, I decided that I needed a bit of help in order to put this list together.  A quick online search helped me discover a clever site called thegreatestbooks.org.  This site feeds in 107 ‘Best of’ book lists from a range of trusted sources.  Then, an algorithm (smacks of legitimacy!) is used to calculate a list based on how many lists a book might appear on.  In the interests of fairness, I’ve decided to feature the top 3 books from both the Fiction and Non-Fiction categories.

So here it is…the most popular fiction book of all time is….

In Search of Lost Time by Marcel Proust.  

Was that on your list?  Nope, me neither.  The significance of this book is both its length (it is a novel in seven volumes) and also its theme of involuntary memory.  Involuntary memory is a subcomponent of your memory which means that everyday activities or ‘cues’ can evoke recollections of the past without actively trying to.  The novel has had a significant impact on 20th Century literature with many writers seeking to emulate it.  Edmund White said “[Proust] has supplied for the first time in literature an equivalent in the full scale for the new theory of modern physics.”

The second most popular fiction book is:

https-::covers.booko.info:300:UlyssesUlysses by James Joyce

Now, I’m not going to claim to have read this book but I did start it like so many other people.  I did lug it around my Uni campus trying to look intelligent from time to time.  Finish it?  No, no I did not.  Ulysses was written between 1914 to 1921 and has survived  legal action and bitter controversy. An undisputed modernist classic, its verbal inventiveness and wide-ranging allusions confirm its standing as a monument to the human condition. Ulysses is the Latinised name of Odysseus, the hero of Homer’s poem ‘Odyssey’.  The novel establishes a series of parallels between the poem and the novel.  Its stream of consciousness technique, careful structuring and experimental prose make this book a testament to the Modernist movement.

https-::covers.booko.info:300:donDon Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes

Don Quixote is a Spanish novel by Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra. It is considered to be one of the most influential novels of the Spanish Golden Age.  It features Mr Alonso Quixano, a member of the Spanish nobility.  Alonso reads so many romance novels that he loses his sanity and sets out to revive chivalry and right wrongs, bringing justice to the world.  Using the name Don Quixote de la Mancha, he recruits a farmer as his squire.  The beauty of this novel is its use of humour and literary techniques of realism, metatheatre and intertextuality.  Again, this work is hugely influential and is referenced in the works of ‘The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn’ by Mark Twain and Alexandre Dumas’ ‘The Three Musketeers’, amongst others.

The most popular Non-Fiction book is:

Essays by Michel de Montaigne

In 1572 Montaigne retired to his estates in order to devote himself to leisure, reading and reflection. There he wrote his constantly expanding ‘essays’, inspired by the ideas he found in books from his library and his own experience. He discusses subjects as diverse as war-horses and cannibals, poetry and politics, sex and religion, love and friendship, ecstasy and experience. Above all, Montaigne studied himself to find his own inner nature and that of humanity.


https-::covers.booko.info:300:confessionsConfessions by St. Augustine

The son of a pagan father and a Christian mother, Saint Augustine spent his early years torn between conflicting faiths and world views. His Confessions , written when he was in his forties, recount how, slowly and painfully, he came to turn away from his youthful ideas and licentious lifestyle, to become instead a stanch advocate of Christianity and one of its most influential thinkers.




The Interpretation of Dreams by Sigmund Freud

References to ‘The Interpretation of Dreams’ abound in modern life.  Written in 1899 by psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud, the book was first published in an edition of 600 copies which did not sell out for 8 years.  Later gaining in popularity, seven more editions were published in Freud’s lifetime.  The premise of the book is Freud’s theory of the unconscious with respect to dream interpretation.  In it, he discusses what would later become the Oedipus complex.  Freud said of this work, “Insight such as this falls to one’s lot but once in a lifetime.”


To see what other books made the list, visit thegreatestbooks.org.

How to write a great book review

Despite what is frequently thought, writing a great book review is more than merely summarising the book and its characters. When I was studying, I would stare at a blank page for hours before distracting myself with sharpening pencils, tidying my room or adding colourful sticky notes to my lecture notes. What I needed was a quick, step by step guide to writing a great book review. The Booko team has decided to do just that for you. You’re welcome!

1. First, read the book. Sounds obvious, but it is important to read the book knowing you are going to review it. Sometimes that means reading it more than once. If it’s a novel, you may read it first purely to enjoy the story, and then re-read it a second time with the intention of taking notes.

2. Think about the book within the context of its genre or topic and decide for yourself how it fits. Does it build on knowledge of the area or miss things out? If it is a history book make sure the main events are covered, if any are missed decide if it was on purpose to present a new angle, or a whopping great error on the author’s part.

3. Determine the major themes of the book. This can be tricky to articulate when on a deadline (if you have left the book review to the last minute) so here’s a top tip, something we were taught is to try to sum the book up in a single word and then slowly stretch it out by adding additional describing words until you have enough to form the basis of a summary sentence.

4. Consider the authors writing style and how well the author develops major storylines or characters within the book. If the book is a work of fiction, think about how plot structure is developed in the story. Take notes on the book’s character, plot, setting, symbols, mood or tone and how they relate to the overall theme of the book.

5. Decide if you think the book is unique in any way and assess how successful you think the book is. How did the author convey the overall purpose of the book and did you feel satisfied by the book’s ending? Finally, would you consider recommending this book to others?

The easiest way to tackle a book review is to genuinely have a love of reading and writing which ideally would be fostered from a young age.  Speaking of which, we have been approached to publish a book review by a certain young chap who follows this guide to a tee:

Harry Potter (book series)

Hi I’m Niko, Booko’s creator’s son I’m 7 years old, born in 2009 Australia and I’m writing about some of my favourite books.

Firstly Harry Potter’s 3 main characters are Harry Potter, Hermione Granger and Ronald Weasley.  One day they figure out they are witches and wizards so they are sent to Hogwarts school of witchcraft and wizardry. Witches and wizard’s sport is Quidditch. Quidditch is a game on broomsticks.

The reason I like this book series is because it’s scary, exciting and magical. I’d recommend this book series for 5 + year olds.

https-::covers.booko.info:300:writeNiko’s book review features a plot summary, what he likes about the book and what age of reader it is suited to.  It’s obvious that he loves reading (and writing).  One of our favourite books which is a great resource in fostering a love of writing is Jennifer Hallissy’s ‘The Write Start.’

This book is a treasure trove of smart ideas. Whether your child is a pre-writer who is just starting to practice grasping a pencil or crayon, or a beginner writer who is starting to string together letters, words, and sentences, this book offers information and activities that will help your child develop a love of letters. From sand writing and chalkboard play to memory games and letter-writing kits, this book includes fifty-two inventive activities and games to engage your child in the world of letters.

We have also collated and pinned some terrific activity sheets related to writing book reviews to our our Pinterest board. Follow the link here.

Time to set alerts for your text books – we show you how

I was chatting to a friend who is returning to study this year. As I always do, I suggested she buy her textbooks via Booko. ‘Oh, no, she said – I’ll probably get them second hand.’

Avid Booko followers probably know this already, but Booko searches for your book of choice from around 60 online bookstores, which includes 11 bookstores that sell both new and used copies. Brilliant. Some of our most popular booksellers are campus bookstores. We feature books from Textbooks Oz, The Campus Bookstore and TheNile, amongst others.

As money is always tight for students, getting the right book at a bargain price means more money to spend at the Uni Bar (the mature age equivalent is probably the mortgage). To set yourself up for success price-wise, spend 5 minutes on Booko and pop in some alerts for your textbooks. When you want to be alerted as to when a book is under a certain price, you will be sent an email alert.  Instructions for how to do this can be found here.

Here’s a selection of some of the most popular textbooks featuring on Booko at the moment:

For the aspiring doctor:
Examination Medicine by Nicholas J. Talley

https-::covers.booko.info:300:Physician“Preparation is the key to success” Now in its seventh edition, Examination Medicine: a guide to physician training, has prepared generations of Fellow of the Royal Australasian College of Physicians (FRACP) candidates and medical students for their written and clinical examinations. Instructive, informative and aligned with current practice, this new edition provides an overview of what to expect and what is expected of you.



For the Sports Physiotherapist:
Brukner & Khan’s Clinical Sports Medicine by Peter Brukner


The bible of Sports Medicine – now enhanced by a new companion website.  Burkina and Khan’s Clinical Sports Medicine 4th Edition is the complete practical guide to musculoskeletal medicine and physical therapy, covering all aspects of diagnosis and management of sports-related injuries and physical activity.  Extensively revised and expanded by the world’s leading sports physicians, this fourth edition continues to set the standard as the pinnacle of current knowledge and practice in sports medicine.


For the Early Childhood Teacher:
Programming and Planning in Early Childhood Settings with Student Resource Access 12 months by Beecher, Death & Arthur

https-::covers.booko.info:300:teacherProgramming & Planning in Early Childhood Settings explores a range of approaches to curriculum and to documenting children’s learning in early childhood settings. This valuable resource for early childhood education students and practitioners provides a broad view of the concepts and issues in early childhood curriculum.




For the Scientist:


Organic Chemistry by David Klein

https-::covers.booko.info:300:ChemistryOrganic chemistry is not merely a compilation of principles, but rather, it is a disciplined method of thought and analysis. Success in organic chemistry requires mastery in two core aspects: fundamental concepts and the skills needed to apply those concepts and solve problems.  Readers must learn to become proficient at approaching new situations methodically, based on a repertoire of skills.


For the teacher:
Grammar Matters by Margaret Zeegers


Grammar Matters is a simple, accessible and engaging book about the rules of grammar. It is designed to introduce the basic foundations of grammar to teacher education students in order to build knowledge and confidence, and equip them with a range of skills and strategies to help them to teach grammar in the classroom.




Valentine’s Day for Book Lovers

How do I love thee, tales of romance?  Let me count the ways – I love your strong, smart, vibrant heroines; I love your handsome, witty, sensitive men; I love your exotic locales and eras, and I love the grand passions, just as much as I love the quiet tendernesses.  And I love knowing that I am not alone in my devotion.  In honour of Valentine’s Day, here are some wonderful stories that have made us swoon over and over:

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

The appeal of Pride and Prejudice  is phenomenal: 203 years after first publication, it remains one of the best-loved novels in English literature.  The story of how proud Mr Darcy and judgmental Lizzie Bennet overcome their mutual dislike to recognise each other’s worth is tender and heartwarming; add a cast of brilliantly drawn secondary characters and the story is enriched by sharp satire about money, status and sexual politics.  Many adaptations and updates of Pride and Prejudice are celebrated in their own right, including the TV mini-series starring Colin Firth (still considered by many to be the definitive Mr Darcy).

If you love Pride and Prejudice, try Frederica by Georgette Heyer

If you love the Regency era of Jane Austen and her creations, stay a while longer through Georgette Heyer’s novels.   Georgette Heyer singlehandedly created the Regency Romance genre; she evoked Georgian England vividly, through her staggering knowledge of period minutiae.  Her 50-plus novels are witty, dramatic and fast-paced and feature a wide variety of winsome lords and ladies.  A personal favourite is Frederica, a subtle and mature romance where a world-weary hero loses his cynicism and finds love when he meets the irrepressible Merrivale family.

Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë

Out on the wily, windy moors, a boy and a girl fall into deep, all-consuming love… Heathcliff’s tortuous, obsessive relationship with Cathy in Wuthering Heights is heightened by its unrequited nature and the story’s bleak moorland setting.  The tempestuous emotions – passion, vindictiveness, grief – resonate with many (especially during their hormonal teenage years).  You may not think Cathy and Heathcliff are nice or pleasant characters, but you will not forget them.

978140886567520160229If you love Wuthering Heights,
try Carol by Patricia Highsmith

Written and set in the conservative 1950s, a sense of doom hangs over the growing attraction, and ultimately love, between beautiful, sophisticated Carol and young, lonely Therese.  Even when they acknowledge their feelings for each other, unease lingers about whether this forbidden romance can last.  In fact, Carol’s tentatively optimistic ending represents a shocking twist at a time when lesbian stories usually end in mental breakdown and/or suicide.  A tense and absorbing story, now an acclaimed film starring Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara.

Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell

Gone With the Wind is a historical novel with a thoroughly modern sensibility – Scarlett O’Hara is determined, assertive, tough, but also selfish and wilful; Rhett Butler is an anti-hero with dubious morals.  Their passionate but difficult relationship has influenced our collective understanding of a grand romance, assisted by its backdrop of incredible wealth and its subsequent destruction during the Civil War.  A true epic both in length (1000+ pages) and scope.  Pair this book with the sumptuous visuals of its celebrated movie adaptation.

If you love Gone with the Wind, try Katherine by Anya Seton

Although Katherine Swynford plays an important part in British history – she is an ancestress of Plantagenet, Tudor and Stuart royals – she was relatively unknown until the publication of this mesmerising love story.  Katherine, daughter of a minor knight, catches the eye of John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster; an emotional connection eventually blossoms into love.  This love is tested during a tumultuous time of war, plague and revolt; ultimately it triumphs when, in a scandalous move, John of Gaunt marries Katherine as his third (and final) wife – over 20 years after she becomes his mistress.  Anya Seton’s story is so iconic that Alison Weir’s biography of Katherine Swynford contains a chapter analysing Anya Seton’s version of the story.

The Fault in our Stars by John Green

Stories of first love are often tender and heart-rending – none more so than John Green’s The Fault in our Stars.  Gus and Hazel are teens who meet in a cancer patients’ support group.  They are funny and philosophical, and refuse to be defined by their illnesses.  They bond over books and witty repartee; they become each other’s strength. Inevitably though, tragedy strikes.  John Green has created some incredibly appealing characters, and a skilful balance of comedy and tragedy, in this offbeat romance. Relive the laughter and tears in both book and movie form.

If you love The Fault in our Stars, try I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith

I Capture the Castle’s memorable first line, “I write this sitting in the kitchen sink”, hints at the quirky delights within.  Styled as the journal of seventeen-year old Cassandra, the story follows her eccentric family, living in genteel poverty in a crumbling castle.  There’s her father, crippled by writer’s block; her stepmother, bohemian but surprisingly practical; and Rose, her beautiful older sister, desperate to escape their poverty by marrying well.   When two young, wealthy brothers come to claim ownership of the crumbling castle, romance and confusion ensues.  Cassandra’s coming-of-age is dreamily and sensitively portrayed, and her unrequited love is agonisingly poignant!  I Capture the Castle is an underrated classic championed by authors including Joanna Trollope and J.K. Rowling.

Author spotlight: Stephen R. Covey and how to adopt great habits

Stephen R. Covey may not be a household name but his book certainly is – The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.  This influential work has sold over 25 million copies in 40 languages, and, 25 years on, is still popular and respected.  During this time, Stephen R. Covey has met and shared his insights with over 50 Heads of State, including Bill Clinton, Nelson Mandela and Michail Gorbachev.  The idea of “7 Habits” has even inspired parodies and entered the vernacular.

The 7 habits that Stephen R. Covey highlights are traits that he believes will improve a person’s behaviour and character ethics – and form the basis of their personal and professional success.  They include:

  • Be proactive
  • Begin with the end in mind
  • Put first things first
  • Think “win-win”
  • Seek first to understand, then to be understood
  • Synergise
  • Sharpen the saw (i.e. undergo frequent self-renewal)

What makes Stephen R. Covey’s ideas fresh and challenging is that they bridge management strategies and self help – he argues that the success of organisations depends on the behaviour of individual workers.  Interestingly, this concept is not new – he acknowledges that he draws inspiration from historical “success literature” that emphasises how personal character, ethics and self-discipline have contributed to personal success.

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People has inspired many books that offer to help us understand and make great habits.  These include:

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens by Sean Covey

Sean Covey is Stephen R. Covey’s son, and he has adapted the messages in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People to better target a teen audience.  The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens is popular in its own right, has been praised by psychologists and also been incorporated into school curricula.





The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business by Charles Duhigg

Charles Duhigg, a journalist for The New York Times, explores the psychology and neuroscience behind how and why habits are created; he also illustrates his findings with entertaining case studies showing how companies have unlocked incredible success by changing people’s habits – by luck or design.  The Power of Habit is not a self-help book per se but its insights help us better understand how we can fine-tune or change our habits.




Rewire: Change your Brain to Break Bad Habits, Overcome Addictions, Conquer Self-Destructive Behaviour by Richard O’Connor

Do you know you have bad habits, but still can’t break them?  Then Rewire is here to help you.  Richard O’Connor uses psychotherapy techniques to design exercises aimed at permanently disrupting destructive behaviour, including procrastination, internet addiction, overeating, and risk-taking.  The key, he suggests, is to recognise that these habits are autopilot behaviours that can only be erased with deliberate and patient coaching.




Making Habits, Breaking Habits: Why we do Things, Why we don’t, and How to Make Any Change Stick by Jeremy Dean

Making Habits, Breaking Habits is both an explanation of the science behind habits, and a guide to changing them.  Jeremy Dean has ploughed through vast amounts of academic psychology research and distilled it into a scholarly yet approachable summary of what we know about human habit formation.  A timely section pays particular attention to online habits such as Facebook addiction.  Jeremy Dean also surveys current techniques for making and breaking habits, before deriving his own strategies.  An appealing aspect of his work is that he does not just focus on physical habits (such as smoking or exercise), but also on changing habits that affect creativity and happiness.

The Books of 2015 that changed us

Part of sifting back through the last year is looking at the books you read, the music you loved and the movies that made their mark over the previous 12 months.  They all had a part to play in shaping your year.

Looking back, you can identify the different years of your life by what you were reading at the time.  Here are some standouts:

1996 – Bridget Jones’s Diary by Helen Fielding

2000 – Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling

2006 – It was a bumper year of Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert and The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas by John Boyne

2011 – Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James

2014 – The Martian by Andy Weir

In the spirit of reflection, here is a snapshot of what the Booko team loved reading this year and why.

Karen ’s pick is How to be a Heroine: or, What I’ve Learned from Reading Too Much by Samantha Ellis

I stumbled upon this book at my local library and I am so glad I did.  Samantha Ellis is a British playwright from an Iraqi-Jewish family.  After a heated debate with her best friend about Cathy Earnshaw (Wuthering Heights) vs Jane Eyre as the perfect heroine, Samantha decides to revisit all of the literary heroines who have influenced her approach to life and love.  Her critical re-readings of these favourite books – including Anne of Green Gables, Gone with the Wind, The Bell Jar, even Shirley Conran’s Lace – results in mixed feelings including delight, awe, even anger and sadness.  How to be a Heroine is an original and unusual book that is part memoir, part bibliography and part literary analysis.  For me this is life instruction, reading list as well as a friend – what she has done seems exactly like what I should be doing, and I am looking forward to developing my own views about these books (as well as revisiting my own literary heroines).  Her attempts at finding her place within and beyond her tight-knit community really resonates with me as well.


Renae’s pick is A Brief History of 7 Killings by Marlon James


The Brief History of Seven Killings is, to be perfectly honest, the only book that I have read this year. This is a slightly disappointing effort reading-wise but to be honest, by the time I get to bed, I am only able to read 2-3 pages before I’m asleep. Anyway, I digress –

I selected this book based solely on the fact that it won the Man Booker prize. I assumed that it must be good. And it is. Based on the attempted assassination of Bob Marley in the late 1970s, this book is a fictional account of that time. While the seven assumed assassins were never apprehended, this book is about James imagining their stories. Part of what makes this book great is that there are a range of different voices, namely witnesses and bystanders. The Brief History of Seven Killings is like taking a step back in time to this period, in all its raw and at times, very violent history.


Riina’s pick is Lost & Found by Brooke Davis

It was the very start of the year and I was heading on my first overseas trip by myself since having children. I had been so busy making sure everything was planned, organised and prepared for the family while I would be away, that I had neglected to pack myself a book (out of the big pile of unread or half-read books on my bedside table). So I browsed the airport bookshop for something light to enjoy on the 23-hour flight. I picked Lost & Found by Brooke Davis, seeing as it was a book I had seen popping up on the most clicked list on Booko.

To be honest I thought it would be a light read that I might or might not finish. Instead I found it to be un-put-downable and surprisingly thought-provoking. Being half a world away from my family, I found the distance paired with the themes introduced by Lost & Found allowed me to evaluate my life, love and future in a way I had never before. I came home with visions and goals for myself, our family and relationships in general.

It is debatable whether it was the trip itself or the book that changed me, but Lost & Found was definitely an integral part of changing me in 2015.



Marie’s Pick is The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing by Marie Kondo.


I am a minimalist at heart and nothing excites me more than clean spaces with room to breathe. However, with two small children in my house there regularly seems to be a mounting collection of ‘treasures’ that I am almost positive we don’t need to keep. I found this book just as it was becoming a social media sensation and a regular ‘most clicked’ on booko.

I was hooked from page one, and when I gave it a go at home, I felt lighter, happier and the house was brighter…and we didn’t really even have much clutter to begin with! Nevertheless I ended up with 3 car loads of goodies for the charity store, copious bags filled for recycling and a few for the bin man.

This #1 New York Times best-selling guide to tidying your home is not only a game changer, it’s life changing! Japanese cleaning consultant Marie Kondo offers readers a step-by-step guide through the KonMari Method enabling an easy way to simplify, organise, and store. In a nutshell, if an item doesn’t spark joy in your home, it shouldn’t be there and that goes for clothes, trinkets, photos, make up and old copies of bills (but who would want them anyway).

Be warned – it’s not for the faint hearted, and once you start you will not want to stop. I still use Kondo’s tips daily. Oh and I recommend buying the e book – you’ll know why when you have finished it.


Dan’s pick is The Martian by Andy Weir

In writing this post, I’m confronted with the uncomfortable truth that I’ve only read two books this year:  Ready Player One which I enjoyed and The Martian which was excellent.   I was inspired to read The Martian by Randall Munroe’s comic.    The Martian is a great for plenty of reasons but its path from idea to publishing stands out for me.

The Martian began almost as a serial, published online for free, a chapter at a time and was altered and corrected based on audience feedback.   At the request of his readers, Andy made a Kindle version available and due to the way Amazon have set up publishing on the Kindle, he had to sell the book for the minimum price of $0.99.  Within a month, more people had bought the Kindle edition, than had downloaded the free version. This feedback loop of creation and improvement is analogous to how much of the worlds free software is written and I found it fascinating that this model could be used to help write a book.

Once the book hit the top #10 in a few categories, its rise was meteoric.  Random House approached Andy to publish the print version and in the same week as signing that deal, he’d signed the movie deal with Fox.   This interview with Adam Savage is well worth watching.



Author spotlight: Jamie Oliver’s take on Super Foods

Jamie Oliver turned 40 this year –  a Big Birthday that encouraged him to reassess his life and improve his health.  The result is a 12kg weight-reduction, better sleep and more energy.  So how did he do it?  His new lifestyle approach forms the basis for his new show – Jamie’s Super Food Revolution, and accompanying book, Everyday Super Food.

A major part of his strategy relates to diet.  In Jamie’s Super Food Revolution, Jamie and his team travel the world to find places famous for longevity – such as Japan, Costa Rica and Greece.  Jamie then investigated their food secrets for staying healthy and productive well into old age.  The result is Jamie’s version of super foods –  14 “hero ingredients” that are nutrient-packed, health-giving yet commonly-found. These include:

  • Eggs
  •  Fish
  • Goat’s milk
  • Wild greens and herbs
  • Tofu
  • Walnuts
  • Wild rice
  • Sweet potato
  • Black beans
  • Fresh fruit
  • Seaweed
  • Garlic
  • Prawns
  • Chillies

Jamie and his team of nutritionists then created a range of recipes based on these ingredients, from breakfasts, lunches and dinners to snacks and drinks.  These form the basis of the book Everyday Super Food.

One appealing aspect of Jamie’s approach is that he has not relied on the exotic ingredients that are currently considered “super foods” – such as chia, quinoa, and goji berries (although they do make an occasional appearance).  Instead, most of Jamie’s “hero ingredients” are commonly available, cheap and similar to ingredients we already use. The recipes are pure Jamie – simple, family-friendly recipes showcasing bold natural flavours – that look vibrant and appetising in the gorgeous photos.  His “everything in moderation” mantra means that he has not sworn off foods such as carbs or sugar – but instead has created healthier, tastier versions of favourites such as French toast and pasta carbonara.  This makes Jamie’s Super Food approach very accessible to everyone, including people on tight budgets, even those who are cynical about food fads and unusual ingredients.

Another appealing aspect of Jamie’s approach is that it is holistic.  He emphasises a number of other lifestyle changes that has improved his health – such as sleeping longer, drinking more water and less alcohol, and valuing incidental as well as scheduled exercise.  In effect, Jamie has used his own experience to show how a healthier living philosophy can improve anyone’s health.

Jamie is not the first champion of these teachings, but his hugely influential voice offers welcome support to the fight against rising obesity rates.  (Do you know that Jamie is the second best-selling author of all time in Britain, only after J.K. Rowling? Or that his campaign towards improving school dinners resulted in a pledge of GBP280 million from the British Government?)  Jamie’s Super Food Revolution is his personal, approachable (and tasty!) health improvement strategy, a worthy successor to his earlier efforts to improve public health through improving school dinners,  and teaching people to cook.

The Inky Awards 2015: who will win?

Today we’ll take a look at the Inky Awards, whose winners will be announced next week (October 13).  The Inkys are an annual celebration of quality young adult (YA) literature, hosted by the State Library of Victoria.  Teen readers are actively involved throughout the judging process – from selecting the longlists and shortlists out of the nominations, to voting for the winners.  While shortlists are chosen for their quality, originality, readability and age-appropriateness, the winner is chosen by popular vote. Two prizes are awarded each year – the Gold Inky for an Australian book, and the Silver Inky for an international book.

This year’s Gold Inky looks set to be tightly contested.  The five shortlisted books are all compelling reads.   They are diverse in style and themes – there’s something for everyone.  I have found it hard to pick one standout book so I have highlighted a special quality of each one.  Enjoy!

The Incredible Adventures of Cinnamon Girl by Melissa Keil

Why it’s good: so funny, you wish you were part of the gang

For Alba and her friends, high school is over, and Christmas and a leisurely summer beckon. However, their plans are interrupted by an obscure prediction for apocalypse, resulting in hundreds of “believers” descending on their sleepy little town. There’s nothing like imminent doom and an influx of strangers to focus the mind on big Life Decisions, such as: What do I want to do in life?, and: Is heading to the City for uni and a career inevitable?, and: How do I really feel about my best friend – is it friendship … or love?

Alba is an appealing heroine – bold, sassy, technicolored like her comic-book creations; but beneath that chutzpah there is angst and vulnerability.  The easy camaraderie between Alba and her wise-cracking gang is endearing and hilarious.  They may not be “conventionally cool” people, but they are having so much fun that you’ll wish you were one of them. The book’s cover art – in retro comic- book style – complements the story perfectly.

Razorhurst by Justine Larbalestier

Why it’s good: a tense page-turner that transcends the “YA” tag

Sydney, 1932: the inner suburbs are a hotbed of crime and poverty, such that the tabloids dub Darlinghurst and Surry Hills “Razorhurst” and “Sorrow Hills”.  Razor gangs rule these areas with violence, and everyone lives or dies by their wits.  When Dymphna and Kelpie discover the aftermath of a brutal murder, they realise they are in great danger. Over the next 24 hours, they run, plot, mask their fears, and constantly recalculate their best strategies for survival.  As the truce between rival gangs crumbles and power shifts, will they live till tomorrow?

Razorhurst is anchored by a pair of feisty, street-smart heroines: Kelpie, a street urchin who never misses small details; and Dymphna, beautiful, intelligent, a (literal) femme fatale nicknamed “Angel of Death”.  They may seem poles apart but they share similarly traumatic pasts and an ability to see and hear ghosts – a twist that adds unexpected richness to the plot.

Razorhurst is a tense noir thriller.  Larbalestier’s meticulous research shines through in the vivid evocation of that glamourous-yet-gritty era.  It definitely deserves a wider readership than the YA tag would suggest.

Laurinda by Alice Pung

Why it’s good: schoolyard intrigues that get under your skin

John Marsden praises Laurinda as “funny, horrifying, and sharp as a serpent’s fangs” and he is spot-on.  Laurinda’s depictions of the insular world of an exclusive girls’ school are likely to bring back memories – especially the uncomfortable ones – to anyone who has ever experienced the bitchiness and power plays of teenage girldom.

Lucy Lam, Asian and from a poor neighbourhood, wins a scholarship to Laurinda: “no ‘Ladies’ College’ after it, of course; the name was meant to speak for itself”.  Far out of her comfort zone, her confidence falters; she becomes a quiet but keen-eyed observer of the power dynamics of her new environment.  Her outsider status offers her the perspective to critique Laurindan society and see its rottenness – condescension, casual racism, bullying.  When the most powerful clique at Laurinda makes overtures to Lucy, she becomes torn between her aspirations for sophistication and middle-class values, and her disgust at the duplicity inherent in privilege and “good manners”.  Will she retain her identity and stand her ground, or will she join in, in order to leave the poverty and lack of opportunities of her current life?

Alice Pung’s first foray into fiction elaborates on the themes of identity and belonging prominent in her earlier work. She offers a valuable voice for immigrant youth everywhere, who are trying to navigate issues of race and class in their adopted homeland.

The Intern by Gabrielle Tozer

Why it’s good: a breezy holiday read with important life lessons

Sweet, earnest, gawky Josie has tumbled into an internship at a top women’s magazine.  This isn’t her first choice – she wants to become a newspaper journalist – but a prize for the Best Intern keeps her motivated.   Each week, Josie’s internship offers a glimpse into an exciting and glamorous adult life – living in a big city, meeting celebrities – although it also shows its dark side, with body image issues and online bullying.  As she focuses more on her internship, she loses touch with her family and friends.  Soon she has to make tough decisions about what matters most, and how to maintain her integrity.

The Intern is a fun read with coming-of-age themes.   Josie is not perfect, but likeable and relatable.  Gabrielle Tozer uses her own experience in magazine publishing to create an authentic setting, with just the right touch of ridiculousness.  Josie’s fish-out-of-water story invites comparisons to The Devil Wears Prada; what sets them apart is the Intern’s background detail- the struggles of Josie’s mother and sister since her father left the family; the exploration of issues surrounding body image, eating disorders, the definition of success and cyberbullying. Many supporting characters are drawn with depth, and I look forward to meeting them again in the sequel, Faking It, which is now available.

The Protected by Claire Zorn

Why it’s good: a harrowing but un-putdownable read

The Protected has already won this year’s CBCA Older Readers Book of the Year, will it win an Inky as well?  The Protected is not “fun” or “entertaining”, but it is mesmerising and unforgettable.  It reads like a mystery – the events that lead to the current tragic situation are slowly revealed.  The Protected draws readers in, empathising with Hannah, hoping against hope that she will have a happy, or at least hopeful, ending.

Hannah is a quiet, withdrawn fifteen year old, who has been shuttled from psychologist to psychologist following the death of her sister Katie.  The accident that killed Katie also left Hannah’s father seriously injured, and her mother clinically depressed.  When Hannah starts to connect with the school’s counsellor, the full tragedy of her situation is finally revealed.  Hannah’s pain is caused by years of relentless bullying – while her cool, beautiful sister watches on. Katie’s death leads to a tangle of guilt and grief and anger that Hannah, nurtured by the glimmerings of new friendships, finally learns to deal with.  The Protected is a powerful story with complex characterisation, all the effective because it is quietly, gently told.

For more information, including the shortlist for the Silver Inkys, see https://insideadog.com.au/page/inky-awards

Guest Book Reviewer: Palace of Tears

Palace of Tears is the debut novel from Julian Leatherdale. It is an historical, generational story, centred on a luxury hotel in the fictional town of Meadow Springs in the Blue Mountains and has all the elements of family passion, secrets and tragedy.

 Department store entrepreneur Adam Fox built the lavish palace based on luxury spa resorts in Europe. The story of the hotel intertwines with the story of the family who live in a cottage next door – much less well off than the wealthy Foxes but, over generations, sharing tragedies as well as love, hate and jealousy.

Initially I was daunted by the size of this book at over 500 pages, however Leatherdale achieves a good balance between educating and entertaining readers about events in Australia during the 1900’s and early 20th Century.

I love that Leatherdale mixes fictitious elements with real events and actual people. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, opera star Nellie Melba and Australian film makers and directors Raymond Longford and Lottie Lyall all visit Adam Fox’s luxurious resort.

The author’s historical research into some of the less familiar events of early 20th Century history made for very interesting reading and for me in particular, the internment of the Germans during the war years was fascinating due to my own family history. His references to events of that time and fictional activities surrounding it were amazing and his passion evident.

I think this book is well worth the read, and with summer coming and holidays, it would be one to put on the list.

I hope Julian Leatherdale writes more novels as I will be lining up to read them.



Take 5: Books with adult and junior versions

Are you looking forward to the day when your kids will be old enough to share what you are reading, or to discuss issues you are passionate about?  That day may come sooner than you think.  Some great books are now available in junior versions aimed at 5-15 year olds.  While many teens will enjoy the original (adult) versions, these junior editions will allow new generations of readers to access these inspiring and thought-provoking works.
Ugly: My Memoir by Robert Hoge

One recent example is Ugly, the joyous and uplifting memoir of Robert Hoge.  Ugly follows Robert’s life from his birth to the birth of his daughter.  His childhood is suburban and familiar, filled with childhood pranks, school camps, bad haircuts, and siblings.  What makes his story extraordinary is that Robert was born significantly disfigured – a massive tumour distorted his facial features, and his legs were twisted and useless.  Despite this, Robert’s family is determined to give him an ordinary upbringing.  Lots of love and courage, as well as a series of groundbreaking operations, allow Robert to triumph over his difficult beginnings, and grow up to be a successful journalist, science communicator and political advisor.

Ugly by Robert Hoge

A younger readers’ version of Ugly was published in August this year, allowing 8-15 year olds to share in this inspirational story.  Ugly also offers a reflection on disability, beauty and ugliness – all important issues for this age group.  May have particular appeal for fans of R. J. Palacio’s Wonder.




The Happiest Refugee by Anh Dohttps-::covers.booko.info:300:refugee1

The plight of refugees is in the spotlight once more, making this a great time to revisit this heart-warming book.  The Happiest Refugee is comedian Anh Do’s memoir, which begins with his family’s escape from war-torn Vietnam.  During their journey in a leaky fishing boat, Anh and his family nearly die from disease, starvation, dehydration and pirate attacks.   Even when they are rescued and resettled in Australia, there is no simple Happy Ever After: Anh and his family face many hardships while they rebuild their lives.  Fortunately, hard work, determination, a loving family and a sense of humour help them to overcome many difficulties and pave the way to success.

The Happiest Refugee has won many awards, and was so popular that it became a live show that toured Australia.  What makes it so special is Anh’s irrepressible optimism – he can find the silver lining in even the darkest cloud.

The Little Refugee by Anh Do, illustrated by Bruce Whatleyhttps-::covers.booko.info:300:refugee2

The Little Refugee is a picture book adaptation of The Happiest Refugee, aimed at primary school students.  From young Anh’s point of view, we learn about Anh’s life from his birth in Vietnam to his early years in Australia.  Atmospheric illustrations by Bruce Whatley (of Diary of a Wombat fame) effectively contrast the Do Family’s frightening journey with the more humorous situations as they settle into Australian life, and emphasises how hard work, persistence and a sense of humour triumph over hardship. The Little Refugee was awarded CBCA Honour Book in the Information Book of the Year category in 2012.

https-::covers.booko.info:300:Weather1The Weather Makers by Tim Flannery

The Weather Makers is the book that identifies Tim Flannery as an international authority on climate change.  It is an award-winning, best selling work that has been highly influential, with endorsements by policy makers, scientists, and writers worldwide.  The Weather Makers tells the climate change story – from its its history, to its current status, and onto potential future impact.  It also encourages its readers to start taking action to avert the imminent climate crisis.  The Weather Makers is widely admired for being authoritative and comprehensive while remaining readable and accessible to the general public.

https-::covers.booko.info:300:Weather2We are the Weather Makers: the Story of Global Warming by Tim Flannery

Since Tim Flannery dedicated The Weather Makers to children, “to all of their generation who will have to live with the consequences of our decisions”, it makes sense to produce a version of the book that speaks to youth readers directly.  The result is called We are the Weather Makers.  It is underpinned by the same vigorous scholarship, but with updated data, and more streamlined, concise prose.  While it is aimed at 10-15 year olds, We are the Weather Makers will appeal to anyone who wants a succinct version of the original, important work.

https-::covers.booko.info:300:Eats1Eats, Shoots and Leaves: the Zero-Tolerance Approach to Punctuation by Lynne Truss

When Lynne Truss wrote her “small book on punctuation”, she had no idea that it would become a bestseller that reinvigorates interest in the niceties of the English language.  Eats, Shoots and Leaves is more than a guide to punctuation use – it is also a lament and a call-to-arms.  Through amusing anecdotes drawn from history, literature, and real signage, Lynne Truss discusses the origin and history of different punctuations and how they should be used. Eats, Shoots and Leaves manages to be witty, informative and compulsively readable, because it shows that misplaced or absent punctuation can change the meaning of sentences in dramatic and funny ways.

https-::covers.booko.info:300:SpaghettiThe Girl’s Like Spaghetti: Why, You Can’t Manage Without Apostrophes! by Lynne Truss, illustrated by Bonnie Timmons

The adult version of Eats, Shoots and Leaves has inspired two picture books illustrated by Bonnie Timmons.  While Eats, Shoots and Leaves focusses on the use of commas, The Girl’s Like Spaghetti focusses on apostrophes.  Each book contains double spread pages that show how dramatically meanings can change when punctuations are placed differently.  For example, “the girl’s like spaghetti” may describe your best friend, while “the girls like spaghetti” sounds like a good meal!  The witty illustrations allow even young children to appreciate the quirkiness of the English language, and the importance of good punctuation.  Perfect for Ages 6-12.

https-::covers.booko.info:300:FastfoodFast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser

Fast Food Nation is Eric Schlosser’s critique of the American fast food industry.  He shows how the rise of fast food has resulted in many societal problems including rising obesity rates, widening income gap, labour exploitation, and potential for mass outbreaks of serious diseases (such as BSE, aka “mad cow disease”).  It is also a warning for the future, as emerging economies embrace fast food as part of their yearning for a Western lifestyle.  Eric Schlosser is an investigative journalist who has used a compelling narrative to make serious topics – politics, economics, health, business strategy, psychology – interesting and accessible.  Fast Food Nation is a seminal work that has inspired other exposes into big businesses, such as Super Size Me and Enron: the Smartest Guys in the Room.

https-::covers.booko.info:300:ChewChew on This by Eric Schlosser and Charles Wilson

Chew on This is an adaptation of Fast Food Nation aimed at 10-16 year olds.  Eric Schlosser teams up with fellow journalist Charles Wilson to refine the original text and make it more accessible to the age groups that most favour fast food.  Chew on This has retained the engaging narrative and the solid research (including footnotes) of Fast Food Nation, but is more concise and straightforward.