Thursday, 17 December 2015

Book Review

The South Forsaken

by Rachel Drummond

(First published May, 2013. This edition published by Odyssey Books, 2015)

A book about the zombie apocalypse set in Australia?  With zombie central beginning in Geelong?  How could I not read this!  

For those of you non Australian readers - Geelong is a regional city not too far from Melbourne that is the butt of numerous jokes along socio-economic lines.  (Too cryptic – think about it, you’ll figure it out.)

The South Forsaken by Rachel Drummond centres around Sarah, a nurse, her friends, family and a disparate group of strangers they meet in their various battles for survival. Sarah and her brother are horror film addicts – particularly, it seems, zombie films; so much so that Sarah has her “bug-out” kit stashed in the boot of her car.  I’m not sure how many novels deal with zombie movie fans who have thought through their escape plans and have their emergency bag stowed in their car, but I found this a nice touch to the story.  The drama unfolds when a research worker becomes contaminated with an experimental virus and goes home and infects his son. The ambulance comes…they both get hospitalised…you know the drill. 
All this commences on the day after Christmas – Boxing Day.  Most people are either out enjoying the holidays or shopping at the post-Christmas sales.  Lots of people out and about, lots of zombie munchies…

So there is our recipe for disaster and it’s a good set up.  Drummond is a nurse and her use of technical terms lends itself well to the set up of this story.  However, there is no logical story progression from patient zero to mass zombies.  We hear of two infected patients in the hospital and next we have panic on the streets and zombies popping up everywhere.  This sequence needed just a little more thought. 

This is an action packed adventure and moves at a fast pace.  Some of the initial action sequences lacked tension. They were a technically and clinically accurate telling of events without what I call related atmospherics – there was little to make me feel the scenes i.e. the fear etc.  (There were also a couple of minor continuity errors in the first half.)

However, as the story progressed, Drummond hit her straps and the action sequences and writing in general improved dramatically.  I went from merely thinking the story was ok to being really engaged by it and her characters.  I finished the novel with the thought - "Blast! Now I have to wait for the next one!" 

I really did enjoy The South Forsaken

Would I buy and read the next one?  Yes, because I genuinely want to know what Drummond has planned for her characters and based on the latter half of the book I think the next one will be a cracker. 

Three Stars.

Thursday, 10 December 2015

Book Review

The Art of Effective Dreaming

by Gillian Polack

(Pub: Satalyte Publishing, 2015)

Bored? Trapped in the mindless routine of the daily grind? We’ve all dreamed of escaping at some point whether it’s via a change of job, a holiday, a movie or a good book…

Gillian Polack’s novel The Art of Effective Dreaming is about Fay, a public servant who is depressed with her "drearily, drably and impossibly dull” life. Her form of escape is to create a dream world and lose herself within it. 

The characters of this imagined realm become her friends and this world holds Fay’s interest far more than her workaday life.  The fantasy world offers what her real world lacks - happiness in the form of true love (I’ve lines from The Princess Bride ringing in my head as I type that!) and friendship, but comes with the added and unwelcome bonus of an evil sorcerer and murder.

Sounds exciting for a fictional realm, yet Fay’s world turns out to be just a real as her boring and “impossibly dull” world and she finds herself in a battle to save not only her imaginary creation, but herself.

I found a great deal about Fay that I could relate to and the premise of this story had me hooked, as I’m almost always immersed in worlds created by my imagination and I love getting lost in them – mine don’t, fortunately, become as real as Fay’s world.

Polack writes witty and delightful prose and from the first page I found myself smiling and chuckling while reading The Art of Effective Dreaming. Her characterisation of Fay is excellent – Fay is honest, intelligent, her emotions yo-yo and at times she is confused and rambling as she attempts to sort out the dilemmas before her. In short, Fay is very complicated, at times endearing and at others frustrating and really well constructed.

While I thoroughly enjoyed The Art of Effective Dreaming, this is a book that the reader will have to work at a little. The narrative jumps between Fay’s real world and her imagined one and, while this doesn’t sound difficult or unusual, time works differently in both realms. The result of this is that large intervals of time may have elapsed between her visits and the reader is left to figure out what has been happening.

This makes the story occasionally disjointed and I found this hindered my enjoyment of the novel. After a few chapters I’d become accustomed to it and learned to wait as things were slowly revealed. I would have liked a smoother progression between the two worlds and for Fay to have spent more time in each, developing the story in more depth. However, I think that this slightly scattered approach actually reflects Fay’s state of mind and as she is transformed, so too is the story.

Despite this, I thoroughly enjoyed The Art of Effective Dreaming – it was quirky and very well written. I also loved the fact that Polack doesn’t have Fay fall into the true love trough and become mindlessly in love. Don’t misunderstand me - you will enjoy the romance aspects of this novel – our handsome prince is not perfect and nor is Fay – yet by the end of the book she knows what she wants.

This is very much a story of a woman lost in the drudgery that can become our everyday workday lives. Fay’s imaginary creation is a life raft and through it she remembers who she was and decides who she wants to be.

We all need such an escape from time to time.

Four Stars.

Saturday, 5 December 2015

Film Review

The Good Dinosaur


Starring: Raymond Ochoa, Jack Bright, Sam Elliott, Anna Paquin, A.J Buckley, Jeffrey Wright, Frances McDormand and Steve Zahn.
Director: Peter Sohn
Producer: Denise Ream
Screenwriter: Meg LeFauve
Run Time: 100 min 

Review by Hannah M. King 


The Good Dinosaur is an extraordinary journey of self-discovery, complete with thrilling adventure, hilarious characters and poignant heart. 

In an alternate reality where dinosaurs still walk the Earth, a small and timid Apatosaurus named Arlo (voiced by Raymond Ochoa) finds himself separated from his family, and at the mercy of the wilds beyond his farming home. To survive, he forms an unlikely alliance with a human cave-boy (Jack Bright) and encounters an array of wacky and unusual characters, who both challenge and change him. 

Family is at the heart of every Disney & Pixar film you see, and The Good Dinosaur was no exception. The film opens on two Apatosaurus farmers, witnessing the birth of their three children: Libby (Maleah Padilla), Buck (Marcus Scribner) and the runt, Arlo. While Libby and Buck easily adjust to life and their responsibilities on the farm (signified by a mud-print on a corn silo), Arlo's fearful nature makes his tasks difficult for him. But he is determined to prove himself, particularly to his father (voiced by Jeffrey Wright) whom he admires. But in a heart-wrenching twist, the father is lost in a violent flash flood, and Arlo is swept miles downstream and far from home. This pulled more than a few heartstrings, because it reminded me of Mufusa’s death in The Lion King. Need I say more here? 

On a lighter note, I was thoroughly entertained by the interaction and relationship between Arlo and Spot. Their childish banter and antics made me smile, particularly scenes where Arlo plays with Spot. In one scene, he ignites a swarm of fireflies and chases after them with Spot by his side. In another, Spot blows into a hole in the ground and forces out a small gopher-like creature. Arlo does the same and dozens burst free, and then slowly crawl up his legs. His slow, yet dramatic realisation was perfect comic timing in my opinion. However, the pinnacle moment for me, a moment that left me in tears, was when Arlo thinks of his family and displays them in the form of twigs. Spot may not be able to speak, but he understands what is being shown and does the same - sadly burying the twigs of his mother and father. 

It was at this point that I fell in love with the film. Here they are, two very different creatures coming together over their own personal tragedies, finding solace and a lasting bond. Friendship is another aspect Disney and Pixar excel, and they certainly didn’t disappoint here. 

What I also like about this film is the unusual backdrop. Most Disney & Pixar films are set in castles, a children’s bedroom, a factory, an anthill, but not The Good Dinosaur. Yes, it’s set in prehistoric times but with a western influence and twist. For example, Arlo and Spot encounter a grizzled Tyrannosaur rancher (voiced by western stalwart Sam Elliott), who needs their help to chase off some velociraptor cattle-rustlers. This was slightly confusing at first because, really, you think of Tyrannosaurs are ferocious, bloodthirsty creatures, but this film, they’re as friendly as Larry and even help Alro find his way home. Talk about a twist.

But not every encounter along the trail packs quite the same thrill: a Dumbo-channelling hallucination sequence and an encounter with a styracosaurus shaman and his collection of "pets" are both oddball highlights, while a group of unhinged, storm-chasing pterodactyls comparatively feels like peril-by-rote.

Overall, it was a wonderful, heartfelt film. Its emotional climax – made 100 times more heart-wrenching for being entirely dialogue-free – was rigorously earned. I would definitely go and watch it again. Its fun for the whole family, and the kids will love it. I sure did, and I’m twenty two.  

Hannah M King is the author of The Dorston Fall which is a wonderful YA fantasy adventure.  You can find it on Wattpad here:

Friday, 20 November 2015


Farah Oomerbhoy

Faraah Oomerbhoy is the author of The Last of the Firedrakes, Book One in The Chronicles of Avolonia.  The Last of the Firedrakes has been an enormous success on Wattpad, with over 1 million reads and over 63,000 votes.  It was published by Wise Ink Creative Publishing in August this year.

You can read my review here:

Please tell us a little about yourself?

Thank you so much for having me on your blog, it’s a real pleasure to be here.

I just turned 38 years old on the 13th of October. I was born and brought up in India, and live in Mumbai with my extended family. I’m a mother of three wonderful kids.

I love Nutella and coffee. And I write books.

Ever since I was a little girl, I’ve dreamed of travelling to magical worlds and exploring fantastical places found only within the pages of a book. Almost all the literature I read as a child had some element of fantasy woven through it. Those were the stories that stuck with me and encouraged me to write fantasy.

As a mother, I have the added opportunity of exploring these wonderful books again. Right now my children and I are reading the Magic Faraway Tree series by Enid Blyton, my absolute favourite books.

What literature do believe has influenced your writing?
There have been many influences on my writing; from Enid Blyton's Magic Faraway Tree series and C. S. Lewis' The Chronicles of Narnia series, to T. H. White’s A Once and Future King and Tolkien's Lord of the Rings series.

J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series, Roald Dahl’s Charlie & the Chocolate Factory, Diana Wynne Jones’ magical worlds, Lewis Caroll’s Wonderland books, Ursula le Guin’s Earthsea Quartet and J.M Barrie’s Peter Pan, have all in some way contributed towards my love for magical adventures and fantasy worlds and inspired me to write fantasy for young people.

There are many others that have influenced my writing in this genre. David Eddings' Belgariad series and Terry Brooks’ Sword of Shannara books made me realize the true extent and scope of epic fantasy.

In addition, Tamora Pierce's Song of the Lioness Quartet was very instrumental in the creation of my main character Aurora. It made me better understand what fantasy looks like with a young girl as the hero. 

Are the use of the names Aurora, Morgana and Avalonia a tribute to stories you loved when you were younger? (Alternatively what influenced your choice of these names?)
Yes, absolutely. The legends of Arthur, Camelot, Morgan le Fay, and the Knights of the Round Table were one of the main legends that consumed much of my early reading.

Can you tell us a little about The Last of the Firedrakes?
Aurora is in essence a modern teenager. She has lived her whole life in this world with modern technology, so she is more relatable to the readers. She only enters the fantasy world of Avalonia after she turns 16. Everything is seen through Aurora’s eyes and the reader explores the world and finds out more about it along with her.

One of the main concepts of the story is that Aurora could be anyone; that at any point of time it could be you who could open a cupboard, enter a library, or step into a tapestry and be transported to a magical world.

It gives the reader a chance to go on a wondrous adventure and explore concepts that they could never do in real life, within the safe confines of the pages of a book.

This is book one in The Avalonia Chronicles –how many books will there be in the series?
The Avalonia Chronicles is planned as a three book series. But you never know. There could possibly be more books in this world.

When can readers expect the next instalment of Aurora’s adventures?
My readers have been so wonderful and I am so grateful for everyone’s support. I know many of my fans are waiting for book 2, and I have started writing the first draft. I am trying to get it ready as soon as I can, but, realistically I don’t think it will be ready for release until the end of 2016.

Do you have a writing routine and favourite spot to write?
Yes, I do have a routine and I try and stick to it as much as I can. It does tend to get difficult since I have three little children and it gets hard to write at a specific time. Usually, I prefer to write at night, after the children have gone to sleep and the house is quiet. But during the day I do research, read, and make notes about the book. Usually I prefer to write in my room, on the couch with my laptop, with a big cup of hot chocolate with a generous helping of marshmallows to keep me company.

What advice would you give young writers who ultimately want to be published

One thing I’ve learned through this whole saga of trying to get my first book published is that you should never send your manuscript out to agents or publishers until it’s absolutely ready. I would also advise working with an experienced editor in your genre to polish the manuscript before you send it to anyone.

For those of you who want input on your writing or just want people to read what you’ve written to gauge their response to your work, then Wattpad is a wonderful way to reach many readers and interact with them while they read your book. It is a great platform to meet other aspiring authors, make friends who love the same books, and get your book noticed. Many authors have gone on to get agents or major publishing deals after their books did really well on Wattpad.

But the most important thing to remember is to always keep on writing. Even if you never intend to use that chapter, just get the words on the page. You know what they say, “you can’t edit a blank page.”

Connect with Farah:


B&N | Apple | Kobo | Smashwords | txtr | Itasca Books

Add on Goodreads

Award-Winning Finalist in the Best Cover Design: Fiction category of the 2015 USA Best Book Awards
"...the narrative components echo the classics; the Academy of Magic at Evolon could be Hogwarts, while the Shadow Guards are reminiscent of Tolkien's Ring Wraiths or Rowling's Dementors...a beautifully drawn fantasy world." - Kirkus Reviews

"THE LAST OF THE FIREDRAKES is a magic-filled romp that carries you back to the fantasy stories of childhood...Oomerbhoy writes particularly mouthwateringly about the food in Avalonia: a breakfast of hot chocolate and cinnamon nut-bread with strawberry butter, anyone? Or what about a woodland picnic where meat pies and cheeses are spread on flower-strewn barrels and glass balls filled with juices hang from the trees? Lovers of classic fantasy will likewise gobble down Oomerbhoy's scrumptious story." - Dr Vic James, author of the SLAVEDAYS trilogy

"The world building is beautiful.....That really made the book more complex for is the journey of discovery for Aurora and the reader that makes this an interesting story." - Janelle Fila for Readers' Favorite

Thursday, 12 November 2015

Book Review

Under the Empyrean Sky by Chuck Wendig

(Pub: Skyscape, 2013)

**I was provided with an ARC copy of this in exhange for an honest review**

Under the Empyrean Sky is dystopian sci-fi which transports the reader effortlessly into its world and carries them along in a fast paced story with just about everything you could want.  

Within the first two pages, the reader immediately knows what is at stake for the main character, Cael, and gets a good glimpse of the broader political and social constructs of this world – brilliant. (I wish I read more books that did this so quickly and so well.)

Cael McAvoy lives in the Heartland and the only crop the government allows the people to grow is a genetically modified strain of corn.  This corn is aggressive, wiping out other species and even trying to trap and consume people within its fields. It is also inedible. 

Heartland's citizens are malnourished and suffering from different forms of cancer. Cael and his friends are scavengers sailing their ship above the corn looking for anything of value to supplement their families’ incomes.  Meanwhile, the Empryean elite live in opulent sky flotillas.   The government brutally suppresses all rebellion and controls almost all aspects of the lives of those in the Heartland.  

Cael is sick of the injustices of his life…

Ok, so you know how this goes - our hero is going to become involved in a rebellion.

Despite the fact that at its heart this is an age old tale, Wendig executes it brilliantly and the reader is left wanting to read more.   There were no surprises for me in this book, yet I loved every minute of it.

Four Stars!

Friday, 6 November 2015


Gillian Dite

Dr Gillian Dite, PhD (Epidemiology), PGrad Dip Arts (Editing & Communications) Freelance Editor,

Tell us a bit about yourself
I have a PhD in genetic epidemiology and have worked in cancer research for almost twenty years. I began freelance editing ( in 2013 and I love the flexibility and variety of the work.

With a background in science and research, what drew you to editing?
I’ve always enjoyed writing for fun as well as writing academic research papers. When I was thinking about a change in direction for my career, I knew that I’ve always enjoyed and excelled at working at a fine level of detail and I realised that I could help people with their writing. I completed a Postgraduate Diploma of Arts (Editing and Communications) at the University of Melbourne and loved it. The qualification gave me the knowledge and confidence that I needed to move into freelance editing.

What type of works do you normally edit?
I love working on anything to do with science. I often help academics with research manuscripts to be submitted to peer-reviewed journals for publication. With the top journals receiving far more submissions than they can publish, manuscripts need to be excellent to be considered for publication. Badly written papers don’t get very far and editing can dramatically increase the chances of being accepted for publication.

I also work a lot with students who are working on a master’s or PhD thesis. I particularly enjoy working with international students. It would be incredibly difficult to come to Australia and study in a foreign language and I have learned a lot from them.

What are the common problems you encounter with the work you edit?
While every job is different with its own quirks, people frequently have trouble with punctuation and I often have to fix problems with tense. An important part of an editor’s job is to ensure consistency throughout the work. This can include spelling, stylistic choices, and the use of statistics and units of measurement.

Any suggestions for people writing their thesis etc?
Students (and academics) should learn how to use EndNote to manage their references. All universities offer short courses on using EndNote and the librarians are always happy to help. I’ve worked on quite a few theses that would fail the examination because they had so many problems with the references. By using EndNote properly, students can avoid the added expense of paying their editor to also check the accuracy and formatting of references and in-text citations.

Any suggestions for people looking to engage an editor?  
First, you need to ensure that you are looking for the right service for your manuscript. There’s no point paying for someone to proofread the first draft of a novel; proofreading is the final step in the publication process. 

For a first draft, you should be looking for a manuscript assessment or structural editor – someone who can give you input into the big picture by focusing on the logic and flow of your manuscript and suggesting areas for rewriting, reorganisation and removal. 

Later, you should be looking for a copy editor who will edit the manuscript line by line to ensure consistency in style and identify and fix errors in punctuation, spelling and grammar. 

Lastly, a proofreader should look at the manuscript just before publication to identify and correct any small problems that remain.

Once you know what service you require, the process of finding an editor can be daunting. Don’t make the mistake of just looking for the cheapest quote or using someone who thinks it’s easy because they did well in English at school. Look for someone with experience and qualifications that are relevant to your manuscript. In my area, clients look for an editor with a strong scientific background and my extensive experience with statistical analysis is invaluable in my editing.

Societies such as Editors Victoria have online directories ( of freelance editors.

Have you edited fiction works and does that interest you?
I’ve had a few people ask me to edit fiction. While I love reading, I know I’m not the best person to work with them and I will help them find a better match.

Thursday, 29 October 2015

Book Review

Hero by Belinda Crawford

(Pub: Odyssey Books, 2015)

Hero is a the debut novel of Australian author Belinda Crawford.  Crawford has created a fast paced science fiction story, set in a unique world that many adults and teens are going to love. 

The novel is set on the planet Jorn.  Humans have colonised this planet only to discover that a pollen on the planet is toxic to them.  The human population survives in cloud cities. 

Hero Regan is a young girl who is “special” – a title that she loathes. She hears voices and has been treated all her life as if she were mentally ill and in need of medicating.  Her mother keeps her away from the public and locked up on their estate with a bevy of minders. 

As a young teen, Hero objects strenuously to this and does everything in her power to make the lives of her minders miserable and escape. It helps that she is a bit of technological genius and can hack into their equivalent of computers with ease.  

When Hero finally convinces her mother to send her to school in Cumulus City, the real fun begins.  She’s not been taking her meds, the voices she hears return with a vengeance and soon her odd behaviour makes her the brunt of bullies and brings her to the attention of some very dangerous people.  Running for her life, Hero learns that she is part of an age old conspiracy begun by the founding colonists…

But I’m not going to give you spoilers!  You’ll have to read it...

In creating Hero, Crawford has tapped into a genuine teen voice.  Hero’s character, her attitudes, comments and actions make her seem real and this is one of the things that immediately stuck me about the book.  You’re not always going to like her and she has a lot to learn as the book progresses, but that’s part of making an interesting character.

Another of my favourite elements in Crawford’s novel is that of the companion / guardian animals.  The settlers have genetically modified a lot of the flora and fauna to aid their survival and the children each have their own animal companion.  Hero’s is a 600kg ruc-pard named Fink.  Fink is perfect - alternating between consoling friend and ice cream eating buddy to deadly protector.  (I want a ruc-pard!) 

Animals with such roles are something that appear repeatedly in fantasy novels and I think that dedicated fantasy fans will actually enjoy Hero even though it’s science fiction. On that note, I wouldn’t rate this as “hard” science fiction.  Crawford has made up a series of names and terminology, that I think most readers will find understandable rather than a barrier to reading. (Although having said that I do watch a lot of science fiction, rather than read it, so maybe my judgement is affected by this.)

Crawford’s writing is a perfect balance of description and action and the story set up is relatively quick and rollicks along once it gets going.  You are not going to fall asleep during long, lush, descriptive paragraphs waxing lyrical about the world she has made.  There is enough scene setting, description and atmospherics in her writing for the reader to clearly visualise the place as if it were a movie playing before them.  The action sequences - from illegal races with their companion animals, running from one group of peopel who want to kill her to another who want to capture her, to shoot outs, police chases, a AI bent on either helping them or destroying them and explosions throughout - place you right in the moment and race along holding you in the grip of this story right to the end.

The plot is not overly complicated. Thematically it deals with several deeper issues, beginning a teen’s need to experience the world, grow and make mistakes and learn on their own, the way we treat those who are designated mentally ill, the morality of a few individuals deciding the future of an entire race – individual freedoms vs the greater good.

The plot does twist and turn a little as the story progresses and leaves the reader with a final twist at the end leading on to the next book.

I’m pretty sure the wait for the next book will be worth it!

Five Stars.

Saturday, 24 October 2015

Guest Feature

The Drago Tree by Isobel Blackthorn

(Pub: Odyssey Books, 2015)

The Drago Tree

Haunted by demons past and present, geologist Ann Salter seeks sanctuary on the exotic island of Lanzarote. There she meets charismatic author Richard Parry and indigenous potter Domingo and together they explore the island.

Ann’s encounters with the island’s hidden treasures becomes a journey deep inside herself as she struggles to understand who she was, who she is, and who she wants to be.

Set against a panoramic backdrop of dramatic island landscapes and Spanish colonial history, The Drago Tree is an intriguing tale of betrayal, conquest and love in all its forms.

“This beautifully constructed novel reveals the complexity we invite into our lives when we open our hearts to passion.” Robert Hillman, The Honey Thief 

Photo: Jalle F
The Machinations of Empire - Lanzarote and the Drago Tree by Isobel Blackthorn

The Drago Tree is a story of conquest, both of the protagonist, Ann, and the island of Lanzarote, a Canary Island off the Moroccan coast. Lanzarote provides a rich microcosmic example of the machinations of empire, its colonial history spanning 700 years from 1402, when Norman knight, Jean Bethencourt, claimed the island on behalf of the king of Castille.

I became fascinated with Lanzarote’s history as I worked the theme of conquest into the story of protagonist, Ann Salter, and her own tribulations. For me, Ann’s experiences were mirrored in the island’s history.  The more I worked with the theme, the more drawn I was to every single detail of it. In the end, I had a draft laden with information, the curse of every writer. Much of it was pastiche, and after I slaved away crafting nice sentences out of contemporaneous journal material written by a couple of priests, I had to cut it out of the draft.  What is left is the merest taste, as told by Ann, who reads all about the island before she arrives.

Here’s an extract that I was forced to delete:

‘In Europe, Empire’s unquenchable cupidity was sanctioned by Papal bulls, no land legitimately sovereign unless Christian. Ann’s teacher, Mr Badcock, was fond of telling his class of mostly disinterested teenagers that there is no greater evil on earth than in those who do evil in the name of good, especially when that good is God. Empire justifies its actions and righteous claims through adversary. No better adversary than another Empire. Ann wondered now how Mr Badcock managed to hold onto his job.

After colonial conquest, the biggest threat to beleaguered Lanzarote came from Algiers and Sale. Renegades from both cities were fuelled by a collective and vengeful hatred of the Spanish who were blithely conquering anywhere and everywhere they could. Ann imagined Mr Badcock, clapping his hands together with paraliptical relish.’

Photo: Jalle F

About the Author

Isobel Blackthorn was born in London and has lived in Spain, Lanzarote, (Canary Islands), and Australia. She’s been a teacher, market trader, project manager and PA to a literary agent. Isobel received her PhD in Social Ecology in 2006. She now lives in rural New South Wales where she follows her passions for social justice, philosophy, current affairs, books and art.

Isobel is the author of a collection of short stories, All Because of You (Ginninderra Press), and the novel, Asylum (Odyssey Books). Her writing has appeared in e-journals in Australia and the US. Her second novel, The Drago Tree, was released by Odyssey books on 1 October 2015.