Book Review: Boy Swallows Universe by Trent Dalton

This is an amazing book and is a must read. If you haven’t heard about it, I predict you will because I’m fairly confident this will be winning prizes in 2019. There I’ve said it, but why?

The book is written from the point of view of a thirteen-year-old boy, Eli growing up in Brisbane whose best friend Slim is his babysitter who just happens to be a notorious ex-crim, his stepfather is a drug dealer, his mother ends up in jail and his older brother, August is mute. If that doesn’t get you going, then throw in the boy’s philosophical yearning to know if a man can ever be good as he takes a long hard look at the role models of adult men around him.

The writing is sublime.

Still night air and two boys smoking on a gutter. Stars up there. A cane toad down here has been flattened by a car tyre on the bitumen road a metre from my right foot. Its pink tongue has exploded from its mouth so it looks like the toad was flattened halfway through eating a raspberry lolly snake.

‘Sucks, doesn’t it?’ Darren says.
‘What?’
‘Growing up thinking you were with the good guys, when all along you were running with the bad guys.’

The cover is incredible.

I’ll almost bet that you’ll turn back if you walk past a bookshop with this cover in the window, just to take a look.

The splat of pink and orange with a small bird sitting on a statement, ‘your end is a dead blue wren’ is intriguing. That statement will mean a lot and by the time you finish the book you will understand why.

The descriptions are exquisite.

Slim coughs, chokes up brown tobacco spit that he missiles out the driver’s window to our sun-baked and potholed bitumen street running past fourteen low-set sprawling fibro houses, ours and everybody else’s in shades of cream, aquamarine and sky blue. Sandakan Street, Darra, my little suburb of Polish and Vietnamese refugees and the Bad Old Days refugees like Mum and August and me, exiled here for the past eight years, hiding out from the rest of the world, marooned survivors of the great ship hauling Australia’s lower- class shitheap, separated from America and Europe and Jane Seymour by oceans and darn pretty Great Barrier Reef and another 7000 kilometres of Queensland coastline and then an overpass taking cars to Brisbane city, and separated a bit more still by the nearby Queensland Cement and Lime Company factory that blows cement powder across Darra on windy days and covers our rambling home’s sky-blue fibro walls with dust…

The plot and characters are well-developed.

From the first page you’ll be put into the rollercoaster’s front seat which barely lets up until close to the end when you’ll wonder why you have palpitations in your chest. At times, you’re unsure whether you should laugh or cry or merely gasp at the almost farcical nature of the boy’s life, where you wonder if he can survive another distressing obstacle. Eli makes us see a different side to people we’d automatically dismiss.

“I love Slim because he truly loves August and me… I love him so much for convincing us that when Mum and Lyle are out for so long like they are at the movies and not, in fact, dealing heroin purchased from Vietnamese restaurateurs.

You just can’t help but fall in love with Eli and his brother, August. You’ll despise their arch enemies and hope like hell that there can be a better life for them both.

It is a wondrous book full of heart and soul. Get a copy, anyway you can.

Book Review: The Nowhere Child by Christian White


What would you do if you found out from a stranger that he suspects you are a missing girl, named Sammy, who may have been abducted when you were two from another country? This is the basic premise of a book which is full of suspense and twists right until the end.

Kim Leamy is the woman who has been approached and after initially brushing off the idea, she begins a quest into her family history. Her mother is already dead so she can’t ask her and the more she questions the more difficult it is to find logical answers. Her digging takes her to unexpected places with almost disastrous outcomes.

I’d heard a bit of hype and had actually seen the author talking about his debut novel at a couple of events and after reading it, I was not disappointed.

It’s much more than a kidnapping and whodunit story as the author explores trauma, cults and religious zealotry. The alternating stories between past and present was superbly done and as a reader we feel Kim’s gradual realisation,her confusion and pain.

I finished this one in two days so immersed was I in it. Highly recommend it.

Book Review: City of Crows by Chris Womersley

Set in 1673 France, Charlotte Picot grieves the death of her husband and with her only child Nicolas, she flees her small village to save him from the plague which sweeps across the country. Along the way, Nicolas is stolen from her and she is left for dead. Rescued by an old woman who brings her back from the brink of death, Charlotte continues her quest to find her son who she fears has been taken to Paris to be sold. Along the way, she meets Lesage, recently freed from jail and together they begin a journey filled with fear, rogues and superstition.

‘Grief was an unpredictable burden for a woman; it killed or deranged some, yet made warriors of others.’

This novel is beautifully written and is the second of this author’s novels I’ve read. Like his earlier novel, Cairo, this one is hard to put down. The language is evocative and the descriptions put you into a place so full of hardship, we’re grateful to have been born in a different time. I loved the idea that ignorance and lack of education heightened Charlotte and Lesage’s superstitions of sorcery and magic for explanation of events which today, with the knowledge of science, would be easily explained. Witches, sought after for many things were revered and feared.

‘Monsieur Maigret placed the skull back on the shelf. “You know, they are hanging Justine Gallant and Monsieur Olivier at Place de Greve tonight. For murder. Witchcraft. They say they tried to summon the Devil himself.”‘

It is also a story of a woman’s grief for her family and her sheer desperation to do whatever she has to do to get her son back despite the consequences. What she does towards the end is shocking and takes your breath away and there is quite a bit of controversy over the ending. All in all an enjoyable and engaging read.

Do you judge a book by its cover?



When I was flying back to Melbourne a few weeks ago from Sydney, I sat next to a bookseller. We chatted about all sorts of books and found our opinions rarely differed on books we’d read. I was interested to know how she chose books to read. In a lowered voice she admitted to often choosing a book because of its cover. Gasp!!

It made me think about my own choices. I  tend to choose books because of reviews or word of mouth recommendations or the back cover blurb. However, I admit that I do like the look of a cover and while I sit here contemplating my book shelf my eye unashamedly drifts to the spine with the brightest cover which happens to be the Museum of Modern Love. I didn’t buy it because I loved the cover, I chose it because it had won the Stella Prize in 2017. Yet it’s cover is hypnotically enticing. The geometric shapes and dominant red colour draws the eye. I probably would have bought it without the award because it stood out.

Let’s face it. A good cover is a sales tool, like the dress in the window of a shop. If it looks good, you’re enticed to check it out. So all the hype and advice around getting yourself a good cover is correct.

When looking at my own publications I confess to agonising over the cover but as a writer careful with her newborn, I can’t always see if the cover is actually any good. Feedback is always positive because no-one wants to tell you that your baby is ugly, do they?

For A Perfect Stone, I have had a lot of positive feedback about the cover and quite unsolicited so perhaps I am on the right track. I am proud of the cover by Jonny Lynch (https://jonnylynchgraphics.wixsite.com/media) who I think did a great job for his first ever book cover venture. He was extremely patient, understanding and listened to my vision which is particularly important for a cover designer. Hopefully it will be the first of many for him. And if you like it, visit his webpage.

So it’s confession time, do covers make a difference to you?

Behind the Pen with S.C. Karakaltsas

I was lucky enough to be Theresa Smith’s guest where I talk about insights into my writing process and of course my new release, A Perfect Stone.

Theresa Smith Writes

Welcome to Behind the Pen. Today my guest is S.C. Karakaltsas, here to share some insight into her writing process along with the details of her forthcoming novel, A Perfect Stone. Over to you Sylvia!


When did you start writing and what was the catalyst?

author pic745116330..jpgI spent many years in the corporate world before I accidentally discovered writing in 2014. I say it was an accident because I’d never set out with an intention to write. It hadn’t been a childhood dream or a lifelong goal. After my father passed away, I found a bunch of letters he’d written as a young man to my grandmother when he went to work on a phosphate island in the middle of the Pacific in 1948.

I began typing the letters to preserve them for the family. But as I typed, a story began to unfold as he mentioned snippets about labour unrest…

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Something to Say: S.C. Karakaltsas

A Perfect Stone is out today. Check out the interview where I talk about my new release.

Clare Rhoden

Today I’m pleased to host S.C. Karakaltsas on Something to Say, an occasional blog series in which I chat with creatives who have a timely event or launch to talk about.

S.C. Karakaltsas is the author of two historical fiction novels, Climbing theCoconut Tree, and A Perfect Stone. Sylvia has also written a contemporary short story collection, Out of Nowhere. She has received awards for two of her short stories and has work published in the Lane Cove Literary Awards Anthology and Monash Writers Anthology. In her spare time, Sylvia also blogs and reviews many amazing books at https://sckarakaltsas.com/

Welcome to STS Sylvia. What project are you talking about today?

Thanks for having me. My current project is my new novel called A Perfect Stone.

author pic

A Perfect Stone is set for release today, I see. Congratulations! Is there one aspect of the novel that you relate to most…

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Book Review: What the Light Reveals by Mick McCoy

Military secrets, spying for the Russians, fear and discrimination for your beliefs – this is an intriguing tale about what a communist’s life was like in fifties Melbourne. Conrad and Ruby, members of the communist party with one adopted son and another on the way are treated as outcasts after Conrad is falsely accused of spying for the Russians. Watched by ASIO, unemployed and their reputation in tatters they are forced to flee Australia to live in Russia.

The story diverges into not just about life in Russia but what happens to a family with secrets who never feel they belong in their adopted country and where every movement is under scrutiny. But this book is so much more than that. The characters are well developed as we are privy to the points of view from Conrad, Ruby, Alex, (the elder and adopted son) and Peter, the biological son.

Fast forward to Russia in the early seventies and this is where the family almost implodes from secrets and lies and where their very survival is tested. Are the ideals held so closely while living in a Western country destroyed by the reality of living in a communist state?

 “In a sudden breathless cleft between sleep and wakefulness, in darkness, eyes wide, mouth open, she listened for the rumbling of the tanks, the gravel-crunch of soldiers boots, the whispered metallic click of rifles being readied to fire. Nothing. She waited for her heart to settle. Breath by breath she let go. “

They belong to neither country and the only thing they do have is each other. When tragedy strikes, we feel for each of them as they’re torn apart by distrust, anger and grief. Alex, whose path was set by his parents is bewildered and his vulnerability is touching as he comes to grips with what his future holds.

This is a wonderfully written novel inspired by the authors own aunt and uncle. He borrows a lot from them to give us an insight into two worlds. It’s not often that a reader gets to meet the author, to hear him speak of what he did over a fourteen-year time span to research, interview, and write a story. It surely is a labour of love.