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?

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.

Book Review: The Last of the Bonegilla Girls by Victoria Purman


Can you picture being in a camp cramped with thousands of migrants hoping for a new life after living through the worst hardship and mayhem in your own country? Bonegilla Migrant Camp near Albury, Australia was one such place which temporarily housed thousands of migrants from all walks of life from Europe and Britain. Each of these migrants came to Australia for a new start in life – for a better life.

Put four sixteen-year-old girls together from different racial backgrounds and a life-long friendship develops. There is Elizabeta from Hungary, Vasiliki from Greece, Iliana from Italy and Frances, the Australian girl whose father is the Camp director. The reader is taken through an epic journey learning about each girl and their families through their eyes. While there are many characters, which could be overwhelming, it isn’t because the author gives us enough time with each one.

The girls grapple with their own problems not just because they’re migrants, but because they’re women in a conservative 1950’s Australia. Purman shines a light on a society where teenage pregnancies and hidden love because of racial, class or religious differences aren’t tolerated and where indiscretions are kept secret because the consequences are too traumatic.

The difficulties they face are many and in particular, the story of Elizabeta and her family is gut-wrenching. The exploration of mental health issues for migrants is explored in just enough detail for the reader to appreciate the generational impact. The racism of being a “New Australian” is very real, and this book provides an understanding of what being new to a country is like, serving as a reminder for tolerance and empathy for today’s new migrants.

This was a big undertaking for the author as we’re taken into the sixties, seventies and eighties. The reunions with the girls as grown women with their own families provides a picture of what’s happened to them. The last part of the book skips years from 1994- 2018 and I yearned to know more. Does Frances finally get her happy ever after? We’re left to join the dots. But isn’t the job of the author to leave us with our imagination? Reaching the end, I was glad the story of each girl wasn’t wrapped up in a bow with a Hollywood ending because life really isn’t like that.

This is an enjoyable and well-written historical novel with tragedy, love and friendship in a harsh landscape where the only option is hard work and survival. According to the author, “One in twenty Australians have links to Bonegilla”, so you too might have a connection. Who knows?

My 2018 Reading Progress


In a post earlier this year (https://sckarakaltsas.com/2018/01/05/my-reading-list-for-2018/) , I listed 18 books I wanted to read by the end 2018. I’ve read ten from my original list so far, but somehow seem to have added many more along the way . Check out the list below of the additional books I’ve read so far.

I joined the Goodreads Challenge for the first time this year and what a difference adding a target has made to my reading. I set myself a challenge of 24 books which was conservative as I’d read 27 in 2017. I’m up to 28 now and will now doubt crash through the 30 barrier. It might seem a lot to read but I’ve been astounded that the average Goodreads Challenger has pledged to read 55 books and I’m a long way from that.

I’ve also tried to review most of the books I read although it hasn’t been possible for each one. When looking at my list so far, I was startled to see so many books by Australian authors (fourteen) but then, it’s hardly surprising as Australian authors are producing incredible work. If you don’t believe me check some out for yourself.

  1. The Sister’s Song by Louise Allan (Aus)
  2. What Was Left by Eleanor Limprecht (Aus)
  3. Castle of Dreams by Elise McCune (Aus)
  4. The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris (Aus)
  5. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Attwood
  6. The Rules of Backyard Croquet by Sunni Overend (Aus)
  7. Movemind by Robert New (Aus)
  8. The Passengers by Eleanor Limprecht (Aus)
  9. The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart by Holly Ringland (Aus)
  10. The Jade Lily by Kirsty Manning (Aus)
  11. Watching Glass Shatter by James J Cudney
  12. Resurrection Bay by Emma Viskic (Aus)
  13. The Unfortunate Pilgrim by Mario Puzo
  14. The Lion by Saroo Brierley (Aus)
  15. The Bridge by Enza Gandolfo (Aus)
  16. Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman
  17. First Person by Richard Flanagan (Aus)
  18. The Last of the Bonegilla Girls by Victoria Purman (Aus)

Do you have any you’d like to recommend?