BOOK REVIEW: My Sister Rosa by Justine Larbalestier (Review by Sarah McDuling)


Review by Sarah McDuling

Oh boy. This book scared me silly, in the best possible way. A tightly written psychological thriller, My Sister Rosa combines compelling characterisation with an expertly paced plot and an atmosphere fraught with tension. The result is a chilling page-turner that will leave your emotions tied up in knots.

Che’s 10-year-old sister Rosa isn’t like other little girls. She doesn’t understand concepts like right and wrong, or good and bad. She is very intelligent, frighteningly manipulative and wholly lacking in empathy. She’s a psychopath.

Che’s parents are blind to Rosa’s real nature and don’t believe him when he tries to make them see the truth. And so it’s left up to Che to be his sister’s keeper. He watches over Rosa, monitoring her actions, trying his best to control her behaviour and teach her how to act normal and fit in.

But Rosa doesn’t like being controlled and when the family relocates to New York, suddenly Che realises he might not be able to prevent Rosa from hurting someone …

Grab your SIGNED copy of My Sister Rosa here!

My Sister Rosa

by Justine Larbalestier

MySisterRosa_RCcvr.inddWhat if the most terrifying person you’d ever met was your ten-year old sister? A spine-chilling psychological thriller from one of Australia’s finest YA authors.

‘I promise,’ said Rosa. ‘I won’t kill and I won’t make anyone else kill.’

I can’t see the loophole. Since the guinea pig there’s been nothing. Months now without Rosa killing as much as a mosquito. As far as I know.

Che Taylor has four items on his list: 1. He wants to spar, not just train in the boxing gym. 2. He wants a girlfriend. 3. He wants to go home. 4. He wants to keep Rosa under control … Read More


Grab your SIGNED copy of My Sister Rosa here!


BOOK REVIEW: Geoffrey Blainey’s The Story of Australia’s People: The Rise and Fall of Ancient Australia (Review by Justin Cahill)

In his 1994 A Shorter History of Australia, Geoffrey Blainey confided that for “…many years I have been intermittently writing a very long and multi-sided book about Australia’s history, a book which I might never finish.” Coming from the doyen of Australian historians, this was exciting news. A single-author, inclusive and up-to-date account of our past is long over-due.

the-story-of-australia-s-peopleFast-forward over twenty years, and Blainey is still keeping us in suspense. But he has offered us something of what may be to come in The Story of Australia’s People: The Rise and Fall of Ancient Australia.

This work consists of revised versions of two of Blainey’s earlier books, Triumph of the Nomads, an account of Aboriginal Australia first published in 1975, and A Land Half Won, a history of European Australia up to 1850 first published in 1980. Blainey has updated these earlier works to accommodate several decades of new discoveries and scholarship.

He begins with one of the greatest, but least appreciated achievements of our species: how the Aborigines adapted to dramatic environmental change.

When they first arrived some 60,000 years ago, much of Australia was temperate. At Lake Mungo, for example, the landscape was covered in woodland and the lakes were full, providing the local people with a varied diet. But when the most recent ice age peaked about 20,000 to 18,000 years ago, the woodland began to die off and the lakes dried up. Within about 10,000 to 8000 years, it was a desert.

Blainey catalogues the impact of these changes on Aboriginal society. He dwells, for example, at length on infanticide and abortion as means of population control. How the Aborigines managed to survive these episodes of radical climate change have profound implications for us. Blainey does not engage directly with theories concerning the wider impact of population growth. Yet the experiences of the Aborigines appear to support Ester Boserup’s model of population and economic growth. It holds that the pressure exerted by a growing population on available resources is the spark that ignites technological development and economic change.


Geoffrey Blainey

That the Aborigines managed to continue supporting themselves through hunting, gathering, burning off and gardening over such a long period raises important social and economic questions. Did they consciously reject technological development? Put another way, did they believe the land provided them with enough and so they consciously spared it from further exploitation ? If so, what does this suggest about likely result of continuing on with the exploitative, destructive impacts of capitalism on the environment here ?

This question is raised by Blainey’s account of the early settlement of Sydney. After briefly rehearsing the well-worn arguments for why Britain established a colony here, Blainey poses perhaps a more fundamental question: why did Britain not abandon the colony when it was conspicuously failing ?

The Europeans who arrived on the First Fleet had no idea how to find or grow food in the new colony. By 1790, the stores they brought with them had begun to run out and they faced starvation. The arrival of the Second Fleet averted this. So the answer to Blainey’s question may be good luck rather than good management. But the key lesson was over-looked. Instead of learning from the Aborigines how to adapt to their new land, the Europeans sought to exploit it by imposing their own system of agriculture, clearing its forests and polluting its waterways – even the famous Tank Stream on which Sydney’s residents relied on for fresh water.

Over two hundred years later, these lessons remain unlearned. While many eagerly await Blainey’s long history, The Story of Australia’s People provides a thought-provoking introduction to how we must learn to live sustainably on the margins of a desert continent. And whether we will still be here in 60,000 years time.

3ef42bc8jpjc-e1397089423193Justin Cahill is a Sydney-based naturalist and historian. His publications include a biography of the ornithologist Alfred North and A New Life in our History, a history of the European settlement of Australia and New Zealand told from the perspective of ordinary people. He has also written on Chinese history, including the negotiations surrounding Britain’s acquisition of Hong Kong and its decolonisation in 1997.

Justin’s most recent publication is the first part of Epitome for Eleanor: A Short History of the Known Universe, written for children. His current projects include a natural history of Sydney’s Wolli Creek Valley.

He regularly contributes reviews to Booktopia.

Leigh Hobbs named Australian Children’s Laureate for 2016-2017!

Leigh Hobbs, best-selling author of the iconic Old Tom, Mr Chicken Goes to Paris and Horrible Harriet has today been announced as the Australian Children’s Laureate for 2016 – 2017.

Leigh Hobbs 2He will succeed the writer Jackie French, who concluded her role as Laureate at the end of 2015.

The Australian Children’s Laureate is an initiative developed by the Australian Children’s Literature Alliance (ACLA), a not-for-profit organisation founded in 2008. The Laureate’s role is to promote the importance of reading, creativity and story in the lives of young Australians.

The theme for Hobbs’s two-year term as Australian Children’s Laureate will be ‘to champion creative opportunities for children, and to highlight the essential role libraries play in nurturing our creative lives’.

‘Libraries have played an enormous role in my life’, Hobbs says. ‘Reading and exploring history and art is something I have been able to do because of libraries. I’m passionately interested in histories and cultures and I hope that through my work I can encourage children to explore and experience these things too.’

Leigh’s first public appearance as Laureate will be this Saturday 13th February at State Library Victoria’s Kids’ Big Book Spectacular, which includes workshops, a pop-up exhibition and storytelling in celebration of his contribution to children’s literature.

Check out all of Leigh Hobbs’ books at Booktopia!

Leigh Chicken

The Top 20 Most Lied About Books

Let’s be honest, we’ve all lied about something – about how often we floss, how much we weigh, or how our partner really looks in that outfit. But lying about which books we’ve read? Seems like it’s a thing.

A study of 2000 Brits commissioned by the BBC Store found that one in four fibbed about reading a classic when a TV adaptation of it was shown on TV. Why? Because they didn’t want to miss out on the conversation …and because they wanted to appear more intelligent –  for 60% of Brits also admitted that a well-read person appeared more attractive.

Children’s favourite Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll is the most fibbed about book, followed by George Orwell’s 1984 and J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy.

alice pic

While the TV series War and Peace might be the UK’s most popular new drama, only 9% of people have read the novel – but plenty more have lied about it. That brings it to number 4 on our most lied about book list.

Here are the BBC Store’s top 20 most lied about books. Which ones have you read?

The Top 20 Lied About Books

  1. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland – Lewis Carroll
  2. 1984 – George Orwell
  3. The Lord Of The Rings trilogy – J.R.R. Tolkien
  4. War and Peace – Leo Tolstoy
  5. Anna Karenina  – Leo Tolstoy
  6. The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes – Arthur Conan Doyle
  7. To Kill A Mockingbird – Harper Lee
  8. David Copperfield – Charles Dickens
  9. Crime and Punishment  – Fyodor Dostoyevsky
  10. Pride and Prejudice – Jane Austen
  11. Bleak House – Charles Dickens
  12. Harry Potter (series) – J.K. Rowling
  13. Great Expectations – Charles Dickens
  14. The Diary of Anne Frank – Anne Frank
  15. Oliver Twist – Charles Dickens
  16. Fifty Shades trilogy – E.L. James
  17. And Then There Were None – Agatha Christie
  18. The Great Gatsby – F. Scott Fitzgerald
  19. Catch 22 – Joseph Heller
  20. The Catcher In The Rye – J.D. Salinger

Would you like a book with that? McDonalds to give away 50 million books with Happy Meals in 2016

Fast food giant McDonalds will be trading action figures for literary heroes, giving away books with Happy Meals for a limited time.


McDonalds’ CEO Ronald McDonald

Kids in the US will receive either Bruce Hale’s Clark the Shark Takes Heart, Laura Numeroff and Felicia Bond’s Happy Valentine’s Day, Mouse! and Kimberly and James Dean’s Pete the Cat: Valentine’s Day Is Cool – and Michael Bond’s Paddington. They have been especially made to fit into the small Happy Meal boxes, and they will be available in Spanish in some restaurants.

McDonald’s will partner with HarperCollins and Reading Is Fundamental, the US’s largest children’s literacy non-profit organisation. Out of the 16 million children living in poverty in America, two-thirds have no books, according to RIF’s research. Almost 64% of fourth-graders in the country are at or below the basic reading level, according to 2015 data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress from the Department of Education; and more than 75% of those who are poor readers when they finish third grade end up falling behind in school.

McDonalds claims that it will have distributed more than 50m books to children by the end of the year through sales and donations, according to Carol H Rasco, president and CEO of RIF, who wrote that this is “enough to provide a book to every child in America under the age of 12”, she added.

Putting aside the fact that this means every child in America under the age of 12 eats McDonalds regularly, good stuff all round.

Browse from over 25,000 kids books in stock at Booktopia

BOOK REVIEW: Max by Sarah Cohen-Scali (Review by Emily Meredith)

maxReview by Emily Meredith

Max is a fascinating fictionalisation of a very real piece of World War II history.

The title character is the first child born in the Lebensborn program, a terrifying Nazi eugenics initiative to create perfect Aryan children. We are first introduced to Max before he is born, and he is already determined to be a perfect Nazi, with plans to be born on Hitler’s birthday.

Although it was a little strange to have the story narrated by a newborn, the content was so interesting that I didn’t really notice the oddity while I was immersed in the story. We follow Max from his birth until the end of the war, when he is almost seven.

Provocative and confronting, Max raised a plethora of important questions about human morality. It also highlighted the evils done to German women and children, as well as the Jewish and Polish populations, during WWII.

Grab your copy of Max here!


by Sarah Cohen-Scali

maxWhen you first meet Max it’s 1936, in Bavaria, and he’s still a baby inside his blonde, blue-eyed mother. Utterly indoctrinated in the Nazi ideology, Max will address you and tell you his story until 1945—his destiny as an exceptional being, the prototype of the ‘Lebensborn’ (Fountains of Life) program, designed to produce perfect specimens of the Aryan race to regenerate the Reich. But when Max meets Lukas, a young Polish boy who resembles him but who rebels against the Nazi system, cracks starts to appear in Max’s convictions…

Max is compulsive reading. Against all your instincts to despise what Max tells you, about his childish cruelty, his attempts to eliminate any aspect of weakness … Read More

Grab your copy of Max here!

BOOK REVIEW: Yellow by Megan Jacobson (Review by Sarah McDuling)

yellowReview by Sarah McDuling

Yellow is brilliant. Really. It’s one of those books that as soon as you finish it you want to read it all over again because it’s just that good.

Set in the late ’90s, in the time of Spice Girls and Friends, Yellow is the story of a girl called Kirra who lives in a small coastal town. Her charming yet useless father has left to shack up with another woman. Her mother is drowning her sorrows in a bottle. Neither of Kirra’s parents have any idea that she is being bullied at school and to make matters worse (not to mention pretty weird) Kirra has starting having conversations with a boy who has been dead for twenty years …

Despite the nostalgic ’90s setting and the ghostly flashbacks to the ’70s, Yellow is essentially a timeless story. It’s a story very much grounded in reality, touching on issues like alcoholism, depression and bullying, and yet it’s also a story with a supernatural subplot about a dead boy haunting a telephone booth. But more than anything else, Yellow is a story about growing up, figuring out who you are and who you want to be.

Part ghost story, part murder mystery, and part coming of age, Yellow is a stunning debut from an amazing new talent. After devouring this book in a single sitting, you can bet I will be eagerly waiting to see what Megan Jacobson does next.

Grab your copy of Yellow here!


by Megan Jacobson

yellowIf fourteen-year-old Kirra is having a mid-life crisis now then it doesn’t bode well for her life expectancy. Her so-called friends bully her, whatever semblance of a mother she had has been drowned at the bottom of a gin bottle ever since her dad left them for another woman, and now a teenage ghost is speaking to her through a broken phone booth.

Kirra and the ghost make a pact. She’ll prove who murdered him almost twenty years ago if he makes her popular, gets her parents back together, and he promises not to haunt her. Things aren’t so simple, however, and Kirra realises that people can be haunted in more ways than one.

Grab your copy of Yellow here!



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