back in 2020!


2018 saw Tom and I move to beautiful Melbourne, where I got way out of my comfort zone as an assistant manager (and sometimes interim manager!) of a LUSH Cosmetics store. It felt vaguely surreal not being a part of the book world in the way I was used to – knowing about all the launches, attending industry events, receiving advance copies of the up& coming hits. Somehow I survived, and threw myself into reading whatever caught my eye (even rereading some old favourites at times!)

I loved my LUSH job, though – my team were an amazing, wacky, empathetic and smart group of people, and the products & ethics of LUSH 100% have my heart. Even though Melbourne was incredible, Tom and I both missed our families so much and so at the end of 2019 we moved back to Sydney!

I’ve been thinking a lot about what I want to do and feel more in 2020, and a consistent theme is creating things and feeling inspired. One way I can make that happen is by writing again here – mostly about books, some new releases, some backlist reviews, and  there’s every chance I’ll write about my craft work* & favourite LUSH stuff at some point too.

So please stay tuned!

*the bookshelf in this picture is one of my proudest creations – it was a regular bookshelf until I covered it in pages from Baby-Sitter’s Club books (Super Special #1: BSC On Board & #7: Snowbound). It took such a long time and it makes me happy whenever I look at it.


Bit and pieces!

I wanted to do a brief post linking to two of the things I’ve worked on for Dymocks over the last little while – although this kind of thing isn’t part of my actual job, they have been  occasional interesting side quests along my day to day work.

I wrote this last September about YouTube stars who had books out, and I think since I wrote it several new YouTuber careers have risen and fallen (and I don’t think I was familiar with Vine at all back then). It was fun to research and write though, so even if it’s a bit outdated in June 2016, I’m still proud of it. Quick excerpt:

If your friends, siblings, or children are spending hours talking to their laptops, referring to spending time with others as “collabs”, or giving themselves bizarre “challenges” to complete on film — congratulations, you know an aspiring YouTube star. YouTube stars post videos on all topics, ranging from video games, makeup, to mental illness or even watching your own birth video with your mother (one of the latter from Tyler Oakley has over 3.5 million views). Many of these stars have branched out and are now releasing music, creating fashion lines, and some have even written books!

With the rise and rise of vlogging (video blogging) as a means of self-expression amongst teens and tweens, it can get overwhelming keeping track of the new breed of celebrities that are shaping today’s culture right from their own bedrooms.

Although we can’t list them all (a new star is emerging every day!), below we give you a primer on some of the biggest YouTube stars with books already out or books on the way.

Second thing I’d like to share is a podcast! In January this year, I was lucky enough to talk to Justine Larbalestier about her new novel My Sister Rosa for the Dymocks Podcast. This was a really enjoyable interview for me, as I’ve been a big fan of her work for a while, and had read My Sister Rosa over the course of a single evening (it was so tense I couldn’t put it down!). I’d met Justine at few events before recording this podcast and I think that helped me to not sound too nervous. I’m really pleased with how it came out, even though usually I cringe listening to a recording of myself. We discussed psychopathy, bad parents in her novel, the difficulty of depicting large friend groups in YA, upcoming books she’s excited about and a whole range of cool things.

Looking back through pieces I’ve worked on is a good motivation for me to keep writing, and I’m hoping to add more to my blog in the coming weeks.



Why Illuminae would be awesome to teach in high school

In my job, I get easy access to a huge amount of books. Most of that is young adult literature, and when I really like a YA novel I inevitably end up thinking about its potential as an English class text. Before I moved to Sydney, I taught at a selective high school for different blocks of time and subjects. Mostly English, but also Drama, Ancient History, Society& Culture (with one or two terrifying PE periods – I’m thankful no one got hurt!). The teachers I worked with were AMAZING people, both as educators and as general human beings, and at times the students had moments of intelligence and creativity that make me smile years down the track (they also had moments of being noisy and obnoxious, but that’s less important to remember).

(Below – essential staffroom equipment and the gorgeous view from my old desk)


I also spent about a year tutoring primary and high school students in English once I moved to Sydney. As an English teacher or tutor, you’re constantly on the lookout for texts that are new and interesting that have classroom potential. What you can teach is obviously very tied to the syllabus requirements, the particular culture of your school and the age of the students – and actually having the time to wade through new books, movies & articles can be a daunting task for an already time-pressed teacher. Every now and then I think to send a quick message to an old co-worker with suggestions of books I’ve read recently that could be useful in a classroom, but I haven’t been keeping track of these – I’d like to start now. An ongoing feature on this blog will be new & older/potentially overlooked books that I think could be useful to teachers – whether as set texts or even just to recommend to a student. I’m probably going to keep my notes fairly casual rather than specifically going into detail about which outcomes/etc would be addressed in studying a particular title. I’m also not doing books in any particular order at this point, it’s just what comes to mind first.

9781760113803Illuminae by Jay Kristoff & Amie Kaufman
Ok, it’s a large, heavy book and might be a tough sell for a class set of 30 but this would be such a fun novel to teach, even just a close study of an extract. You’ve got a fairly relatable high school breakup angle, along with the slightly less relateable but very exciting spaceship war going on, and the storytelling is done through so many different text types – interview transcripts, official reports, casualty lists, and more. Experiencing a story in this way can help students be more creative in their storytelling as they see a model of ‘showing, not telling’. The inclusion of propaganda and meaningful silences in the story can be a gateway to discussions of critical literacy and the essentially biased nature of history where the winners write the definitive accounts. It’s scifi that’s found a place with lots of people who don’t normally enjoy scifi (me, for one) and could potentially open up a teen to whole areas of literature they’ve not considered before.

The visual element of Illuminae is also a key factor in my enthusiasm for its use as a teaching tool. The different types of documents all look authentic and stand out from each other, and in the second half of the books a particular character’s thoughts are presented in artistic, striking ways that feel like they belong in a graphic novel (trying to do this without too many spoilers).

A really good interview with both authors can be found here, and I want to spotlight one particular point Kaufman makes about the balance of plot and form, for anyone concerned that the novelty of the format could overshadow the story.

Although you can’t separate out the story from the way we tell it in ILLUMINAE, we wanted to make sure that the characters had depth, that our plot had all the twists and turns, surprises and swoons and drama that you’d hope for in a book you love. We wanted the story to be good enough that even if it had been written in the conventional way, readers would love it—and then we wanted to meld it with the alternate format we’d chosen. So that meant really looking at every character arc and every inch of the plot, and making it stand up to the standards we’d set.

I’m not the only one who strongly feels that Kaufman and Kristoff most definitely succeeded in creating such a story – Illuminae received fantastic reviews. “Ambitious, heartbreaking, and out-of-this-world awesome” was one review’s closing line, and I’ve seen this sentiment echoed many times in real life, on blogs and Twitter since the book’s release last year. One review in  Publishers Weekly stated  “The more experimental sections may require extra effort on readers’ parts, but the result is worth it” which seems like a ringing endorsement for educational use in my view. The sequel, Gemina is coming out later this year, Brad Pitt’s production company is turning it into a movie and another series from the pair has just been announced, so the  reaction to Illuminae has been positive in a range of ways.

There are some seriously creepy horror elements & violence that would make Illuminae most appropriate in my opinion for senior students. I know there are many younger teens that can and should read this novel on their own, but if you’re teaching a novel in class it can be risky to assign anything too scary/adult (it’s all about knowing your students and your school’s philosophy around this kind of thing, really).  You can definitely find excerpts that would be safe for most high school classrooms, and if you haven’t read Illuminae yet, I highly recommend you do so.





Penny Pollard is my favourite


 On my blog, I want to talk about some of my favourite Aussie kids fiction – starting off here with Robin Klein, who I read and endlessly reread in primary school, high school and beyond (the children’s literature section of my uni library had a great selection). It wasn’t until I started to work at a bookstore in uni and grasped the concept of ‘out of print’ that I began collecting every Robin Klein book I could find at secondhand bookstores and charity shops, rather than assuming they’d forever be available to me at libraries. Robin Klein’s characters feel like a classic snapshot of a particular 80s, 90s and suburban Australia – and I always found the emotional journeys of her characters really honest. Penny Pollard, the first Robin Klein character I encountered, was a fierce and tough young girl whose determination to own all the horses/never wear a dress/beat up her nemesis Jason Taylor felt irreverent and often touching as she finds friends in unexpected places (but never Jason Taylor). The first book, Penny Pollard’s Diary, sees her reluctantly visit a retirement home as part of a school excursion, run off when she is supposed to be performing songs from The Sound of Music, and run into Edith Bettany, an equally prickly retirement home rebel who becomes a good friend. The books are almost a precursor to Diary of A Wimpy Kid/ Timmy Failure types of contemporary intermediate fiction as they combine blocks of text in letters, diary entries, articles etc with pictures (lots of horses) and cartoons.




From Penny Pollard’s Letters by Robin Klein, illustrated by Ann James

Penny’s adventures in later books involve being sent to stay with a stuffy aunt when her brother is born, teaching her geeky friend Alistair to stand up to bullies, travelling to Europe, attempting matchmaking, and being forced to act as flowergirl in a wedding. I loved reading about her projects, like trying to get the local stables to employ her, pitching (constantly rejected) articles for the local newspaper, and hammering several horseshoes into her ceiling to make it look like a horse had walked across it (she took a good chunk of paint and plaster out of the ceiling and her father was not thrilled). She wasn’t waiting for anyone’s permission to take on her many and varied projects, and never got really discouraged even after setbacks – this made her a fantastic role model to me, even though she had her faults (she was pretty rude sometimes and wasn’t too fussed on personal hygiene). I’m the first to admit they are a bit (a lot) dated with very old school slang and prices, but nothing that kids can’t figure out on their own.
They would be fun reads for most kids around 8-12. I didn’t share many of Penny’s interests like the outdoors and horses and I still LOVED these books. I’m so happy the first one has recently been reprinted by Hachette (I may have squeaked when I saw it in an order form and startled the lovely rep I was meeting with) although I do prefer the original A4 format, rather than the current smaller one (I understand why they’d change it though, the old formats would look pretty out of place alongside contemporary titles.)

To wrap things up I need to say that if you see Penny Pollard’s Guide to Modern Manners in the A4 format pretty please let me know asap so I can add it to my collection. She writes an advice column for her schoolmates and answers questions such as “What should I do if I open two identical duck-handled umbrellas at my birthday party?”* – some of her advice stuck with me throughout my life! It’s one that has eluded me on my search and I’d love to find it again.

* The answer is to be super grateful for both, say “How handy – I can keep one at home, and one in the family car!”



From Penny Pollard in Print by Robin Klein, illustrated by Ann James


best of #clairereads2015

Given there’s under 2 weeks left in 2015 I think it’s safe to make the call on my favourite reads! I’ve kept a pretty close record of everything I’ve read this year which makes a round-up for the year a simple enough task.

These are all books I own (or am planning to buy once they are released) and will eagerly reread, along with their date of publication. The notes for each are minimally edited from my initial notes I took after I read each one. I’ll link to their Goodreads page so you can see a synopsis and more detailed reviews.

Young Adult Fiction

Clancy of the Undertow (2015)

Clancy’s family interactions felt real & relatable, her intense crush on a girl in her town painfully sweet and awkward. Clancy would probably be one of my favourite protagonists of 2015 as she deals with family trauma & slowly makes a friend or two.

My Sister Rosa (2016)

I read it in one evening- I was so excited for this one & it didn’t disappoint. It’s about a 17 year old boy with a sister who’s a straight up sociopath. A really full and interesting cast of characters along with a plot that you know isn’t going to end well for anyone but you cannot stop reading for a moment.

Illuminae (2015)

In a nutshell, this is about a huge sci fi battle along with an incredibly sweet love story, told through a collection of interviews, emails, chat logs and official documents. Had some particularly creepy moments and some touching ones. I enjoyed the creepy ones the best- there was some horror movie level stuff in here! It’s massive but isn’t as intimidating a read as it may seem as there are many pages with less than a paragraph of text, diagrams, etc. I think it’s my front runner for ‘book I liked way more than expected’ of 2015.  I was lucky enough to meet the authors for the Sydney launch and they were so nice. I’m thrilled at the success it’s had and news of a sequel & possible movie are very exciting.

Laurinda (2014)

Some sentences in this book were just so perfect I wanted to underline them like I was going to be writing an essay on it. Lucy juggles the demands of a prestigious school with her family responsibilities and emerging sense of self.

Code Name Verity (2012)

This one punched me in the feelings face. I usually shy away from historical fiction (unless it’s Sarah Waters) but I kept hearing about this one with the most glowing praise so I’m really glad I finally read it. Two friends communicate via letters and diary entries as we see what’s led to one of them being captured by the Germans in WWII.

Tiny Pretty Things (2015)

Pretty Little Liars level of intrigue and sociopathic behaviour in a prestigious American ballet school. I’m so excited a sequel is in the works.

All American Boys (2015)

Really good YA about racism, police brutality, realising privilege and dealing with the after effects of violence. It’s the kind of novel that feels complete even without a totally tied-up ending (even though I did want to know more about what happened after, it ended at an appropriate spot).

Dig Too Deep (2016)

Teen girl discovers her grandma in Appalachia is deathly sick and that the nearby mine that employs half the town could be to blame. It dealt with issues of poverty and class in nuanced ways, not shying away from gritty realities.

Cloudwish (2015)

Fiona Wood is amazing. I was initially skeptical about the ‘wish’ element but it all came together really nicely. Van Uoc was an outwardly quiet protagonist who seethes and shimmers internally, and following her journey was a highlight of a year filled with amazing Aussie YA.

Graphic Novel

This One Summer (2014)

This graphic novel is lovely, melancholy and straight up beautiful. A young teen’s summer at her family’s holiday spot where old friends, family tensions and alluringly dangerous older kids play central roles

Adult Fiction

Eligible (2016)

It’s a modern day reimagining of Pride & Prejudice set primarily in Cincinnati, by Curtis Sittenfeld. I was a bit worried it would seem too on the nose or like a high spirited parody at first but I got very invested. P&P is one of my favourite novels so I was prepared to either love or loathe it, I’m happy to say I loved it. For an adaptation of a novel I’ve read many many times, this was full of surprises.

The Natural Way of Things (2015)

Scary and intense and it stays with you. Charlotte Wood’s novel depicts several women taken prisoner in the unforgiving outback, seemingly punished for their role in various sex scandals.

Adult Non-Fiction

Bad Behaviour (2015)

Easily my favourite non-fiction of the year. Had to pace myself so I didn’t stay up all night reading it. The author is so brutally honest about her experiences and actions – I feel like I’ve lived through some of it along with her.

Wild (2012)

Cheryl Strayed’s gigantic hike was perplexing to me but reading about how she managed to accomplish it all fascinated me. The movie was enjoyable but the book with all its nitty gritty details about shoes and food and old guide books was hugely satisfying to me.

Into Thin Air (1997)

I still don’t understand why people do this but damn this was compelling. Jon Krakauer’s account of an Everest trip that claimed several lives.

Beneath the Surface (2015)

The fascinating journey of John Hargrove from idolizing Sea World orca trainers as a kid, to eventually becoming one, to his 2012 departure from Sea World and participation in the documentary Blackfish. I loved learning about the processes that run a place like SeaWorld (theme park obsession) as well as a deeper insight into the animal rights issue that’s shaping the SeaWorld debate today.

I do have 3 books that were my standouts: Bad Behaviour, Natural Way of Things & Illuminae. Three very different works that were my favourites of 2015.

So there you have it! I read a lot of great things this year, I’m massively grateful that my job’s allowed me to never run out of reading material. Logging my reading since the start of the year with a quick photo and one or two lines has been really helpful in keeping track of it all, and I’ll be continuing that habit in 2016.