Category Archives: humorous fiction

Somebody Stop Ivy Pocket – Caleb Krisp/illustrated by John Kelly





Imprint:Bloomsbury Child

June 2016

RRP $14.99

That irritating and insufferable Ivy, Child Blunder extraordinaire, is back with another hair and eyebrow raising adventure. Half dead and now living with a sinister and secretive pair of undertakers who purport to be her new ‘parents’, Ivy is on a mission to save her dead friend Rebecca becoming embroiled along the way in another mystery – the disappearance of a young man and his sweetheart. The return of the nefarious Miss Always is offset by the appearance of Ivy’s new ‘special friend’ Miss Carnage, a librarian of dubious antecedents and strangely theatrical appearance.

All of this plus dealing with the horrible Matilda, Lady Elizabeth and various other buffoons, not to mention being incarcerated in a local insane asylum keeps the unsquashable Ivy puzzling and plotting with her usual doubtful diplomacy and fallible finesse.

Between the constant harassment from Mother Snagsby to dust and clean and fetch and carry and the almost tender empathy from whisky slugging Mrs Dickens the cook, Ivy begins to detect that something is not quite right about her creepy funerary parents. There is especially something most odd about their insistence on her drinking warm milk which always seems to make her incredibly sleepy and reading death odes to people who are seemingly not ill enough to die – but who do!

As usual Ivy is sharp as a tack or at least an earthworm and with her astounding intellect ferrets out solutions to her endless problems – although fails miserably to remove that hideous wart from her new mother’s less-than-beautiful face.

Those readers with a taste for the Gothic side of humour and a secret sympathy for ghosts and ghouls will relish this second instalment of the irrepressible Ivy.

Highly recommended for crazy readers from around ten years upwards.


Goblin Mafia Wars [City of Monsters #2] – DC Green



Ford St Publishing

April 2016

ISBN 9781925272208

RRP $18.95

You would think that as a royal hume dude your life would be one of complete luxury not to mention stressfree. Think again! PT (Prince Thomas of Monstro City) and his Dead Gang friends are embroiled even deeper in nasty situations and deadly – or is that undeadly? – circumstances; their quest to find the eggs of the last dragon, Kalthazar,  as well as trying to avert complete goblin civil war and annihilation of all other species, thwarting the evil plans of the horrendous Dr Franken, removing the usurper Prince Robbie and just a few other issues.

Following the toxic altercation at Fire Mountain with the goblins’ attack and Kalthazar’s limping escape to the Isle of Giants, the Gang minus friend Zorg begin a trek which first of all sees them navigating through the Dead Zone. Yowsers! This is one extremely bogus territory where even monsters like the Dead Gang are in very real danger of being exterminated – not least of all by their erstwhile compadre Scarab, the super-strong mummy gal.  She’s kind of ticked off about Zorg and decides that PT in particular is totes responsible.

Surviving this and then a very unnerving train ride back to Monstro City, the Dead Gang faces yet more monstrous mayhem. While PT manages to conduct some very delicate negotiations– and some highly skilful bluffing – with the rival goblin factions (think Sopranos style goblins!), his plans are sabotaged by the appearance of a chocolate popcorn gobbling older/younger idiot savant (without the savant) brother Prince Robbie. Rumour has it he has been cryogenically preserved by famous Dr Franken for the past ten years and not in fact stolen by the Vampire Queen. Looks like vampiric Stoker is not PT’s brother after all – or is he?

And just what is Dr Franken’s dastardly involvement with the goblin factions and the mentally deranged Prince Robbie? How did he get that dragon egg? And what the web is with all those freaky arms? Trapped in small cages in the evil doctor’s ‘hospital’ things look grim for this grimmest – and often grimiest- of gangs, with no apparent hope of escape. Spoiler alert – yet they do along with an about-to-hatch dragon egg!

DC Green has provided readers with another rip-snorter yarn about these highly idiosyncratic monster teens who have their own methods of solving problems. Their combined abilities and wacky take on situations along with their staunch support of each other prove more than a match for their adversaries.

High humour rating and all the excitement of fast-paced action will prove yet again to be a winner with readers from around 12 and up.

If you missed the first volume you MUST go and get it! Can’t wait for the next instalment – write faster DC!

Oh and PS – completely buzzed about that quote on the back cover!!



Pugly Bakes a Cake – Pamela Butchart, illustrated by Gemma Correll





ISBN: 9780857635990

Publisher: Nosy Crow

Imprint: Nosy Crow

Pub Date: March 2016


I guess we all know that pugs are pretty cute (and pretty fashionable) right now. If I hadn’t got a toy poodle myself I probably would have got a pug – although my eccentric teaching colleague who had a wardrobe of outfits for hers and attended all the ‘pug parties’ in Brisbane at one time did kind of put me off a little.


Moving right along, newly independent readers are going to love this book. It’s a HOOT! Last night I read this aloud straight through to The Divine Miss M who is having a sleepover and she thought it was great! She was able to predict and infer as I read which was pretty impressive as well.

Pugly and his nemesis Clem (Clementine) the cat are rivals for the undivided attention of their owner Maddy who is eight years old.

Being a pug (no offence to pug owners), Pugly is not the sharpest knife in the drawer and Clem can very easily put it over him. Especially as Pugly’s only ally is Clive the fish – and Pugly doesn’t speak or understand fish-bubble.

Inspired Pugly decides he is going to the first dog to ever bake a cake and thus win paws down The Great British Bake Off, be on TV and meet the Queen (as you do when you’re famous). This plan will seal his status as Maddy’s favourite pet he is sure.

However, with Clem ‘advising’ him chaos reigns in the kitchen and elsewhere, as Pugly heeds all Clem’s ideas, goes mental at the Evil Squirrel outside on the fence and more.

This is a laugh a minute book and not only proved a terrific read aloud (took about half an hour or so) but perfect for those readers beginning their individual reading journeys. Lots of capitalised words and extra large fonts give them the opportunity to incorporate tone and expression into reading as well.

Get onto this one – it will be a great favourite with Year 1 to around Year 4 for sure!


Anyone But Ivy Pocket – Caleb Krisp




 Allen & Unwin Australia

Category:Children’s fiction



Imprint:Bloomsbury Child

Pub Date:February 2016

RRP $12.99


Caleb Krisp’s author bio from the publisher’s website should give you a pretty clear indication of the type of story to expect in this new series:


Caleb Krisp was raised by militant librarians who fed him a constant diet of nineteenth century literature and room temperature porridge. He graduated from the University of Sufferance with a degree in Whimsy and set out to make his mark in the world as a writer. Years of toil and failure followed, until, following a brief stint working in a locked box, Caleb moved to an abandoned cottage deep in the woods and devoted himself to writing about the adventures of a twelve-year-old lady’s maid of no importance. Caleb has a strong dislike of pastry chefs and certain domesticated rabbits. His only communication with the outside world is via morse code or kettle drum. He trusts no one.

Ivy Pocket is possibly the most maddening character you will ever encounter. She also creates mayhem wherever she appears. Though but a lowly maid of not very superior intellect, Ivy suffers from an insufferably inflated opinion of her own abilities.

As you lurch from one disaster to another in Ivy’s debut appearance, you begin to realise that there must be some kind of saving grace about anyone so completely and utterly inept, insensitive and impervious.

The story starts with Ivy being abandoned by her mistress in Paris – because of her overwhelming inadequacies as a maid.

Undeterred Ivy sets out to find her way back to England and lo! she is employed by an aging duchess to deliver a mysterious and valuable diamond to a young artistrocratic girl.

What follows is a comedy of errors but with an underlying sinister and spooky thread apparent to all but Ivy. Creepy little cowled creatures, a sneaky woman posing as a writer and also posing as a friend, a cold but efficient governess, a kindly solicitor, a completely bonkers upper class family and a rather unpleasant ghost all impact on Ivy’s mission.

To call Ivy a heroine seems slightly misguided but oddly enough despite all her irritating and often stupid habits and plans, she does emerge – indeed, survives – triumphantly.

Stay tuned for the continuing saga of Miss Ivy Pocket with the second instalment due out in May 2016.

An entertaining read which will appeal to those who enjoy the Lemony Snicket type of macabre but hilarious story.

Read more about the books here.

Be Frank With Me – Julia Claiborne Johnson



Allen & Unwin Australia




Pub Date:February 2016

RRP $27.99

As  you know, I don’t seem to get around to reading grown up books often but there was something about the blurb for this one that begged me to read and review it.

Thank you thank you A&U for allowing me the unmitigated pleasure of doing so! Charming, funny, poignant, realistic and with a cast of unforgettable characters, this has been an absolute joy for my night time reading of the past week.

The reclusive and reputedly eccentric author M.M. Banning has been shamefully victimised by a fraud which has left her penniless. Her literary fame which rests on a single perfect novel now studied in schools all over America burns as brightly as ever but the funds have dwindled desperately.

Banning’s publisher, Isaac Vargas, despatches his most able young assistant Alice Whitley from New York to the East Coast to monitor Banning’s progress with a promised new novel. Despite having not published a word since The Pitcher, Banning’s contract for this new book is her financial salvation but the progress is not without obstacles. Alice’s mission is not just to deliver reports on the book’s progress but to ‘manage’ both Banning’s domestic life and her nine year old son, Frank.   If M. M. Banning is considered eccentric then her son Frank has not only inherited her genetic makeup but taken oddity to a whole new level.

A nine year old boy addicted to old movies, with a remarkable intelligence and a wealth of trivia hoarded away in his brain, Frank dresses in a range of outfits that transform him from a mini Teddy Roosevelt to a Clarence Darrow with equal ease and completely lacks any awareness of social mores. Needless to say, this does not stand him in good stead with other fourth-graders and indeed, many adults are taken aback by Frank’s rather unnerving personality.

Alice’s initial surprise as this strange household assaults her senses gradually turns to an unconditional acceptance of Frank and she becomes to a huge extent a surrogate parent for him.

Throw into this mix, the devastatingly attractive Xander whose presence throws Frank into paroxysms of joy, has a soothing effect on Mimi (M.M.) and thoroughly unnerves Alice.

This book has so much to offer the reader in terms of pure joy but has also a great deal to say about our acceptance of others, and society’s definition of ‘normal’.

You will not be disappointed if you look out for this one. While primarily aimed at an adult audience there is nothing in this that would prohibit being a delightful addition to a secondary library for discerning readers.

Read an excerpt here and an author interview is below (Allen & Unwin Australia).

BE FRANK WITH ME is your first novel. Tell us something about how you came to write it at this stage in your life.
Julia Claiborne Johnson: If you’re asking me why it took me fifty years to decide to write a novel, I’ll tell you this – I was a late bloomer in every way imaginable. I never had a boyfriend until I was in my twenties, didn’t have a decent job until I was pushing thirty, didn’t have children until I was almost forty and had almost no common sense whatsoever until sometime after that. Though I had made my living as a writer for most of my life, I didn’t try my hand at a novel before because I didn’t think I had a story to tell that anybody would be interested in reading.

What changed?
JCJ: I got old. I had children. Those two things may not be unrelated. By the time I topped fifty, my perspective on everything changed. For example: When my daughter was in the 6th grade, she read To Kill a Mockingbird for school. She lost her copy almost immediately, so I had to buy a second one to make the first one turn up. I hadn’t read that book since I was around her age, so when the other copy resurfaced, I read it. Oh, I thought this time around, Boo Radley has some form of autism. When I read the same book almost forty years ago, I just thought Boo was weird. Because nobody knew better in those days.

In that moment, a lot of things clicked into place for me. I went to school with a monosyllabic loner named Edgar who combed his hair straight down across his forehead and wore the same bright yellow polyester plaid sport coat to school every day. Edgar, I realize now, must have been on the spectrum. Who knew? Poor Edgar was pursued and tormented for being different, not by me; but I never stuck up for him, either. I can remember wondering what kind of mother let her son go out into the world in that stupid jacket every day. Now I know the jacket probably wasn’t negotiable. Edgar’s mother was doing the best she could. She had to pick her battles, just like me and every other mother on earth, but on an epic scale. I imagine she lay awake every night, wondering where she’d gone wrong with Edgar, worrying herself sick about what would become of her child. It hurts me to think about that now. Though I might have argued with you about this in my twenties, I have come to know that there’s no heartbreak like the kind that comes seeing your children suffer. If I’d maimed only a few of the people I wanted to for causing either of my babies a moment’s unhappiness, I’d be in prison for life.

For some time after I finished re-reading To Kill a Mockingbird, I couldn’t stop thinking about Harper Lee and Boo. One afternoon I was walking down my block, turning all of it over in my head again, and I thought, I bet it was hard for Harper Lee to write Boo’s character, but not as hard as it was for Edgar’s mother to raise him.

By the time I walked up my front steps, a novel I wanted to read had unspooled itself, beginning to end. The irritating thing about wanting to read it was that I’d have to write it first. Even more annoying, the beginning-to-end I ended up with wasn’t exactly what I’d imagined when I started. I wish I could tell you it didn’t take me much longer to write my novel than it did for me to think the thing up, but I would be lying. That sucker took me six years to wrestle down onto the page.

In your book, Frank is never given any kind of diagnosis. Is that on purpose?
JCJ: Look, all of us are puzzles. I grew up in the South, and there are more nuts in my family that you’d find in a holiday box of pecan brittle. Then I lived in New York City for more than a decade, a place that’s Mecca for the willfully eccentric. In California, I came to know lots of adults who couldn’t tell you the color of my eyes if their lives depended on it, who recoiled if you touched them or went on a little too long about their pet obsessions. Vintage breadboxes, anybody? But these were people who had brilliant careers anyway.

That’s why I didn’t want to stick a pin in Frank and say, Here’s what’s going on with him. The end. I wanted Frank to represent all the brilliant oddballs, real and fictional, diagnosed and undiagnosed.

Talk to us about Frank’s outfits.
JCJ: When I was young I worked as a fashion writer for magazines in New York. You wouldn’t know it to look at me – then as now, I looked like somebody who dressed in the dark from a random pile of clothes on my bedroom floor. I was awestruck by the people in the fashion department. So what if some of them couldn’t spell the same word the same way three times in the same sentence? They looked amazing. What they did with clothes and accessories was nothing short of brilliant. From them, I learned a valuable lesson: Academic achievement is not the only benchmark of genius. In fact, it’s about as common as hen’s teeth, and almost as interesting.

I suppose I could have made Frank a math whiz or a pint-sized expert on the Punic Wars, but it seemed more fun to give him sartorial flair – a look that Alice describes as “a peacock in a barnyard full of chickens” – to establish him as a kid apart from all the typical grade-schoolers on a California playground. So I dressed Frank as if he found his outfits in a pile of clothes on the dressing room floor at Brooks Brothers. Back in my fashion-magazine days, our offices were over their flagship store in midtown, so I knew that old-school haberdashery look inside out. That became Frank’s Fred Astaire aesthetic.

One last thing I ought to mention: On our first big family trip to Manhattan, my own seven-year-old son begged me to buy him a tiny three-piece pin-striped suit he unearthed in a kid’s store around the corner from our hotel. Forget surfers. My little Californian saw all those men striding through midtown in their closed-toed shoes and beautiful wool suits as titans, girded for battle. He wanted to be one of them. That tiny three-piece ensemble turns up in Frank’s story as the E.F. Hutton suit.

How did you come up with the ideas for the characters?
JCJ: Well, Mimi had to be a writer, since the whole idea was showing how much harder it is to live a situation you’ve only imagined before. I decided she’d written a book based on her eccentric brother who she’d turned her back on when they were young because she didn’t feel like her brother was her responsibility. Then I gave her a son of her own, one with similar issues. She couldn’t abandon her son because he was all hers and she was all he had.

From there, I needed to introduce an outsider who’d gradually unravel everybody else’s story. Hence Alice. I made her like a younger version of Mimi as a source of conflict. I have found in life there is nothing more annoying than seeing your worst qualities mirrored in other people. Those are the people you can’t help despising, no matter how hard you try to cut them slack. My daughter explained those two another way:  “Alice is nice you, and Mimi is mean you.” I prefer thinking of them as energetic me and exhausted me, but my daughter has a point.

After that, I wanted somebody to be the rock in the sea of crazy, so that character became Mr. Vargas. Then I needed somebody to guide Alice through the shoals of the glass house and the Dream House, so Xander was born. In my mind, Xander is twinned with Frank. Frank has too much knowledge and very little savoir faire; Xander is too handsome and too charming and too willing to skate by on that. Xander has squandered his talents; Frank may never figure out how to put his to good use. Either outcome is heartbreaking to me.

What were you thinking of when you had Mimi move into a glass house?
JCJ: If you want a literal answer, when I came up with Mimi’s house, I was thinking of the Stahl house in Los Angeles. In the end, Mimi’s house didn’t look much like that one – hers is stone out front but transparent from every other angle. But LA is full of all these amazing glass houses – between all the pricey hillside and oceanfront real estate, there are lots of views to maximize. But a glass house, when you’re obsessed with privacy? Madness, with a heaping side of hubris. Mimi’s so caught up in the trappings of success that she doesn’t stop to think, Hey, those views go both ways. Of course, by the time Alice is on the scene, every window in the house has floor-to-ceiling curtains.

On the heavy-handed metaphorical level, I confess: I liked the idea of a house that lets you see inside a life more than you might otherwise, the way a book reveals what’s going on in a writer’s mind.

Los Angeles seems like the sixth major character in your book. Do you feel that way, too?
JCJ: I do. I’ve lived here longer than I’ve lived anyplace else – almost twenty years now – so on a practical level, it made sense to set Frank’s story here. But it’s more than that. Hollywood is the font of so much happiness in Frank’s life. It’s his Harvard and Yale and Oxford University all rolled into one. He uses them to learn how to be in a world where he feels shunned for his gifts. Movies are full of people who “know how to act.” Every time he watches a film, Frank gets a master class in the mannerisms of the actors pretending to be real people. Their conversations always play out the same way so there are never any surprises. This is enormously comforting to somebody like Frank, who goes through real life feeling like he never has his end of the script.

But I also think Los Angeles is just the sort of place Frank would pick to live in when he has to live someplace outside his head. Los Angeles is as varied and boundless as Frank’s imagination. Think about almost any place on earth, and the chances are pretty good that you can find some facsimile of it within a day’s drive of LA. A desert or a jungle, snow-capped mountains, the ocean, fake New York or Italy or Paris or Bavaria or the surface of the moon.  That’s what drew movie people here in the first place. That, and the fact that, Thomas Edison would send out flunkies to bust up your cameras if you tried to set up shop on the East Coast in violation of one of his thousand or so movie patents.

Why did you tell the story from Alice’s point of view? Why not Mimi’s, or Xander’s or Frank’s?
JCJ: Alice is the narrator because it is Alice who undergoes the most change in the “now” of the story. She arrives full of that Pollyanna attitude of hers, confident she’ll do a great job, with cheerfulness, efficiency and self-control. By the time she goes back to New York, she sees what an unpredictable mess life is. Her time in California has taught her that you can’t always control your elemental temper, children or other people any more than anybody controls an earthquake, floods or fire.

Why tell your story almost entirely in flashblacks?
JCJ: I’m not a deep thinker. I like my stories big. Tell me a big explosion of some kind is coming down the road, and I’m in.