Review: Searching for Charlotte by Kate Forsyth and Belinda Murrell

Title: Searching for Charlotte

Author: Kate Forsyth and Belinda Murrell

Published: 1st November 2020, National Library of Australia

Status: Read November 2020 courtesy Quikmark Media

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My Thoughts:

“We come from a family of marvellous storytellers….Our lives were enriched by their stories…”

In 1841, the first Australian children’s book titled ‘A Mother’s Offering To Her Children’ was published, its author, ‘A Lady Long Resident in NSW’. It wasn’t until 1980 that the book was correctly attributed to Charlotte Waring Atkinson (Barton), the great-great-great-great grandmother of bestselling authors Kate Forsyth, and her sister, Belinda Murrell.

For Kate and Belinda, who grew up listening to the stories of their ancestors adventures, both before and after their arrival in Australia, Charlotte was already a figure of fascination. To discover she was Australia’s first children’s author only increased their admiration for her, and inspired the sisters two year search for the truth of the life she lived.

Searching for Charlotte is a hybrid narrative, a historical biography but one that is inextricably blended with the folklore of the sisters family history, and their own journey of discovery. Only so many questions can be answered definitively with what remains of the past…records, letters, diary entries, all of which Kate and Belinda draw on, but to fill in the gaps the sisters take some liberties, some of which comes from the stories passed down through generations, some from the informed speculation of the two women.

I enjoyed the process of learning of Charlotte’s life, and her legacy, which includes a daughter who earned the distinction of being the first Australian born woman to have a novel published. It’s unsurprising then that Kate and Belinda take such pride in their relationship to Charlotte, who seems to have been an intelligent, spirited, and courageous woman who faced many challenges, particularly in the latter half of her life as the wife, and then widow, of James Atkinson in the NSW colony.

A narrative that reveals adventure, tragedy and triumph, country and culture, folklore and family, I found Searching For Charlotte to be an engaging and enlightening read.

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Available from NLA Publishing

Or your preferred retailer via Booko I Book Depository I Booktopia

Also by Kate Forsyth reviewed at Book’d Out

Review: Anti-Social: The Secret Diary of an Anti-Social Behaviour Officer by Nick Pettigrew

Title: Anti-Social: The Secret Diary of an Anti-Social Behaviour Officer

Author: Nick Pettigrew

Published: 23rd July 2020, Century

Status: Read November 2020 courtesy PenguinUK/ Netgalley

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My Thoughts:

I’d never heard of an Anti-Social Behaviour Officer before seeing this book, but I was intrigued by the existence of such an occupation. It turns out that in the UK, ASB officers are employed by various organisations to help manage and/or curb anti-social behaviour.

Anti-social behaviour is:

(a) conduct that has caused, or is likely to cause, harassment, alarm or distress to any person  (b) conduct capable of causing nuisance or annoyance to a person in relation to that person’s occupation of residential premises (c) conduct capable of causing housing-related nuisance or annoyance to any person 

Nick Pettigrew worked for a council managed organisation that provided low-cost housing for those in need for almost twenty years. As an ASB officer, his role was to investigate and take action regarding incidents of anti-social behaviour affecting the tenants in the approximately 3,000 properties he was responsible for.

Such incidents could vary widely, from complaints about noise, to teens hanging out in stairwells, from drug affected persons passed out in doorways, to concerns about domestic violence. Nick would investigate, and then decide on a course of action, which might mean doing nothing; or involving specific agencies like the police, mental health teams, or social workers. He might recommend the installation of CCTV, send a ‘cease and desist’ letter to a tenant, recommend an injunction via court action, or take steps towards eviction. Some incidents could be resolved swiftly, others could take months, or longer.

Presented in a diary format, with heavy use of black humour, Nick relates the events of his days over a period of about a year. The book includes tales of several of his clients that are variously heartbreaking, tragic, absurd, and infuriating, including a vulnerable woman manipulated by strangers into sharing her home with them, a schizophrenic with a crude vocabulary she wielded against her neighbours when she was off her meds, a man who considered carol singers to be an unruly gang, and an elderly Nazi paedophile who disclosed his predilections to his neighbours whenever he wanted to be rehoused.

Nick also writes of the increasing difficulties of his job in the face of UK ‘austerity’ policies that have affected the entire network of social services. With anti-social behaviour on the rise, the already under-funded, under-resourced, and under-valued agencies that serve the disenfranchised, are stretched thinner every year. Nick’s anger at this state of affairs is palpable, and entirely understandable.

It’s no wonder that in the role of an ASB officer, Nick’s own issues with anxiety and depression eventually worsened until he felt he had no choice but to resign. Describing lives plagued by poverty, trauma, mental illness, addiction, racism, loneliness, and family dysfunction, among other issues, Nick laments he grew weary of being able to do nothing but treat some of the symptoms of society’s ills, rather than affect real change.

Raw, honest, funny, and disturbing, Anti-Social is an insightful glimpse into the work of an ASB officer, and the lives of their clients.

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Available from Penguin UK

Or from your preferred retailer via HiveUK I Book Depository I Booko

Nonfiction November 2020 Week #3: Ask the Expert

This week is being hosted by Rennie @ WhatsNonfiction

Be The Expert/Ask the Expert/Become the Expert: Three ways to join in this week! You can either share 3 or more books on a single topic that you have read and can recommend (be the expert), you can put the call out for good nonfiction on a specific topic that you have been dying to read (ask the expert), or you can create your own list of books on a topic that you’d like to read (become the expert). 

I’m being a little cheeky today, but I need your help!

In 2021, I will be hosting the second year of the Nonfiction Reader Challenge. The challenge is pretty simple – select, read and review a book from any of 12 categories during the year. A book may be in print, electronic or audio format. There are three goals to select from: Nonfiction Nipper : Read 3 books, from any category: Nonfiction Nibbler : Read 6 books, from any category; Nonfiction Know-It-All : Read 12 books, one for each category

I have already selected eight of the category’s for next years challenge.

* Travel * Essay Collections * Self-Help * Published in 2021 * Biography * Disease * Oceanography * Hobbies

I’d like your help to choose four more, by selecting up to four of the topics you prefer in the poll below – even if you don’t plan on participating in the challenge!

I’d also really appreciate it if you shared titles you would recommend for any of the category’s in the comments. Perhaps you have read a fascinating biography, or a useful self-help book, or a thought-provoking collection of essays, that I can then recommend to challenge participants when the challenge is launched!

I don’t want you to go away empty handed though so here are six nonfiction titles being released in 2021 that fall into one of the above category’s.


AusReading Month 2020: Anticipation

In it’s 8th year, AusReading Month is hosted by Brona’s Books. This year the posting themes are Celebration, Anticipation and Promotion.

You can read my Celebration post by clicking here

Anticipation

What do you hope/plan to read for AusReadingMonth 2020 and into the following year? What’s lurking on your TBR pile?

What I plan to read this month…

{Click the cover to learn more}




I only have a handful of books on my schedule for next month so far…



But I have three books I must read next month to finish off challenges…

I’m sure I’ll add a few more before the end of the year!

Review: The Naked Farmer by Ben Brooksby

Title: The Naked Farmer

Author: Ben Brooksby

Published: 27th October 2020, Macmillan Australia

Status: Read November 2020 courtesy PanMacmillan Australia

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My Thoughts:

Founded by Ben Brooksby on May the 12th 2017, what started as an Instagram photo posted in fun, has developed into The Naked Farmer, a worldwide social media movement aimed at breaking down the barriers, and starting conversations, about mental health, particularly amongst farmers.

Ben, a 5th generation crop/sheep farmer from St Helens Plains in Western Victoria, Australia began experiencing panic attacks in his late teens. He fought hard to manage his anxiety, and when a photo of him in the back of a grain truck, naked, with a pile of lentils covering his sensitive bits, went viral, he was inspired to use his new found fame, to benefit the agricultural community.

“By using the liberating combination of nudity and farm work, the Naked Farmer is starting conversations about mental health across Australia because at the end of the day it’s easier to talk about what’s inside once someone has bared everything on the outside.”

The campaign began in earnest when Ben organised a photo shoot and then the publication of a calendar, with the help of photographer Emma Cross, using locals from his region. Ben and Emma then decided to go on tour to raise awareness of rural mental health, meet some of his social media followers, and encourage their participation in the project. It’s largely from that tour in 2019 that the stories in this book, The Naked Farmer, are drawn.

The Naked Farmer includes personal stories from around 40 men and women of all ages, from all over Australia. These are tales of hardship and trauma, but also resilience and hope, told with courage, and a wish to inspire others to share their story, and begin their own conversations. While the contributors are all involved in agriculture, their mental health is affected by varying issues, including anxiety, injury, illness, eating disorders, depression, financial strain, and grief, just like those in the wider community, so you don’t need to be a farmer, or to get naked, to benefit from this book. You needn’t be one of the 45% of Australians to be affected by mental illness either, this book provides insight into the lives of our nation’s farmers, and makes a connection between consumers and where their food and fibre comes from,

“Above all, The Naked Farmer is a conversation starter. The stories you’re about to read are from individuals around Australia who all have one thing in common: they’ve started their conversation. I hope this book inspires you to do the same.”

You can support The Naked Farmer campaign by following them on Instagram or Facebook, or by purchasing this book, the annual calendar (2021 is available now), or making a tax deductible donation. As a non-profit organisation, all monies raised are donated to the Royal Flying Doctor Service Mental Health Unit, who have dedicated mental health professionals that visit remote towns and properties to provide treatment and support, as well as education about mental health issues for individuals and communities in rural and remote areas of Australia. And you can start a conversation…

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Available from PanMacmillan Australia

Or from your preferred retailer via Booko I Booktopia I Book Depository

Review: Truths from an Unreliable Witness by Fiona O’Loughlin

Title: Truths From an Unreliable Witness: Finding laughter in the darkest places

Author: Fiona O’Loughlin

Published: 27th October 2020, Hachette Australia

Status: Read November 2020 courtesy Hachette Australia

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My Thoughts:

When I read Fiona O’Loughlin’s first book, Me of the Never Never in 2012, it was as a fan of her comedy routines. I knew very little about her life other than what I’d gleaned from her stand-up, I just knew she made me laugh. I enjoyed the memoir which largely focused on her childhood, and her life as a young wife and mother of five in Australia’s outback. I remember her having recently admitted to her alcoholism, and writing about staying sober, I remember being glad for her, but now I know it was all a lie.

I didn’t really notice that over the next few years Fiona slowly seemed to disappear from the Australian comedy scene. Had I given it a passing thought I likely just assumed that she was busy doing stuff that didn’t make it on to my radar. I wouldn’t have guessed at the hell she was slipping into.

Truths From an Unreliable Witness is a raw, candid account of Fiona’s battle with alcoholism, her repeated failures to curb her addiction over the last decade or so which lead to the end of her marriage, and very nearly her career, multiple stints in rehab facilities, penury, a flirtation with meth, pills, a suicide attempt, and a coma. Fiona makes it clear that her perspective of these events is skewed by her addiction, that her memory is not always reliable, that some details are lost forever to black-outs, but this is the truth she has, and is willing to share.

I missed whatever reporting there may have been on her spectacular fall from grace so all of this came as a surprise to me. I don’t watch “I’m A Celebrity…” on which Fiona appeared in 2018 in the hopes of reviving her career, and won, despite a relapse which led her to drink hand sanitiser stolen from the production crew. It wasn’t her last relapse either, she has experienced several more since, though she now claims she has been sober for almost a year. Alcoholism is a battle never really won. Fiona it seems has come to terms with this, promising not that she is cured, but that she does her best every day not to give in to her addiction.

Fiona hopes that Truths From an Unreliable Witness will be a light in the dark, for others, and herself. Moving, confronting, and powerful I hope it will too.

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Available from Hachette Australia

Or from your preferred retailer via Booko I Book Depository

Nonfiction November 2020 Week #2 – Book Pairing

This week of #NonFicNov is hosted by Julz of JulzReads

This week, pair up a nonfiction book with a fiction title. It can be a “If you loved this book, read this!” or just two titles that you think would go well together. Maybe it’s a historical novel and you’d like to get the real history by reading a nonfiction version of the story.

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I’ve decided to pair some of the fiction releases I’ve read over the past year or so with nonfiction titles that would provide further reading on its subject or theme.

I loved Code Name Helene by Ariel Lawson which is a fictitious account, based on true events, of Nancy Wake’s role as a spy in German occupied France during World War Two. She was an extraordinary woman, and I was stunned to learn she was an Australian. I’ve since discovered there are several nonfiction biography’s about Nancy Wake available, one of which was published in 2019, Nancy Wake : World War Two’s Most Rebellious Spy by Russell Braddon. I’d also like to read Nancy Wake’s autobiography, The White Mouse, but unfortunately it’s out of print.

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In Liz Moore’s Long Bright River, police officer Mickey (Michaela) Fitzgerald patrols the decaying neighbourhoods of Philadelphia where the opioid crisis is taking an increasing toll on its residents, always keeping a look out, among the prostitutes on the sidewalks and the drug addicts slumped in doorways, for her younger sister, Kacey. Much has been written on the opioid crisis plaguing America, I like that American Epidemic: Reporting from the Front Lines of the Opioid Crisis by John McMillian presents a collection of articles and essays from American newspapers that examines the issue from multiple perspectives.

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The Exiles is the story of a young British governess sentenced to fourteen years transportation to the Australian penal colony of Van Diemen’s Land (Tasmania) in 1840. If you enjoyed the novel and are interested in experience of female convicts who were sent to Australia, I strongly recommend A Cargo of Women: Susannah Watson and the Convicts of the Princess Royal by Babette Smith. It’s a touch dry but still a fascinating account that illuminates the lives of 99 women of all ages transported in 1822.

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Away With the Penguins (published in America as How the Penguins Saved Veronica) by Hazel Prior is a charming tale of a brusque, eccentric, and wealthy old woman who impulsively decides to spend time at a Penguin research project in Antarctica. In My Penguin Year: Living with the Emperors, award-winning wildlife cameraman Lindsay McCrae chronicles the 337 days he spent with 11,000 emperor penguins in Antarctica.

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The Night Letters by Denise Leith is the story of an Australian woman doctor who takes a position as a GP in a practice in Kabul, several years after the withdrawal of the Taliban. Written by an Australian woman who herself spent several years in Kabul, it’s a small window into the everyday events of a city, and a people, few have an understanding of outside of news reports about the war and terrorism. I’m interested in reading another perspective on Kabul, and Shadow City: A Woman Walks Kabul by Taran N. Khan sounds intriguing. Taran is an Indian Muslim who spent several years in Kabul with her husband, at about the same time period as Leith’s protagonist. Her view of everyday life in the city is formed by exploring Kabul on foot, and seems as if it may present a more comprehensive perspective of the city.

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My Nonfiction November so far…

Nonfiction November 2020: Week #1

Review: Dr Karl’s Surfing Through Science by Dr Karl

Review: The Book Collectors of Daraya by Delphine Minoui

2020 Nonfiction Reader Challenge: Monthly Spotlight #9


I’m delighted with the response to the inaugural Nonfiction Reader Challenge, and I hope you’ll join me again next year…you will be able to sign up for 2021 near the end of this month.

I’d welcome your suggestions for next year’s category’s, please comment below!

If you hadn’t yet noticed, I’ve created a permanent page for the challenge, you can CLICK HERE, or select the menu link at top left.

The Linky to add your review to can be found there. This new link will remain active for the rest for the year’s submissions. Look for the text in orange, or CLICK HERE

On the first Saturday of each month, I highlight a handful of Linky submissions, but I encourage you to support all participants who have shared what they have been reading for the challenge. Give them a like, leave them a comment, share their posts on twitter, Facebook or instagram #2020ReadNonFic

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In October …

Carol from ReadingLadies writes “Overall, The Salt Path is an inspiring, realistic, dramatic, and well-written memoir. Fans of extreme hiking and outdoor enthusiasts will especially enjoy the story. Readers who live in the area and who have had an opportunity to walk part of the trail will certainly appreciate it!”

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“Hidden Valley Road is an outstanding book and should easily make my year-end list of favorite nonfiction. Please consider it highly recommended.”, writes Maphead’s Book Blog

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Of Anti Racist Ally by Sophie Williams, DeniseNewtonWrites states, “This is literally a pocket sized book. Don’t let its diminutive size fool you, though. At a time when painful truths about racism in the past and the present are being confronted world-wide, Anti Racist Ally gives some sound advice for anyone who wants to be able to do more than watch #BlackLivesMatter protests on TV news or bemoan the shocking rates of Black deaths in custody.”

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Have you completed your challenge goal?

Please share your link to the COMPLETED challenge Linky HERE (look for the green text) or CLICK HERE

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I’m currently participating in Nonfiction November hosted by Hosted by DoingDeweyDecimal, JulzReads, What’s NonFiction, and Shelf Aware. You can learn more about it HERE , it may be just the motivation you need to meet your Nonfiction Reader Challenge goal!

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What will you be reading in November?

Click here to see what else other participants have been reading!

In case you missed it….

2020 Nonfiction Reader Challenge: Monthly Spotlight #8

2020 Nonfiction Reader Challenge: Monthly Spotlight #7

2020 Nonfiction Reader Challenge: Monthly Spotlight #6

2020 Nonfiction Reader Challenge: Monthly Spotlight #5

2020 Nonfiction Reader Challenge: Monthly Spotlight #4

2020 Nonfiction Reader Challenge: Monthly Spotlight #3

2020 Nonfiction Reader Challenge: Monthly Spotlight #2

2020 Nonfiction Reader Challenge: Monthly Spotlight #1

2020 Nonfiction Reader Challenge Recommendations Part 1 #Memoir #DisasterEvent #Social Science #Related to An Occupation

2020 Nonfiction Reader Challenge Recommendations Part 2 #History #Feminism #Psychology #Social Science

2020 Nonfiction Reader Challenge Recommendations Part 3 #Nature #True Crime #Science #Published in 2020

Review: The Book Collectors of Daraya by Delphine Minoui

Title: The Book Collectors of Daraya

Author: Delphine Minoui (Translated by Lara Vergnaud)

Published: 27th October 2020, Picador

Status: Read November 2020 courtesy PanMacmillan Australia

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My Thoughts:

It was a caption under the photograph of two young Syrian men browsing the shelves of a library that piqued the interest of Delphine Minoui, an award winning French journalist – ‘The Secret Library of Daraya’.

Curious as to how a library could operate in a place like Daraya, but unable to travel to Syria due to the region’s instability, Delphine reached out and made contact with one of the young men in the photo via Skype. Twenty three year old Ahmed was born in Daraya, and remained even after his family fled, determined to document the devastation and support the rebels. One afternoon he was called to help a group carrying books from a deserted, bombed out home, an idea that first struck him as absurd in the middle of a war zone. Yet from the moment he picked up his first book he was struck by what it represented – freedom. As the collection of scavenged tomes grew, a room was found for them in a basement, and the Secret Library of Daraya was born.

Daraya is a suburb on the outskirts of Damascus. Declared a hotbed of terrorists by Syria’s ruler Bashar al-Assad for daring to peacefully protest his dictatorship, it was placed under siege and ringed with with his forces in 2011. I have to admit to having very little understanding of the conflict in Syria, so I appreciated that Minoui explains the events that led to Daraya’s position and the steady escalation that saw the suburb attacked with missiles, bombs, and even chemical weapons, including sarin and Napalm.

Delphine has written The Book Collectors of Daraya by speaking with Ahmed, and his friends through an unreliable internet connection via Skype and WhatsApp. Initially her focus is on the library; how it came to be, which books are popular, and what it means to the residents of Daraya. It’s a delight to hear how the library and its books provides a refuge and haven from the devastation on their doorstep, how it provides a respite of normalcy, and brings people together. Non-readers become readers, free to choose something other than propaganda, soldiers take books with them to the frontline to read, trade, and discuss, in between wielding their Kalashnikovs.

Unsurprisingly the miracle of the library does take somewhat of a backseat as Delphine learns of the daily hardships and horrors faced by the suburb’s residents. It’s a harrowing tale of danger, deprivation, and starvation as the siege drags on for more than five years. Not content to reduce Daraya to rubble, the Syrian dictator stops any attempts to provide food or essentials, determined to quash the rebels.

There is a little repetition in the narrative of The Book Collectors of Daraya, but I found it well written and readable. Minoui adds a personal perspective, sharing her experience of terror attacks in her home of Istanbul, and in Paris, and freely admits her bias. I think she treats those she speaks with sensitively, and it’s clear she believes that it’s important their story is told. I particularly appreciated the inclusion of photographs that show the library, the men whom Delphine introduces us to, and the streets of Daraya.

The Book Collectors of Daraya is as much about the Syrian civil war, and particularly the experience of the young men who established the library, as it is the library itself. Simultaneously heartbreaking and uplifting, this book speaks of grief, and courage, of resilience, of humanity, and the power of books.

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Available from PanMacmillan Australia

Or from your preferred retailer via Booko I Book Depository I HiveUK

Review: Dr. Karl’s Surfing Through Science by Dr Karl Kruszelnicki


Title: Dr Karl’s Surfing Through Science

Author: Dr Karl Kruszelnicki

Published: 29th October 2020, ABC Books

Status: Read November 2020 courtesy BFredericksPR

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My Thoughts:

Few a Australians would be unfamiliar with the multi-talented and slightly eccentric, enthusiastic champion of science, Dr Karl Kruszelnicki. With degrees in Physics and Maths, Biomedical Engineering, Medicine, and Surgery, he is a media host, an author of over 30 books, and a Fellow at UTS.

Dr Karl’s Surfing Through Science is an informative, and entertaining, exploration of specific subjects within varied branches of science. With topics ranging from Coffee-Grinding the Perfect Cup, to Past Plagues and Coronavirus, from Black Holes Have No Size, to The Amazing Disappearing Anus, there is truly something for everyone.

Dr Karl’s enthusiasm for the subjects comes across, as does his ‘dad’ sense of humour, but without compromising the information. The text is well presented, providing concise explanation and details, with the minimum use of jargon. Sub headings help with organisation, and inset columns offer additional but still relevant information. The accompanying images and illustrations are clear and relevant. I found the large format paperback easy to handle, and the pages are a pleasing thickness.

Not content to wow his readers with science fact, Dr Karl has introduced science fiction into his latest book. By downloading an app and hovering over the title pages of each topic with a smartphone or tablet, a ‘hologram’ of Dr Karl appears and talks about some of the chapter’s key ideas. It’s a fun and unique element of the book that will especially appeal to primary school aged children. Question marks also appear on the screen, and tapping them leads to additional relevant information online, which will benefit teens or adults interested in further detail (I’ve included a short demonstration video below). This clever feature also allows Dr Karl to provides updates on the information in the book, if necessary. The only downside, as such, to the augmented reality feature is that it does require an internet connection and an up-to-date Apple or Android device (with minimum OS requirements) to access these interactive elements, though the book is perfectly useful and entertaining without it.

Dr Karl’s Surfing Through Science would be a stellar gift for a budding scientist, or really anyone with a curious mind who might wonder are Murder Hornets – Lethal But Tasty?

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Available from ABC Books and HarperCollins Australia

Or from your preferred retailer via Booko I Book Depository

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