Down Under Calling: Book Review


It’s always a treat to read a good kid’s book – whether it’s a picture book, a mid-grade or a young adult book, and it’s an even better, bigger and happier treat when the book is self-published and can stand as an example of what self-published books can and should be.  Margot Finke has been writing for kids for . . . well, a number of years. She has traditional publishing credits, has paid her writing dues, and her talent and mastery of her craft show up well in this self-published work that has just been released.

Down Under Calling is partly a series of letters between an Australian grandmother and her American grandson, part typical “mid-grade kid has a problem and needs to solve it” straightforwardly told story. But Margot melds the two threads seamlessly into a lovely tale of a grandmother and grandson getting to know each other through the medium of written communication. The story opens with Grandma Rose who lives in Deception Bay, Queensland, Australia rescuing a joey (baby kangaroo) after some dumb gits (stupid, thoughtless idiots) shoot its mother. While nursing the little creature, she receives a hand written and snail-mailed letter from her grandson, who lives in Portland, Oregon. He’s writing under duress. “Mom says I should write you a letter, so here it is.” But between the lines, Grandma Rose can hear his distress and unhappiness, and tries to interest him in something other than music downloads and computer games. She talks about the animals and birds that live in the bush behind her house and garden, and tells him stories about her childhood in mid-twentieth century Australia, long before computers and the internet. Shortly after the correspondence begins, she realizes how lonely she is, and how much she misses her daughter, son-in-law and grandson, whom she last saw as a toddler, when she returned to live in her native Australia.

For his part, Andy has to cope with a “downsized” and only recently re-employed father and with the consequences that long-term unemployment brings: debt and reduced circumstances. They’ve lost their lovely house and live in a squalid apartment block, they’ve lost their dog, since the rental doesn’t allow them, and in order to help clear the debts, Mom has to go out to work. He can’t have the computer games he wants, because they can’t afford them, and according to Andy, Dad is a grouchy, real skinflint tightwad. In addition, he’s in the throes of calf-love with his friend, Kelly, a red-haired neighbour who has problems of her own – her parents are divorced and remarried, and the plethora of presents and cash from double the usual number of grandparents doesn’t nearly make up for the feelings of abandonment and loss she’s grappling with.

Margot deftly includes factual information about the flora and fauna of Australia in the book. It’s delivered naturally and easily in the context of the story, as the kids go on the internet to dig up information on the animals that Grandma Rose writes about.

While the book is never an “on the edge of your seat” read, Margot has a quiet touch that makes you care about the characters and their problems, has you rooting for Andy and Kelly as their friendship deepens and expands as they explore non computer activities: reading books, biking and birdwatching in the local park. Through the shared letters and activities they learn not only to trust not only each other, but also Grandma Rose. Margot shows, without ever preaching, how the inter-relationships help both kids to appreciate what they do have, and to learn that while you can’t choose your family, you can choose your friends, and sometimes, they can give you what your family lacks.

As the book progresses, and the time for Rose to actually move to America draws closer, the reader may tear up at the final goodbye, and grin right along with Andy and Kelly as the family is finally reunited in Portland airport.

A lovely, enjoyable read that I’d unhesitatingly recommend for any boy or girl from age ten on up.



DOWN UNDER CALLING: Grandma Rose Spins a Web by Margot Finke

ISBN 13: 9781493526260; ISBN 10: 149352626X: 126 PAGES

Margot Finke is an Aussie transplant who writes midgrade adventure fiction and rhyming picture books. For many years she has lived in Oregon with her husband, children, and grandchildren.  Gardening, travel, and reading fill in the cracks between her writing. Her husband is retired, and very supportive. Margot didn’t begin serious writing until the day their youngest left for college. This late start drives her writing, and pushes her to work at it every day. Margot said, “I really envy those who began young, and managed to slip into writing mode between kid fights, diaper changes, household disasters, and outside jobs. You are my heroes!” She has 13 published books. Survival by Walkabout, the follow-up to Taconi and Claude, is due out soon.  All her books,  video readings, trailers, reviews and sample pages can be seen on her website.

Margot also does Skype Author Visits to many schools in the US, and she runs a Manuscript Critique Service. Nothing gives Margot a bigger thrill than to hear that a book she helped polish has been published.  “This is always a huge YEA moment.”

Amazon ( Kindle and soft cover) :
Hook Kids on Reading:

The Sounding

You probably already know that I blog more regularly over at the OCN blog – The Sounding. I just wanted to let you know that it has a new website, with a brand new look. The link to the blog’s main page is down, to the right, in the blogroll, but you can get to it here as well.

Go check it out, and be sure to read some of the incredible posts and authors who also post there. And leave a comment for them, too, okay? We love knowing that our posts are being read and enjoyed! And discussion is always welcome!


There’s been some public comparison of Rehtaeh Parson’s death with Amanda Todd’s suicide and with Steubenville. And there are a number of connections between those tragedies. Both Amanda and Rehtaeh committed suicide. Rehtaeh and the unnamed young woman in Steubenville were raped. All three of these women acted on a misguided (and unwarranted) assumption of trust in people and, more specifically, in men that was betrayed. But the major connection between these women is not that they were sexually violated, assaulted and victimized. The major connection between these women is that their experience was made public and they were hounded, shamed and blamed for what happened to them until two of them killed themselves.


In an interview a spokesperson for Anonymous said that “The real guilty parties here are the adults that violated Rehtaeh. . . . I would like to see the police and the school system pay for what they did to that girl. They had a responsibility to be there for her, to protect her and to relieve her torment.”

As far as it goes, that’s true. Both of those public institutions had a responsibility to all of those women, and they failed every one of them. The institutions need to be held accountable for their lack of care for the women.

The guilty parties here, first of all, aren’t just the school and the legal system. The boys who raped her are guilty too, and need to be held accountable. Saying, “I would like to see those boys punished for what they did because I think it sets a terrible example for the other young men” very subtly exonerates them of their guilt. The message sent to other young men isn’t the point here. The point is that they did is wrong, and illegal, and they need to be charged with rape because rape is wrong. Not because it sends a bad message (even though it does).

But the people at the party, the witnesses and the photographers who first of all took the pictures and then put them online are guilty as well. And I want to stress here that they are not “more guilty” than the others. They are equally guilty of a third crime for which we don’t yet have a name.

Rape all by itself is a horrendous thing to experience, and the effects last a lifetime. It’s especially traumatic in the situations that these women experienced because of the involvement of alcohol and our society’s attitude toward rape victims that, unless they were very lucky and very well taught, these women would have internalized to some degree. (I thought we’d dealt with that 30 or 40 years ago, but apparently the lessons were forgotten). I don’t doubt that the woman in Stuebenville is going to spend the rest of her life partially blaming herself for what happened. To have to deal with that privately is bad enough and damaging enough.


But to see yourself on the internet in the most helpless, vulnerable and humiliating experience of your life, from outside, as other saw it. Bad enough to have to relive it from inside your skin, as you experienced it. But to see it as others did – with the onlookers laughing and jeering at you as you are stripped of dignity, virtue and humanity, and to relive the feelings and experience when you see it. To know that anyone with an internet connection can see it as well, not just today and tomorrow but for the rest of your life, and beyond. To walk into school and experience the condemnation, the slurs, the exclusion and the blame. To have your friends turn away, not because of anything you did, but because of something that was done to you, without your consent, and when you were so helpless you couldn’t protest, refuse or defend your self. I cannot imagine the experience, but at the very least it guarantees that you will be raped again and again and again, whenever anyone refers to it, or excludes you or blames you for what happened. Healing? It is to laugh. And since what is on the internet is on forever that means you’re never going to get away from this.

And none of these people are being held accountable. At the very worst, the photographer in the Parson’s case will be charged with something relating to child pornography, which to me feels like another violation somehow. But the photographer, and the people who were there are as guilty of rape as the men who lay on top of her. Because their posting it, their referencing it, and their spreading of it guarantees that she will be raped again every day for the rest of her life. Is it any wonder she chose to die rather than endure that?


We are going to have to find some way of making people accountable for this kind of behaviour. In the past, if word of this had gotten out, if the photos had been circulated by hand and gossip and rumour had taken their toll in her school and town, Rehtaeh and her family could have moved away and given her a new start in another part of the country – a place that didn’t know what happened, where people didn’t have access to the photos that told a lie. She could have recovered from the rape, gathered the bits of her life back together and gone on – scarred and beaten, but not bowed and broken. That is no longer possible, and we have to recognize that this kind of public slander and defamation have far more impact and can do an untellable amount more damage than older forms of technology could do.

This is not bullying, this is not defamation of character or slander. This is voyeur rape – enjoying and vicariously participating in the victimization and degradation of women via the internet. And it should apply not just to Stuebenville or Rehtaeh Parsons. It’s what happened to Amanda Todd and to every woman whose nude photos are posted on revenge sites.

We need to recognize that the people who do this are every bit as guilty and culpable as the men who raped her in the first place and we need to hold them every bit as accountable for the damage they continue to do to her by posting photos and videos of her experience on the internet.

The Verdict is in.

This first appeared three days ago on the OCN Soundings Blog. I’m reposting here because I think it’s important and because some people couldn’t access the Soundings site:

The two young men who were accused of raping an unconscious 16 year old woman during an August party in SteubenvilleOhio have been found guilty.

There are a lot of things wrong with the entire shameful episode. The rape charges, the trial and the conviction barely even scratch the surface. What stands out for me is how so many of us insist on blaming the young woman for what happened, because she was drunk.

We are all broken. Sometimes, even those of us who are devout and good Orthodox get drunk. Sometimes some of get so drunk we pass out. Some of us struggle with alcoholism, and still try to find our way to God. Who are we to blame her because she drank too much? Who are we to blame her for acts which she couldn’t consent to, or prevent because of her drunken stupor?


Can we stop and think about this for just a moment? Sex was given to us by God as a way of affirming the loving bond between a man and a woman who were united in marriage. It’s a way of expressing not only the love they feel for each other, but the love that God feels for them, for the good and holy thing their union has made – a family. It’s a physical expression of the icon of Christ that their marriage is.

Who taught these young men who raped her and the people who filmed her, tweeted about her and stood by while she was so abused that a woman was simply a thing to use for their momentary pleasure – that the physical release and humorous titillation they got from what happened is so much more important than another living, breathing and feeling human being? Who taught them that it was okay to pleasure themselves with her body, when she was as weak and helpless as it is possible for a person to be?

We teach our daughters ways to avoid or reduce the chances of being raped or assaulted. This is sensible, this is good, and as parents we need to do this, because we live in a dangerous world, a world in which people hurt others, especially the weak and powerless.


I wonder something about those young men and the boys who filmed and tweeted about the abuse she suffered. How many of them showed up in church the next day without a single twinge of guilt or shame over what they had done and what they said about her? How many of those turned up at one of the three Orthodox churches in the city?

What about teaching our boys and young men, too? Teach them that rape is wrong, and that it’s wrong to blame the woman for it, no matter how drunk, how promiscuous and how broken she is. That to treat someone like this debases not just the victim, but deadens the soul of the perpetrator. Teach our boys that knowing a woman sexually, even in marriage, has to be a loving, consensual and holy act that affirms God and the Holy Spirit.

We have to teach our sons that every single woman is a human being, not an object to use for lust, derision and humiliation. Teach our boys and young men that women are equal to them before God and before the law and before each and every other person. Not better, not worse. Not greater or lesser, not more moral or purer than men. Equal. Equal in our brokeness, equal in our capacity to love, honour and follow God. Equally human, equally fragile, equally strong.


Women are not degraded and less than human simply because they’re women. We need to teach our boys that just because a woman, whether old or young, weak and confused, hurt and broken, puts herself in a vulnerable position, that does not entitle anyone to abuse her, humiliate her and then blame her for their actions. It’s not a reason to treat her as anything other than the icon of Christ that she is.

That’s true whether she is your best friend’s sister, and stands beside you in choir, or someone who is so totally secular she thinks sex is like shaking hands, and Saturday night’s party is not a success unless you can’t remember what you did. It doesn’t matter if she’s not Orthodox or even Christian. Her soul and her body, regardless of what she does to it, were given to her by God, and because she is loved and wanted by God, no matter how she denies or rejects it, she is therefore an icon of Him in the world.

Those men and those bystanders didn’t just rape and humiliate and degrade a young woman. They raped and humiliated and degraded Christ. And as long as we don’t teach, preach and live as if Christ is in every other single human being, so did we.


The Next Big Thing

It’s been another long while since I’ve posted, and I actually have something about my own writing to talk about today. You see, I’m participating in something called a “blog hop” that my writer friend, Katherine Bolger Hyde invited me on. Thank you Kate! Here, I talk about my writing and then I point you at other writers, who are also talking about their “next big thing”. Go off and read theirs after you’ve read mine and see if you’re interested in what we all have coming up.

1: What is the working title of your book(s)?

The Laughter Thief. Which will hopefully change when it comes out, because I don’t like it, but haven’t yet thought up a better title.

2: Where did the idea come from for the book?

It was a fund raiser for our church. We had a silent auction. I offered to write a story featuring one of the kids of the parish as the main character. This is the result.

3: What genre does your book come under?

As closely as I can pin any of my work down, it’s an updated fairy tale. Baba Yaga has always fascinated me, and I love the idea of the modern day world connecting to the traditional fantasy/fairy tale stories, so I took a traditional character from a set of fairy tales and put her into the book. I also played a bit with the fact that Baba Yaga comes from an Orthodox culture and tried to tease that element of the story out a bit more.

4: Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

mhamilton baba yaga

Margaret Hamilton for Baba Yaga, but without the green makeup and with more warts and flyaway white hair.


For Sage? No clue. She’s based on a real person, so that’s who I think of when I think of the character.

And Teghin? Judy Holiday – a brilliantly intelligent 1950s actress who did “dumb blond” perfectly.judy holiday

5: What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

Modern Orthodox girl meets ancient evil witch on her own turf. Look out Baba Yaga.

 6: Is your book self-published, published by an independent publisher, or represented by an agency?

It’s at a traditional, royalty paying publisher’s now, waiting for the editorial board to meet. I should hear soon.

 7: How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

I started it in August of 2012 and finished it by December – the little girl who is the main character received a good copy of the manuscript for Christmas.

 8: What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

I don’t really know – it sort of fits into the general “magic in the normal world” genre, but the religion in it is overt, and the characters do travel to another land. Sage is a faithful Orthodox child but I haven’t read any that are quite like mine.

9: Who or what inspired you to write this book?

It started out as a picture book, because that’s how old the girl is. But once Baba Yaga appeared in the book, it became an early reader, and once she showed up, I couldn’t resist playing with her and the whole fairy tale concept. The personalities of the real people the main characters are based on drove a lot of the book.

10: What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

Besides an evil witch or two, it’s got a fairy godmother, a talking mouse, a two-headed argumentative insulting parrot and riddles. And maybe a saint.

And that’s what my “Next Big Thing” is. Besides stopping by Kate’s blog, be sure to visit these writers, and see what their next big thing is:

Charise Olson writes what she calls California fiction – “It’s like Southern fiction, but without all the humidity.” In other words, contemporary fiction with a humorous voice but with underlying serious spiritual and emotional issues.

 Katherine Grace Bond’s latest book is a YA spiritual journey/romance, The Summer of No Regrets. She also teaches TeenWrite workshops where teens interact with each other as their characters.

Recommendation and nag

I’ve been following the blog of a group of writers who are trying to write five book in five months. That’s five writers writing one book each. They have to be finished in February. I’d love to say that they’re trying hard, they’re working like demons, and the pages are more or less getting out there.

But the fact is that with few exceptions, most of their posts have been more about why they haven’t written then what they’ve gotten done or what they’re learning along the way. Early on, it made sense – they were feeling their way into the world of the book, and in a couple of cases, into the genre of the books they’d decided to write – so fair enough. That’s scary territory, the beginning. But it’s late November, they have two and a bit months left, and so far only two or two and a half of the writers are really getting significant work done. The others are still flailing around, and their reasons are sounding more like excuses than reasons.

I know how hard it is to write. I’m doing this instead of working on my WIP and I’ve spent the last hour going over my email, checking FB and playing silly games. I also have a semi external, semi self-imposed deadline. So it’s not as though I’m not sympathetic.  And I have the excuse (which is an actual reason but feels too often like an excuse) of low energy levels due to the healing I’ve been doing this fall. (As I learned AGAIN last night – it is a reason. I do have limited energy and I suffer if I overdo it. The problem is that when I’m not out of energy, I feel pretty good, and I don’t have any early warning symptoms. It’s straight from “oh, just fine, thanks” to “um, damn, everything hurts and the brain is fried and tofu’d oatmeal” in .03 seconds.)

So yeah, I know how easy it is to put it off, find other things to do and ignore (more or less) that niggle at the back of the head. Which is why I’ve gotten out and dusted off and am recommending a terrific little book (little in that it’s quick to read) called THE WAR OF ART: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles by Steven Pressfield and published by Warner books. If this doesn’t get your fingers itching and your mind revved up to write (or paint, or compose or play), then you aren’t a writer/artist/composer/musician.

It’s short and to the point because Steven doesn’t pull punches, and he doesn’t accept excuses and he tells you bluntly that neither should you, and uses every means possible to point out that if you love what you do and want to be a pro at it, you have to do the work and put in the time, with no excuses (not even cancer, apparently, which puts me firmly in the camp of the amateurs), no delays and no whining. Go do it, about sums up the books message.

So, 5 Writers, 5 Novels, 5 Months. Are we pros, or are we amateurs? I’m going to be a pro. And I believe in you. I think you’re all pros too. You’re just not aware of it yet. So get working!