Friday, October 24, 2014

Nora Webster by Colm Tóibín

Nora Webster was the book that gave me back my reading mojo, as well as being the book I read during the Dewey 24 hour readathon last weekend.

Nora is a gentle, insightful interior journey. Told entirely through Nora's eyes, we experience her feelings of grief and loss after the death of her husband.

We feel her isoaltion, her confusion & her 'otherness' as she tries to come to terms with her new world order.

We see her struggle to (re)connect with her four children, her sisters and aunt. We see her manage the family finances, go back to work, start singing lessons and redecorate. Slowly signs of independence and enjoying her new-found freedoms begin to creep in. But there's always a catch - missing Maurice.

Missing their old life together, missing his comforting presence, their conversations, their easiness together, the sharing of a life.

The back of the book hints at "great moral ambiguity". I will need a reread to tease out these subtleties I think.

Nora has problematic relationships with pretty much everyone around her, but we only ever see and hear her perspective.
Initially, we're drawn into feeling sympathy and empathy for her grief and loss, but as the story progresses we realise there are unspoken 'issues'. Perhaps her self-absorption after Maurice's death is not just a response to grief, but a long time pattern of behaviour?

There is so much silence in this story, so much left unsaid, so much to read between the lines.

I grew up in sunny Australia in a working class Protestant family, but I know that coldness. I know that silence. Families do that to each other. They keep each other at arm's length, they keep secrets, they protect their privacy and they leave a lot of things unsaid...for all kinds of reasons. People really do walk on eggshells around family members for fear of their emotional response.

Nora Webster was a heart-breakingly, tender, disturbing read. I for one will be reading much more Colm Tóibín.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

HSC English requirements 2015 - 2020 NSW

For the past 6 years, the NSW HSC theme has been 'belonging'. 

Bookshops and libraries around the state have become conversant with books and texts that can be related back to this theme. 

Authors and publishers, also aware of this theme, have written & premoted many, many stories that fit within this theme.

But as of Term 4 2014, when the new Yr 12 classes begin, the theme will change to discovery.

This is of particular relevance in our family right now, as my eldest stepson is one of those new Yr 12 students about to embark on his own year of discovery. (Sympathetic comments welcome here!)

With thanks to the STC for this archived photo.
Books on his list of discovery include The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time by Mark Haddon and The Life  and Crimes of Harry Lavender by Marele Day.  

The Collected Poems of Robert Frost (The Tuft of Flowers’, ‘Mending Wall’, ‘Home Burial’, ‘After Apple-Picking’, ‘Fire and Ice’, ‘Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening’) & The Summer of the Seventeenth Doll (play by Ray Lawler) round out the genres. 

The discovery film of choice for his school this year is Billy Elliot (2000).

Both Mr Books & I studied the Lawler play for our HSC's and we both remember it fondly. 
I also recall a day trip my English class had to Sydney to see the play. A quick google check reveals why it was so memorable - the cast in 1985 included Steve Bisley & Ruth Cracknell! 

My main concern about this play is it's setting - 1950's rural Australia is not a time period likely to engage my stepson!

I loved The Curious Incident and Billy Elliot & I feel that my stepson could also enjoy them if he lets himself (although he is more of an action, dystopian, fantasy sort of reader. This year's stories are more suited to the sensibilities of my youngest stepson who likes real life stuff). 

I know next to nothing about Harry Lavender or Robert Frost. It will therefore be a year of new discoveries for all of us! 

Alongside the 'Prescribed Texts' (that each school selects), the students are expected to have at least two related texts of their own choosing.

I've included the Board of Studies notes below for clarification.

AREA OF STUDY: Discovery 

This Area of Study requires students to explore the ways in which the concept of discovery is represented in and through texts.

Discovery can encompass the experience of discovering something for the first time or rediscovering something that has been lost, forgotten or concealed. Discoveries can be sudden and unexpected, or they can emerge from a process of deliberate and careful planning evoked by curiosity, necessity or wonder. Discoveries can be fresh and intensely meaningful in ways that may be emotional, creative, intellectual, physical and spiritual

They can also be confronting and provocative. They can lead us to new worlds and valuesstimulate new ideas, and enable us to speculate about future possibilities.  

Discoveries and discovering can offer new understandings and renewed perceptions of ourselves and others. 

An individual’s discoveries and their process of discovering can vary according to personal, cultural, historical and social contexts and values. The impact of these discoveries can be far-reaching and transformative for the individual and for broader society. 

Discoveries may be questioned or challenged when viewed from different perspectives and their worth may be reassessed over time. The ramifications of particular discoveries may differ for individuals and their worlds. 

By exploring the concept of discovery, students can understand how texts have the potential to affirm or challenge individuals’ or more widely-held assumptions and beliefs about aspects 
of human experience and the world. 

Through composing and responding to a wide range of texts, students may make discoveries about people, relationships, societies, places and events and generate new ideas. By synthesising perspectives, students may deepen their understanding of the concept of discovery. 

So discovery can be NEW & FRESH or a REDISCOVERY.
The discovery be INTERNAL or EXTERNAL.
Discovery can be represented in many different ways - OVER TIME and within different PERSPECTIVES & CONTEXTS.
A judgement or analysis can be made about the discovery citing EFFECTS, IMPACTS, ASSUMPTIONS, BELIEFS & RAMIFICATIONS.

The web abounds (already) with flow charts & visual discovery prompts like the one below.

Other discovery texts on the BoS list include:

Wrack by James Bradley
The Awakening by Kate Chopin
Swallow the Air by Tara June Winch
A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson
The Motorcycle Diaries by Ernesto Che Guevara
Small Island by Andrea Levy
Vertigo by Amanda Lowry
Feed by M T Anderson
The Story of Tom Brennan by J C Burke
Mrs Dalloway by Virginia Woolf
The Hours by Stephen Daldry
The Great Gatsby by F Scott Fitzgerald
Dubliners by James Joyce
1984 by George Orwell
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
Sixty Lights by Gail Jones
In the Skin of a Lion by Michael Ondaatje
Cloudstreet by Time Winton
Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
Clay by Melissa Harrison
Brooklyn by Colm Tóibín
The Tree of Man by Patrick White
The China Coin by Allan Baillie
Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri
Unpolished Gem by Alice Pung
Fly Away Peter by David Malouf
Romulus My Father by Raimond Gaita
The Hare With the Amber Eye by Edmund de Waal
The Orchard by Drusilla Modjeska
Neuromancer by William Gibson
Dune by Frank Herbert
The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula le Guin
An Artist of the Floating World by Ishiguro Kazuo
The Spy Who Came in from the Cold by John le Carré
Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

I have created a 'discovery' label for my posts and I will be on the look out for related texts to add to the list. From previous experience, many students look for picture books to boost their related texts quota. 
Shaun Tan was a popular choice for the 'belonging' theme & I suspect will get a good look in for 'discovery' too!
If anything else pops into your mind, please feel free to leave your ideas below. 

Pinterest has dedicated 'HSC discovery' boards & there are many 'HSC experts' online offering all kinds of advice.
Some of the info out there contradicts & conflicts - so if in doubt, ask YOUR teacher & keep on asking.

But for now - good luck & may all your discoveries be fortuitous.
And happy reading!

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Once Upon An Alphabet by Oliver Jeffers

I confess that I have a bit of a thing for Oliver Jeffers.

I love his cartoony drawings, I love his sense of humour, I love his quirky ideas on friendship, belonging, fear & the environment & I love his choice of words.

Once Upon An Alphabet: Short Stories for all the Letters is simply another reason for me to love him.

Each letter of the alphabet gets the Jeffers' treatment - 3 pages packed with words and images celebrating that particular letter.

Each tale is a combination morality tale or fable dealing with actions & consequences, problem solving, connections & word play.

This lovely hardcover new release will make the perfect Christmas gift for your favourite 4+ early reader. 

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Dewey's 24 Hour Readathon

Every year for the past 5 years I have missed the start date for the Dewey 24 Hour readathon!

Even though I follow them on fb, twitter & insta...I still miss it...and I almost missed it again this year.

Thanks to my mini reading & blogging slump of late, I haven't been as active as I usually am in the blogging world (maybe it's a Spring thing that occurs each year, which might explain why I miss it every year!?)

Anyhow...I've snuck in (at #901) with a few hours to spare this, I'm in!

I've just signed up and checked the starting times (Sydney EST is 11pm tonight).

I have several books languishing by my bed that I would really like to finish & I'm going to use this as my incentive to do it. I'm also hoping to jump start AusReading month by knocking off two Australian books early.

In an attempt to keep things simple, I will use this post for updates.
I will check into twitter as I can (all my SM tags are in the top right hand corner for you to follow if you choose).

1. What I Talk About When I Talk About Running by Haruki Murakami
Memoir, 180pgs (I will be starting on pg 61)

2. Golden Boys by Sonya Hartnett (Australian)
Literary fiction, 238 pgs (I will be starting on pg 47)

3. Nora Webster by Colm Tóibín
Literary fiction, 311pgs (I will be starting on pg 20)

4. The Forgotten Rebels of Eureka by Clare Wright (Australian)
Non-fiction, winner 2014 Stella Prize, 474 pgs (I will be starting on pg 236)

5. Stone Mattress by Margaret Atwood
Literary fiction, short stories, 268 pgs

Courtesy of Jenna (The Relentless Reader)

Opening Meme:

1. What part of the world are you reading from today?

I'm in Sydney, Australia.
Which means my start time is 11pm Saturday - most of my readathon will actually fall on my Sunday 19th October.

2. Which book in your stack are you most looking forward to?

I think Nora. Curiously I've been going through a phase of reading books about death, loss and grief this year, so this one should fit that theme.

3. Which snack are you most looking forward to?

I have a Sunday afternoon tea planned with (book loving) friends - I'm making the date loaf and another friend is bringing the Adriano Zumbo macarons - delicious. Lots of good book talk guaranteed.

4. Tell us a little something about yourself.

Oh bother, this question always stumps me!
How much is a little? How much is too much? What would you find interesting?

5. If this is your first readthon what are you most looking forward to?

I'm hoping this will help me get over my weird reading/blogging 'whatever' phase.



Hour 1  (11pm - midnight)

40pgs of Nora Webster

Hour 2 (midnight - 1am Sunday 19th October)

20 mins of SM before Zzzzzzzzzzzzz

Hours 3 - 9 (1am - 8am)

& lots of very weird dreams thanks to too much SM use before bed!

Hour 10 (8am - 9am)

Woke at 8:15am; Glorious Spring day in Sydney town
15 mins of SM
Quiet house - Mr Books & youngest at a soccer game already, eldest still in bed.
Showered, hung out the washing, updated blog post.

Hour 11 (9am - 10am)

Breakfast on the balcony with Murakami - read pgs 61-78 (17 pgs)
Take pics for Instagram & twitter.

Hour 12 (10am - 11am)

More dreaded domestics, procrastinate, go for a mid-morning walk, buy some salad stuff for lunch, stop for a coffee, SM

Hour 13 (11am - 12pm)

Made dateloaf.
Read Murakami pgs 78 - 96 (18pgs)

Total pgs read so far - 75!
Hmmm time to pull my finger out!

Hour 14 (12pm - 1pm)

Back on the balcony being distracted by the yacht race on the harbour & Mr Books wanting a chat!
Read Nora pgs 60 -78 (18 pgs)

Hour 15 (1pm - 2pm)

BBQ lunch with family
Read Murakami from pgs 96 - 106 (10 pgs)
Head out to afternoon tea with friends (& dateloaf #nomnom)

Hours 16 - 19  (2pm -6pm)

Afternoon tea

Hour 20 (6pm - 7pm)

Read Murakami from 106 - 111 (5 pgs)
Planted new basil & chilli seedlings - watered garden
Read Nora from 78 - 84 (6 pgs)

Hour 21 (7pm - 8pm)

Chat with Mr Books
Read Nora from 84 - 104 (20 pgs)
Dinner preparation

Total pgs read so far - 134!

Hour 22 (8pm - 9pm)

Dinner & clean up
Read Nora from 104 - 111 (7 pgs)

Hour 23 (9pm - 10pm)

Bubble bath
Read Nora from 111 - 135 (24 pgs)

Hour 24 (10pm- 11pm)

Read Nora from 135 - 174 (39 pgs)

Grand Total - 204 pgs read in 24 hrs.

End of Event Wrap-Up:

I am truly amazed and fascinated by all the things that distracted me from reading today. It has been a curious study in all the big & little things that make up my regular day. 

I thoroughly enjoyed meeting so many new folks (on Twitter esp) & seeing what people were reading.

But the best thing of all is how much I am enjoying the 2 books I read today.
Two very different styles & content, but totally absorbing. 
My reading mojo is back!

Thanks to all the lovely hard-working folk at Dewey's 24 hour readathon for managing such a big event so smoothly, enthusiastically & graciously.

I'm so glad I finally got to join in my first readathon. 
Next time I will add an audio book to my list so I can 'read' whilst cleaning, gardening, walking, cooking, resting etc.
I certainly haven't set my bar very high for next time, so there is only one way for me to get next readathon.

Onward and upward!

And now goodnight from Down Under.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Death of a Gossip: A Hamish Macbeth Murder Mystery by M C Beaton

Until a few weeks ago I never knew that the BBC TV series from the late 90's that I loved and adored, Hamish Macbeth, was actually loosely based on a series of books by the Scottish crime writer M.C. Beaton.

Hamish was played by the very lovely, very Scottish actor Robert Carlyle. He played the laid-back, slightly subversive, bumbling romantic, Hamish to a tee.

When I recently spotted book #1 in the Hamish Macbeth series in my bookshop, I knew I had to have it!

Death of a Gossip is the first of 29 books. It was first published in 1985 whilst the latest book, Death of a Policeman, was just published this year.

This is a very easy, very gentle crime story set in the fictional far northwest town of Lochdubh.

Once I got over the fact (disappointment) that the characters in the TV series were not also in the books and that Hamish had a 'large slavering guard dog of indeterminate breed called Towser'  and not a westie called 'Wee Jock' I was swept along in this dour Scottish seaside murder mystery.

There would have been many times in my reading life, when I would have put this book down in disgust.
Stereotypical characters (especially the secondary ones) & bland writing usually turn me off big time, but I'm going through a reading slump right now and everything feels like a struggle.

Death of a Gossip won me over precisely because of how easy, uncomplicated & light-hearted it was.
And for me, it was also mixed in with a healthy dollop of nostaglia for the TV show.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

The Lives of Others by Neel Mukherjee

Sometimes it's hard for a book to live up to your own high expectations.

The Lives of Others screamed 'love me' from the start.
I love Indian literature & history.
The purple cover with dragonflies was designed to appeal to me.
The first few pages are taken up with a family tree and map - & I love a family tree & map!
A huge, glorious, rich epic family saga was awaiting me!

The first chapter was gut-wrenching and heart-breaking and got us straight into the issues of family, poverty, inequality, despair & a particular time in Indian history & politics.

Three of my all-time favourite books are set in India - A Suitable Boy, Midnight's Children and The God of Small Things.
All three transported me to a country I have never been to - they made me feel like I was home. I could smell the smells, hear the sounds & feel the humidity. The colours and images and places lit up in my mind like a long lost friend.

Two of these books also won the Booker Prize, so I was secretly thinking I had picked the winner for this years Booker when I started The Lives of Others.

However as I went along I realised that I was not falling into India like I had with the other books. I was not engaging with the characters or place in the very visceral way I had experienced before.

Some of the characters were stronger & more completely realised than others - Chhaya, the malicious, jealous unmarried, dark-skinned sister, the mathematical child prodigy, Sona, and the suspicious, demanding sister-in-law Purnima quickly came to life.
With so many 'others' (& their numerous nicknames) though, it was not always easy to remember who you were reading about. That may have been a concentration issue on my behalf though, as I was often impressed by Mukherjee's ability to get inside the skin of all his characters (even if I didn't!)
As the story progressed, all the individual personalities gradually separated out from the family drama - the same event being examined from multiple perspectives in such a way to make you feel empathy for each.

Even though I knew quite a few of the local words and customs mentioned by Mukherjee, there were many unknowns as well. I was creating quite a list of look-up words, when I discovered the glossary in the back, which helped a lot, but made it hard to get a good reading flow going.

There were some incredible, poignant moments as Mukherjee dissected the cruelties & absurdities of family life. Family secrets, fears, hostilities, loyalties, betrayals and dreams are carefully revealed. I underlined lots of meaningful sections...

"Everyone knew what a big gap existed between what they said in public and what they did in public."

"We credit ourselves with far more agency than we actually possess. Things happen because they happen."

"Did one ever know the mind and soul and personality of one's child, even little segments of them?"

"Ordinary conversations felt like booby-trapped enclosures."

"The words, the tone, her expression, all pulled in different directions."

But ultimately, I felt far, far away from the heart & soul of this story.
I felt unconnected to the characters and disconnected from the place.

I wanted to love and adore this book.
Instead I got some insightful family dynamics wrapped up in a history lesson with some sparkling, some pedestrian use of language.

This was the only other book on the shortlist that I wanted to read from this year's Booker (I read the Australian winner, The Narrow Road to the Deep North last year also with mixed feelings.)
How did you all go with this year's Booker shortlist?

For now though, The Lives of Others helps me to complete 2 challenges - the Chunkster Challenge (514 pgs) and the Around the World reading challenge.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Australian Book Blogger's Directory

Many Aussie bloggers joined this group years ago to find like-minded book bloggers, but sadly, over the years the site fell into disrepair.

A recent facebook invite, however, led me to the new & improved Australian Book Bloggers Directory and Forum.

A small group of dedicated Aussie book bloggers have taken over the old domain and are in the process of revamping and re-energising the site.

If, like me, you gave up on this directory a while ago, please have another look. Take the time to update your details and say 'hi'on the forum.

I hope to see you all there soon.

Friday, October 10, 2014

I Wish I Had a Pet by Maggie Rudy

Mouseland is inhabited by sweetly dressed, personified mice.

Using photo collages, Rudy tells the story of pets - the desire for a pet, what makes a good pet and the responsibilities & joys of pet ownership, all through the eyes of a young mouse.

The story is humorous, gentle and full of practical advice. Perfect for sharing with your 3+ animal lover.

The ending gives hope to all those who are wishing & hoping for a pet because

"somewhere out there is a pet...who is wishing for you!"

Rudy has her own blog that celebrates all things mouse-y at Mousehouses.

If you loved Karina Schaapman's Mouse Mansion books then you'll love this one too.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Digger Dog by William Bee

Digger Dog has become a personal favourite.

With it's repetitive, accumulative text, Digger Dog is great to read to a group or to share one-on-one.

Written by William Bee and illustrated by Cecilia Johansson, this book is perfect for 2-5 yr olds who love a good surprise.

Digger Dog loves to dig.

Whilst digging for a bone, he finds that he needs bigger and bigger tools to get the job done as his hole gets bigger and bigger.

The wonderful fold out final page delights young readers & adults alike with its size and its surprise!

Digger Dog was published in 2013 by Nosy Crow.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Silent Spring by Rachel Carson

Silent Spring was my Classic Club Spin #7 book.

I had high hopes for this non-fiction classic - the book that changed a generation's thinking about the environment, chemicals & pesticides.

According to the Daily Telegraph "Carson's books brought ecology into popular consciousness" and Linda Lear said, "Very few books change the course of history. Those that have include...Silent Spring."

Silent Spring was first published in 1962.

Rachel Carson graduated with a biology degree from Pennsylvania College for Women (now Chatham College) in 1929. She also completed an MA in marine zoology from John Hopkins University. Carson worked for the US Fish and Wildlife Service from 1937-1952, until she resigned to take up her writing full-time. She died of cancer in 1964 aged 56.

For the modern reader, there is nothing new or startling in Carson's book.

We now know about the effects that indiscriminate spraying has had on crops, wildlife, the water table, our food supply as well as on us.
We know of the links to our health - how these poisons have built up in our system over time, the rise of certain cancers, the risk of developing resistance and the unknown, unpredictable effects of combinations of poisons.

Carson provided lots of examples, mostly from the US that showed the effects on worms, birds, bees, fish, rivers, roadsides & wildflowers.

The incredibly frustrating thing about reading this book - this 52 year old book - is that almost nothing has changed.

We've had 50 years to come to terms with this information and we still blithely ignore it.

We have the bad habit of  "eradicating any creature that may annoy or inconvenience us."

We continue to use pesticides, gardens sprays & weed killers without regard.

We continue to search for the 'cure' for cancer that will

"fail because it leaves untouched the great reservoirs of carcinogenic agents which would continue to claim new victims faster than the yet elusive 'cure'could allay the disease."

In her afterword, Lear says that Carson

"intended her message to protect and conserve the whole fabric of life, to convince humankind to act with humility rather than arrogance towards the rest of nature, and to see themselves as an integral part of it."

Sadly, humility is lacking from almost every single decision we make about our environment. Interdependence, sharing and caring are merely words to be bandied about as we go about doing exactly what suits us best in 'our' environment.

This article about 'The buzz on keeping bees safe' simply highlights the ongoing problems and shows that nothing has really changed in 50 years. Big business interests come before everything else.

The lessons from Silent Spring have not be learnt. Carson's message still goes unheeded. So much about how we live our lives is underpinned by the alarming philosophy "that nature exists for the convenience of man."

Saturday, October 4, 2014

The Shape of Water by Andrea Camilleri

Last w/e I struggled to get through A Wrinkle in Time (see previous post). As a result I was looking for something light and easy and likable to go to next.

I stumbled upon Karen at Booker Talk's post about Inspector Montalbano and knew straight away that I had my next book sorted.

I've had The Shape of Water on my TBR pile for a couple of years now. The English translation of book #17 was recently published (Angelica's Smile) which only increased my curiosity to see what all the buzz was about.

The Shape of Water is the first book in the Inspector Montalbano Mystery series. It was first written in 1994 (in a mixture of Italian & Sicilian), but not translated into English until 2002 by Stephen Sartarelli.

Sararelli has included a few pages of notes at the back to explain some of the translation issues.

As a starting point, there was enough to keep me keen to try a second book...but only just.

The story was formulaic and a little stilted. Nonetheless, Montalbano is very likable - a good guy battling the corruption and seedy underbelly of Sicilian society.

His love of food is present from the start & a reference to di Lampedusa's The Leopard (another Sicilian story full of food fetishes) endeared me to the series as well.

Although we are dealing with death and mafia crimes, this book could be classified as gentle crime. There are no gory bodily descriptions, no ghastly autopsy reports, no violent outrages discussed in minute detail. A few swear words and sexual references are about as nasty as things get.

My kind of crime story!

I have now found the youtube link to watch the series with Mr Books.
I can feel a trip to Sicily coming on!!

Friday, October 3, 2014

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle

I read A Wrinkle in Time as a child (many wrinkles ago) and failed, back then, to understand why it was considered a modern day classic by my teachers.

As a budding mathematical, rational 10 yr old I found the religious references obvious & off-putting (the very same reason I struggled with many of the Narnia books as well.) 

In my mind, all this time, I thought A Wrinkle in Time was a religious parable with some time travelling kids and an old house on a dark & stormy hill, but not, ultimately, my cup of tea. 

About 12 yrs ago, I reread the Narnia series & thoroughly enjoyed them, especially the first three stories in the series. 

The stories, however, still caused me to laugh ruefully at the blatant religious parallels. As an adult, though, I was less indignant & more tolerant of the preachy tone than I was as a child. As an adult, I was happy to go along for the fantastical story ride & I appreciated the wonderful characters created by Lewis.

I expected a similar experience with A Wrinkle in Time.

But, oh, how I struggled!

The fantasy & philosophy were fine - the maths and science for girls - great!  The big words and philosophy quoting Mrs Who - loved it! 
But the characters were soooo one-dimensional (to use L'Engle's own terms) and so very annoying. 

Calvin's constant "protective gestures" towards Meg grated. They seemed to nullifying L'Engle's 'girls can do anything, even maths and science' approach with an 'as long as they have the strong arm of a man to lean on as they do it'!

Good versus evil, light versus the dark, love & kindness versus individualism are common themes in a lot of books, but in this story, they were so wrapped up in the religious connotations that I often found it a bitter pill to swallow. 

I dislike being force fed someone else's beliefs just as much now as when I was a child. 

It's a curious thing, though, rereading a book from your childhood. 
Memory is not as infallible as we like to believe, but our likes and dislikes often remain the same. I found A Wrinkle in Time to be a heavy handed, humourless story then and now.

As a child I couldn't tell you why I didn't like to read a lot of fantasy or science-fiction, but now I realise it's because a lot of science fiction/fantasy has religious overtones. It's not the science, the maths, the politics or the philosophising that I shy away from, but the heavy hand of god! 

L'Engle won the Newbery Medal in 1963 for A Wrinkle in Time. Sadly, time has not been kind to this story. The language & attitudes have dated which makes it difficult for modern readers to access the universal themes that it explores. 

I've always felt a little guilty for not liking this book as much as everyone thought I should. At least now, I know why.

A thousand apologies if this was your favourite childhood read. 

I would love to know what it was that appealed to you or what it is that you remember fondly about this book, since I have been so free in sharing my dislikes!

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Sam and Dave Dig A Hole by Mac Bennett

I was drawn to Sam and Dave because the illustrators name jumped out at me - Jon Klassen - he of I Want My Hat Back fame.

His illustrations have a retro feel and in this case, a retro gaming feel.

The pictures in Same and Dave remind me of one of the early computer games I used to play called 'pipedream', although there is also a 'pacman' look to the tunnels as well.

Mac and Jon mess around with parallel universes, luck, chance and hit & miss "it's behind you!" humour.

The little dog's frustration at just missing out on finding the treasure each time will be echoed by children reading this book everywhere!

It also pays to look over the details on the first and last pages very, very carefully.

Monday, September 29, 2014

AusReading Month 2014

I'm back!

My little mini-break from daily blogging was just what I needed. 

I've been reading non-stop for the past few weeks, but with every book, a little stirring twinge would get my fingers twitching & itching for the keyboard. 

With every book future blog post ideas grew within me.

With every book Mount-To-Be-Read seemed like an exciting challenge again rather than the daunting pile from last month!

And now November is fast approaching, which mean it's time to get excited about AusReading Month once again.

AusReading month is a month long celebration of all things Aussie, Aussie, Aussie!

It's your chance to read that Aussie classic you've been meaning to for ages.
Or perhaps this will be the opportunity you've been looking for to finally read your very first Aussie book. 

Either way - welcome aboard.

If you're not sure what to read during November - here's a few lists I compiled last year.

Booktopia Top 50 Australian books.

Geoffrey Dutton's Collection of Australia's Greatest Books.

Top 50 Australian Books to Read Before You Die.

You can also check out the tabs above for the Miles, Stella & CBCA award winning books or scroll down my labels list on the left to find the 'Australian' tags.

The AusReading Month Goal is simple - read as many Australian books as you can during November.

They can be fiction, non-fiction, children's, bio's, poetry, modern classics whatever - they just have to be Australian. 

You can team up your books with Australian music and movies or turn them into a travel journal - for those of you lucky enough to have visited our fine shores.

What will you be reading?

Let us know, share the love & spread the word...AusReading Month is back!


I've just spotted this fabulous interview at Karen's Booker Talk in her View From Here series.
This month she chatted with Michelle from Whispering Gums about books & literature in Australia (the link for WG can be found on the right hand side of my blog under Australian sites). 
Lots of wonderful contemporary Aussie books get mentioned for those of you trying to add to your lists.

Friday, September 26, 2014

The Midnight Zoo by Sonya Hartnett

Sonya Hartnett is a Melbourne based author who writes for young children, teens, YA and now adults with her recent release of Golden Boys.

She has won more awards than you can poke a stick at including the CBCA for Older Readers for The Midnight Zoo in 2011, the CBCA for younger readers in 2005 for The Silver Donkey & again in 2013 for Children of the King.

In 2003, Hartnett was shortlisted for the Miles Franklin award for her YA novel, Of A Boy, which also won her the Commonwealth Writer's Prize & The Age Book of the Year. Another YA novel, Sleeping Dogs won the Victorian Premier's Award in 1996.

Her picture books, The Boy and the Toy, won an Aurealis Award in 2011 & Come Down, Cat! won the Speech Pathology Award in 2012.

In 2008, Hartnett was awarded the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award (ALMA). The Swedish government founded this award in 2002 to "promote interest in children's and young adult literature" based on the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.
Hartnett is the second Australian to be named laureate with Shaun Tan winning this honour in 2011.

The judges had this to say about her body of work:

Sonya Hartnett is one of the major forces for renewal in modern young adult fiction. With psychological depth & a concealed yet palpable anger, she depicts the circumstances of young people without avoiding the darker sides of life. She does so with linguistic virtuosity & a brilliant narrative technique; her works are a source of strength.

After all that, I feel a little ashamed to admit that I've only ever read her picture books!

Until now.

The Midnight Zoo is a fable about war & humanity, that delves into many, many powerful themes including belonging, fear, courage, hope, survival, trust, loyalty, kindness, loss, grief, freedom, imagination, stoicism, truth, determination, journey, care, home & interdependence.

This is a slim, slight story, that Hartnett fills to overflowing with her carefully, gracefully chosen words.
The power of story is evident everywhere and the beautiful, heart-breaking idea a world "riddled with holes where certain people and animals were meant to be, but weren't" is woven throughout.

This is probably not a book that most children will pick up on their own, but those that do will be mesmerised. Teachers will love sharing this with their primary school classes - the layers of meaning and feeling will have their classes talking for ages.