Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Lost and Found by Brooke Davis

The release of Lost and Found in Australia has been surrounded by a LOT of hype (click here for one such article).

But I put off reading Lost and Found for two other reasons.

I thought it might be too light for my tastes and too sad.

But, I have recently had another brush with the randomness of death and suddenly Lost and Found seemed like the only choice.

Lost and Found is lightly told and it is sad, but it is also engaging and wise and very, very human.

As Davis takes her characters on a journey of discovery from lost to found & from sadness to acceptance to renewal. We, the readers also (re)discover the fragility, poignancy & purpose of life.

Davis explores the very personal loneliness & terror of grief. Despair, anger & guilt overwhelm her characters. But eventually, tentatively, hope, love & friendship triumph.

"How do you get old without letting sadness become everything?"

Is the common refrain throughout this story.

A part of me was left wondering how could someone so young write such profound, insightful truths. How could someone so young know so much about living and life and aging...but of course, coming to face to face with death will do all that to anyone. A close, personal, bitter brush with death changes you.

It happens to us all at some point; some sooner rather than later, but one day we all experience the randomness of life and death. One day we all get to experience how lives can be forever changed by one accident, one moment in time.
There comes a day when we all have to learn how to live with the sadness of losing those we love.

What we all learn eventually, the answer we all come to in our way, in our time, of course, is simply to live.

One day it will happen to all of us, but for now, all we can do is live...and love. That's all we can do.

But I'll leave the last words to Millie, Davis' young protagonist,

"You're all going to die. It's okay."

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Max by Marc Martin

I am rather partial to Marc Martin's illustrations.

I've enjoyed his previous two books A Forest & The Curious Explorer's Illustrated Guide to Exotic Animals A-Z, so I was eagerly awaiting his next book.

Max is a rather cheeky seagull.

He likes fish. He likes chips.
And he especially likes Bob - the fish and chip man.

But one day Bob (and his fish and chip shop) are gone.

Max is a lovely story about friendship and change.

Martin's illustrations are his usual appealing mix of water colour, texta, ink pencil, scanned textures and computer graphics. His seascapes are particularly wonderful.

Check them out - you'll be hooked too :-)

Marc Martin is a French born Australian artist which means that I can include this post in  Paris in July & Dreaming of France.

Monday, July 21, 2014

The Adventures of Beekle: The Unimaginary Friend by Dan Santat

The Adventures of Beekle takes us into the magical, mysterious world of imaginary friends...from the imaginary friends point of view!

Beekle is an imaginary friend waiting to happen.
He watches all his friends get picked by children in need of an imaginary friend...but nobody picks Beekle.

Tired of passively waiting, Beekle decides to be daring and brave and seek a life of adventure!
He heads off into the unknown - in search of his own friend.

Beekle's story follows one of the most common picture book themes for young children - belonging and identity.

Beekle stays true to himself. He is persistent and patient. He actively seeks what he wants, but he doesn't force it.

Naturally, all these positive attitudes and behaviours are rewarded when Beekle finally finds the perfect friend for him.

Beekle is an inspiring and heart-warming to share with 4+ children

Friday, July 18, 2014

A Walk in Paris by Salvatore Rubbino

Rubbino has completed three city walking books - one each in London & New York and now, his latest A Walk in Paris.

The story follows a young girl and her grandfather as they explore Paris together.

They use the metro, visit the markets, taste cheese, discuss Parisian style, stroll through gardens and admire the art and architecture.

Maps on the front and end papers help to highlight the main points of interest.

Each page also has useful little French snippets such as French words and phrases, appropriate facts and figures, a little history and a fold up Eiffel Tower at night page!

Rubbino's illustrations are very retro and reminiscent of Sasek's original great cities of the world series. (Although the content is completely up to date.) It's a friendly, easy to read travelogue dressed up in a children's picture book!

The book feels familiar and cosy to adult readers, but I know that my booklets don't like books that look old, so I'm not sure how successful this will be with younger, modern readers.

This review is part of Paris in July & Dreaming of France.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Mr Chicken Goes To Paris by Leigh Hobbs

Mr Chicken Goes to Paris (also known as Monsieur Poulet va 'a Paris), was first published in Australia in 2009.

Mr Chicken is an over-sized, grumpy looking fowl with attitude...who happens to enjoy travelling.

The front papers show us Mr Chicken's passport, his to-do list and some pics of him reading books on Paris. There is also a letter from his friend Yvette, inviting Mr Chicken to visit her in Paris.

Naturally, Mr Chicken sees all the usual sights and sites of Paris.

Everywhere he goes he attracts a crowd, discreetly checking him out & wondering who or what he is.

Yvette looks delighted to be showing her friend around, but Mr Chicken and most of the Parisians look decidedly unhappy if not out-right grumpy!

Curiously though, Mr Chicken Goes to Paris is a charming, silly, adorable story.

The end papers show us some 'photographs' of Mr Chicken & Yvette around Paris, a thank you postcard to several news stories in French papers and on French TV exclaiming "grand monstre" above a picture of Mr Chicken!

Leigh Hobbs obviously feels rather attached to Mr Chicken as a quick google search revealed a sculpture and oil painting by Hobbs featuring Mr Chicken. He has also written a follow up story called Mr Chicken Lands on London.

Hobbs is quoted as saying that he works very hard to make it look easy. And certainly part of the enjoyment of Mr Chicken is in the simple, unassuming style used by Hobbs.

However Mr Chicken's success actually lies in its incongruity.
Grumpy, but cute.
Bizarre, but very funny.
Mr Chicken gets under your skin; he makes you smile even as you're shaking your head in disbelief.

This review is part of Paris in July & Dreaming of France.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

This is Paris by Miroslav Sasek

The original great cities series as imagined by Miroslav Sasek begins with This is Paris.

First published in 1959 we take a tour around Paris from a young child's point of view.

Miroslav Sasek was born in 1916 in Prague, but a holiday in Paris gave him the idea to write a travelling book for children.

Over the next 20 years, he produced 18 books in his city series, including one dedicated to travelling to the moon!

Sasek's illustrations would now be described as retro. Though they are over 50 years old, the illustrations still retain their freshness, originality and sense of fun.

The original text was not so fortunate.

Paris has changed since 1958. 

In 2004, This is Paris was reissued, printed on lovely creamy paper with an "updated facts at the end of book" tag.

Sasek introduces us to the local cats, the residents and their jobs, the famous sights (of course) as well as lots of little details & curiosities.

He provides a little history along the way but just enough to whet your appetite.

It's hard not to love this book. It's full of the charm and romance expected of Paris.

This is Paris was written and illustrated by someone in love with Paris, for those of us who love Paris as well.

This review is part of Paris in July & Dreaming of France.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Little Owl by Phillip Gwynne

Little Owl is the age old story of a lost child in search of mother.

Gwynne uses a simple repetitive text as baby owl asks various forest animals

"whooo? whooo? whooo am I?"

The illustrations by Sandy Okalyi are bold and colourful acrylic paint on board.

They take us on a 24 hour journey through the Australian bush.
We see sugar gliders, bats, a koala, dragonflies, a cockatoo, emu, echidna & frog as little owl tries to find home.

Little Owl is a belonging and identity story.
It's also a lovely example of Australian animals and their habitats to share with 2+ readers .

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Bob Graham: A Retrospective

During a recent trip to Canberra I had the opportunity to attend the Bob Graham exhibition, A Bird in the Hand!
at the Canberra Museum and Art Gallery in Civic. 

Graham started with a timeline of important life events.
 He also provided a wonderful glimpse into his working world.

I love the photograph of Graham outside his window and all the toy pups around his desk.
It was also very generous of Graham to let us sneak a peek at his latest work in progress - Ice Cream.

Three of Graham's CBCA medals.
The wall was dotted with quotes and comments from Graham about his work and ideas.

"It was not until I survived the diabolical lottery, and missed the draft to Vietnam, that I started to question the concept of social justice. And to think that it might depend which side of the fence you were on. And to question how the stories we read when we are young might just influence our outlook on life."

Pete & Roland was based on a real life family story.

"As well as cosy home grown certainties...through books, children can imagine what it might be like to be in someone else's shoes. This is surely where empathy starts...and who knows? Then maybe they may have a world with some fear taken out of it."

"I made Greetings From Sandy Beach after a trip to Wilson's Prom where Carolyn and I sat on a lonely beach imagining we could have been the only people on earth and a whole class of school kids dropped out of the sky on us followed by a very apologetic teacher."

 "Up until Rose Meets Mr Wintergarten I had my feet firmly planted on the ground in a reality which echoed my own. When Rose and her family appeared, the story needed them to be watching the sun coming up. My editor in London went for caution when she saw my rough sketches. 'Wouldn't they be safer and better off watching the sunrise from their front step?' she asked.

Sometimes you have to go for it. I not only put the family on the roof (it made a much better picture) but I put a sheep up there for good measure...Suddenly I thought my stories could go anywhere."

"In 1994 we moved to Somerset. We lived in an old stone house built in 1690. It had a door, 4 windows in front and a chimney with smoke coming out, and flowers on the windowsill. Just like a house that children would draw. These houses were perfect for Queenie the Bantam."

 I loved seeing the original drawing of the dapper duck that Graham's granddaughter drew that inspired Silver Buttons.

"Way beyond any awards or achievements that my books have been fortunate to receive was when I was told that my book How To heal A Broken Wing was to be published in Hebrew (Israel), and Farsi (Iran, I think in the same year. I can't think of anything more fulfilling that has happened to me in my publishing life. Iran saw fit to lengthen the skirts, but if they needed to do that then it was OK. It didn't alter the story."

Before Graham was a well-renown author and illustrator of children's books, he illustrated a book with his brother-in-law, Peter Smith. 
It was never published...until 2012.

The exhibition showed the original and current editions of Monsieur Albert Rides To Glory.
It was fascinating seeing how Graham's illustrations evolved with time. 
The book also changed from one with rather adult leanings to a more child friendly version.

I thoroughly enjoyed this journey into Graham's world. 
Like his books, I was left with a feeling of inclusion; I felt embraced, respected & cosy. 
There is a warmth and humanity that not only emanates from Graham's work, but from his life story as well. 

You have until August 24 to see this heart-warming exhibition at the Canberra Museum and Art Gallery.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout

I've read so many varied reviews of Olive Kitteridge over the years, that I knew that this was probably going to be a 'love it or hate it' kind of book.

Given my enjoyment of Strout's The Burgess Boys, I was expecting to love it.

Here was another story with all my favourite themes - belonging, yearning vs reality, hope vs reality, desire vs reality, truth and lies.

But in all the reviews I've read, no-one had ever told me that Olive Kitteridge could basically be read as a collection of short stories!

Each chapter is a snapshot in time for the people of Crosby, Maine.

Some of the chapters focus specifically on Olive or her husband, Henry.

But the bulk of the chapters follow the other inhabitants of small town Crosby as they go about their daily lives.
These lives intersect with Olive & Henry in various ways. They provide multiple viewpoints and assessments of Olive's character. Many of these views are not very positive.

And it is easy to see why.

Olive is one of those frustrating characters who has very little awareness of how her behaviour & words impact on others. She is completely bewildered by the loss of friends and the alienation of her only son. The only person who patiently stands by her side, constantly seeing the best in her, is gentle, loyal, optimistic Henry.

Olive Kitteridge is a force to be reckoned with. We all know a version of Olive.
Strout's genius is making Olive such a sympathetic, understandable character.

The writing is sublime, the pacing is subtle and the characterisations are observant & elegant. It's a simply told story full of the complexities & nuances of human nature.

I loved it.

(Olive also fulfills about 5 reading challenges for me.)

Monday, July 7, 2014

No Name by Wilkie Collins

No Name was my lucky number 1 for the Classics Club Spin #6.

The official finish/posting date for this Spin is the 7th July and I can happily report that I finished this book with a month to spare!
(Maybe I should put this 'spare' time to go use & finally finish Spin #5 - The Brothers Karamazov!!)

I read No Name with Melbourne on my Mind, who has not only finished the book, but also written her review. She makes a couple of fabulous character comments which made me laugh and nod my head in agreement. 

"Captain Wragge lives firmly in the grey zones between right and wrong. 

Frank Clare is a jerky mcjerkface and I really wish it was possible to punch fictional characters in the face, because that's what he deserves."

If you'd like to read the rest of her review please click on her name link above.

My edition of No Name, is prefaced by Wilkie with these words,

"Here is one more book that depicts the struggle of a human creature, under those opposing influences of Good and Evil, which we have all felt, which we have all known."

To that end, Magdalen is one of the most frustrating fictional characters I've read for quite some time.

She is drawn sympathetically by Wilkie.
In the first scene we see all her good points through the eyes of the other characters; we can't but help liking her.

She's a little headstrong and foolish in a Jo March/Maryann Dashwood kind of way - charming but silly.

However when she falls in love with the weak-kneed, opportunistic, self-centred Frank Clare we all reach a turning point in trusting Magdalen to make good choices.

Throughout the remainder of the book we watch her make bad situations worse, by her poor choices.

Wilkie shows us another way of managing their plight in the example of her sister, Norah. Like the Dashwood sister's in Sense and Sensibility, we are shown two ways of coping with adversity.

Norah gets on with making a new life for herself, makes the best of the things and doesn't complain. She is stoic, patient & forgiving.

Magdalen is a drama queen. She is vengeful, scheming & single-minded.

Despite all this, we still like Magdalen and feel sorry for her. Even as we are left wondering if her happy ending was a little bit more than she actually deserved!

There is much more to Wilkie than Moonstone and Woman in White.
He wrote 19 novels altogether - years of reading pleasure ahead of me!

No Name also fulfills my Back to the Classics reading challenge & Chunksters reading challenge.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Six Degrees of Separation

I love a good meme I can sink my teeth into and I've just discovered this new one being hosted by two Australian authors - Emma Chapman and Annabel Smith on their blogs.

The idea began with this post on the 29th March:
It is claimed that every person on this planet is linked to any other in six or fewer steps.  
But what about books?  Can we link them together too?
In 1929, Hungarian writer and poet Frigyes Karinthy wrote a short story called ‘Chains’ in which he coined the phrase ‘six degrees of separation’.
Annabel Smith and I are excited to announce a new meme, based on the idea in Karinthy’s story.  On the first Saturday of every month, we will be choosing a book, and then linking it to five other books to form a chain.  We will also be inviting our readers and other bloggersto join us by creating their own ‘chain’ leading from the selected book.
The books can be linked in obvious ways – for example, books by the same authors, from the same era or genre, or books with similar themes or settings.  Or, you may choose to link them in more personal or esoteric ways: books you read on the same holiday, given to you by a particular friend, that remind you of a particular time in your life, or that you read for a challenge.
The great thing about this meme is that each participant can make their own rules.  A book doesn’t need to be connected to all the other books on the list, only to the ones next to them in the chain.
The rules are simple:
This month's starting book is The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt.
For those of you who haven't read my review - I loved the beginning but by half way through I got tired of the coincidences and I gave up. As I was trying to work out which way to go with my first 'degree of separation' - art and birds were on my mind, but as soon as I went 'art gallery', I knew what I had to do.
I've recently put Mr Books onto Amin Maalouf as he has expressed an interest in the Middle/Dark Ages and the Middle East. When I pulled out my old copy of Leo the African I saw that I had purchased it at the Art Gallery of NSW back in 1998 (I always inscribed my books with name, date and place of purchase).
Book 2 was an easy leap from Maalouf to Malouf. Reading The Great World was an epic undertaking. It was a dense, intricate huge saga about a man called Digger.
Digger allowed me to jump to 'what were the women doing during the great war?' and Thomas Keneally's wonderful story about two Australian nurses in Gallipoli, Daughters of Mars.
My 4th degree of separation took me to another WW1 literary nurse, Maisie Dobbs. She has become my comfort read. I love her working class nursing back story and her post-war private investigator life.
Whenever I think of England between the wars, I automatically think of Brideshead Revisited. An easy 5th degree. But, of course, one of Waugh's themes was the plight of England and the aristocracy and whether they would survive the post-war deprivations & realities.
Which leads me to my 6th degree of separation - post WW2 France as viewed through the eyes of a young American couple in The Chateau by Maxwell Williams.
Which is perfect as I was hoping to link this meme to my Paris in July month :-)

Saturday, July 5, 2014

5 Years of Blogging

On the 5th July 2009, with very little idea about what I was doing or what I was letting myself in for, I wrote my first review on Brona's Books.

The book was Gone by Michael Grant and reflected that this blog started life as a review vehicle for teachers and parents about children's books.

For two years, I reviewed children's books, in fits and starts.
However I had very little interaction with the blogging community. I felt like I was writing into a great big unknown void.

It was during my summer holidays in January 2012 that I had a revelation.
I had read several fantastic adult books over the break and I was brimming with things to say about them...and I suddenly realised... I could blog about adult books too!

I also began to google and read stuff on how to be more interactive in the blogging world & how to get more comments and interested followers.

The brave new world of memes, blog hops and readalongs suddenly opened up before me!
I discovered The Classics Club and numerous Australian bloggers. I joined events, participated in memes & left hundreds of thoughtful comments in the blogosphere.

In fact, I found myself blogging about so many new and wonderful things, that I felt the need to start a second blog to cater for my photographic & travel writing urges!
In July 2012 Four Seasons was born.

Since then, I have learnt basic html, joined twitter and instagram and started a Brona's Books facebook page.

In the last 12 months I hosted my first events - AusReading Month in November and The Wharton Review in May.

To prove to the ever patient, always supportive Mr Books just how book nerdy & blog obsessive I really was, I spent a night tallying my reviews!

I have reviewed:

202 books by women authors
128 by men

138 of my 330 reviews were Australian titles

119 were adult books
80 teen/YA books
69 books for younger readers
57 were picture books

75 books were historical fiction
51 were contemporary stories
50 books were part of a series
39 were classics
28 were non-fiction books
27 books were fantasy
25 were dystopian/post apocalyptic books
23 were crime fiction
15 books were memoirs, biographies or autobiographies
12 featured a time-slip or time travel story line
7 books were short story collections
6 books were written in verse or poetry
6 were romance
5 were classified as humorous
1 was a play
1 graphic novel (& a partridge in a pear tree!)

I've loved every single minute of this five year journey (even the torturous first year of doubt and insecurity).

But the very best part of blogging has been all of you.

Yes, you - my readers, my followers & my regular commenters.
All of you who have shared readalongs, readathons, photos, spins & other book events with me, I thank you. I feel blessed to have met you all.
You have enriched my reading life no end.