Thursday, 28 July 2016

Mrs Dog by Janeen Brian

Mrs Dog by Janeen Brian and illustrated by Marjorie Crosby-Fairall touched me to my childhood bones.

Growing up in rural NSW meant that the story featured in Mrs Dog was not unknown to me. So many of my friends who lived on farms had a story about a dog and a lamb not unlike Freeman's one.

Mrs Dog is a retired farm dog that takes on the care of an orphaned lamb.

Lamb learns to act like Mrs Dog around the yard and with the other animals. Mrs Dog teaches her how to be safe around the farm. But the only thing lamb can't do is bark like Mrs Dog.
Until one day, when Mrs Dog finds herself  in grave danger, and lamb discovers how brave she really is.

The illustrations have a gentle, nostalgic feel and combined with the text created, for me, a connection to the heart-warming movie, Babe.

The Babe connection was made with the naming of the creatures from Mrs Dog's point of view - there are 'woolly-heads', 'tall-one', 'tall-two', 'baa-rah' and 'beaky-wings'.

Mrs Dog is a tender, touching story. It's full of hope, courage and kindness in all guises.

Dog stories like this resonate so strongly because they are not only based on true stories that we can relate to, but because they also remind us of our better natures.

Tuesday, 26 July 2016

Everywhere I Look by Helen Garner

Everywhere I Look by Helen Garner is a book to savour slowly.

And I did.

And I will again many, many times as time goes by.

A friend recently told me that she doesn't buy many books (she works in a library and doesn't really need to) but she bought a copy of Everywhere I Look (after reading the library copy) for two reasons.

One - the book was so wonderful that she wanted to support the author and her 'luminous writing'.

Two - she wanted to have her own copy so that she could dip in and out of it again and again whenever she wanted. And she felt that she was going to want to do this very often.

Everywhere I Look is that kind of book.

Despite the number of years this book spans, Garner's various essays, diary entries, letters and observations hang together gracefully. They range from thoughts on moving house, her friendship with Tim Winton, her reaction to the movie Red Dog, meeting Rosie Batty, a wonderful section on literary appreciation to hilarious observations on ageing.

There is so much to love and ponder. So much to connect to. So much of the personal Garner, warts and all.

One of the endearing qualities of this collection is how Garner imbues the familiar and everyday with a touch of beauty and charm, even when she is being scathing. She also gives us hope that the passing of time can finally bring us some form of healing and wisdom.

It's tempting to fill this review with all the wonderful Garner quotes I noted in this book as I read it. However I think you should discover this lovely little gem for yourself and discover the particular sections that resonate with you.

This book really spoke to me at a very female level. I don't mean feminine or even feminist. Garner actually spoke to me at some kind of deep-seated genetic, chromosomal level.

Even though our lives and life choices are vastly different, I saw and I understood and I felt seen and understood in return.

10/20 Books of summer (winter)

Sunday, 24 July 2016

Why I Love Pokemon Go?

Before you judge me, read on!

For the last two weeks, our two booklets (now aged 19 and almost 16) have been talking a lot about this whole pokemon go thing.

It's been lovely for two reasons.

One, over the past year or so, they actually haven't been bonding very well (B19 is oblivious to this problem which is, of course, part of the problem), however pokemon go has become a thing that has brought them together again. It's a tad competitive as they compare how many pokemon they have, their combat power (CP) and what rare ones they've managed to catch, but they're talking nicely to each other and they seem to enjoy sharing their tips and hints and adventures with each other.

Two, in the middle of our recent winter school holidays, when it turned really cold, B16 spent several hours each day, outside, walking and exploring our local area in an attempt to catch more pokemon. He still can't tell me the names of any of the local parks, despite visiting them several times for pokestops, but he at least knows that all these little parks now exist!

Over the past two weeks there has been lots of social media coverage (good and bad) about the pokemon go phenomenon. During the week, a young customer in our bookshop, caught two pokemon. Her excitement was contagious and we had a lovely chat about how many, what kinds and where.

So this weekend I decided to find out for myself what all the fuss was about.

B19 gave me a quick lesson on how to catch pokemon and what all the various symbols and icons in the app meant.

With this little bit of knowledge, a healthy dose of scepticism and a little bit of embarrassment, I headed off into the wilds of Balmain yesterday to find me some pokemon!

The first thing I had to do was stock up on some balls at a pokestop. Fortunately we have a park nearby with about five pokestops in it. You need the balls to catch pokemon. Pokemon with small CP levels can usually be caught with your first ball, as long as your aim is accurate.

My first couple of captures used up several balls, but once I got the hang of it, it was easy.

Pokemon with high CP are good if you want to do a battle in a pokemon gym. There are about four or five gyms in my suburb.

On my first pokemon walk though, I didn't have enough pokemon or a high enough level to do anything with the gyms.

After 45 mins, I came home with about 12 pokemon in my bag and a stack of balls up my sleeve!

Later on in the afternoon, we had to do a trip to the airport. Mr Books was driving - lets be clear about that upfront! After seeing a few people in the street catching pokemon, I wondered if you could also catch pokemon in the car. Turns out you can!

There was quite a bit of traffic on the road to the airport and we weren't moving very fast - I not only stocked up on loads of pokeballs and other icons, but I also caught quite a few pokemon.

On Sundays, I walked to B16's soccer game. It's an hour walk around the bay - the perfect way to spend a wintry Sunday afternoon. Today I also caught a few pokemon along the way.

I learnt that the higher the CP value of the pokemon, the harder it is to actually catch them. Several of today's captures actually had to be caught two or three times before they stayed caught!

I also saw lots of families with young children and small groups of tweenies walking and cycling around together capturing pokemon.

I learnt that there are no pokespots in schools or in front of people's homes.

When B16 learnt that I had been pokemoning this weekend, he was thrilled. He asked to see what I had caught and was impressed that I had caught a rare-ish Electabuzz. He explained about lures and showed me that there was one just around the corner.

We looked at each other, quickly put on our shoes and headed off into the cold wintry evening to catch more pokemon.

A lure, lures rarer pokemons to a certain area for half an hour. We caught a couple before the lure vanished.

We decided to keep walking to see what we could see.

And this is the main reason why I love pokemon go.

For the first time in months, B16 and I spent a wonderful, relaxed, easy hour together. We walked and talked and explored. We laughed and bonded and caught stacks of pokemon together.

I learnt that before they released the app, pokemon sent out teams of photographers around the world to take photos of all the plaques, signs and monuments that feature in the pokestops. And I levelled up enough to join a team. B16 and I are now on the same team :-)

We had a lovely evening. And we plan to do it again tomorrow after we finish work and school.

Once upon a time, families sat around the dinner table playing card games and scrabble and monopoly together.
Now, if you play your cards right, you can now spend time having the same kind of fun with your modern teenagers by playing pokemon go together.

And you can get some exercise together at the same time.

(Updates & new information about the game stats are included in the comments below.)

Friday, 22 July 2016

Angle of Repose by Wallace Stegner

Angle of Repose is Wallace Stegner's Pulitzer prize winning novel from 1971.

Stegner created a part fact/part fiction story of life in 1880's America based on the real letters and journals of Mary Hallock Foote. After his book was published, a controversy brewed with some of Foote's descendants about how Stegner went about this merging of fact and fiction and his use of Foote's letters.

My edition of Angle of Repose carried Stegner's brief note explaining that,
though I have used many details of their lives and characters, I have not hesitated to warp both personalities and events to fictional needs. This is a novel which utilises selected facts from their real lives. It is in no sense a family history.

To my mind then, it was pretty clear, as I read the book, that this would be a kind of fictionalised biography.

Stegner combined real life people with fictional characters. His fictional characters spoke the words of real life people and the letters written by the real life Foote were liberally used (with minor changes) to tell the story of her fictional counterpart - Susan Ward.

Real and imaginary events existed side by side.

As the fictional Lyman Ward re-imagined his grandmother's life to suit the needs of his own personal narrative, so too, did Stegner, re-imagine this amazing story of a New York artist living life in the wild, wild, West with her adventurous, engineering husband.

The Irrigation Ditch, 1889, Mary Hallock Foote

Past and present informed each other as the fictional Lyman looked for lessons or clues to help him come to terms with his own life and failed marriage.

It was also very clear that Stegner (and his character Lyman Ward) had a great deal of affection and respect for Mary Foote/Susan Ward.

The time spent in Boise, Idaho, planning the building of a new dam, that could transform the barren desert, was particularly evocative - you could taste the dust and heat and feel Susan's growing isolation.

The Foote home, 1885, Idaho

The Angle of Repose is also a story about marriage.

The choices we make for love and for security and the courage required to see it through.
Stegner explores loyalty, hope, frustration and how to maintain a sense of self and independence.

We see the importance of open communication, but also how to turn a blind eye and hold your tongue at times. He delves into the daily negotiations and the battles of will. He shows how the small discontents can build into seemingly insurmountable mountains over time, so that guilt and forgiveness become the thing that keeps a couple together.

Angle of Repose was a tremendous read. It's another example of a fabulous Pulitzer winner that completely embraces and encapsulates a period of time and way of life in American history.

It felt like this book has taken me ages to read. But it was only 3 weeks in the end.
Angle of Repose was a book to savour slowly. At 557 pages with small font and minimum line spacing, it wasn't a small undertaking, however it was worth every minute, every page, every letter. In fact, for me, it was Mary's many original letters that made this story such an absorbing gem.

9/20 Books of Summer (winter)
57/110 Classics Club

Addendum, or the dangers of writing a review too soon.

As some of you know, I avoid reading reviews about the book I'm currently reading. I like to write my own review unfettered by anyone else's opinions.

However, every now and again, a book does cause me to do some research on it as I'm reading it. 

Angle of Repose was one of those books. I felt the need to find out about Mary Hallock Foote and where the fact and fiction existed in this story. I found a fascinating PDF of Foote's life at the Newsletter of the Idaho State Historical Society.

Reading this brief bio about the Foote's made me realise just how much of Mary's life was actually in Angle of Repose.

The main facts and figures and people are straight from Mary's real life. Stegner imagined conversations, motives and feelings to suit his literary purposes. When questioned afterwards, Stegner never denied his use of Foote's diaries and letters but it is curious that he didn't chronicle this properly at the time as one would expect of such a well-regarded academic.

The Newsletter above states at the end in it's bibliography that Angle of Repose is "A fictionalized telling of Mary Hallock Foote’s life, Angle of Repose is a great book, but don’t look to it for historical accuracy".

In the reviews and articles I've now read, I've come across a lot of literary regard for the character of Lyman. To my mind, as a character, he was nowhere near as interesting as his grandparents were. And I've now been wondering about the patriarchal attitudes that were still alive and kicking in the 70's, that not only saw Lyman's story as more relevant than Mary's, but also allowed Stegner to claim and bend a little known female writer's life to his own purpose, without any consequence.

I'm surprised that new editions of the book haven't rectified this oversight. Stegner clearly held his female characters in high regard and he wrote about them with warmth and affection. Yet, the more I read, the more it feels like something a little dishonest has happened here.

Should I have left my initial enjoyment of Angle of Repose alone?
Or does my new found knowledge, although tinged with shadows, allow me to view the book and the author(s) and the controversy in a more correct context?

The Pulitzer Project has several reviews for Angle of Repose which you can find here.
Jean @ Howling Frog Books review.
Rosemary and Reading Glasses' review.
Lisa @Bookshelf Fantasies review.

Wednesday, 20 July 2016

The Amazing True Story of How Babies Are Made by Fiona Katauskas

The how and why of babies being made is a curious choice for the CBCA.

Most primary school libraries automatically take a copy of all the shortlisted books, but I've been told by my reps that a number of the Catholic schools are not taking this one.

I find it a little sad and disturbing that in this day and age that a simple, straight forward book about our bodies, how we grow, change and reproduce is deemed inappropriate or too difficult for some.

I can only assume that it's the all inclusive nature of The Amazing True Story of How Babies Are Made is what puts off some people. Her illustrations are multicultural and feature every type of modern family including same-sexed couples, single parents and adoption.

Katauskas starts off by showing us all kinds of babies - animal and human babies and tells us that "our bodies can do amazing things."

We then move onto a closer look at our bodies - the male and female parts are labelled using all the proper names (although she does reference some of the nicknames we use as well).

She moves through the teenage years, the changes and differences that happen on the way to becoming an adult.
The sex page gives enough truthful information without going into all the details that would be appropriate for most 8+ readers (or whatever age your child is when they start asking these awkward questions)!

Katauskas discusses fertilisation, twins, in vitro, how the foetus grows and the birthing process, including caesarean births. Her approach is inclusive - so that all types of families, including adoptees and same-sex parents could easily read this book with their children.

The secret of Katauskas' success though is her humour. There's just enough to take away the embarrassment element for many.

When I was preschool teaching we were often asked by parents how much and what they should tell their children about how our bodies work. I always stressed the importance of using the proper words and giving just enough information.

For instance, most four years olds don't want to know exactly how their mother gives birth to their new baby sibling, they just want to know that she will be okay.
Whenever they asked us, "how does the baby get outside of mummy?" we usually responded with "when the baby is ready to be born, mummy will go to the hospital and the doctor will help the baby come out."

For most four year olds that is enough. But if they keep asking for more details, then this could be the perfect book for you.

The judging criteria for the CBCA Eve Pownall Award for Information book refers to,
books which have the prime intention of documenting factual material with consideration given to imaginative presentation, interpretation and variation of style. 

The Amazing True Story of Babies ticks all those boxes and also provides a much needed updated and modern take on our bodies.

(The 1977 Peter Mayle classic, Where Did I Come From? that I can remember giggling over as a primary school student, was fabulous for it's time, but it's nearly 40 years old.
One of the criticisms of the sex scene in Where Did I Come From? was its focus on the male point of view. Fortunately Katauskas is a modern woman and we have mutual love making that is clearly enjoyable to both parties, a hard penis and, glory be, a wet vagina!)

Katauskas' website is here if you'd like to see more of her work.

 My CBCA shortlist post is here.

Sunday, 17 July 2016

Another Night in Mullet Town by Steven Herrick

Another Night in Mullet Town by Steven Herrick is a verse novel for teens set in a small coastal town with lots of fishing references.

How's that for a hard sell?

The trouble is, I adore Herrick's writing and his ability to draw complex, authentic characters with so few words.

He could probably write a story about boxing or a spider plague and I would still love it, although I hope he doesn't test me out on that score!

Of course, Another Night is Mullet Town is not just about fishing.

Herrick explores his usually themes of belonging, friendship, family and community. He also touches on trust and everyday courage.

I grew up with boys like Jonah and Manx. Herrick writes their stories very sympathetically, however I didn't feel the emotional impact with this story as I have with his earlier books.
People like you and me, Jonah, we drag down the price of everything we touch. 
Life for Jonah and Manx means fishing for mullet at the lake, watching their school mates party on Friday night and wishing they had the courage to talk to Ella and Rachel.
But now their lakeside town is being sold off, life doesn't seem so simple. Manx holds a grudge against the wealthy blow-ins from the city and Jonah just wants his parents to stop arguing.
One memorable night at the lake will change everything.
Another Night in Mullet Town has a teen sex scene, drinking and some drug references.
This was one of my reads for Dewey's readathon in April.

The Simple Gift by Steven Herrick
Pookie Aleera is Not My Boyfriend by Steven Herrick

Friday, 15 July 2016

Perfect by Danny Parker

Perfect by Danny Parker has been illustrated by award winning illustrator Freya Blackwood.
When Parker found out who had been assigned to illustrate his book, he must have rubbed his hands together with delight and thought, 'perfect!'

Perfect is also the perfect theme for Blackwood. A story that promotes the simple pleasures of childhood is something she is no stranger to,

Her delightful, idyllic drawings add a charm to the everyday happenings of this group of young siblings who eat, play, create, fix, make and imagine the day away together.

The siblings all use their day in age appropriate fashion, according to their developmental stage. We see the older ones helping the toddler and the younger ones trying to copy their big sister.

I love her outdoorsy pictures in particular. They are full of movement, fresh air and warmth (you can almost smell the summers day through the pages).

I'm also a sucker for maps in books - the page showing us the farm, the cove, river and little village is designed to be poured over and explored in detail.

Parker has written a story that extols the freedom and spontaneity of childhood. It's a particular type of childhood that many of us probably don't get to have, but one that many of us idealise as being perfect.

A childhood of sunshine, security and carefree simplicity.

I did ask myself, though, at the end of the book, "where are the parents?"

Nominated for this years CBCA Early Childhood book, Perfect is the perfect lazy, read aloud book to share with your child at the end of another busy day.

My CBCA shortlist post is here.

Wednesday, 13 July 2016

Auggie and Me: Three Wonder Stories by R J Palacio

I loved Wonder when I first read it almost five years ago.

I devoured it in one night and knew that it was a winner straight away.

Even my non-reading youngest booklet (sigh) loved Wonder and even went so far as to say that if there were more books like this he might actually read more.

High praise indeed!

However, I was a little sceptical last year when Palacio published a sequel of sorts that features three of the characters not given a voice in Wonder.

Was this just milking a sure thing? Could these three stories add to and enhance our time in Auggie's world?

In her Introduction to Auggie and Me, Palacio says that this book
is an expansion of Auggie's world. The three stories in Auggie and Me - The Julian Chapter, Pluto and Shingaling, all originally published as short ebooks - are told from the perspective of Julian, Christopher and Charlotte, respectively. They are three completely different narratives...they all do have one thing in common, though, which is Auggie Pullman.
 As it turns out though, these three stories are just as wonderful as the original story.

They give us insight into why Julian bullies Auggie. Palacio creates a nuanced, complex character with a backstory of his own.

Through Christopher and Charlotte we experience the wider world that Auggie lives in but is not always aware of. Both Christopher and Charlotte have a lot going on in their own lives which makes it difficult for them to fully engage with what Auggie's world. Christopher's chapter also gives us a chance to see Auggie as a young child as he remembers some of their early adventures.

If you loved Wonder, you'll love Auggie and Me too.

It evokes similar heart-warming feelings and continues the theme of kindness that has made Wonder so special to so many readers around the world.


Monday, 11 July 2016

TBR Booksnap #1

I am reading, but not quickly or a lot right now.

I have two wonderful books on the go - Helen Garner's Everywhere I Look and Wallace Stegner's Angle of Repose.
Both books deserve to be savoured. I don't want to rush either of them, but at the same time, I can feel my #20booksofsummer (winter) challenge slipping out of my control! Oh well.

Given the week I've had, things like reading challenges have slipped right off the radar.

Mr Books took on another job for a month to help out a friend, my dad had major surgery and we had a fire at work.
Well, not actually at work - to be precise it was above my work. An apartment fire that required rescue action from my boss and myself when we spotted it. The fire brigade did a very thorough job in completely dousing it but we have been dealing with sodden carpets for over a week and it has left us with that ghastly lingering smoky/soot smell and a bit of a mess out the back.

I've been lucky to read a couple of chapters a day, let alone blog sensibly!

Perhaps because I've been a little anxious this week, things have been getting to me that normally don't.

Things like dirty socks on the floor and empty cups in the lounge room ... and my out of control TBR pile!

How on earth am I going to get my TBR pile under control if I'm only reading a couple of chapters a day....and almost daily, growing said TBR pile - thanks to rep ARC's turning up at work almost every day?

Stegner's 'angle of repose' refers to an engineering term that measures the critical point were a loose pile of stuff rests before slumping further.

One bleak winter's evening last week, I seriously considered testing the angle of repose on my TBR pile. A la Marie Kondo, I was going to pile them all on the floor together to see how they rolled and to see what joy was sparked!

But the thought of cleaning it up afterwards killed the idea before it was fully formed.

Then I thought about all the words I could spell using the titles in my TBR pile...and before I knew it, I had spelt my name in books.

Maybe this could be a way to keep my TBR front and centre of my attention - making piles that spelt out words or grouping them thematically? Just for fun?

Maybe I could start a TBR booksnap?

Would you join in?
Have you got enough books on your TBR pile to spell out your name?

Have you read any of my name pile? Which one should I read next?

If we get enough interest, I may even get creative and make a button! And commit to a regular meme.

But for now, share your TBR booksnap below - spelling out your name/blog name or whatever name you're most comfortable sharing.

And let's see what happens.

Thursday, 7 July 2016

Miss Moon: Wise Words from a Dog Governess by Janet Hill

Miss Moon is one of those delightful picture books for children, that's really for the grown-ups (and dogs) in their life!

Full of simple truisms and etiquette advice designed to remind us of what really matters. Each double page spread elegantly highlights such gems as -

  • Always give the warmest of welcomes.
  • A tidy space is a welcoming space.
  • Show your loved ones you care.
  • Respect the property of others.
  • Friends come in many shapes and sizes.
  • A good book will chase away the dark.

Most of the story is actually revealed on the fly cover of the book.

We are told that Miss Wilhelmina Moon is a dog governess. Her first placement was on a small island off the coast of France looking after 67 dogs!

In this book, she collects twenty of her hard-won lessons in "raising happy, healthy, well-mannered pooches - and people."

She is a Mary Poppins for dogs!

Miss Moon is unflappable and dignified at every eventuality.
Poise and graciousness are paramount. Kindness is expected as the norm.
What's not to love?

Canadian artist, Janet Hill uses oil on canvas to create these beautiful pages. You can watch her technique here at the Daily Globe and Mail site.

Each double page spreads has a border with a lesson insert. French chic oozes from every image.

The dogs are given anthropomorphic characteristics (I haven't had a chance to use that word since my Uni assignments on themes in childhood literature!)

We see dogs in glasses, in Halloween outfits, riding bikes and dressed as pirates.

Miss Moon is more an art book than a story book and a more useful guide to living than anything Marie Kondo has produced so far! In fact, everything about this book brings you joy.

Full of doggy adorableness and cuteness, this is a dog lovers paradise.

Also available as Mademoiselle Moon Gouvernante de Chiens.

This post is part of my Paris in July challenge.

Monday, 4 July 2016

Flight by Nadia Wheatley

Flight has been shortlisted for this year's CBCA Picture Book category.

This is the category where author and illustrator need to create a 'unity' of purpose to appeal to the judges.

In an interview on the CBCA Reading Time blog, Greber mentioned that, even though Wheatley's theme appealed to him, he was sure he could take on this project as he thought Wheatley's original text was too "overly descriptive" and didn't leave him enough creative space.

However, when Wheatley learnt of this, she was happy to revise her story to give him "enough holes in her text for my images to fill."

Flight is a refugee story and interestingly, Greder has chosen a biblical feel for the first few illustrations.

The story begins with a mother, father and small baby fleeing through the harsh desert on the back of a donkey. They are following the light of a star to find their way.

We are instantly reminded, with Gerber's haunting, stark drawings that the Nativity scene, one of the central images of the Christian world, is actually a refugee story that so many honour and celebrate every Christmas.

After a few pages, though, we realise that Flight is a very modern story.
Our fleeing family witness bombs exploding on the horizon and hear the rumble of tanks approaching.

Wheatley and Greber draw many more parallels between the plight of the refugees of old and the current refugee crisis. They show the age old difficulty of all refugees in finding a safe haven, being turned away by the locals and locked out by authority figures. They highlight the worry, the danger, the hunger, thirst, fear, sickness and insecurity that is the lot of refugees of any era.

Gerber's black and white charcoal drawings are dark and gloomy. They capture the harshness and inhospitality of the desert environment as well as its stark beauty.

My CBCA shortlist post is here.

Saturday, 2 July 2016

Paris in July

Ahhh, it's that time of year again, when we in the Southern hemisphere, tiring of our dreary winter days, begin to dream of warmer, more exotic climes.

After a spate of cold, wet, windy days (and for my family and friends west of the mountains, snowy days), I can safely say that I am OVER winter. I'm tried of chapped lips, layers and layers of clothes and dark, gloomy days.

Tamara's Paris in July is a blessed, welcome relief.

It's a chance to make the most of these miserable days by curling up with a great book or two. A book that can transport me to another place, another time.

To fit in with my 20 books of Summer (winter) challenge, I will read the books on my list with a French flavour - Joan of Arc by Lili Wilkinson, Vilette by Charlotte Bronte and The Santiago Pilgrimage by Jean-Christophe Rufin.

Tamara's approach to Paris in July this year will be laissez-faire thanks to her busy life schedule, so jump on in at your leisure in any way that you can this year!

What will you be reading for this year's Paris in July?

Thursday, 30 June 2016

Ruins by Rajith Savanadasa

Born in Sri Lanka, Savanadasa is now a Melbourne based author and Ruins is his debut novel set in Colombo, Sri Lanka.

Ruins is a contemporary novel narrated from multiple points of view.

Latha is the Tamil servant of a family at a crossroads of change. The family consists of the disturbed teenage daughter, Anoushka, the bumbling, passive-aggressive husband, Mano, his Tamil born, anxious wife, Lakshmi and their selfish, angry son, Niranjan.

The time frame is the end of the decades long Tamil Tigers civil war in 2009.

As the chapters cycle around for a second look at each characters POV, Savanadasa cleverly nudges us to see that our first opinions may not have been entirely accurate or complete. For a debut writer there is a great deal of assurance in his ability to create nuanced characters and layers of meaning.

As the civil war ends they're all forced to deal with their Tamil connections. Niranjan steps up, Mano disappoints, Anoushka falls apart, Lakshmi becomes obsessive and Latha finds a kind of peace.

For a more detail synopsis of the story, check out Lisa's review @ANZLitLovers.

At the end of her review Lisa asked me who my heart was with during this book (she was moved by Anoushka and Latha). After the first half of the story I was also with Latha but also the well meaning Mano. However the second half saw me embrace Anoushka and Niranjan. Their fragility and insecurity broke my heart.

As many of you already know, I adore Indian literature, which means by extension, I also love Pakistani, Sri Lankan and Bangladeshi literature.

There is something about this area of the world that fascinates me. The history, the food, the culture and the land are all so very different to Australia that there is no doubt an element of exoticism to my fascination.

However, like my love of Chinese literature and history, there is also a desire to understand the people's of the two most populous areas on our planet.
The waxing and waning of their power, their views of the western world and how their physical worlds helped to form their culture and religion have always enthralled me.

So much of our world view is Eurocentric (with a great big dollop of US bluster), that it's refreshing, encouraging and sometimes confronting to read about our world from a different perspective.

Savanadasa gives us enough information about the various castes, with their propaganda and prejudices to make sense of his novel as well as leaving the likes of moi, wanting to know more, much more.

The tantalising Buddhist concept of rebirth is explored throughout Ruins and Savanadasa tells us at the end that he has loosely based the book on this concept too.

The Moon-stone or sandakada pahana is a semi-circular slab that features in Sri Lankan architecture and represents the neverending cycle of rebirth. The four animals following each other around the outer circle, the elephant, horse, lion and bull, symbolises the four stages of life - growth, energy, power and forbearance or birth, disease, decay and death.

The vine, liyavel symbolises the worldly desires that can entangle us and the swan represents the ability to see the good and bad inside all of us. The central lotus symbolises the final goal of rebirth, or samsara - Nirvana.

I wish I had known this before starting the story as it gives the journey of the five characters extra meaning.
Latha is obviously the swan who undergoes a kind of personal transformation at her nephew's funeral which allows her to experience a state of living nirvana or true insight, to the envy and disbelief of the other characters.

Ruins was an engrossing read, rich with promise and local detail.
Highly recommended.


Monday, 27 June 2016

Gentlemen Formerly Dressed by Sulari Gentill

When I woke up on Saturday morning with a vague sensation that my cold from two weeks ago was trying to return, I knew that I had to do something drastic.

I needed comfort and I needed warm and cosy. 
And I needed it now!

I needed the cosy comfort of a dear friend. Someone I could curl up on the lounge with. And that lucky someone was Rowland Sinclair and his Bohemian pals.

Gentlemen Formerly Dressed is the fifth book in Gentill's Rowland Sinclair mystery series.

GFD picked up where Paving the New Road left off - with Rowly and his friends fleeing 1933 Germany to reach London, battered and bruised but alive to tell their tale.

However, London turns out to be not so safe after all. Fascists have infiltrated London society and a bizarre murder sees Rowland and his friends embroiled in intrigue and danger once again.

It was fascinating to read this particular Rowland Sinclair mystery as I also watched the Brexit referundum and its ensuing political fallout play out this weekend.

GFD highlighted a world of appeasement at all costs, fear of Jewish refugees, American isolationist policies and the rise of fascist groups spouting racist propaganda all in the name of science (eugenics).

It was quite disheartening to read the same rhetoric (just with different names) and with 80 years in between in this weekend's papers.

As per usual, though, it's Gentill's genteel mix of fact and fiction that makes these stories so much fun.

It's wonderful to discover in GFD that Rowly's English cousin is Rear Admiral Sir Hugh Sinclair, the chief of MI6 who bought Bletchley Park. They also find themselves socialising with Stanley Bruce, H. G. Wells, Evelyn Waugh and a prince of the realm or two.

If you haven't tried one of these delightful stories yet, do yourself a favour and start right now. They're the perfect holiday read - a great blend of historical fiction, gentle crime and humour.

My reviews for the first four books are here:

A Few Right Thinking Men
A Decline in Prophets
Miles Off Course
Paving the New Road


Sunday, 26 June 2016

Mr Huff by Anna Walker

Melbourne based author/illustrator Anna Walker has been shortlisted for this years CBCA Early Childhood category with Mr Huff.

Mr Huff shows us what can happen when you let negative thoughts take over. We see how a bad day can get worse or better depending on how you think about it.

As negative thoughts take hold of our young, anxious protagonist, Bill, we see the Mr Huff shadow grow bigger, darker and more dominant.

Walker takes us through the various things Bill tries to do to get rid of Mr Huff - he waits, he ignores, he tries to be brave, but none of these things really work and Mr Huff keeps getting bigger.

It looks like Mr Huff might be around forever.

Until, Bill suddenly stops. He looks at Mr Huff and he sees himself inside Mr Huff's tears.

At this point, I'm not sure if Bill is embracing his own sadness or seeing himself as others see him or responding empathically to someone else's sadness. Maybe it's all three.

However. it's enough to make a difference.

Bill looks up and around and begins to take notice of all the little things around him. He observes others dealing with the same day differently to himself and slowly, little by little, he begins to get involved with those around him.

And with every little thing that Bill does - from smiling at people, to talking and joining in, Mr Huff gradually gets smaller and smaller.

I loved Walker's previous book, Peggy, which was shortlisted for the CBCA Early Childhood book back in 2013.

There is something about the sensitivity and quirkiness of her books that appeal to young children (and their adult readers alike). Her pencil, ink and collage illustration are attractive and engaging. They subtly convey the various moods within the story.

When Mr Huff was first launched, an exhibition of Walker's collages was held at the No Vacancy Project Space in Federation Square.
Sadly the exhibition is now finished, but you can see some images of what looked like an amazing display here.

My CBCA shortlist post is here.