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!


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.

Monday, September 22, 2014

The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell

What a journey!

My first David Mitchell has left me glowing, gloating & groaning.

Glowing - in the delight of having found a 'new-to-me' author - I now have a whole back list of books to look forward to.
Glowing - from delight in finding such an absorbing, magical story that swept me across generations and times and worlds.

Gloating - that I was reading this year's Booker winner (until the shortlist was announced & he was missing from it!)

Groaning - that now I've finished the book, I miss it terribly. I miss Holly. I miss being in Mitchell's world.
Groaning - about the Crispin chapter - what purpose? why?
It didn't seem to add anything new to the Script, except for a little romantic angle and a trip to Australia.

The Bone Clocks is about purpose, relationships, good vs evil, freewill, doubt, time & timelessness, memory & the environment. All told with a hearty paranormal, science fiction twist.

The Bone Clocks also helped me to finally understand the purpose of twitter!
Sharing my favourite quotes with others reading the book at the same time added to my sense of journey & immersion in the story.

The Australian edition has an extra few pages of  "In conversation with David Mitchell" that talks about the Australian settings in the book. He describes Rottnest Island as

"an extraordinary location...that deep, burnished, glassy blue of the Indian Ocean, so unlike the ginger-beer-coloured English Channel of my childhood; the brain-broiling, skin-frying sun, drier and more dangerous than in Japan; and when a quokka lolloped across the road, I nearly fell off my rented bike."

Mitchell also talks about meeting Australian award-winning writer, Kim Scott who is a Noongar Elder and his time back-packing around Australia. Timelessness comes naturally to the Australian environment,

"The quality of light at dawn, and the alien (to my ears) birdsong and, how, in Europe, you have to go a long way and look selectively to find a view where nothing tells you what century you're in. In many regions of Australia, by contrast..., you can easily find a view containing no clues whatsoever about any century."

I loved this book from start to finish - even the slightly flawed sections. Holly was a character I cared for deeply. Her journey became my journey.

But now that I've finished it...what next? What should my next book journey be? Perhaps I will leave my 'what next' in Mitchell's very capable hands...because I've always loved a little bit of ambiguity!

"For one voyage to begin, another voyage must come to an end, 
sort of."

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

It's Nothing Personal

It happens to us all.

Every now and again, we simply need a break.

Not a long break or a permanent break - just a little hiatus to catch our breath & recharge our batteries.

That's me right now.

Like the true introvert I am, I've crawled into my shell & I have nothing to say.

Well...only a little bit to say...

I've been unwell, I've been away & I've been busy. My mind is preoccupied & my thoughts are scattered.

I could beat myself up for not reviewing and visiting blogs. Instead I've decided to be kind to myself and give myself the little technology break my mind is obviously in need of.

Instagram, twitter & facebook will not be checked daily. And I will blog again as soon as I can piece together a coherent blog post.

In the meantime...

I'm half way through The Bone Clocks, I'm only four chapters into my Classic Club Spin book and my TBR pile is growing not diminishing.

I will simply and happily use all this extra spare time to read, read, read!

P.S. I like pinterest, but sometimes quotes, like this one, are not easy to trace back to their source.
Please accept this unacknowledged repost as a compliment to the original author for saying exactly what I wanted to say at this moment in time.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

The Joys of Blogging #368

There are no words to adequately describe how wonderful it was to meet Melissa (& her lovely Huz) from Avid Reader's Musings face to face in Sydney last night. 

Melissa contacted me last year asking for advice on things to see and do in Sydney.
Several emails & blog posts later and with anticipation & excitement, the happy day finally arrived!

I believe that Huz and Mr Books were concerned about how we would recognise each other and one of our Booklets was concerned about cyber strangers & how did we know if we were meeting axe murderers or not!
Delightfully, Melissa and I recognised each other straight away & the only lethal weapons in sight were the deadly gin and tonics served at high altitude!

We splashed out for drinks at Blu Bar on 36 to take in the magnificent views of Sydney Harbour at sunset. We laughed, compared accents & chatted non-stop about books, blogging and travelling!

I don't normally post photos of myself on my blog, and these pics are not the best I've ever taken, but I simply had to share this special occasion.

I hope, before too long, that Mr Books & I will be able to return the favour & catch up with Melissa & Huz in Indianapolis.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Belzhar by Meg Wolitzer

I haven't read a lot of teen/YA fiction lately - it has been boring me to tears to be perfectly honest.
Which is difficult, when it's my job to read children's book!

Thank goodness then, for Meg Wolitzer and Belzhar.

I was reluctantly, then wholeheartedly, drawn into this sad world of teens with 'issues' and their special school, The Wooden Barn.

Wolitzer's writing was enchanting; her characters were believable and before I knew it, I was sucked into this strange world of inspired teaching, mysterious journals & teen angst.

Belzhar was also a story about the power of words - "great writing (does) make a difference" - and the healing power of story in helping us through life.

The trick being, of course, to know when it's a story we're telling ourselves "because the truth was unbearable."

Wolitzer referred to the stories & poetry of Sylvia Plath throughout this book, as well as creating her title in homage to The Bell Jar, which has only made me more determined to read it!

Belzhar is an October release for Simon & Schuster Australia.
Highly recommended for teens, YA and adults wanting an easy but compelling read.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Seven Letters From Paris by Samantha VĂ©rant

I so wanted to love this story.

Seven Letters From Paris: Sometimes Love Gives you a Second Chance: A True Love Story should have been right up my alley.
My Random House rep knew of the basic story behind my very own romantic marriage, so she thought of me straight away when this proof copy turned up at work.

Sure, Sydney is not Paris, and our time apart was 14 yrs, not 20. I was only 19 when I met my husband for the first time, just like Samantha. However ours was more than a holiday romance back then as we dated for 4 yrs....& the beginning of our second time also centred around letters and emails.

As you can see, two very similar romantic stories - we should have been kindred spirits. I should have been able to relate to Samantha's story. But I didn't.

The part that finally made me give up was when Samantha flew to Paris to meet Jean-Luc for the first time 20 yrs later.

Perhaps it's simply not possible to describe the true intensity of feelings of that day, that moment when you meet again. The hopes, the fears, the anticipation, the regrets, the excitement, the wonder, the confusion, the tears, the laughter, the passion - so many expectations & possibilities crowded into one moment, one day. Ten years later, that day is etched onto my brain, heart & soul forever.

Sadly, I was unable to enter into Samantha's world at this point of the story. I felt deflated, like something important had been glossed over. Even Paris seemed bland. I couldn't capture the excitement or feel the emotion. It was a story being told, rather than an experience being shared.

I do wish Samantha and Jean-Luc all the love and happiness in the world. I hope their real life story continues to be as wonderful, romantic and special as ours is to this day.
Even though all our friends say our story would make a fabulous movie, after reading Seven Letters, I think I will save our story just for us.
Unless you know the people involved, with all the back stories and nuances understood & accepted, reading someone else's love story is just, well...unsatisfying.

Seven Letters From Paris is a November release from Random House Australia.
This post is part of Dreaming of France.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage by Haruki Murakami

I finished Tsukuru a week ago but have struggled to write my review. I'm not sure what I have to say or how to say it.

Tsukuru is a much quieter story than 1Q84. It's also a lot shorter! The editing and translation felt more succinct; either that, or I'm getting used to Murakami's style.

Loneliness, depression, loss & insecurity are explored as Tsukuru comes to terms with who he is, his past and what this means for his future.

This is all very familiar territory for Murakami & it would seem that his fans, also, cannot get enough of these themes.

I think I'm one of those fans.

Tsukuru's story has got under my skin. The visions of loneliness have struck a chord, the beautiful Liszt music has become a favourite.

I'm always fascinated by stories that explore how we see ourselves because it is often vastly different to how others experience us. Part of Tsukuru's pilgrimage is coming to terms with these two different view of himself. But like real life, there are no clear revelations, no startling turning points & no significant overnight changes in behaviour or attitude.

At the end Tsukuru has more understanding and self-awareness, but he is still the same Tsukuru struggling with self-doubt, loneliness & identity.

I will be reading more Murakami; I'm very curious to see what came before.
What is Murakami's personal pilgrimage with loneliness, depression, loss & belonging? Will he ever work it out? And do we even want him to?

This post is part of Dolce Bellezza's Japanese Reading Challenge & Jenny's Alphabe-Thursday 'P' (is for Pilgrimage) post.
For my previous discussion on the cover and music click here.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

The Flying Orchestra by Clare McFadden

The Flying Orchestra was first published in 2010 & Clare McFadden won the CBCA New Illustrator's Crichton Award in 2011.

I can't believe that I have never written a review about this wonderful, inspiring, beautiful book before.

I reread it recently and was amazed all over again by the soulful, moving story & the evocative illustrations.

Set in Brisbane, this is a story that will capture your heart and live inside you for a very long time.

As a (former) teacher I could imagine choosing favourite pieces of music to play whilst sharing this book with my classes. I was delighted to discover that Clare has done just that! She has created a youtube book reading whilst three friends accompany her.

The sound quality is not great, but I've included the link below, so you can enjoy this story for yourself.
So, do yourself a favour.
Stop everything, sit down, take a deep breath, relax & listen to this gorgeous story. It's just seven minutes and it will be the best thing you do today!

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

A Palace Full of Princesses by Sally Gardner

A Palace Full of Princesses contains four of Sally Gardner's Early Reader stories - The Frog Prince, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty & Snow White.

Each story has about 6-7 chapters, large font and lots of colourful pictures on each page.

The stories are traditional with the occasional modern twist and a little humour. 

Snow White has all the dark twists and turns you expect, Cinderella is wish fulfillment personified, the Frog Prince is cheekily persistent & Sleeping Beauty ends with 

"The prince and princess lived very happily. They had sixteen children and their favourite story was, of course, the story of Sleeping Beauty."

Sixteen children!

All the pages are decorated with pretty borders, frames, stars and lots of delightful details.

A Palace Full of Princesses is the perfect gift for new readers or to read aloud with your princess-loving 4+ child.

Monday, September 1, 2014

One Minute's Silence by David Metzenthen & Michael Camilleri

I wrote a post about the proliferation of Australian WW1 stories for children earlier in the year (here). I honestly didn't think I would be adding many more reviews to this ever-growing list.

It seemed that all the possible ways of commemorating and remembering the war had been covered - letters, diaries, seeds, clothing, photos, horses & donkeys. Gallipoli, Beersheba, the muddy trenches of France & camp hospitals. Wounds, capture, gassing, fear, amputation, death, grief & hope. Mateship, nurses, poppies, pines, medals, the last post, graves, memorials & coming home. The bravery & futility, the differences & similarities, the making of a nation, the ANZAC's, the home front, the propaganda & lest we forget.

Every angle explored, every emotion evoked.

Until, that is, One Minute's Silence by David Metzenthen crossed my path.

This is a picture book for older readers. Metzenthen's text has mature themes & concepts.

Camilleri's black & white cross-hatch drawings are stunning, confronting & full of symbolism.
They engage the reader from the start as we see a highschool classroom full of bored teenagers slouching on their desks. The teacher is poised to lead a minute's silence as we see the classroom clock tick over from 10:59:59 to 11am.

During the one minute's silence we are taken on a journey, back to the trenches of Gallipoli.

The faces of the classmates appear in the trenches. They feel the fear, they face the danger. The realities of war are confronted in some very powerful & challenging images.

We see the faces of the Turks in the trenches opposite. They feel the fear, they face the danger, just like the ANZAC' the faces of their highschool classmates appear in Turkish ranks too.

Metzenthen highlights the impossible, hopeless nature of the Gallipoli campaign. And Camilleri's drawings hit you where it hurts. One Minute's Silence is a book full of provocations, reflections & discussion topics.

They leave us with Ataturk's now famous speech from 1934.
The same words that now also adorn the Gallipoli memorial at ANZAC Cove,

Thursday, August 28, 2014

The Jane Austen Community

Thanks to one of our AiA reviewers, I started searching for a Jane Austen society in Australia...which has led me on to a much bigger world of Jane Austen love than I could ever have dreamed or hoped for!

I thought that some of you might also like to see just how much love there is for Jane Austen and just how far that love has traveled.

I give you the Jane Austen Society of Australia...founded in 1989. (I had hoped to attend their August meeting entitled 'Through a Scholar's Lens: R W Chapman and Jane Austen' but bad weather got the better of me.)

"Jane Austen Festival Australia is an annual celebration in Canberra where Austen and Napoleonic fans from all over Australia come and indulge themselves in everything Regency – including dancing, music, food, games, archery, fencing, theatre, promenades, grand balls, talks, workshops, costumes and books. Since its inception in 2008 this little festival has blossomed into one of the most delightful four days anyone could experience each April."
They also have their own, regularly updated blog here.

Jane Austen Society of Melbourne has been meeting since 1993.

The Jane Austen Society of Adelaide started in 1996.

The UK are very organised with their JAS.
All the regional branches are clearly listed on their home page.

There is a Jane Austen Centre in Bath (which I have been fortunate enough to visit in 2007). They also have their own Jane Austen magazine.

Ireland have their own Jane Austen Society blog.

The Jane Austen Society of North America can be found here and Canada here.

If you have a google translate option you can read the JAS Netherlands site or Brazil's!

Goodreads has a Jane Austen group. You can also join the Republic of Pemberley!

If you prefer Jane Austen adaptations then My Jane Austen Book Club could be your cup of tea.

There are so many blogs devoted to all things Jane Austen it would be impossible to list them all. Here are a few to get you started though...
Austen Family Album
Jane Austen Addict
The Secret Dream World of a Jane Austen Fan
Jane Austen's World
Stitching With Jane Austen

Thank you to Jenna for hosting this year's Austen in August. It's wonderful to have a whole month every year devoted to all things Jane Austen.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Haruki Murakami

I only 'discovered' Murakami last year when I finally got around to reading 1Q84.

If I wanted to be picky, there were some niggles about translation, length and plot developments. But these were details...and as time has gone by, I've come to view Murakami as a bigger picture, all encompassing, get under your skin & into your psyche kind of writer.

1Q84 certainly infected my psyche...I wanted more.

Over the past year I have been slowly accumulating Murakami's backlist. And this year I found myself caught up in the excitement surrounding the worldwide release of his English translation of Colourless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage.

Although I use the word English loosely, since for some unknown reason, the worldwide publication has gone with the American spelling of colorless. For many of us in England and Australia this is annoying, offensive and/or just mildly irritating depending on how much of a purist you are!

Perhaps that's why the UK & Aussie editions came with stickers - a consolation prize in the trans-Atlantic spelling bee!

As a book collector who likes her editions to match when possible, the cover chosen for our edition is to be applauded for it's attempt to match the Random Vintage covers for Murakami's backlist (below).

The cover reflects the colours of the characters & their overlapping connections.

The stickers represent Tsukuru - they allow us to make/build/create our own covers.

A couple of days after starting the book, I spotted the Japanese Literature Challenge and their month long readalong for CTTAHYOP.


Except I am now struggling to put together my review for Colourless Tsukuru, so I thought I'd play around with a few lists and Lizst instead!

Since I'm still a Murakami novice, I've been wondering which one I should read next.

Goodreads top 5 Murakami books are:

1. Kafka on the Shore
2. Norwegian Wood
3. The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle
4. 1Q84
5. Hard-Boiled Wonderland & the End of the World

Refinery29 suggests:

1. Norwegian Wood
2. Dance Dance Dance
3. Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman
4. What I Talk About When I Talk About Running
5. After Dark
6. South of the Border, West of the Sun

Priyanko Sarkar at Mensxp recommends:

1. Norwegian Wood
2. What I Talk About When I Talk About Running
3. The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle
4.Kafka on the Shore
5. 1Q84

Matthew C Strecher at Publishers Weekly lists:

1. A Wild Sheep Chase
2. The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle
3. Hard-Boiled Wonderland & the End of the World
4. 1Q84
5. Colourless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage
6. Kafka on the Shore
7. Hear the Wind Sing
8. Pinball, 1973
9. Norwegian Wood
10. Dance Dance Dance

Which one should I read next?
I'd love to hear what you think is Murakami's best book to date and why.

While you're pondering your responses, you might like to listen to Liszt's "Le mal du pays" from his Years of Pilgrimage suite Year 1: Switzerland.

We're enjoying a 2 week long rain-fest in Sydney at the moment (with no immediate end in sight)! The visual (below) feels like it was made for my mood right now.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Use Your Imagination by Nicola O'Byrne

Use Your Imagination becomes the standard response for the big bad wolf when rabbit asks for help to tell a story... long as rabbit's imagination involves a 'once upon a time', a baddie in the size and shape of a wolf, a hero, a forest and an ending where the big bad wolf is no longer hungry!

Obviously, the big bad wolf has forgotten how all good fairy tales really end though as rabbit takes control of his story...just in time!

O'Byrne tells a tale that is funny, vaguely familiar and full of imagination.

This fractured fairy tale is the perfect resource for school teachers to explain the basics of storytelling to their classes.

It's also perfect for parents to share with their 4+ year olds or for anyone, any age, who enjoys seeing the innocent underdog best the baddies of this world!

A win/win book for everyone (except the big bad wolf of course!)