Thursday, December 31, 2009

do i believe?

i just finished reading justine larbalestier's liar. what a freaky fucked-up mofo of a book! it was amazing. i can't believe that no one told me about the weird twist - i had no idea she'd head off in such a direction. brilliant writing. a main character i just wanted to like even though she kept disappointing me and lying. it was frustrating but always interesting. it was powerful and kept you guessing.

and on a side note: after having read it i am something near to appalled that the american publishing house put a white girl on the cover. the question of race played such a huge part of the book. really, what were they thinking?

had breakfast at the rathdowne st foodstore. delicious croissant, bad jam. bad soy latte.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

my favourite australian YA of 2009

i've been reading persnickety snark's top 5s of the year - she's put a number out over the last week or so. her most recent one i think i'm going to steal:

!top 5 aussie YA books of the year! (disclaimer: in my own opinionated opinion)

loving richard feynman by penny tangey (UQP)
catherine is 15 and she's got a mega crush. on a physicist who, in the 40s, helped to build atomic bombs. so yes, catherine is a bit different from the other people at her school. but she says: "i suppose i could be more popular if i tried harder. but i don't want to pretend to care about facile television shows, eyeliner and who in year ten is on the pill." i think catherine is a rad character, so clever and so so so funny (seriously, she could give georgia nicholson - from angus thongs - a run for her money!). this book takes the form of her letters to the scientist over the course of one year, during which she slowly reads feynman's autobiography surely you're joking, mr feynman! and during which her life starts to come apart at the seams. writing to feynman helps her cope with all the problems she faces. this book deserves a lot of attention. come and get it!

when the hipchicks went to war by pamela rushby (lothian/hachette)
i reviewed this one awhile ago here. i love historical fiction, especially ones written for teenagers and especially when they deal with different aspects of a history we know quite well, parts of a war we tend not to focus on - and when women get their stories told!

a small free kiss in the dark by glenda millard (A&U)
beautifully written, sad and moving story about skip, a young boy who runs away from his abusive foster family only to find himself a victim of war. though she doesn't specify, i get the feeling that millard has set her war in melbourne. skip and bill, the old homeless man he meets, find themselves caring for little max who was safe in the library when bombs started falling but who is still waiting for his mum to come and get him. the trio head out on foot along the tram line to an abandoned fun park where they meet the teenage mum tia and baby sixpence. glenda millard's characters are always spectacular and poignant and these are no exception. the way she approaches the war is so well done, so brutal but brilliant. and there's always hope in her voice.

beatle meets destiny by gabrielle williams (penguin)

when john "beatle" lennon meets destiny mccartney you could forgive him for thinking that it was fate...err...destiny maybe. and if it was fate then what's the harm in taking her for ice cream and for a beer. or two. and is it really so wrong to kiss her? and maybe going on a picnic together the next day? perhaps it is a bit wrong when you consider beatle's lovely and faithful girlfriend. this is a riotously fun book with a pair of very real, engaging and not always well-behaved characters and a brilliant support cast. there are twists and turns, laughs and tears, eccentric families and a great (read: bizarre) stalking storyline. it's very melbourne and all kinds of awesome.

swerve by philip gwynne (penguin)

from the author of deadly, unna and nukkin ya this is very different. hugh is a cello-playing private schoolboy from sydney with a secret obsession for muscle cars. an old hippie man with a long ponytail has been hanging out the front of his school, trying to talk to him. it turns out he's hugh's grandfather - long estranged from the family - and he's got a proposition. poppy wants hugh to drive them to uluru in his '69 monaro. hugh falls in love with the car instantly, plus he wants to get his hours up (he's still on his Ls) and not even the audition in a week's time at the conservatorium can stop him. hugh is totally out of his comfort zone with poppy and away from his posh sydney life. with poppy he has to mingle with rough types of people and is confronted by the girls he constantly refers to as 'skanks'. predictably, things don't go to plan on the road. there's the hitchhikers manifesto, which dictates they must pick up all hitchhikers: not always a great idea, there's the runaway and then the psycho... but they meet some great people at truck stops and they camp in swags off the beaten track (checking into the million star motel!) and they wrestle with the powerful car, which remains the main character in the book. this is a moving and funny novel.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

poetry, by way of cinema

the other day i indulged myself and went to two films. first, my crick-crack-rock-chick best friend and i saw jane campion's bright star. it was divinely romantic without being mawkish.
here's a great keats poem:

give me wine, women, and snuff
until i cry out "hold enough!"
you may do so sans objection
til the day of resurrection
for, bless my beard, they aye shall be
my beloved trinity

and this poem also shows what i felt was one of the strongest aspects of the film: that these regency folk, including the romantic poet himself, were just people like you and i and that in spite of all those period films that would have us believe that everybody comported themselves with the utmost restraint and good manners, these people were smart and fun and fiesty and played outdoors and climbed trees and joked about with their elders.

the movie was brilliant, so subtle and romantic but fun and passionate. keats was beautiful, the inclusion of his poetry made it come alive again and abbie cornish was a revelation as the wonderful fanny - she was phenomenal in those final few scenes. however, it was paul schneider as mr brown that stole the show in his tartan "onesie" and sarky asides.
later that night, the evil sister and i watched nowhere boy, the story of young john lennon with an excellent focus on his relationship with his aunt (who raised him) and his mother. it was much more moving than i'd prepared myself for so the combination of these two films left me emotionally exhausted but a good cry is always welcome!

the boy - err, young man - playing john lennon (aaron johnson) was robbie in the hilarious teen movie angus, thongs and perfect snogging and i was a bit worried about his tween looks and simpering voice but he astounded me and now i think i'm a bit in love with him. he's beefed up, but more importantly he did really well imitating lennon's mannerisms and laugh (it was the laugh that got me - brilliantly done!) his performance reminded me of lennon's performance in the ace beatles film a hard day's night: i think the writer and/or director must have been fans - the opening scene of nowhere boy was defo an homage. he was also very impressive in the more serious scenes, as were kristin scott thomas (the stern aunt mimi) and anne-marie duff (john's mother julia). beautiful. two thumbs up for nowhere boy.

Monday, December 28, 2009

what did you get for christmas?

if you were a 10 (or 8 or 9 or 11 or 60) year old in melbourne this christmas, chances are you received a copy of either jen storer's brilliant tensy farlow and the home for mislaid children or richard newsome's equally brilliant the billionaire's curse. both books flew off the shelves where i work. (if you don't know where i work: it's a fab little independent bookshop in one of melbourne's inner suburbs that has more cafes per capita than anywhere else i've been...which are all shut today, except the crap one. i'm not happy.) but back to the books. i suppose it didn't hurt that everyone who works here (including me!) absolutely loved these titles.

don't know anything about them, still?as i said back in august, tensy farlow is what might have happened if anne of green gables had had a baby with lemony snicket which was then raised by j.k rowling. a couple of angels are on earth trying to locate mislaid baby tensy - now a ballsy and clever 10 year old - who has no guardian angel. with some delightfully evil baddies, a creepy orphanage and a lot of charm, this book is in my 2009 top ten.

the billionaire's curse is the story of gerald who inherits a billion dollars from an old aunt in london but then discovers that she may have been murdered and he must solve the mystery of her death, find the missing diamond, avoid the man who smells like bleach, all with the help of a pair of wisecracking twins. a rollicking adventure.

other books i've been recommending like a madwoman:
- the ask and the answer, patrick ness
- tomorrow, when the war began, john marsen (in preparation for the movie!)
- dreaming of amelia, jaclyn moriarty
- the magician's elephant, kate dicamillo
- oscar wilde's stories for all ages, stephen fry (ed.)
- wanted: the perfect pet, fiona robertson
- 3 little culottes, sylvie chausse
- elephants, a book for children, steve bloom

books i gave as gifts:
harvest: a complete australian guide to the edible garden, meredith kirton
the truth about melody browne, lisa jewell
stardust, joe kanon
spud: the madness continues, john van de ruit

Thursday, December 17, 2009

"look like the innocent flower

but be the serpent under it." this is spoken by lady macbeth, macbeth, act 1 scene 5.
she's a brilliant character, lady macbeth. so twisted and evil and ready to assist her husband in his bloody ambition.

i read macbeth as a teenager as part of english class and it remains one of my favourite shakespeare plays. last week i read lisa klein's latest novel lady macbeth's daughter and it was fantastic, a wonderful companion to shakespeare's scottish play. plus i also love all things scottish, so perhaps i am biased.

the idea is this: that macbeth's wife grelach (whom he married after killing her first husband, to whom she was wed at 12, having her first child - a son, luoch - at age 13) gives birth to a daughter. macbeth is enraged - it turns out he had been told by the wyrd sisters that he would bear many strong sons. the daughter is born with a deformed foot. macbeth orders his man eadulf to leave the baby to the wolves. the babe is rescued by the queen's lady-in-waiting rhuven and she takes it to her sisters. they name her albia - innocence sprung from darkness.

the novel follows albia as she grows into a young woman, far from the zealously ambitious macbeth and his ever-assisting wife. of course their lives become inevitably re-entwined, and the reader meets the other famous characters of macbeth: banquo, duncan, malcolm and macduff. and she has fleshed out the female characters, given them a voice and a role. albia in particular (of course, being the heroine) is smart and strong, flawed but determined and compassionate.
all these characters are given extra story, back-story, and more character. it's wonderful, and so well done. it never feels anything like fan-fiction - klein's storytelling and characterisation is brilliant.

i love that the wyrd sisters are actually friendly and funny people, caring. they fool macbeth because they had been loyal to the previous thane - and because they can. macbeth hears whatever he wants to hear, twists the sisters' words to fit.

best of all, lady macbeth gets some more page-time. she's not simply the willing-assistant-turned crazy-remorse-woman, but she is grelach: wife and mother. she has emotions and thoughts and we get to know her. excellent.

klein has drawn this world so clearly and her characters were so accessible. i am sure that even someone who has not read macbeth will enjoy the book - maybe even more so because they do not know what is to come! i didn't read klein's previous book ophelia (based on shakespeare's hamlet, of course) but will certainly be seeking it out now.

and here are some photographs of scotland, from when i lived there:

here are some creepy woods in crieff, where i lived - about an hour or so from dunsinane, actually!
this is the view from the crieff knock:here is urquhart castle, near inverness (on loch ness):
this is inside of urquhart castle:

Monday, December 14, 2009

one about music

lucky me, i got to see some excellently brilliant performers this weekend at the meredith music festival. true, i may have lost my voice and still be too tired to make much sense, but it was too wonderful not to share. above (and below, actually, with added shoes) you have the incomparable paul kelly who charmed us all.

he played how to make gravy which is one of my very favourite and best christmas songs and i was so happy to discover that others felt the same way. his thought-provoking song everything's turning to white about fisherman who find the body of a young woman murdered but wait a few days before reporting her death because they have only just arrived for their fishing holiday is an excellent, and very moving, example of storytelling through song.

jarvis cocker. oh jarvis you were the highlight for me, i believe. he turned the whole crowd on. from his cutesey and funny puns in leftovers: "i met her at the museum of paleontology / and i make no bones about it" to his sexy self-deprecating pronouncements in i never said i was deep : "if evey relationship is a two-way street / i have been screwing in the back whilst you drive / i never said i was deep / but i am profoundly shallow / my lack of knowledge is vast / and my horizons are narrow" he was fucking hot. i loved his lanky awesome dancing. his rendition of running the world roused the crowd enormously.

kitty, daisy and lewis are siblings. young. totally ace. their sound? kind of rockabilly hawaiian blues. top songs: mean son of a gun and honolulu rock-a roll-a.

along with wagons, kid sam, oh mercy, akron/family and the middle east - it was an ace weekend. now i can't wait until the port fairy folk festival.

but now...back to books (and coffee - today it at was birdman eating on gertrude st, fitzroy. two thumbs up!)

a man dressed in a wolf-suit...

now that's the kind of mischief i like seeing in public!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

my worried shoes

i went to see where the wild things are at the nova cinemas last friday (and then again on saturday). it was fantastic - whimsical, scary, moving and funny.

as a child the picture book by maurice sendak frightened me a lot and as a family, we didn't really like it. as an adult and a bookseller i've really come to appreciate it - even though i find the bit that reads "the night max wore his wolf suit and made mischief of one kind (then you turn the page) and another" a bit jarring. and i think the film took the essence of the book and created something more, something really special.

the screenplay, written by spike jonze and dave eggers together was the basis for dave eggers' novel the wild things. it follows the plot of the film for the most part, but with some segues and diversions - all welcome. in the first few pages of the book max rides his bike over to his friends' house a couple of streets away and he goes by himself and i think helmetless. the mother of his friend, when he arrives, is shocked and agitated to the point of almost hysteria at the thought of max riding home again alone. she wants to accompany him back, but he rides off. she runs after him. this scares max and he rides faster - his confusion and fear were marvellously written and it was a brilliant start to the book. i was there, i was max, while reading it.

older children will enjoy this book for its fun and adventure, they might even feel the same way i did. but i think it is the grown-ups who with benefit most! without being cloying, it reminds the reader of being a child - the way children percieve the world and how something that adults accept without question can really frighten kids. in the book, and the film, when max's teacher tells the class that one day the sun with die, and with it take the earth and other planets with it - sets max to thinking and thinking hard. an adult might dismiss this, for some reason need no further explanation or reassurance that it won't happen tomorrow, or to me.

at the cinema: the wild things were magnificent! apparently they had to CGI their faces for the eyes and some expression, but the fact that they were giant puppet-esque/people in wild-thing-suits gave them a quality and realness that has been lacking from movies for a while. it sort of reminded me of classics like the neverending story, or the labyrinth. but the wild things were even better than the weird creatures in those films! other things i loved about the film: the fort they build (anyone seen the book natural architecture by alessandro rocca - wow! and maybe the inspiration?)

the movie's soundtrack by karen o and the kids is also fantastic. i've been listening to it on repeat for a couple of weeks now. it was perfect for the film, creating atmosphere, fun and rumpus! highlights of the album: capsize and worried shoes.
basically i give all wild things two thumbs up.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

oh? nano?

nah, no. i didn't make it.

i think i got to almost 11,000 words, which took me about three weeks and some fairly achy tendonitis-esqe wrists. it was very fun, nonetheless, and now i have 11,000 more words to work with than i did a month ago. it'll be fiiiiiine.

sign me up for next year!

Sunday, November 29, 2009

where is the coffee, you say?

no, i haven't written anything about coffee in a while. BUT. in the past two days i have been for coffee at TWO places.

yesterday i had breakfast #2 at minimo which is situated on the very excellent corner of sydney road and donald street, brunswick. i only meant to go for a coffee, but i got there and the waiter spoke to me in zee loveliest accent francais that i had to order a croissant avec la confiture.

so, my skinny milk latte: the coffee was strong and good, the milk was hot but not too hot and on the whole it was good. the milk could have been creamier (as in, it was a leetle bit bubbly) but that's me just searching for that perfect consistency.

the croissant was delicious. (however, i will write soon about the best croissants this side of paris soon).

then today we went for breakfast at mixed business on queens pde in clifton hill. divine.
coffee = perfect. my avocado and feta on the most grainy tasty toast ever = scrumptious. the mushrooms on toast with goats cheese and rocket? ahhhh i had order envy! must. go. back.

who wants to go with me next week???

woe, summer programming

things i am not excited about...that i am cranky pants about:

1. channel 10 stopping ncis MID-SEASON. a-holes.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

things i'm excited about

1. meredith music festival in december

2. the ask and the answer by patrick ness is now out in paperback!

3. fantastic mr fox is on at the moonlight cinema, december 19

4. the brunswick baths for swimming in then early morning. i'm getting used to 6am

Friday, November 27, 2009

the good daughter

PRIZE ALERT! amra pajalic has won the civic choice award in the melbourne prize for literature, awarded today. this is a prize voted by the public (meaning she's the most popular!). there were 2,400 votes (online and in person) and amra came out on top for her fantastic novel the good daughter (text publishing).
the good daughter is the hilarious and heartfelt story of sammie (or sabiha) who has had to move with her mum from thornbury back to st albans, back to the bosnian community she all but left as a small child. dido, her widowed grandfather, has come from bosnia to live with them.

sammie's mum has also decided to re-integrate herself with the tight-knit bosnian muslim community there, which comes as a shock to sammie (now sabiha once again) after her fairly secular and relaxed upbringing. at her new school she makes friends with two delightfully oddball boys but finds it difficult to connect with her annoying cousin adnan (golden boy of the family) and most of the girls there, who have been close for sometime and are reluctant to accept a newcomer.
at home sammie is struggling with her grandfather's strict beliefs and it's upsetting when she gets very little support from her mum, who just wants them to fit right in.
this is a great coming-of-age, fitting-in, culture-shock story, very funny and engaging.
congratulations amra!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

spotlight on my favourites: nick earls

after january (UQP)
this is my no.1 favourite. probably up there on my Favourite Books Of All Time, if i'm honest. it's the story of alex and the long wait over summer before he finds out if he's got into university. alex is not good at waiting, so it's days of trying to relax, reading and bodysurfing. and then he meets a girl, a girl unlike any others he's known.
what i love about after january is the quiet way in which it's written. it's practically poetry, the way the words go. alex's voice is so clear and beautiful, the changes in him over the "three unlikely january weeks." plus, it's hilariously funny as well. every character is so real, they could be friends, or neighbours (or christian plumbers) that i have known myself.

48 shades of brown (penguin)
this one is how i wanted my final year of school to go. imagine being left in the care of your uber-cool, 22-year-old, bass-playing aunt - jacq - and her vague and lovely housemate naomi. dan is 17, his parents are overseas, and this is his life. of course he instantly falls in love with the "flaxen-haired beauty" naomi which just further complicates his life (he thinks) as he tries to wrangle maths (the attention and affection he has for calculus made me hate maths methods just that little bit less), english (specifically the fish tank scene in romeo and juliet) and his insane friend chris burns (with the pustular face and large ego). and pesto. and folk art. and tin tin.
you should see me right now, just writing about this book i am in hysterics at my desk - literally bahahahhahahahhaha laughing out loud.
the party scene in particular is golden.

world of chickens (viking)
less like my ideal university experience, world of chickens is more like my uni actually was. though i don't think i was quite as unfortunate as phil, at least i hope not. phil and his best mate frank are med students who work part time at the burger joint world of chickens. they are employed by the enthusiastic ron (who warms straight away to phil) and they work alongside ron's daughter sophie (phil warms to her straight away). even though he's studying to be a doctor, phil dreams of being a filmmaker. the characters and friendships in this book are touching and wonderful.
if this was a movie it would be one of those to send my dad running out of the room with his fingers in his ears going "ooh ooh ooh" because he's so uncomfortable. phil is always getting into sticky situations, just can't seem to catch a break. it's hilarious.
plus it's set in the 80s. and phil's parents are a riot.

headgames (penguin, now very sadly out of print)
this is a collection of short stories which includes tales and adventures, an early version of frank and phil, the weird but delightful story 'the goatflap brothers and the house of names', which was made into a short film in 2003. headgames is bizarre and funny and sometimes heartwrenching. 'all those ways of leaving' is a story that's stuck with me. the lines:
"this is so strange. you seem to have taken it for granted that you would die between novels, not during one." the idea of an autopsy, of malignant intestine filled with a long coil of golden hair.

the true story of butterfish (penguin)
this, the latest book from nick earls, is a winner. the main character, curtis, is back in australia after his hugely successful band butterfish released their third album and it tanked completely. on top of that his marriage has busted up - LA is not the place for him anymore. now living in the outer suburbs of brisbane, curtis is trying to reconnect with his brother patrick, is working on an album for a norweigan band trying to break into a wider market and he's occasionally dabbling in some songs for himself. however, his new neighbours - the almost-woman annaliese, her emo-goth brother mark and their harried but friendly single mother kate - make curtis' "normal" life just that little bit more interesting.
we were very lucky to have nick earls come to my work for the melbourne launch of butterfish and we were very sorry that the harry potter fans were so noisy. also sorry for making you stand in front of bruno:

and i've read and enjoyed all of nick's other books. you should read them too!

monica bloom
making laws for clouds
the thompson gunner
zigzag street
joel and cat set the story straight
bachelor kisses
perfect skin

nick earls lives here:

Monday, November 16, 2009

let the wild rumpus start!

i can't put it down.

dave eggers has written a novelisation of the screenplay of the classic picture book.

his max is a high-energy, imaginative and confused boy whose family life is less than perfect. he escapes in a boat and finds himself on an island with a bunch of beasts as ready for madness hilarious rioting as max himself.

so far it is spectacular! magnificent! it basically just tickles me pink. one brilliant line, max is standing on top of the kitchen counter, howling like a wolf while his mother stands below becoming more and more angry with her out-of-control son. she tells him he's too old to be on the counter. he looks down at her: "you're too old to be so short! and your makeup's smeared!...woman, feed me!" (p.73)

i'm loving it. proper review to follow...

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

so, to sum up...

wonderland, joanna nadin

(hey)jude(the obscure) was a lovely character: i felt her pain at being trodden on, ostracised and humiliated. i felt like cheering when she had her punk-chick makeover and made all the boys eyes bug out of their heads. i felt i could have been in her village, doing handstands in the dunes. nadin captured the small-town vibe really well and all her characters were well-voiced and believable.

however - the "twist" revealed towards the end was pretty obvious from the very start. this was very disappointing and the end seemed to fizzle a little, in spite of the potentially very exciting denouement. this could have been a brilliant book, but as it is, wonderland is very enjoyable and solidly good.

ember fury, cathy brett
ember is a teenage recovering pyromaniac (!) who has come from england to LA to stay with her famous muso dad. (her famous artist mum died) instead she finds herself in the company of her nice, but over-eager stepmother and her dad is hardly ever there. at a fancy-pants birthday party thrown in her honour, ember meets the gorgeous hunk finn and things seem to be looking up. then there's her invisible friend ned (imaginary or ghost?! love it!) who is always looking out for her, and her mates from the treatment facility in england keeping in touch via the internet.

there's timeslip, which i loved and that didn't seem out of place at all. it's exciting and ridiculous without ever being glib. the way brett has played with text and image is fantastic. ember fury is hip and fun. read it!

surf ache, gerry bobsien

ella's family have just moved from melbourne to newcastle. she's had to leave behind her awesome boyfriend, her best friend and her ballet school. her little sister creaky finds her groove instantly (as is her wont) but reserved ella just doesn't know what to do. then she meets katie, an excellent surfer, who puts ella on a board and - just like that - missing ballet, boyfriend and melbourne doesn't weigh on her so much. but there's still the question of why her mum, a former pro surfer, won't get in the water. can she support ella's new passion?
this is a good, solid book. fun characters it reminded me a little of margaret clark's books - families, boys, surf.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

ghostly and fantastic

the other night i finished jaclyn moriarty's dreaming of amelia. (pan macmillan) at first - when i was dipping in and out of this book, trying to read others at the same time - it seemed a bit difficult to get into, a bit slow. but once i gave it my full attention...wowsers!

our favourite characters from feeling sorry for celia, finding cassie crazy and the betrayal of bindy mackenzie are back and this time they're in year 12. not only that, but they're joined by two scholarship students (mysterious, beautiful, smart, talented...aloof) amelia and riley. everyone is intrigued by the newcomers, particularly em, who follows them around and reports back with words hyperbolic and punctuated with an abundance of e!x!c!l!a!m!a!t!i!o!n! marks.
an author has really achieved something special when the story can genuinely stay one step in front of you (another great example: the messenger by markus zusak lovelovelove) and jaclyn moriarty has definitely succeeded here - while we get glimpses that offer possible conclusions, they are mostly just teasers and reading through to the end is extremely satisfying.
every different perspective was just as good as the next. i loved toby's irish convict storyline, and truly felt for him and his pain concerning his parents and black holes. being a history nerd i now want to find out about the events of castle hill some more. lydia's conversation with the ghost made me laugh! and em's fierce determination to prove the existence of the ashbury ghost was hysterical. riley's sections were moving and poetic. most of all, the minutes from the staff/teacher committee meetings were riotous.
dreaming of amelia is sophisticated writing: engaging, complex, clever and ever so funny. this is what our twilight-infested YA world needs.

Friday, November 6, 2009

an alison lester collector

(mama bear collects the lester, evil sister and i used to force littlebro to tell us repeatedly that alison lester was his favourite author bahaha)

running with the horses, alison lester (penguin/viking)

this is a beautiful fictional story about a little girl (nina) who, during the second world war, had to make a wild escape with her father and a friend from their spanish riding school in vienna. they had to ensure the safety of the last four stallions from the school. nina adores the old cab horse zelda and begs her father to let her come along. Her father knows the treacherous ride they are about to make, isn't sure that zelda can make it. but he loves his daughter so much he allows it. and old zelda certainly has a lot of pluck in her. all this, and accompanied by beautiful alison lester illustrations, black and white sketches in front of coloured backgrounds.

it made me misty-eyed, i assure you. a story for horse-loving girls. and everyone else. and in case you are worried, it has a happy ending.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

left hand of god

i have just finished the left hand of god, by paul hoffman (penguin books). this is an imaginative fiction story, the first in a series (at least that's what it says in the publisher's description in my reading copy).

the left hand of god opens in the "sanctuary" a walled religious community run by the brutal and fearsome redeemers, their faith based around the hanged redeemer (read: jesus). the redeemers have been collecting boys from a young age, for a long time. they beat and abuse these boys; training them as their be soldiers in a great war.

cale had been singled out since he arrived, receiving special attention (good and bad) and has grown to be the best fighter of the lot of them, emotionless and independent. when vague henri (the closest thing cale has to a friend) finds a secret stash of rich, delicious food (compared to the foul rotten meat they are fed daily) he brings cale and another boy, kleist, into hidden labyrinthine passageways where they happen upon unthinkably cruel acts performed by a head redeemer on a young girl. (the boys have never seen a girl before). too late to rescue one girl, they are able to save the voluptuous and agreeable riba and they four of them make an escape from the sanctuary.

this section of the story is probably my favourite, i felt it worked best, the journey across the scablands and meeting the fascinating idrisspuke. what follows covers the territory of fighting, warfare, trust, love and hate, with some delightfully named characters.

hoffman uses familiar place names in his made up world, taking parts of various cultures to make up this new one. he also uses a pastiche of history, so if you know much about the history of war it's very interesting to see what he's trying to do. it's sort of like having deja vu the whole way through the novel. it's a western, a samurai film, a bible story, the holocaust story and a medieval tale all rolled into one.

i think this is a very interesting attempt, but is lacking a certain something, a bit of "oomph!" and while i liked it, i didn't love it and i'm not very excited about the sequels. this is sort of a poor-man's the knife of never letting go. minus the aliens.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

NaNoWriMo Oh No

oh dear.

i have been noticing that all the cool kids are doing that uber chic NaNoWriMo thing where you have to write a 50,000 word novel during the month of november. so i joined up. it was peer pressure.

so i am already 4 days behind all the cool kids. craps.

i'd better get typing. those who know me in the real world, get ready to see less of me. (and don't pretend to be so pleased).

current word count: 0
current ideas: 0

Thursday, October 29, 2009

too many books!

so it is november new releases and work is fairly manic (exacerbated by me getting distracted and standing over a pile of unreceived, unpriced books and reading). but at home it is just as bad.

<-- this is the pile of books on top of my bookshelf, most of which are still to read. here's a selection: liar, by justine larbalestier. i've started it, it's fantastic, but i keep getting distracted.
the left hand of god, by paul hoffman. our penguin rep is on my back to finish this one. i'm prob just over halfway through it and it is solid adventure/fantasy/religious zealot tale. good.
ember fury, by cathy brett. we're doing this one for my teen bookclub and IT IS ACE. for young teens, with text and illustrations (sometimes together, really clever).
dreaming of amelia, jaclyn moriarty. i just started this yesterday and it's classic jaclyn - up there with finding cassie crazy and the spellbook of listen taylor.
wonderland, joanna nadin - great cover, great blurb. looks great - will report back.

and more and more. hopefully this pile won't topple over anytime soon. or if anyone knows a good place to buy a nice bookshelf? i'm heading down to geelong on monday, so i think it's time for a trip to the mill markets. i'm sure to find something awesome there...maybe a new bookshelf...

Friday, October 23, 2009

oscar wilde's tomb

i took these photos at the pere lachaise cemetery in paris, 2006. i went back and visited oscar again in 2008. (he hadn't changed)

Thursday, October 22, 2009

cemetery gates

"a dreaded sunny day
so let's go where we're happy
and i'll meet you at the cemetery gates
keats and yeats are on your side
while wilde is on mine" - the smiths ('cemetery gates' from the queen is dead)

i've just finished the picture of dorian gray, by the remarkable oscar wilde. it took me two weeks of dipping in and out of it, which is a very long time for me. it just felt like i couldn't read when i couldn't give the book my absolute full attention.

now that i'm thinking about it, i wonder if my two week dorian gray reading has something to do with the fact that i've barely listened to anything but the smiths? i'm sure morrissey is a wilde fan.

but back to dorian. narcissistic, vain, young and beautiful. basil, dorian's artist friend, is infatuated with the younger man, practically worships him for his innocent beauty. he paints a magnificent portrait of him, into which he instills all his love and admiration. the perfection of his painting frightens dorian - he wishes wildly that the painting would age rather than himself. basil's friend, the cad, lord harry, introduces dorian to the benefits of being young and beautiful; he lures dorian into an indulgent and hedonistic world. dorian's wish to remain young and beautiful causes his portrait to bear the brunt of dorian's wrong doing, his evil side.

but enough of the plot. it goes on, in its ugliness and terrifying twists and turns. there are many pages of reflection and monologues which explore the big questions of life and death and love. there's great social commentary and a dark and intriguing look at london's underbelly, circa 1890s. i loved it. and what an ending! it almost took my breath away and i spent a few minutes just looking at the book, sort of patting it with affection and appreciation.

i have always loved the idea of oscar wilde, have read an ideal husband and the importance of being earnest and thought that his personal story would make wonderful fiction - the scandal of his sexuality, his imprisonment, his years in paris and finally his death: "either that wallpaper goes, or i do."

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

the east brunswick project

i've been meaning to rave about this place for a while now, but could never remember what it is called. because i'm a bit of a cafe-hopper, it is really exciting that they are popping up all over the place near where i live. this one in particular serves what is probably the best coffee around.

the east brunswick project has a kind of minimalist, pared back feel. a gigantic coffee roaster and grinder sits in its own glassed-off room and looks beautiful. i think they must run coffee courses and you can buy all manner of machines, doo-dads and thingummybobs.

and it smells so beautiful. you can buy beans; a range of fancy fair trade ones. and the baristas are phenomenal. i know i am a melbourne wanker for saying that, but i love love love their coffees. we'll be walking down the street with our takeaway bonsoy lattes or cappuccinos and just say to each other, kind of breathlessly, "this is the best coffee..."

Friday, October 16, 2009


huzzah huzzah! i have just finished the delight that is the fourth luxe book, by anna godbersen.

the final installment; splendour, my crick-crack-rock-chick best friend and my funky future librarian coworker will be pleased to know, is just as fabulous as the first three, with gossip, gowns and scandal galore with some beautifully romantic storylines.

but hush! i won't say anymore until the book is released and more people have had a chance to read it.

coffee the italian way

i went to mario's on brunswick street not so long ago for an informal (tho i was so nervous!) meeting of sorts. it's a delightful place to go with fancy tablecloths and waiters dressed in black and white. i was disappointed that they didn't have either skinny or soy milk (my stomach doesn't love the heavy dairy you see) so i orderd a long black which came with a charming smile. it was like being back in europe (minus the smile). the coffee was bitter, but i could have been sitting at the counter in paris at la mascotte, so it was sweet too. but it made my head spin and my hands shake.
i can't decide if these are good things or bad things. i'll go back and try it again some time.

Friday, October 9, 2009

spotlight on my favourites: steven herrick

i have loved every book steven's written, and can't wait for another one. perhaps some time i'll review them all, but for now - my three favourites:

the simple gift (UQP)

told in steven's perfect, poignant free verse, this is the story of 16 year old billy who has escaped his father's house, jumped a train and ended up living in a disused railway carriage, a neighbour to old bill, an alcoholic hobo with a sad past. he spends his days at the public library getting a better education than he ever got at school and passes his nights eating people's leftovers at macdonalds. there he meets caitlin, who works there. caitlin, who is looking for something more than her safe, priviliged life. billy is a beautiful character in this spectacular book about what we need to make us happy, about the small things in life, about friendship and love. it is honestly one of the best books i have ever read.

love, ghosts and nose hair (UQP)

jack is also sixteen. he lives with his father and his sister, spending his time thinking about love (and sex and annabelle), ghosts (his mother, in a red dress) and nose hair (he's paranoid). this is a beautiful verse novel about family and loss, but it is also very funny and touching.

a place like this (UQP)

a companion novel, or sequel, to LGaNH - this is what happens when jack and annabelle finish school and decide to take off for a while. they find themselves working in an apple orchard for a bruised-but-not-broken family. without meaning to j and a become involved in the family's life - constantly cheery, chatty craig who wants to know what j and a do in their shed at night (!!), beck who vomited on the table the night before their mum left, fifteen year old emma, who got pregnant after a party at which she drank too much and passed out...and their dad who is just trying to keep them all going. beautiful.

oh. and i have to mention the hilarious do-wrong ron (allen &unwin)
it's about a boy and his pet guinea pig and friendship, a girl and her guinea pig. laugh out loud funny, with some really touching moments.
i don't know how steven does it, he truly has a magic touch. being able to say so much in so little space, his prose taut and precise, haunting and magic, simple and yet so sophisticated. i've tried to write free verse in the past, and it comes out sounding like i'm just trying to be steven. he's that good he owns the genre.
five stars. always.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

spotting aussie books abroad

i travelled a bit last year, just a short ten week trip around the world, you know, just for fun.

because i can't not go into a bookshop wherever i am, i kept my eyes peeled for any familar faces, as it were. i found lots! so here are the ones i photographed. not that it matters, but they are not in the order in which i saw them.

here's barry jonsberg's kiffo and the pitbull and it's not all about you calma...but with their american covers and titles. as they are known there: the crimes and punishments of miss payne and am i right or am i right? this was taken in new york at a big, messy, noisy bookstore on broadway (i think).

at the same bookstore i saw joanne horniman's fabulous mahalia, with a great cover (have to say i didn't love the jonsberg ones...).

at waterstones on high street, kensington in london i saw on the new releases table tim winton's breath and michelle de kretser's the lost dog.

in the children's section of the same waterstones i found my fave aussie teen series, tomorrow when the war began. (on a side note i am v excited about the upcoming movie, even though i have serious doubts about the casting).

this was my favourite! in a little bookstore in mitte, berlin, i found markus zusak's incredible, fabulous, wonderful the messenger...or der joker! unglaublich, fabelhaft, wunderbar!

while on my trip i read jeffrey eugenides middlesex, jane austen's persuasion (which i read probably four or five times after i stupidly went to morocco for two weeks with just this one book), spanking shakespeare by jake wizner, an abundance of katherines by john green...and surely more things as well. probably a murakami, i think i read hard boiled wonderland and the end of the world. i know i read my morocco travel guide and the one for central europe pretty much cover-to-cover on those nights stuck in the hotel in morocco (not so safe for a girl travelling alone at night there).

but there is something great about reading while travelling. you remember the books and the stories within them for strange and different reasons, sometimes. and persuasion was great because i had just been to dorset for my friend's wedding and we'd walked on the cob at lyme regis...i felt very austen there.

Friday, October 2, 2009

new releases - october

very exciting stuff! many new books! too much work to do!

but it's all good, and i'll have plenty to read and report back on. and for anyone (cough*jenny*cough) waiting for the knife of never letting go in paperback. it's here!

Saturday, September 26, 2009

intelligent and pink

i realised that i never posted my review of lili wilkinson's book pink (which i loved).

so here 'tis:

"working for the centre for youth literature, lili wilkinson (author of scatterheart, the not-quite perfect boyfriend, as well as the latest gem angel fish)must be very familiar with everything that is out there in young adult fiction today. she has used this advantage in her very funny new novel pink, for older readers. this one is for the kids that just aren't sure: about their sexuality, their friends or themselves. pink successfully turns the traditional theme of fitting in upside down, while reinforcing the importance of being true to one's self - if you can figure out who you are.

ava has convinced her parents to send her to a posh academic school, instead of the more carefree, alternative high school she had previously been attending. she wants to be challenged. even though she loves her girlfriend chloe, she wants the chance to reinvent herself a little and make some new friends. of course, her plans do not run smoothly. the characters are all well-written, come from a range o backgrounds and the dialogue is quick and snappy (hello gilmore girls!) and fun. ava is a smart and strong female character and i love this idea of the rebel lesbian girl who wants to try living in the mainstream."

so that was the bit i wrote for a magazine. i want to add a few things:

pink would be a great companion read to simmone howell's ace gold inky-winning notes from the teenage underground. i could see ava and gem (the warhol-loving, filmmaking, feisty protagonist) as friends, hanging out at the state library.

i love that there are some great books out with smart and funny girls as the main character. i also love destiny mccartney from gabrielle williams' beatle meets destiny who was a (maybe just little) bit ditzy, but also clever and fun.

i think i might compile a list of all my fave smart chicks in YA. and my favourite smart lads too!

(oh and as a last note...i love that ava's parents threw her a coming-out party when she told them she was gay. reminded me of the party gem's mother threw her (in nfttu) when she got her period.)

Thursday, September 24, 2009

naked or dressed

i stayed up quite late the other night finishing nick hornby's latest novel juliet, naked. (out this week, from viking)

it was marvellous! fantastic! once i finished i went back and read the last few pages again and sort of sat there thinking about it. and now i just want everyone i know to read it so i can talk about it.
it's the story of duncan and annie, de facto by circumstance not totally by choice or love. duncan's love and passion is reserved for tucker crowe - a dylan-esque, leonard cohen-type singer-songwriter (but not so famous) who disappeared completely after his sudden retirement.

fans the world over (led, pretty much, by the obsessive duncan) theoriesed ceaselessly over the reasons for tucker's retirement. was it the famous "impossible" julie - about whom tucker's chef d'oeuvre juliet was written? did she break his heart completely? will tucker ever release another album?
but it also deals with annie and duncan's relationship, their trip to america to tour all of tucker crowe's haunts and all that happens from the moment they receive the first copy of a new release acoustic demo version of tucker's album (released as juliet, naked) when annie has a finger hovering over the play button as she contemplates the fatal sin of listening to it before duncan. (and thus, being able to form her own opinion of it, not coloured by his academic analyses of style and influence).
juliet, naked is truly classic, truly fab, hornby.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

coffee art

here are the coffees the evil sister and i were served when we had lunch at the rather funky alphabet city cafe on high st, westgarth just the other day. impressive coffee art! i haven't come across much coffee art, just the occasional feather and love heart.

and they were delicious coffees as well! perhaps a little on the milky side, but i'd definitely go back. plus, it's just across from the westgarth cinema. and it does good food. and also there's a very quirky junk shop in westgarth too, filled with treasures - if you could only get to them!

Thursday, September 17, 2009

some picture books

at my work i get to read a lot of picture books. this is something i love! my ultimate favourite being wilfred gordon macdonald partridge by mem fox and julie vivas, which never fails to make me a bit weepy - in the best way!

mannie, strawberry luca and lilliput are off for a day's adventure! they take along mannie's special box - a pink suitcase filled with secret things. mannie is martine murray's latest creation and a brilliant addition to her other tearaway adventurer-girls cedar b hartley and henrietta; brought to life in sally rippin's beautiful, expressive illustrations.
'wait a minute! what's in the box?' it's all sorts of things that make their adventure go swimmingly, even when the clouds become grey and ominous. it is then that the shy, timid elephant lilliput has to summon her courage. i love martine's expressions: 'a serious explorer hat', 'creep peep creeping through the tall reaching trees', 'tip top toeing along the dark pointy roofs'. beautiful!

colin thompson's latest picture book is a sweet and humourous story of a frightening-looking bulldog called fearless. however, fearless is really a friendly scaredy-dog. people cross the road when confronted with his thick muscled body, docked tail and meaty jaws, when really he was "just smiling hello." this makes fearless confused and sad. sarah davies has provided perfect, detailed illustrations, bringing out the endearing fearless - so expressive and realistic.

this one is a new favourite of mine. not only is zou an adorable little zebra-boy but the story goes that he wants to make his parents breakfast in bed so they'll get up and play with him - and they need coffee! plus it is french (and i am a serious francophile) so zou pours bowls of coffee for his maman and papa. but watch where you're walking, zou!
written by michel gay. in france there are lots of stories about zou, so i hope we'll see more of him soon.
and speaking of coffee...i've been pretty slack about trying new places recently. however, i did get a takeaway latte from giant kitchen little (i think this is what it's called) on moreland road in brunswick. the staff were so friendly and they played excellent spanish-type music and sang along. the coffee itself was nice and hot, not too creamy, but a little bit weak. i will go back though.

i also went down to point lonsdale on the bellarine peninsula and had coffee with my mama bear and evil sister at kelp. kelp has a nice view onto the beach and along to queenscliff. the coffee was actually quite good this time (previously it has been burnt and bitter) and they give you a little piece of yummy fudge on the side so that was nice. for food though, they don't even have one vegetarian option so i got cross.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

spotlight on my favourites: joanne horniman

secret scribbled notebooks

this is probably my favourite of her novels. mostly because i love kate, the main character. i want to be her. she's finishing up her final year at school, dreaming of escaping her hometown of lismore and hungry to experience life. there is a delightful cast of characters: sophie is kate's sister who lies long hours in bed reading and reading and breastfeeding her baby (first called anastacia, then hetty). lil, the red-lipped, raven haired old lady who brought them up after their father left them behind at the rambling bed and breakfast called samarkand (the house almost a character to itself). the "russian prince" from the second hand bookstore enchanted me as much as he did kate. jo's words are masterful, evoking the lusciousness of this almost tropical hinterland, as well as its oppressiveness.


matt and emmy were only teenagers when they discovered they were expecting a baby - mahalia, it turned out. but they decided they would love her and worry about the other problems later. but emmy can't seem to cope and before mahalia is six months old she leaves them and goes to stay with her godmother in sydney. matt is fiercely determined to take care of mahalia by himself and be beholden to no one.
this is a beautiful story and very realistic. again set in lismore (reading jo's novels you expect to see characters from every book just wandering about) and the landscape and the people flesh out the story, no less important than matt and mahalia and the main action. another set of characters that i want to be friends with; particularly matt's mate otis and his family, and the lion-like eliza.

a charm of powerful trouble

i have only read this book the once, and it was quite a few years ago when it first came out. i remember it being very sensual, lush and dream-like. it is the story of sisters and their mother and all the mess of relationships and people in their lives.
i remember vividly one of the characters' first kiss. in secret, hidden in some verdant and sequestered place (the landscape felt wild!) she kissed her friend and bit her, so her first kiss tasted of blood. such a powerful piece of writing, it has stuck with me since.
it makes me think of picnic at hanging rock. but set in the australian tropics. and much more poetic.

then there are the sequels, or companion novels...

little wing tells emmy's side of the story; her time away from mahalia, helping us to understand her motives for leaving. i think my loyalties lie too strongly in matt's camp and i did not fully warm to emmy. but her personal development and healing, as well as the people she meets on the way, make it a warm and moving novel. the cool blue chill of the nsw blue mountains (the setting for this book) is a contrast from the muggy scenes of lismore in the other books.

in my candlelight novel we are treated to the poetic and sexy story of sophie, the sister kate (from secret scribbled notebooks). just twenty-one, and a single mum to the delectable little hetty, sophie is starting university. filled with literary references and crammed with the blossoming ideas as sophie ruminates on motherhood and love. this is what young adult literature should be; smart, sumptuous and thought provoking. just divine.

all these books are published by the wonderful folk at allen and unwin. read them, savour them. (buy them)