Sunday, August 30, 2009

a couple of old reviews

here are some of my favourite books from the last little while...

Malcolm and Juliet, Bernard Beckett (Text)
Sex Alert! In this hilarious and hyperbolic attempted shag-fest we’re confronted with a motley crew of hormone-charged teens: Malcolm who is making a short film about sex for the inter-school science competition (much to the chagrin of the headmaster) but doesn’t know anything about it, really. Juliet, his best friend, who has a surprising sexual past. Brian, the macho high school hero-slash-bully who is always on the lookout for sex. Kevin, who only has eyes for Brian. And Charlotte, who wants to meet someone lovely. This one doesn't hold back from the nastier sides of sex and love, but it makes you laugh and cringe all the while. Top Read!

The Composer is Dead, Lemony Snicket (Harper Collins)
Book o’ th’ year! I love it! A composer has been murdered overnight. A delightful Poirot-esque inspector must uncover just who has killed the composer. He interviews the violins ("The violin section is divided into the First Violins, who have the trickier parts to play, and the Second Violins, who are more fun at parties."), the violas, the cello and bass...the flutes, the reed instruments, the brass...and on and on. They all have excellent alibis – performing all-night waltzes, feeling sorry for themselves (the violas, who "play the notes in the chords that nobody cares about."), to calm drinks of warm milk with their landlady the harp (this was the tuba, a confirmed bachelor). The percussion section "was beat - too exhausted to commit murder." Perhaps it was the...conductor?!

The Museum of Mary Child, Cassandra Golds (Puffin)
Quite a scary read for the tweens. Fairly literary and magical, this is the story of Heloise who was brought up by her godmother to believe that happiness is a waste of time and that love should not exist. They live next door to the mysterious Museum of Mary Child, into which visitors go looking interested and happy, yet exit sober and almost frightened. Heloise, who has always wanted a doll but never been allowed, finds one under the floorboards in her room – and it is though Maria (as she names the doll) has been calling to her, helping to be found. There’s also the young man locked up in prison his whole life and the caged birds of the town who escape at night to fly around helping people like Heloise. Brilliant twist at the end.

When the Hipchicks went to War, Pamela Rushby (Lothian)
The Hipchicks are the headstrong and adventurous Kathy, voice-of-an-angel Gaynor and the ultra-grown up (ie. she is belted by her live-in boyfriend and just lives with it) Layla. Young teenage go-go dancers who, in the middle of the war, head to Vietnam in their knee high boots to entertain the troops. Kathy, our narrator, is ostracised by her folk-group friends who think she’s supporting the war by going on tour, but is determined to go anyway. Her brother and protector has been drafted into the army and is on his way over too. This book is a moving and entertaining read, no real prior knowledge of the Vietnam War required and it’s great to hear about the role of women (we also come across some nurses).

The Robot and the Bluebird, David Lucas (Andersen Press)
The Robot’s heart (a clock!) has broken, so he’s thrown onto the scrapheap to rust away for the rest of his life. Then a tired little Bluebird comes along who is too weak to fly south for the winter. The Robot tells the Bluebird to make a home in the space where his heart had been...then he finds that it is as though his heart is beating! and singing! Oh so beautiful and bittersweet. A little friend of mine continually asks me to read this book but i have to tell him "It makes Kate O'D cry." "Why?" he asks. I can't explain it to him, but they are the same tears that prick when I read Wilfred Gordon MacDonald Partridge by Mem Fox and Julie Vivas.

Dimity Dumpty, Bob Graham (Walker)
I cannot get enough of Bob Graham, so perhaps I’m biased here. Dimity Dumpty is the story of Humpty Dumpty’s little sister. While Humpty and his parents are performing in the circus tent, Dimity finds a quiet place to play her flute. But when her brother has an accident (falls off the wall while spray-painting his tag) Dimity shows her strength and courage. I especially liked their egg-box caravan pulled by a chook.

one about music

just back from last ever, final lucksmiths gig. it was fab-tastic, my ears are still ringing - mostly from the cheers and shouts and claps and screams that got us two encores. i'm pretty sad that they've decided to end the band, but it was such a great night that i had no time to dwell. (just a few tears at the end)

the corner hotel hosted the event in their delightful sticky-floored way. the crowd was ace.

the songs spanned their entire 12 disc catalogue from the beautiful "weatherboard" from that album with the giraffe on it (first tape) to the newest first frost album - "california in popular song" and "a sobering thought". the universal, eternal favourite "t-shirt weather" was a loud and manic experience! finishing off with "the year of driving langurously" was divine. "has it really been a year? where the hell do we go from here?" where do i go from here? i feel a lucksmiths tribute band a-comin'.

will defo need coffee tomorrow.

Friday, August 28, 2009

the noise

the other day, over breakfast, i finished patrick ness' the ask and the answer, sequel to the knife of never letting go (2008) which was probably the best book i read last year - YA or grown-up. (if you've not yet read TKONLG, minor spoilers ahead) TAATA did not disappoint me. gripping from the start as i rejoined todd, who i left at the end of TKONLG arrived in haven, reunited with the evil mayor prentiss and with viola lying, bleeding to death from a gunshot wound, in his arms.

v and t have been separated, neither knowing the fate of the other. but they both tell their own stories in alternating chapters - t initially from his jail cell and v from the house of healing in which she finds herself. the plot rushes breathlessly onward and we meet old enemies (many) and old friends (sadly, few) as well as a large cast of newcomers. we meet the spackle again, coralled like livestock in haven - now 'new prentisstown'. knowing who is good and who is bad, where everyone's loyalties lie, is impossible to gauge. the book remains one step ahead of you...until occasionally - sickeningly - you just know what is about to happen (and you can't stop it!).

TAATA is confronting and disturbing; examines the questions of war and of loyalty, explores love and responsibility. At times the plot seems far too familiar: when certain characters are chastised for performing atrocious acts of war they defend themselves by pronouncing they were merely carrying out orders of others. a mocking mayor sneers at them and replies: 'The refuge of scoundrels since the dawn of time.' (p. 456)

for older readers...all of them. read it.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

reviews for black dog books

There is a fab little publishing house on Gertrude Street in Fitzroy that publishes terrific Australian novels and non-fiction (great Aust. history stuff in particular) and they're launching a new Young Adult range of novels. They asked me if I'd like to write reviews for them - very exciting for me! Here are the first two...

Mama’s Song, Ben Beaton

"This is a beautiful new offering from Black Dog. Poetic and lyrical, with stunning imagery and altogether quite literary, Mama’s Song is a wonderful homage to motherhood, in all its guises, including the good times and the bad. George has run away from home, run from the place she feels she doesn’t belong, where she no longer feels welcome. She arrives in a country town ready to stay with her grandmother, of whom she has very fond memories, only to find that the old lady has died and no one told her. Then George goes into labour.

‘At 4am she screamed because she wanted to live.
I cried. At 4am I cried because I didn’t know if I wanted her to.’

This powerful couplet sets the tone for the deeply poetic nature of Beaton’s story. It also encapsulates George’s desperation and sets the tone for the rest of the novel.

Benton manages to convey that while the birth of baby Hannah is a pivotal moment of the plot, it is only a jumping off point for George’s journey through the novel and beyond. The sex, birth and breastfeeding scenes are deftly handled; descriptive without being clinical or shocking, although George’s fear, pain and humiliation are clear. I am impressed that a man can write about birth and motherhood from the perspective of a seventeen year old girl – and get it right! Beaton writes George very well – sympathetically, but also honestly. She’s got her selfishness and her anger towards her mother – she’s aware of it and so are we but we don’t judge her, because Beaton won’t allow us to. We get to know enough of George to know that she is mature, in need of – and open to – guidance, and that she is full of love.

The women that come in and out of Mama’s Song all have their role to play in George’s story. Mary is an older first-time mum who takes to her much longed-for baby easily and happily, as well as providing support to George. Nasreen’s baby is born frighteningly early and her trials help George to understand that she is very, very lucky to have her healthy baby. George’s mother is a character only seen in flashback scenes and in a brief telephone conversation, we see her through George’s memory, coloured by the loss of her father from her life.

It is only in these flashbacks that the reader learns about how George came to be alone and pregnant, we hear about her time at boarding school – apparently too out of control for her mother and step-father to handle alone – about her relationship with her father and the way she treated her mother once he left them. Perhaps it is the reflection on her past in the days following the birth of her daughter that will enable George’s acceptance and love for her own mother.

Beaton’s is a great new voice on the young adult book scene. Mama’s Song is a stunning debut novel."

After, Sue Lawson
In the wake of a traumatic incident, CJ has moved to a large property in the country to live with his grandparents. He is out of his comfort zone and surrounded by sheep - and they insist on calling him Callum.. Not only this, but Nan doesn't seem very pleased to have him there at all. The food he eats is strange and the school he will attend is small and unfamiliar. There, Callum finds that his classmate Jack Frewen, the star player in the Winter Creek football team, has been his grandfather’s right-hand man until now. Obviously jealous of the prodigal grandson, Frewen shows Callum a very different side of himself.

Lawson tells the story of Callum’s past trauma in alternate third-person narrative chapters that wind through the main story. Though they are slightly jarring at first, arising from the transition from first to third person, they work well and the reader comes to understands that Callum and CJ are two different boys, made different by the event that unfolds – the event that doesn’t occur until the very end of the book. This is an effective method of getting across the idea that Callum has been drastically changes by this experience, feels alienated from his old self. Lawson achieves great suspense and the reader looks forward to leaning more about CJ/Callum’s past before coming to Winter Creek – including why his mother seems to have nothing to do with her parents – but neither of the parallel stories drag, nor want for more attention.

Callum meets another classmate who, like him, is on the outer. Luke Bennett has an acquired brain injury and spends his recess alone. But Luke was once known as Benny, who was popular and talented. Callum befriends him, reluctantly at first, but fervently later. Callum knows what it is like to have people treat you differently after a tragedy and he connects with Luke. It is with Luke that Callum takes his first steps to reconnecting with football.

This is a terrific read for teenagers in lower secondary. It is issues based but offers something more; Lawson has created funny, likeable (and some not-so likeable) characters and some very moving scenes in this book about football, friendship, second chances and family.

After is the latest novel from Sue Lawson, author of Allie McGregor’s True Colours and Finding Darcy."

...I am just starting out on this reviewing lark. It's fun, but trickier than I thought. I spend a lot of time making notes while reading the books, then write disjointed sentences and thoughts down on scrap paper. It takes longer to get it coherent than I'd like. Perhaps with some practice it'll get easier.

as for coffee...

i bought an italian cafetiere that you put on the hot plate and it makes a delicious coffee from freshly ground beans right in the comfort of your own house. the coffee it produces is very strong, full-bodied and quite delicious. however, i can't remember the brand of beans i used. i'm excited. come around and i'll make you a cup.

Friday, August 21, 2009

coffee and books

here are my current bests:
favourite coffee: caffe latte at the mediterranean wholesalers on sydney road.

reminds me of the actual coffee i drank when i was actually in italy. strong, not too milky and a delicious taste - not bitter at all. served by a charming italian man who greets you in italian. and under $3 (i think - at least i remember being impressed by the price). plus you can buy rennet-free mozzarella there, and all kinds of fresh pasta.

favourite book: tensy farlow and the home for mislaid children, by jen storer (published by penguin)

this is a magical, adventure-filled, hilarious story about tensy farlow, an abandoned orphan. she's ballsy and smart, optimistic and endearing. kind of like if anne of green gables had a baby with lemony snicket, which was then raised by j.k. rowling. top read for the 8-13 crowd.