Sunday, January 30, 2011

review : across the universe

across the universe, beth revis (penguin)

please note, this review may contain some spoilers.

across the universe opens to the main character, amy, watching as her mother is painfully cryogenically frozen, then her father, and then she must decide whether to go through this process herself, knowing that if she does she'll not wake for 300 years. and when she does wake, it will be on a new planet and her parents will be partially responsible for building a new civilisation there. realistic and horrifying, it's an excellent first chapter, totally designed to suck a reader in - and very successful too.

the reading copy's blurb, designed to get booksellers and the like excited, says: "TITANIC meets AVATAR - a global publishing sensation...first in a three-part series that taps into two MAJOR entertainment trends: romance and space..."*

the rest of the book is a solid and fairly enjoyable read, with chapters alternating between amy (initially her chapters are dream-like musings until she is rudely awakened) and then 'elder', a young man (the same age as amy) being groomed to take over the running of the spaceship 'godspeed'. the colony that has evolved on the 'godspeed' are a mostly homogenous and dependable people who go about their daily chores without question. there are some, however, who are less content, who are different and quirky. these people are deemed troubled, or crazy and spend their time in the hospital wing. it doesn't take the reader very long to realise there's something a bit iffy going on. the mystery and secrets sucked me in and i found it the most satisfying part of the story.

what disappointed me was that neither of the main protagonists is actually very interesting. elder was a typical teenager, thinking with his willy instead of pursuing his job of learning about the past or doing anything interesting besides moping and fighting with eldest (the head honcho, instantly vair suss), and while amy was a curious girl, she was also naive and slightly frustrating. it also creeped me out how she called her father 'daddy' all the time. and are all girls redheaded in books these days?

it would have been useful to know what exactly was happening on earth to have made this project necessary, it's not discussed (because elder didn't bother to do his research into it the reader suffers from his ignorance). from what is described, it sounds like amy left a perfectly nice life behind - albeit it would have been without her parents - and it makes me wonder why on earth she would do it?

it was a satisfying read in the end and though i feel the writing lacked oomph in a way, across the universe touches on some interesting issues and i would like to know what happens next.

here's the contentious new cover i talked about the other day, with the edited face:

*oh how did i laugh! romance and space! bahahaha!

stop the press! coffee in london!

according to travel and pop culture blogger la dashla over at the joy of mediocrity, there is a cafe in london with excellent coffee!

it's called notes. please understand that i see how schtoopid it is to like the sound of this cafe because it's described as "just like" a melbourne very unworldly of me. but look at that latte! plus, there's books!

Friday, January 28, 2011

and i have five more where that came from...


so i've got my review of across the universe by beth revis almost ready to go (up tomorrow - i liked it) but it was so disappointing and anger-making when i read yesterday that they've altered the cover photograph between the reading copy covers and the final released product and now the male (so the character 'elder') looks less black and more caucasian. elder the character is supposed to be a homogenised mix of all earth's races and is described as having dark skin and almond-shaped eyes. make of that what you will.

i think the issue is bigger than these individual covers (see my posts about other 'whitewashed' covers here and here) and raises important questions about our perception of beauty and attractiveness (how angry i got at the comments yesterday that said "oh they just made him better looking" wtf?!?!), about publicity, as well as our global perception on race and ethnicity and how it is represented in popular culture.

if you want to read more about this particular issue, click on the linkys:

best damn creative writing blog

the interrobangs

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

the bagel also rises

oh lordy. i've been back to new day rising a number of times now and their bagels are just divine. pictured is the bagel with avocado, relish and tahini. i've also tried the avo/relish/persian feta - which, as an aside, seems to be the new fromage du jour, the previous doyenne of dairy toppings the meredith goats cheese falling slightly out of favour perhaps (unfairly) - and it was equally nomnom. i love the tahini taste though, makes the bagel seem kind of luxurious and decadent while the feta gives it a peppy, fresh taste. and the coffee is perfect every time.

Friday, January 21, 2011

review : mr tripp smells a rat

mr tripp smells a rat, sandy mckay and ruth paul (walker)

it's lovely to receive books to review, especially when you don't know what you're getting and it could be anything.

mr tripp (and two other stories) and the walker stories are kind of like new zealand's answer to the aussie nibble.

this one was fast-paced and fanciful and funny. top read for the first reader set.

head over to the fancy goods blog to read my review.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

hold me closer, necromancer

hold me closer, necromancer, lish mcbride (penguin)

i decided to read this based on it's effing awesome title. and word on the street is the sequel has an equally brilliant one, but for the life of me i can't remember what it is or whether the street i heard the word on was real or maybe a dream...


first chapter or two = kinda pathetic narrator + three oddball friends + couple of supernatural beings + suspicion that the kinda pathetic narrator isn't what he seems

sounds like any book out at the moment, yes? i wasn't holding my breath at this point. then we got a chapter from the pov of some werewolfish and other supernatural fellas and i still wasn't very excited, in fact was a bit confused. THEN THERE WAS A REANIMATED SEVERED HEAD AND IT FREAKED THE BEJEEZUS OUT OF ME. it turns out sam is much more than he thought he was (well, he thought he was just a regular college dropout who can't even do tricks on his skateboard so that wasn't hard) and accepting his new status as a necromancer (one who can summon the dead) brings him into the company of witches, were-hounds (one rather sexy one in particular) , feys, harbingers and one mega-necromancer who is not willing to share his turf.

really quite well written (though i could have done without the chapters from douglas and the were's povs, but i liked nick and sam's mum's chapters), great dialogue and characters; freaky and surprisingly heartwarming. recommended for those with strong stomachs 14+

for another, more detailed, review, try the lovely miss friday

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Friday, January 14, 2011

homemade coffee

i'm not always out gallivanting in cafes.

sometimes it's nice to just sit around with your grandparents and eat homemade savoury scones right out of the oven and drink cups of delightfully strong homemade coffee, brewed in a fancy modern cafetiere thing and milk heated in a jug in the microwave, and hear all their stories and plans. apparently they're going to vietnam for three weeks. oh to be ninety* and ninety-two, footloose and fancy free!

see evidence of my grandfather's awesomeness here ...and gran's just out on the golf course before heading off to give mama bear some physio. if i have to get old, this is how i want to do it.
*gran, i know you're only eighty-nine, but ninety sounds good for bragging about my grandparents.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

woah! book time machine!

the literary delorean has hit 88 and i've travelled back in time to 1987.

space demons, gillian rubenstein (omnibus)

i was in primary school when i first read space demons. i remember being totally enthralled, completely engrossed and i believed in this story 100%. it was with unbridled glee that i reread this series just last month.

i rejoined the spoiled and selfish andrew as he receives this cutting-edge japanese prototype computer game from his father and as he bullies his friend ben into playing - even after the game sucks ben into the computer the first time he plays.

but as the friends continue to play space demons, and as two other kids from school get involved - the new girl in town elaine and the bad boy mario - the game gets dark and frightening as it feeds on anger and fear. shadows start to appear to the children in their real lives and threaten to overtake them and their own behaviour changes with the game.

the book encourages kindness and positivity, working together. it also explores parental fighting and divorce, sibling rivalry, bullying and single parents. i was surprised that the descriptions didn't seem to be as vivid as i remember - and wonder (sadly) whether my imagination has taken a beating in the intervening years. the language is straightforward, the pace is quick, at times the dialogue is kind of stilted and the issues are dealt with in a relatively heavy-handed way. also, it's written in the omniscient voice, but also at times an alternating 3rd person, which came across now as kind of clunky. however, i think it's important to note that i didn't notice these things when i was a child - only now going back to it.

this book was published in the 80s and is actually pretty hilarious to read now, what with all its talk of joysticks and dial-up modems and other outdated computer terms. the kids talk about how amazing and revolutionary the graphics are and i'm just amazed at what a mind gillian rubenstein had - and how the characters from space demons would freak out if they saw the games available now. i'd actually really like to see that. maybe there should be another sequel?

space demons is followed by the equally fantastic skymaze and shinkei. and now they come in one nifty book.

it was pretty popular...
Winner Children’s Book Council Book of the Year Award 1987
Winner Children’s Literature Peace Prize, 1987
Winner S.A. Festival National Children’s Book Award 1987
Winner YABBA Awards Fiction for Older Readers, 1990

gillian rubenstein lives here

Sunday, January 9, 2011

in honour of paris

*pere lachaise cemetery, view from the top of the butte de montmartre, view from la tour eiffel, 'my' flat in montmartre (with the flowers...actually my friend's place).

review : anna and the french kiss

Anna and the French Kiss, Stephanie Perkins (Penguin)

This one is a love story: a kind of soppy teen romance, with a little edge of snark and genuine, occasionally laugh-out-loud, humour that saves it from being too cheesy.

Anna has been plonked in an American boarding school in Paris, France for her senior year (quite academically irresponsible of her father, I think ) and because she doesn’t speak French, has never been overseas before and is away from her mother and little brother for the first time, she’s understandably shitting herself.

But never fear! A smart and quirky bunch of friends take her under their wings immediately and within hours she is thrust into the company of the gorgeous (we’re told over and over again), charming – although short – Etienne St Clair. Anna and St Clair gel immediately, but his longtime girlfriend Ellie (it’s ok, we’re told early on she’s kind of plain) stands in the way of anything happening between the two. Maybe.

Anna is funny and her awkwardness at being in this new place, unable to understand or even communicate with most people she meets, comes across very well. She has a great sense of playfulness (loved the Nutella moustache) and while her misreading of looks and situations was at times frustrating, it was also mostly believable and moved the plot forwards. The dialogue is great and Anna’s thoughts and her overanalysing of situations (within the scene, between dialogue) was hilarious, very real and a great strength of this novel. Her interest in films is great and her desire to be a film critic is a nice kooky touch - I hope she saw some French films in there and not just American ones.

Etienne St Clair is allegedly a French-American boy who grew up in London and all the girls swoon over his ‘British’ accent and he’s all proper and posh but on occasions it comes across as though he speaks (me mum, different die-rections) like he’s from Liverpool, or competing in a talk-like-Jim-Sturgess-in-Across-the-Universe contest. Inconsistent! And one other thing: British? It’s not an accent.

St Clair's interest in history and facts is great and interesting and the banter between the two is gorgeous. I would have liked more made of his relationship with his parents because as it is I don’t quite buy it, the father needed to be developed much more. I was also a little miffed that St Clair fought some of Anna's battles for her, when she did prove capable of doing it for herself at other times.

The book gives a very cute view of Paris, even though it doesn’t extend far past the cliché. Notre Dame, Père Lachaise, Shakespeare and Co. etc – it’s all in every guidebook. But it’s still lovely to watch Anna adapt to life in a foreign country and her character develop as her confidence grows. Her trip back to America and return to France are particularly interesting, in terms of Anna's broadening world view and also highlighting how she has changed as a result of living abroad.

I admit that I got my cynic on before reading this because it seems like everyone on the interwebs lovelovedloved it, but in spite of my dislike for Sofia Coppola and the fact that I feel like I'm surely the only foreigner that Paris likes - it was a great read. Ultimately this one is a lovely, sweet, romantic summer read (with a terrible, terrible cover) and should inspire everyone to travel to Paris.

Friday, January 7, 2011

the importance of proofreading

having a little look-see through the DK Children's Illustrated Encyclopedia while at work today.

internet linked!
king tut!
a space-y satellite fiendish thingy!
a giant eye!

wowsers. there must be lots to learn about in this book.
things like this:

what the fuck?

but...surely not...

but oh yes. read it again, people:

this is an appalling and offensive mistake.

the book is an encylopedia. a-z. starting with aboriginal australians and ending with zoos. wikipedia says that "from aboriginal australians to zoos" is this blue peter prize-winning book's motto.

i think even with the "from" it's still a bit iffy.

searching for this book on the penguin/DK site leads us here, to a message that says this page cannot be found. the book is out of stock on title page (big internetty book searchy thing we use at work), leading me to believe that perhaps someone has already noticed this mistake. but how about recalling the book?

Tuesday, January 4, 2011


Half Brother, Kenneth Oppel (David Fickling)

Ben Tomlin has been an only child for thirteen years. So when his research-scientist parents bring home a baby chimp to raise as a human child, Ben's life is turned upside-down. Teaching a baby chimp how to understand language is not his idea of fun, especially when he's trying to settle in at his new school. But it isn't long before Zan's infectious personality endears him to everyone and he becomes a real member of the family. But just what will happen when he grows up and the experiment comes to an end? Ben must take dramatic steps, and the repercussions ricochet through home and community with devastating results. This phenomenal novel is a thought-provoking story of relationships and family, first love and growing up, ethics and dilemmas.
4th January 2011

Angel Creek, Sally Rippin (Text)

In her new falling-down home, in her new street, in her new suburb, Jelly waits for high school to begin. She can only feel happy up in the branches of the old apricot tree and by the creek at the back of the house. One night, Jelly and her cousins spot something in the creek’s dark waters. At first they think it’s a bird, but it isn’t…it’s a baby angel with a broken wing. And they decide to keep it. But soon things start to go wrong, and Jelly discovers that you can’t just take something from where it belongs and expect that it won’t be missed. Sally Rippin’s Angel Creek is a book about growing up: being brave and selfish and tough and scared. It’s a book about an angel. But not the sweet variety. It’s a book about the things that change and the things that always stay the same.
28th February 2011

More than you can say, Paul Torday (W & N Fiction/Hachette)

The bestselling author of Salmon Fishing in the Yemen returns with a Buchan-esque thriller. A late-night gambling session ends in a bet for Richard Gaunt: can he walk to Oxford by lunchtime the next day? Gaunt sets off and as morning breaks and the dreaming spires near, his evening's winnings look set to double. But when men in a Jeep reverse into him, scooping him off the roadside, Gaunt's life takes a very strange turn. Taken to a country house, he is kept hostage by a man with impeccable manners, Mr Khan who makes him an unusual offer - ten thousand pounds in return for a 'green card' marriage to a woman called Adeena.Traumatised by a tour of duty in Iraq, Gaunt has a cavalier attitude to life and feels he has nothing to lose. His childhood sweetheart won't speak to him, he has lost every job he ever had and he needs cash urgently. He therefore decides to accept Khan's strange proposal - never imagining where this decision will take him. For with his new bride comes a whole lot of trouble...
1st February 2011

Sunday, January 2, 2011

coffee : co'klat cafe

yarraville has been pretty quiet over new years and most of the cafes are closed. i was very worried i would have to resort to java for my morning cup of joe...but thankfully the very nice people at co'klat cafe are open for business and their coffee is quite okay. while they're known more for their chocolate, and sell an array of delicious-looking treats - and i've also heard their hot chocolate is amazing - the coffee was not bad: an interesting taste, pretty strong and quite smooth. nice to know there's a second option in the 'ville when cornershop is closed, even if co'klat doesn't have quite the same vibe.

co'klat website here.

happy new year!

what a nice, polite computer! this message made working on new year's day just that bit more bearable.