Tuesday, 28 July 2015

Carrie's War

Carrie's War wasn't the book I was expecting. I expected a rather straightforward war evacuee story, and whilst it's a war evacuee story it isn't straightforward. 

Sheep and mountains. 'Oh, it'll be such fun,' their mother had said when she kissed them good-bye at the station. 'Living in the country instead of the stuffy old city. You'll love it, you see if you don't!' As if Hitler had arranged this old war for their benefit, just so that Carrie and Nick could be sent away in a train with gas masks slung over their shoulders and their names on cards round their necks. Labelled like parcels- Caroline Wendy Willow and Nicholas Peter Willow - only with no address to be sent to. 

How extraordinary that war time evacuation was. I can't imagine what it must have been like for those parents to send their children away, to trust their survival to the kindness of strangers, to never know if they would see each other again.

Carrie and her brother Nick are evacuated from London to Wales, but that is merely the premise, not the story and we meet an increasingly odd cast of characters in the small Welsh mining village where the children stay. Many have great, Dickensian names. Albert Sandwich. Mister Johnny. Hepzibah Green. Carrie and Nick after a "kind of cattle auction" are taken home by kindly Miss Evans. But it is her brother, shopkeeper Mr Evans who rules the roost.

Just a tall, thin, cross man with a loud voice, pale, staring, pop-eyes, and tufts of spiky hair sticking out from each nostril. 

Councillor Samuel Isaac Evans was a bully. He bullied his sister. He even bullied the women who came into his shop, selling them things they didn't really want to buy and refusing to stock things that they did. 

Mr Evans is parsimonious and mean. His sister Auntie Lou appears weak and to be living a rather servile life, although there are signs that she wants to break free. There is of course a great contrast with the spooky house in the valley where their friend Albert Sandwich is living, which is actually a warm and welcoming house but situated in a dark valley with creepy trees and echoes of Welsh myths. Carrie and Nick and welcomed there, celebrated- and fed. Still there is the unusual Mrs Gotobed- an odd, vivid character, fallen glory, living out the end of her life in a sad state and wandering about the Welsh valleys in her fine collection of ball gowns. She reminded me of Miss Havisham in Great Expectations (even though I haven't read that yet).

A mystery is set up in the first chapter, when a now adult Carrie, revisits the village with her own children.

"I did a dreadful thing, the worst thing of my life, when I was twelve and a half years old, or I feel that I did, and nothing can change it..."

That mystery sustains us throughout the book. In the end I think even though I liked Carrie's War quite a bit, I didn't love it as much as I expected to. 


Monday, 27 July 2015

Paris Plages

Paris and Parisians love seasonality.

Paris in July is often Hot, Hot, Hot. Much of the year is bleak (apparently) and so they make the most of it. Part of the appreciation of summer is the annual extravaganza on the banks of the Seine, Paris Plages ( Paris Beach).

We caught the first few days of this tremendous transformation at the very end of our trip in 2013.

They've tried hard to make it fun. 

Free Petanque

The crowd brings fun with them too. 

I'm not sure if this guy lost a bet or not. 
Paris in July
Dreaming of France is a wonderful Monday meme
from Paulita at An Accidental Blog 

Sunday, 26 July 2015


It's July so I spend my late evenings sitting up watching the Tour de France on TV. It's quite a commitment in Australia. Because of the time difference our broadcast normally doesn't start until 10pm, and the race will typically end sometime after 1am. It's a tough pace to maintain over three weeks,  but it's worth it of course. I've been doing it for a few years now.

The final stage is on tonight, always compulsory viewing, so much Parisian beauty on show it makes your heart ache. I was right there two years ago, on the Rue de Rivoli. The atmosphere is electric.

Every year I mean to read some TDF related books, and every year I have too much else on. But I keep buying TDF books just the same. I will read them at some stage.

I just bought this one today (it's on sale on kindle at the moment).

I know I have these books waiting in the TBR. 

I guess the books I'm keen to read are more about the race, rather than the cycling as such. I did listen to Lance Armstrong's It's Not About the Bike a few years ago (see my review), before the now famous Oprah interview. That of course colours any thoughts about him, but there were still interesting insights into the practicalities of racing in a peloton.

There are many more options.

TDF books on display
at Galeries Lafayette 2013

Dreaming of France is a wonderful Monday meme
from Paulita at An Accidental Blog 

Paris in July

Saturday, 25 July 2015

Air Swing

The air swing at the Fêtes des Tuileries is one of my very favourite things to do in Paris. Master Wicker loves Fêtes des Tuileries and we would go most days. I've posted about the Fêtes before, a great fair in Tuileries for two months every summer.

I would ride the Air Swing pretty much every time we went. It's only a few euros for such an amazing experience. There's the exhilaration of the ride itself. 

And the views! Over the Louvre, Rue de Rivoli, Tuileries and all the way to the Eiffel Tower.

It's always over much too quickly.

And I can never wait until the next time. 

Saturday Snapshot is a wonderful weekly meme
 now hosted by 

Friday, 24 July 2015

Anzac Ted

I picked up Anzac Ted from a display at my local library a while ago. I'd not heard of it before but was interested in the many books that have been written about the Centenary of Gallipoli, and it has an appealing cover. It has an appealing inside too.

Anzac Ted is told in a somewhat unexpected rhyme for a war story.

Anzac Ted's a scary bear
and I can tell you why.
He's missing bits, his tummy splits,
he only has one eye. 

Anzac Ted is the beloved toy of a young boy, but he's more than that- he's a bear with a history. He belonged to the boys grandfather, and Ted was indeed an Anzac who went to war with Grandpa Jack. The other children in the boy's class can't understand Anzac Ted's importance, they can't see beyond the exterior to see his significance, importance and truth.

Belinda Landsberry is a first time author/illustrator with Anzac Ted. She won the Kids Book Review Unpublished Manuscript Award in 2103 for another title, Where Do Odd Socks Go? which sadly doesn't seem to have been published yet.

She's done a great job with the illustrations for Anzac Ted- particularly the sepia toned war time ones.

Anzac Ted is the second book that I've read recently from the newish published of children's picture books, EK Books. The first being Don't Think About Purple Elephants (review coming soonish). I think they're off to a flying start, and fulfilling their mission to publish outstanding stories with meaningful ideas as their essence. I will look forward to reading more of their books.

Check out my ever expanding war book list.

Thursday, 23 July 2015

My Secret Guide to Paris

By now you would realise I was powerless to resist this cover when I saw it in my local bookshop. Definitely a Book You've Never Heard of But Just Have to Read. Despite the slightly cheesy looking cover there was an Eiffel Tower. An Eiffel Tower. Guaranteed buy and guaranteed read for me.

I'm having a bit of a busy reading month but I did want to slip in a quick Paris read so I can keep up with Paris in July. And I figured My Secret Guide to Paris would be a quick confection of a book. Something like a macaron, snaffled up in just a few bites. And indeed it was.

Twelve year old Nora lives in Brooklyn with her family. She has a very cool grandmother, an assistant fashion designer who travels to Paris twice a year. Grandma Sylvia rather predictably loves Paris, and has passed her love on to Nora, who has grown up hearing her wondrous tales of Paris, and reading Madeline. There is only one problem- Nora hasn't been to Paris, yet. Nora is obviously very keen to go, and she and her grandmother start to plan a trip to Paris. However, Grandma Sylvia dies unexpectedly before their trip. Nora despairs of ever getting to Paris.

It may not be too much of a spoiler to say that Nora does indeed still get to Paris. There are many delights to await Nora of course. Somewhat surprising for me but My Secret Guide to Paris gives us essential advice on Paris from the very first sentence.

"When you go to Paris," Grandma Syliva told me, "you must ask for a baguette de tradition."

I always do ask of une baguette de tradition, but it did take me several visits to realise this. At times I found Nora's voice a little annoying. Worldly wise beyond her years.

I was beginning to see that grief was like a rainy day. Sometimes the sadness was like a light mist round me, while other times it poured, mean and fierce. 

And yet her mother is behaving like a child. Collecting dolls and having a ridiculous feud with her mother. But these are minor concerns really, because Paris is the star here.

It seemed to me, though, that in Paris, everything was simply better. The colors, brighter. The people, happier. The food, tastier.

Yep. Although I'm not sure that the people are always happier.

Naturally it's always exciting when a book is set somewhere you've been. There are many specific Parisian locations in My Secret Guide to Paris, and I had been to most of them. Of course they went to the Louvre. I was surprised by Nora's favourite painting. Le Jeune Mendiant. Not one that I remember seeing. Nora didn't mention that he was delousing himself...

Young beggar

My Secret Guide to Paris was exactly the perfect Paris book for me to read this weekend. Lisa Schroeder was a new author for me.

French Bingo 2015

Paris in July

Tuesday, 21 July 2015

My Two Blankets

My Two Blankets is a lovely picture book from newcomer Irena Kobald and the wonderful Freya Blackwood. It has been shortlisted for Picture Book of the Year in the 2015 Children's Book Council of Australia Awards. 

My Two Blankets is the story of two girls. Cartwheel was born in a war torn African country, but moves to a new country, which is never specified, and could be anywhere really, but for our purposes it's Australia of course.

We came to this country to be safe.
Everything was strange.
The people were strange. 

I've never been to Africa, but can't imagine what a culture shock it would be to move to suburban Australia. Especially if you don't have the blanket of English to wrap yourself in. Cartwheel feels these new, foreign words and sounds as a waterfall of strange sounds. If you've ever travelled anywhere where you don't understand the language at all you understand some of that feeling. Cartwheel is lonely, isolated and sad without any access to her new English speaking world. Then she meets a little girl at the park who helps her gradually cross the English speaking divide. 

My Two Blankets is a wonderful, gentle exploration of the refugee experience. Irena Kobald has said that she "had to" write this book. 

It just poured out of me in about half an hour after experiencing a special meeting with Sudanese refugees, where nobody spoke any English for several hours. 

I think this one is my favourite illustration. It reminds me a little of Shaun Tan's The Lost Thing and references to Edward Hopper and John Brack (see my review for what I mean)

Picture source

When I saw Freya Blackwood speak at the recent Bathurst Writers Festival she spoke of her work illustrating this book. To make Cartwheel and her mother stand out from their Australian surroundings she used red oil against the cooler watercolours of the background. It's certainly a very effective technique, it's really very striking. Freya wrote a great blog post about creating her illustrations for this book. I haven't finished reading all the shortlist for the Picture Book category, but I wish Freya Blackwood very well, this one definitely could win.