Wednesday, 23 April 2014

What Kiwi Kids Read: The Top 100

I do love coming across a new list, and this one is particularly fun as it's generated by kids themselves.

Nearly 1600 children (10 to 13 years old)-participants in the 2013 Kids Lit Quiz in NZ, were surveyed to find their favourite authors, favourite books, and what they've been reading.

Their top 100 books, or series of books:

1. Harry Potter series -J.K. Rowling (read 1/7)

2. Hunger Games - Suzanne Collins (read 2/3) (see my reviews #1, #2)

3. Percy Jackson series - Rick Riordan

4. Cherub series - Robert Muchamore

5. The Hobbit - J.R.R Tolkien (see my review)

6. Roald Dahl (all books) (see my reviews James and the Giant Peach, Magic Finger, Enormous Crocodile, and various other musings)

7. Lord of the Rings - J.R.R Tolkien

8. Heroes of Olympus - Rick Riordan

9. Alex Rider series - Anthony Horowitz

10. Skulduggery Pleasant  series - Derek Landy

11. Inheritance cycle - Christopher Paolini

12. Twilight series - Stephenie Meyer

13. Diary of a Wimpy Kid - Jeff Kinney (read 1or 2)

14. A Series of Unfortunate Events - Lemony Snicket (read 1/13)

15. Artemis Fowl - Eoin Colfer (read 1/8) (see my review)

16. Narnia Chronicles - C.S. Lewis (read 2/7)

17. Gone - Michael Grant

18. Tomorrow series - John Marsden (read 1/7)

19. Warriors series - Erin Hunter

20. Holes - Louis Sachar

21. Mortal Instruments - Cassandra Clare

22. Rangers Apprentice - John Flanagan

23. Geronimo Stilton series - Geronimo Stilton (Elisabetta Dami) (read 1)

24. Divergent - Veronica Roth

25. Inkheart - Cornelia Funke

26. 39 Clues - various authors

27. Maximum Ride - James Patterson

28. Henderson's Boys - Robert Muchamore

29. Once - Morris Gleitzman

30. Deltora Quest - Emily Rodda 

31. Famous Five - Enid Blyton (read 21/21)

32. Wonder - R.J Palacio (see my review)

33. His Dark Materials - Philip Pullman

34. Discworld - Terry Pratchett

35. Lorien Legacies - Pittacus Lore

36. Pony Club Secrets - Stacy Gregg

37. Goosebumps - R.L Stine

38. Hetty Feather - Jacqueline Wilson

39. Running Wild - Michael Morpurgo

40. The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas - John Boyne

41. Hatchet - Gary Paulsen

42. Little Women - Louise May Alcott

43. My Story series - various authors (see my reviews Marie Antoinette, Titanic)

44. The Magic Faraway Tree - Enid Blyton

45. Nancy Drew - Carolyn Keene

46. War Horse - Michael Morpurgo

47. How to Train Your Dragon - Cressida Cowell

48. Judy Moody - Megan McDonald

49. Tintin - Herge (see my reviews Land of Soviets, Blue Lotus)

50. Jacqueline Wilson (all books) (see my review- The Illustrated Mum)

51. Horrible Histories - Terry Deary (see my reviews- Gorgeous Georgians, London, France)

52. The Host - Stephenie Meyer

53.  My Sister Jodie - Jacqueline Wilson

54. Black Beauty - Anna Sewell

55. Cookie - Jacqueline Wilson

56. The Fault in Our Stars - John Green (see my review)

57. The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy - Douglas Adams

58. Mortal Engines - Philip Reeve

59. Virals - Kathy Reichs

60. Chaos Walking - Patrick Ness

61. Dork Diaries - Rachel Renée Russell

62. Infernal Devices - Cassandra Clare

63. Alice in Wonderland - C.S Lewis

64. Brotherband Chronicles - John Flanagan

65. The Spook's Apprentice - Joseph Delaney

66. Avalon - Rachel Roberts

67. Avonlea Chronicles - L.M Montgomery

68. The Floods - Colin Thompson

69. Kane Chronicles - Rick Riordan

70. Nanny Piggins - R.A Spratt

71. Noughts and Crosses - Malorie Blackman

72. Power of Five - Anthony Horowitz

73. Ruby Redfort - Lauren Child

74. The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel - Michael Scott (read 5/6, see my reviews #1, #2)

75. Septimus Heap - Angie Sage

76. Shadow - Michael Morpurgo

77. Going Solo - Roald Dahl

78. Guardians of Ga'hoole - Kathryn Lasky

79. The Invention of Hugo Cabret - Brian Selznick (see my review)

80. Lola Rose - Jacqueline Wilson

81. Captain Underpants - Dav Pilkey

82. Rondo - Emily Rodda

84. Secret Seven - Enid Blyton

85. Sherlock Holmes - Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (see my review)

86. Winnie the Pooh - A.A Milne

87. Deparment 19 series - Will Hill

88. An Elephant in the Garden - Michael Morpurgo

89. Just - Andy Griffiths

90. Lily Alone - Jacqueline Wilson

91. Matched Trilogy - Ally Condie

92. Redwall - Brian Jacques

93. The Secret Garden - Frances Hodgson Burnett (see my review)

94. Wonderstruck - Brian Selznick

95. Asterix - René Goscinny and Albert Uderzo

96. The Billionaire series - Richard Newsome

97. Conspiracy 365 - Gabrielle Lord

98. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time - Mark Haddon

99. Hardy Boys - Franklin W. Dixon (see my review)

100. Jane Eyre - Charlotte Bronte

34/100, including incomplete series.

Holes- it's on every list! And always up near the top. I have to read it.

You can see the raw data of this list here.

What is really interesting, and rather sad, is the all but absence of New Zealand books from this list. I think the only two authors who are partly Kiwi are Richard Newsome and Stacy Gregg.

I can't find the list of favourite authors from this survey, but the stuff article pointed out that when the kids were asked to list their favourite authors- the top 5 were international- J.K Rowling, Suzanne Collins, Roald Dahl, Rick Riordan and Jacqueline Wilson- all big, big names and hardly surprising I suppose. Margaret Mahy was the top scoring NZ author, at 17th, with Des Hunt, Joy Cowley, Fleur Beale and Stacey Gregg further down the list.

Monday, 21 April 2014

Mr Morgan's Last Love

I am such a sucker for a movie set in Paris, so much so that even though I didn't love the last Paris movie I saw (Le Weekend) I was completely drawn to see Mr. Morgan's Last Love recently. At least I knew a little bit about this one. I've been following it on a few blogs for a while, and I knew that Paulita liked it, while Sim didn't really. In America the name was changed to Last Love, I'm not sure why, or if that is better or not. 

Matthew Morgan (Michael Caine) is a widowed American living in Paris. He has lived quite a solitary life since his wife died three years ago. Then he meets a young dance teacher, Pauline (Clémence Poésy) on the #63 bus and things change for both of them. 

The movie trailers made it sort of creepy, as if they're going to have a rather inappropriate relationship.

And that is carried through in the movie a bit. They do sit too close together on a park bench. There are some weird conversations and looks. Thankfully it doesn't happen, but I did spend much of the movie feeling unsettled. 

Paris is the third big name star- although I saw in the end credits that the movie was actually filmed in France, Belgium and Germany, so not everything we see is really Paris. The park that they meet in wasn't familiar to me- not that I know every park in Paris. And if they're meeting on the Left Bank, why does their park have views to the Arc de Triomphe? Do Parisians really go to line dancing classes?

I did like scenes on  the #63 bus. I caught buses a few times on our last visit, and will be using it even more next visit. The bus is actually a great way to see Paris. Tourists tend to take the Metro, it's easier if your French isn't perfect (and who's is?), and shown on all the tourist info so it's the obvious way to travel. And it is handy. But as you get more comfortable with Paris, or if you travel with someone who isn't perfectly mobile (there are endless steps in many Metro stations, and some platforms at the big stations can be a 10 minute underground walk apart) then the bus offers a different way to get around. And you get a view. Parisbreakfasts did a great tutorial on how to use the Paris Bus

The movie takes place in an autumnal Paris, which was exciting, because that's how it will look when next I visit! And of course I can't wait. I've never seen Paris in the chilly months. 

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

Saturday, 19 April 2014

Macquarie Island

I was very thrilled to hear this story on Radio National recently that the program to eradicate rats, rabbits and mice from Macquarie Island has been successful. I've been interested in Macquarie Island for sometime. I read One Small Island back in 2012.

When I was last in Hobart in 2012 I spent a lovely morning at the Hobart Botanic Gardens, where I saw ducklings on lilypads. I also visited a very special, but rather nondescript looking building, tucked away in a corner of the gardens.

The Australian Antarctic Foundation
Subantarctic Plant House

An unwanted legacy no longer!

It was early and I had to find a staff member to unlock it for me. I'm so glad I did. Walking through the door is actually like stepping onto a rocky outcrop on Macquarie Island. 

The Subantarctic Plant House is an amazing place to visit- one of the best garden displays I've ever seen. It's cold and misty inside to replicate the environment for the plants, and they've recorded bird, wind, weather and animal noises on Macquarie Island so you get an idea of what it's like to be there.  It's as close to Macquarie Island as I've ever been. As near as you can be to Macquarie Island without actually going there.

Like any good display, they teach us stuff too. 

Macquarie Island is a special and remote place. Sadly I've never been there, but maybe one day when I go to Antarctica I will. I hope so at least.

Saturday Snapshot is a wonderful weekly meme
 now hosted by 

Friday, 18 April 2014

Cat Out of Hell

I have a house full of perfectly good and largely unread books, and yet sometimes I get caught up in the   buzz about a book and buy it. Usually the story ends there, but sometimes, just sometimes I read the book that week. Cat Out of Hell was one such lucky book. I'd read a few glowing reviews that had made me quite curious. Then there was a copy sitting in my local bookshop when I was at a low ebb of   willpower.

Somehow the reviews I had read didn't really manage to convey anything of the story really or even the genre. Somehow Cat Out of Hell appears to be comedy/horror. I definitely read Talk to the Hand, and possibly read Eats, Shoots & Leaves way back when, which was wonderfully comedic so it's probably not surprising that Lynne Truss has managed to infuse such humour in a very odd story about satanic cats. If it was a bad TV show it would be called When Good Cats Go Bad.

The first 10-20 pages of Cat Out of Hell are quite confusing, but do stick with it, it soon becomes a captivating page turner. Told in a variety of formats, straight narrative, screenplays, emails, and descriptions of photos- Cat Out of Hell has a most unusual structure.

Mostly narrated by a retired, recently widowed librarian, Alec Charlesworth. Alec ran the periodicals department at a university library in Cambridge for 30 years, and lived a rather quiet life. After his wife's death he takes a cottage on the coast of North Norfolk to be alone with his grief.

Having recently suffered the loss of my dear wife, I chose the location with care- isolation was precisely what I required, for I was liable to sudden bouts of uncontrollable emotion, and wished not to be the cause of distress or discomfort in others.

He soon discovers a improbable, unusual and yet "terrifyingly plausible" story about a man called Wiggy and a talking cat called Roger. And after that it gets really strange! Lynne Truss takes the old notion of cats having nine lives and runs with it. It's moving, scary and laugh out loud funny at times.

The back cover advises that the book "demands to be told in a single sitting". That would have been nice, but I never manage to read books in a single sitting, well the occasional picture book perhaps, but sometimes I can't even make it through one of them. I read The Cat Out of Hell over 4 days, not in a single sitting- but it kept me up past midnight two nights in a row. It is such unexpected fun, but certainly won't be for everyone.

The Cat Out of Hell is my first outing with British Isles Friday.

Take a fun trip to the British Isles
every Friday with Joyweesemoll

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

The Red Shoe

If you'd asked me a week ago if it was possible to combine Hans Christian Anderson, the Petrov Affair, the Sydney Morning Herald, polio and red shoes into an unsettling book about an Australian childhood I would have thought that the answer would have been no. But it's definitely a yes. And somehow it all works.

Matilda, Frances and Elizabeth are three sisters growing up on the outer edges of Sydney in the early 1950s. They live in what was really the semi-rural/suburban isolation of Palm Beach, before it became the millionaire's playground of today.

The house next door had two storeys and a long wide front garden and a side driveway for cars. It's like a film star's house, their mother said, but nobody lived there, not even a film star, because it was a holiday home. Lots of the houses in the streets around them were like that. In the summer people came in cars and had parties in the houses and trailed down to the beach. But the rest of the year the streets were empty as a ghost town. There were more trees than houses, more possums than people, their mother said. It's like living at the ends of the earth. said their mother, and in fact it was. 

Their father was a soldier in the war, and is now often away working as a merchant seaman. The family are going through a difficult time. Matilda is bothered by her imaginary friend who lurks in the radio, Floreal, Frances has stopped speaking and Elizabeth is having a nervous breakdown. She's stopped going to school, and stays at home reading every word of the Sydney Morning Herald.

Elizabeth was not bored. For one thing, there was the newspaper. She had always liked reading the newspaper, but since her nervous breakdown she had begun to read every single word, really every word. All the conflicts, crimes, unknown names, excitements and miseries, all those numbers and letters and reports of rain and snow. She read the legal reports and the obituaries and the medical notices and the houses for sale and the employment columns and the entertainments. Everything seemed to fit into a mysterious and beautiful pattern, connected like fine strands of coloured cotton strung across each other to form curving parabolas.

Dubosarsky peppers the text with columns from the Herald which sometimes have an obvious link to the story, and other times I struggled to see the relevance. There is an interesting reading guide where Ursula describes her original inspiration for the story- hearing people on the radio reflecting after the news of the death of Mrs Evdokia Petrov.

The cover blurb tells us The Red Shoe is "Punctuated by the headlines of the time, it shows with unsettling clarity how the large events of the world can impinge on ordinary lives." It does do that, but it is much more a domestic story than I was expecting based on that quote.

The back cover blurb has an astonishing quote from Sonya Hartnett.

'Reading Ursuala Dubosarsky's novels is like walking through a dream: you know you're not allowed to stay, but you don't want to leave it, and when it's gone you can't stop thinking about it. In this beautiful story, Dubosarsky proves yet again that she is the most graceful, most original writer for young people in Australia- probably in the world.'

High praise indeed from one of our most original writers, I have great respect for Sonya Hartnett. The Red Shoe was my first book by Urusla Dubosarsky. It won't be my last.


Monday, 14 April 2014

The Sweet Life in Paris

I'd been meaning to read this book for a while. I'm a great fan of David Lebovitz's blog, I have his Paris Pastry app on my phone, and it is called The Sweet Life in Paris, so it's a no-brainer for me really. A few weeks ago I ordered it online. And then it arrived a matter of minutes after we had spent 3 1/2 hours doing battle with the Singapore Air website and making multiple phone calls to them booking my next trip to Paris! What could I do? I had to put everything else aside and read it.

I had presumed that this book was about pastries in Paris, in the way of Sweet Paris, but it's much more broad ranging than that. A memoir, often with foodie highlights, but more a memoir of a transition from living in San Francisco in your native English speaking environment to living in Paris in a French speaking world. David Lebovitz decided to pack it all up and move to Paris after his partner died suddenly. He really took an astonishing leap into the void. He sold up his American life and moved to Paris with three suitcases. That takes some courage.

David moved into a tiny apartment in the Bastille, so small that he comes to realise that it is best to wash his Le Creusets in the bath instead of the sink. There are the requisite tales of French tradesmen and disastrous French language classes in short readable chapters with fabulous sounding recipes at the end.

Early on he spends three pages reinforcing the "two most important words in the French language." "Bonjour, monsieur" or "Bonjour, madame".

Whether you step into a shop, a restaurant, a cafe, or even an elevator, you need to say those words to anyone else in there with you. Enter the doctor's waiting room and everyone says their bonjours. Make sure to say them at the pharmacy, to the people who make you take off your belt at airport security, to the cashier who is about to deny you a refund for your used-once broken ice cream scoop, as well as to the gap-toothed vendor at the market who's moments away from short-changing you. 

On a first visit to France it is initially disconcerting to be greeted with a singsong "Bonjour, madame" as you walk into any new establishment, but after a while it is lovely. They will all say goodbye as you leave the shop too, such a welcome change from my experience of the English speaking world.

David has spent time working (for free) alongside the poissonières at the marche d'Aligre, learning to prepare all sorts of seafood, except squid (his aversion is really quite deep rooted), and also manning the counter of the very upmarket and very now chocolatier, Patrick Roger. What a great approach to a new life and a new city that is.

David feels that his understanding of the food, and allowing himself to adapt to the culture made a big difference to his transition.

I arrived knowing a fair amount about the pastries, cheeses, chocolates, and breads, which impressed the French, and I also soaked up as much as I could. More important, though, I learned to take the time to get to know the people, especially the vendors and merchants, who would patiently explain their wares to me. 

He now feels much more a part of the global community than if he had stayed in America.

I do my best to act like a Parisian: I smile only when I have something to actually be happy about, and I cut in line whenever I can. I've stopped eating vegetables almost entirely, and wine is my sole source of hydration.

There is a fascinating chapter about water, which as I've long suspected is rationed.

Random, fascinating facts.

It's rude to ask someone what they do, better to ask where are they from.

Paris has more tanning salons than boulangeries.

In a nation of readers, writers are revered in France.

Berthillon, makers of the best ice-cream in the world IMHO  serve tarte tatin with caramel ice cream at their tea salon (31 Rue Saint Louis en L'ile 75004) which is "over-the-top good". Next time I won't plan on walking past.

Parisians will eat a banana with a knife and fork.

The same word, les bourses, means both scrotum and stock exchange.

And what of the many recipes? I haven't tried any as yet, but I will be absolutely spoilt for choice when I start. Sweet or savoury. Dulce de Leche Brownies. Cheesecake. Spiced Nut Mix. Sweet and Sour Onions. Braised Turkey in Beaujolais Nouveau with Prunes. Chocolate Spice Bread (Pain d'Epices au Chocolat). Floating Islands (Ile Flottante). Or Salted Butter Caramel Sauce. Oh lordy! That could be the end of me. But I think I'll try the Lemon-Glazed Madeleines first.

In typical timing for me David Lebovitz has just published his next book, My Paris Kitchen, which apparently tells us that eating in Paris is fun again. Was it ever really not fun? Cleaning your teeth in Paris is fun. In another interview promoting his new book they discuss how Parisians are using influences from other cultures in their home cooking, and presume that this is new. I'm not so sure that it is all that new. On our first visit to Paris in 1998 I bought quite a few recipe magazines and there certainly many ethnic inspired recipes there. Perhaps it is more common now?

Books on France, a great 2014 challenge
 from Emma at 
Words and Peace

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

This post is linked to Weekend Cooking
a fabulous weekly meme at BethFishReads

Foodies Read 2014!

Saturday, 12 April 2014


I like a walk through our local botanic gardens at any time of year. Of course Spring has more OTT splendour, but autumnal walks have their delights too- you just have to look a bit harder for them at times.

Although there was the odd bit of showy display still

There has been quite a bit of rain lately and so there were many kinds of mushrooms on show. 

Some kind of slime mould I believe.

I'd never seen these before, but there were quite a few this day
They are apparently wood moth larvae shells recently emerged
from that hole.
The case was bigger than my fingers!

Some tiny cyclamen

Saturday Snapshot is a wonderful weekly meme now hosted by WestMetroMommy