Wednesday, 24 May 2017

Don't Call Me Bear

I do love the opportunity to read a new Aaron Blabey book. He has a particular, and sometimes peculiar point of view. Aaron Blabey's books are funny, and lots of fun too. 

Don't Call Me Bear is a simple book, told in lovely rhyme pointing out a fact that we all know- that koalas are not intact bears, even though they often get called koala bears. 

Warren is a rather angsty koala who doesn't like being called a bear. 

Picture Source
Don't Call Me Bear has a wonderful laconic, Australian tone. Highly recommended. 

Aaron Blabey is so prolific that it's really hard keeping up even though most of his books are picture books! I haven't read all of his books, but I do think that Thelma the Unicorn will likely remain my favourite.  (see my review)

Sunday, 21 May 2017

New Life, No Instructions

I do so love finding a book I've never heard of and absolutely need to pluck off the shelves, whether it be in a bookshop or in a library, and read. And so it was with New Life, No Instructions. I was wandering in the Large Print section of my library to find a particular book that was available only in Large Print (Maxine Beneba Clarke's Foreign Soil, borrowed for the second time, hopefully to be read this time), when I came across New Life, No Instructions.

While I am still essentially living my old life, I am living a New Life too, and I also have No Instructions. I liked the cover, loved the title, and picked it up without bothering to read the blurb on the back. Then I read it a few days later.
What do you do when the story changes in midlife? When a tale you have told yourself turns out to be a little untrue, just enough to throw the world off-kilter? It's like leaving the train at the wrong stop. You are still you, but in a new place, there by accident or grace, and you will need your wits about you to proceed. 
Gail Caldwell contracted polio as an infant in 1951, and was left with a permanent disability in her right leg. Her right leg was shorter and weaker than her left. As she grew older she developed chronic pain in her right leg. She was always an active woman, with a fondness for walking large dogs and rowing, but she was slowing down, unable to walk her dog, and dealing with a lot of pain, "limping around for a decade". 
Most of all I told this story because I wanted to say something about hope and the absence of it, and how we keep going anyway. About second chances, and how they're sometimes buried amid the dross, even when you're poised for the downhill grade. The narrative can always turn out to be a different story from what you expected. 
This is a memoir of resilience, fortitude, will and hope. Gail also talks about the death of losing both her parents relatively quickly, and the death of a close friend around the same time (which I believe is the subject of one of her other books, Let's Take the Long Way Home).
The other thing I know now is that we survive grief merely and surely by outlasting it- the ongoing fact of the narrative eclipses the heartbreak within, a deal that seems to be the price we pay for getting to hold on to our beloved dead. 
It is also a story of addiction, alcoholism, family and community. And dogs, there's quite a bit about dogs.  Gail is somewhat verging on a crazy dog lady. 
Dogs are the mirrors of our humanity. 
New Life, No Instructions was a different story to what I was expecting after the briefest of glimpses at the cover, but I love a Large Print read from time to time, even slow readers like me fly through them because of the big font. I'd never heard of Gail Caldwell before despite her being a Pulitzer Prize winning writer, winning the 2001 Pulitzer Prize in Criticism for her work as chief book critic at the Boston Globe. She writes beautifully, I'd be interesting in reading more of her work.

Thursday, 18 May 2017

29 YA Books about Mental Health That Actually Nail It

A great 2016 Buzzfeed list featuring books dealing with mental health. Some are obvious well known choices, quite a few are new to me. 

The Impossible Knife of Memory - Laurie Halse Anderson (see my review)

Wintergirls - Laurie Halse Anderson
Mosquitoland - David Arnold

Thirteen Reasons Why - Jay Asher

Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom - Leigh Bardugo
Essential Maps for the Lost - Deb Caletti
The Perks of Being a Wallflower - Stephen Chbosky (see my review)
Will Grayson, Will Grayson - John Green and David Levithan
Paperweight - Meg Haston
Finding Audrey - Sophie Kinsella
The Astonishing Adventures of Fanboy and Goth Girl - Barry Lyga
Saving Francesca - Melina Marchetta
A Court of Mist and Fury - Sarah J. Maas
The Sea of Tranquility - Katja Millay
I'll Give You the Sun - Jandy Nelson
The Sky is Every Where - Jandy Nelson
The Rest of Us Just Live Here - Patrick Ness
All the Bright Places - Jennifer Niven
Fangirl - Rainbow Rowell
The Downside of Being Charlie - Jenny Torres Sanchez
Fans of the Impossible Life - Kate Scelsa
The Raven Cycle Series - Maggie Stiefvater
Every Last Word - Tamara Ireland Stone
The Memory of Light - Francisco X. Stork
The Unlikely Hero of Room 13B - Teresa Toten

It's Kind of a Funny Story - Ned Vizzini

Highly Illogical Behaviour - John Corey Whaley
Everything, Everything - Nicola Yoon
Made You Up - Francesca Zappia


This week I also came across this great recommendation video from Jen Campbell with an amazing selection of reads to mark Mental Health Awareness Week in the UK. 

Yes my TBR is growing again. 

Monday, 15 May 2017

Paris in Bloom

Who would think that I'd scoop this book off the shelf as soon as I saw it for the first time? Well pretty much anyone who knows me. 

Such a glorious cover and such a glorious concept. Paris in Bloom is gorgeous to behold. Largely pictorial it is the work of specialist flower photographer (who knew that was a job? but it sounds fabulous) Georgianna Lane

There are four chapters, Parks and Gardens, Floral Boutiques, Market Flowers and Floral Displays. All gorgeous.

Georgianna often pairs floral depictions on walls, architecture or ribbons with real blooms. It works beautifully. 

Picture Source

There is a handy Field Guide to common spring blossoms at the back, and listings of Georgianna's favourite places to see blossoms and blooms in Paris-parks, gardens, floral boutiques and markets. 

We all love Paris in the Springtime and Paris in Bloom is a terrific source of inspiration and solace for those times when you can't be there yourself. 

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

Friday, 12 May 2017

The Weight of a Human Heart

I've never been much of a short story reader. It's not that I don't like them. I often do like the stories, but I'm confused by how to read a collection of them. It's pretty much the problem I have with poetry (well part of the problem that I have with poetry). The stories are often quite different, and while on one level that's good, on the other hand I find it quite a difficult reading experience.

Sometimes you need time for a particularly moving or disturbing short story to settle. Do you plow on to the next story? Or stop, rest and let that one sit a while? But what do you keep reading then? These are difficult problems for a reader to face.

Anyway, I picked up The Weight of a Human Heart at the recent Newcastle Writers Festival. I didn't see Ryan O'Neill speak in a session, but was attracted by the cover of this book, and the name, and so I turned it over to read the blurb on the back. There was a brief synopsis of five of the short stories. One particularly caught my attention.

A series of graphs illustrates the disintegration of a marriage, step by excruciating step. 

So I read most of that story standing there in the festival bookshop. Called Figures in a Marriage it is a unique way to look at not only the misery of the breakdown of a marriage, but also how Helen and Ray had met in the first place, and how they may not have been suitable even before they met. I'd never seen anything quite like it. And of course it's particularly relevant, and particularly interesting to me at the moment, so I came home with a copy of the book.

The twenty one stories cover a wide range of cheery subjects like racism, infidelity, the Rwandan genocide (a subject that I've actively avoided in fiction and movies) and obviously genocide stories don't make for calming bedtime reading. There is a wide range of geography in the settings of the stories which reflect O'Neill's life journey- the back of the book tells us that he was born in Scotland, and lived in Europe, Africa and Asia before settling in Newcastle, Australia.

Ryan O'Neill really plays with the shape and form of stories in this collection and on the whole that really worked for me, it was clever and fun. Although I didn't feel nearly clever enough to read, let alone understand one of them, A Story in Writing, where the story is told in sections with headings such as Annotation, Haiku and Biblical, all good, but what am I to make of Epizeuxis and Aposiopesis?

I was most comfortable with the stories with rather domestic Australian settings, often set in or near Newcastle. Not that these were cozy, easy reads particularly. I really loved Four Letter Words, A Room Without Books and A Speeding Bullet, exploring life with comics, or a fathers alcoholism. Two of the stories were particularly funny - The Footnote and the final story The Eunuch in The Harem which has a long running literary feud played out in the review pages of The Sydney Review

The Weight of a Human Heart has whetted my appetite for short stories, and I'm looking forward to reading more soon, and also Ryan's most recent book Their Brilliant Careers has been longlisted for this years Miles Franklin

Thursday, 11 May 2017

Readings YA Books That Teach Empathy

I just couldn't ignore this list from Readings as I'd just recently found another list of books that teach empathy. Too much of a coincidence? They're quite different lists actually. But both intriguing.

Readings also have a list of Children's Books That Teach Empathy.

When Michael Met Mina - Randa Abdel-Fatah
Thirteen Reasons Why - Jay Asher

The Things We Promise - J.C. Burke

Freedom Swimmer - Wai Chim
Max - Sarah Cohen-Scali, Penny Hueston
The Bone Sparrow - Zana Fraillon
Becoming Kirrali Lewis - Jane Harrison
Everything Beautiful - Simmone Howell
Becoming Aurora - Elizabeth Kasmer
Sister Heart - Sally Morgan (see my review)
Mr Romanov's Garden in the Sky - Robert Newton

Beck - Mal Peet, Meg Rosoff
This One Summer - Jillian Tamaki, Mariko Tamaki
The Hate U Give - Angie Thomas
All I Ever Wanted - Vikki Wakefield
Trouble Tomorrow - Terry Whitebeach, Sarafino Wani Enadio
The Sun is Also a Star - Nicola Yoon
The Protected - Claire Zorn (see my review)


Tuesday, 9 May 2017

A Pair of Jesus-Boots

A Pair of Jesus-Boots was originally published in 1969, reprinted several times in the early to mid 70s and then made into a BBC 4 part series in 1976. However, I think it's been out of print since the 70s and all the covers available appear rather dated and truly tragic.

A Pair of Jesus-Boots tells the story of thirteen year old Rocky O'Rourke. Rocky lives in the worst building in a poor square in Liverpool. He lives with his mother and his seven year old stepsister. His father is dead, although we don't ever find out why, and his stepfather is away. Rocky's mother is not really available, she likes sitting in her chair reading 'soppy' paper-back romances. Ellen-from-upstairs leaves her baby outside in all weathers in his old pram.
Number 3 was regarded by the rest of the square as the most disreputable house, and the families living there were regarded as the roughest and least desirable. Certainly they were the poorest, and the house was the dirtiest. 
Rocky hangs with a group of four other kids, they call themselves a gang, The Cats, and they are starting off a career of crime with minor acts- nicking biscuits from the back of a lorry, breaking into an empty shop. Rocky idolises his older brother who has been in jail for some time but is due out soon. 
Rocky lived mainly in a dream world, where school and home didn't have any existence for him. in his dream work he was either a successful criminal leader or a famous footballer - it all depended where his interests lay at that moment.
While I liked the setting, the story, and the Liverpudlian speech

'She'd have done better to have bought yer some warm clothes- an' a pair of shoes,' said the policeman. 
the writing never drew me into book fully, and the third person narrative was jarring. I found the characterisation and actions of Mrs Flanagan (Rocky's mother) quite confusing. Her behaviours and words are all over the shop.

Rocky's gang spend a lot of time sitting in their hideout drinking tea and playing cards. The boys in Rocky's gang are surprisingly diverse for the 60s. Billy Griffiths was crippled by polio when he was eight, and now has a limp, and gets about on a tricycle. Another of Rocky's friends is Little Chan who's parents run the local chippy. However the local villain is called Jim Simpson, which doesn't really sound all that threatening a name.