Thursday, 8 August 2019

Black Cockatoo

Black Cockatoo was an immediate cover buy for me as soon as I saw it long listed for the CBCA Awards earlier in the year. I'm not having my best reading year and I think that this is the only book I've read from the longlist, and I didn't even make my usual post about all the long listed books. Now it's Book Week and the winners will be announced tomorrow.

Black Cockatoo tells the story of Mia, a thirteen year old girl living with her extended family in a remote Kimberley town. I really wasn't expecting the brutal start. 
The hit came hard, sending the young dirrarn black cockatoo reeling from his roost in the large gum tree. The boy approached cautiously, shanghai dangling from his hand, to inspect his catch. The dirrarn lay sprawled amongst the smaller birds he'd been using as target practice. 
The boy is Mia's older brother. Jy is 15, and loosing his way as many teenage boys do, he's not respecting his elders, or his country. He's killing birds for fun, not going to school. Mia rescues the bird and looks after it in her room. 
Mia let her mind wander to all the places she had dreamt of seeing. No one in her family had ever left the west coast, let alone travelled over oceans. In days past there was no need to, the family had everything they needed on their country. She imagined soaring high above the coastline, red cliffs below, as the waves crashed onto golden shores- even in her imagination she could not fly out over the waves. 
I don't think that I've ever read a book set in a remote Western Australian town like this one. I really enjoyed that aspect of the book. I've never even travelled to that area, these are stories and lives I've never encountered. I enjoyed learning more about Aboriginal family constructs. I knew that elder women would be called aunty, and men uncle, and that family is a very inclusive term. But I'd never heard of cousin-sisters and cousin-brothers before. 

I enjoyed the themes of family, country, tradition and freedom. Of course with any story like this the Stolen Generation is never far away. 
Jawiji had met Mia's jaja on the station when they were teenagers. Her family had been rounded up and forced to live there. Jaja rarely talked about the little sister her family had lost when the government and police rounded up the lighter-skinned kids. One the rare occasion she did, the pain was raw in her words and plain across her face. 
Black Cockatoo is as beautiful inside as it is out. Each chapter has a stunning full page illustration by Dub Leffler- an illustrator that I need to see more from. There is a sprinkling of Jaru and Aboriginal English/Kriol words throughout the text as you can see in my quotes, and they have supplied a glossary at the end (although I aways think these should be at the front). I've read a couple of books from Magabala Books  now, they're always impressive, and well worth seeking out.

Wednesday, 7 August 2019

Plastic Free July 2019

 230 million people participated in Plastic Free July world wide in 2019! This year I was one of them. I've been working towards being plastic free and reducing waste for a while. I've used reusable grocery bags for ages, long before the changes last year. I've pretty much sorted out the big four. 

I don't drink coffee, so avoiding takeaway coffee cups is easy. I carry my own straw and water bottle. Indeed I have a zero waste kit in my handbag. I've started using cloth serviettes, I love having one in my handbag for when I'm out and about. I even have a couple of those little plastic gelato spoons in there- you never know when you might come across gelato that needs eating. 

Like at Cow and the Moon

I've started buying staples like oats, hemp seeds, chia seeds, dried fruits, nuts etc from my local bulk store. I've bought meat straight into containers from local suppliers. Not that I buy meat very often. So I decided to extend myself for Plastic Free July and look at some things that I was using and try to change things. I've been using more milk recently (something to do with the amazing milk frother that I got for my birthday in June). Milk and dairy products generally come in plastic. You can still buy sour cream in cardboard, and while I like that, I don't buy it all that often. I've stopped buying yoghurt for some time because of the plastic packaging. But I enjoy milk, and cream. I have a couple of local options for both in glass. 

The Little Big Dairy Company are local to me in NSW, and they have most of their products in plastic. But some are also available in glass. The Double Cream is amazing! Expensive, but well worth it, a little goes a long way, and it lasts pretty well. I've taken to having some in the fridge at all times. I've also taken to Non-Homogenised milk in the past few years. They have a small 750ml bottle in glass. It's more than $5 though, so not feasible for families, but ok for me. 

A cheaper option, but one that takes a bit more work is the Single Herd Milk On Tap at Harris Farm. I'd wanted to try this for a while, but was hesitant wondering if it was too fiddly, or if I'd poison myself. I used Plastic Free July to give me the push to give it a go. It isn't too fiddly at all, and I haven't had any troubles with it so far. The shelf life of the milk is shorter (4 days), and it's $3 a litre. I have to organise myself to go early in the day, because they clean the machine in the evening- which is when I tend to do my shopping. So, like much of the plastic free shopping it takes a little bit more organisation, but it's certainly very doable. And I've basically eliminated plastic milk bottles from my house. 

Other products I've tried recently have been compostable dog poo bags from Onya. They hold dog poo very well. 

I've also been using cellulose sponges in the kitchen and am totally in love with Safix Coconut Fibre Scourers and have been giving them to friends and family who love them too. I've been using mine for months, it still looks great, doesn't smell, and I can just put it in the green bin when it finally does wear out. 

I've been trying to make other changes too. I've made suggestions to the cafes at my work on how to reduce plastic packaging. It worked with one, but not the other yet. 

So, all in all I had a pretty good month and great progress was made. I'm not perfect at it, but anyone can decrease their plastic waste with rather little effort. I was devastated to receive a smoothie in a plastic takeaway cup when dining in at a local cafe, and the response of the owner was awful when I pointed this out. I won't be going back until they change. 

You don't need to wait til Plastic Free July to make some changes. Do it today. 

Monday, 5 August 2019

Captain Rosalie

I've been meaning to read Timothée de Fombelle for some time. He's probably most famous for his Toby Alone series, about little folk living in trees, which I have in the house somewhere, but it's a big chunky book and I knew I wouldn't get it finished for Paris in July. Captain Rosalie is a delightful little morsel, and I easily read it in July, but then dragged the chain with blogging about it. An illustrated story for older readers, Captain Rosalie is not a picture book in the traditional sense.

Captain Rosalie is a young French girl, 5 and a half years old. Her father is away fighting in the trenches of the First World War. Her mother works at the munitions factory. Rosalie is not yet old enough for school, but her mother has nowhere else to take her, so Rosalie spends her days sitting at the back of the school room drawing pictures in her notebook. Or so it seems. Rosalie has other plans. 
.... I am a soldier on a mission. I am spying on the enemy. I am preparing my plan. 
It is 1917, and every morning the schoolmaster reads aloud progress of the war from the front page of the newspaper. "The master always gives us good news, never bad."
He tells them that they must think of our soldiers who are giving up their youth, their lives. 
At night Rosalie's mother reads her the letters her father has written home from the front line. 

Delightfully illustrated by French Canadian Isabelle Arsenault, who makes the most of Rosalie's flame red hair. It was initially published in French in 2014, and in English in 2018. 

Timothée de Fombelle talking about Captain Rosalie
(in French)

Saturday, 20 July 2019

French Film Festival

I live in a small town in rural Australia. We don't get a lot of foreign films here. The local film society screens one film a month at the local cinema. I can't always go though.

Of course all of Australia can watch foreign language films on the joy that is SBS. They've just started their SBS World Movies as free to air, which is fantastic. Well I'm sure it would be if I could access the channel. I haven't quite managed that yet.

Each year though there is the Alliance Francaise French Film Festival. And one weekend in winter we get 4 of those French films screened over two days as part of the travelling film festival.

I made it to two of them this year. I hadn't heard of either of them before this event.

Family Photo

The Trouble With You

I enjoyed Family Photo much more than The Trouble With You. Family Photo is an engaging family drama, covering 4 generations, a dementing nana, separated parents, three adult siblings with the daily problems of adult life, and at time tricky interactions with their own children. It was touching and funny, and set in Paris. 

The Trouble With You was a rather bizarre French farce. It was apparently the standout hit of Cannes 2018. Set in Marseilles, it tells a strange story of Yvonne, recently bereaved, and bringing up her young son. She is a policewoman, and her police captain husband died a hero. But all is not what it seems. There were definitely laugh out loud moments and situations, and I really liked our two leading ladies, Adèle Haenel and Audrey Tatou, but the action scenes were too violent for me, and there was a lot of cringing and squinting. 

I missed out on two films. 

Clare Darling
I'd really like to catch up on  both of those, but Clare Darling appealed more. 

Finding those trailers on Youtube I just discovered that there's already a movie of Heal the Living. Another book in my TBR that is already a movie.

The struggle is real. It's never ending...

Friday, 19 July 2019


I was so looking forward to reading this book. I'd bought the book, and I'd bought into the hype back when it was newly released. We all know what happens next don't we? Yes, of course I ultimately found this a disappointing read.

Lullaby was never going to be an easy read. The cover gives us a major clue with the first two sentences of the text.

The baby is dead. It took only a few seconds. 
But it gets off to a sizzling start.
The baby is dead. It took only a few seconds. The doctor said he didn't suffer. The broken body, surrounded by toys, was put inside a grey bag, which they zipped shut. The little girl was still alive when the ambulance arrived. She'd fought like a wild animal. They found signs of a struggle, bits of skin under her soft fingernails. On the way to hospital she was agitated, her body shaken by convulsions. Eyes bulging, she seemed to be gasping for air. Her throat was filled with blood. Her lungs had been punctured, her head smashed violently against the blue chest of drawers. 
And that's certainly a first paragraph to make you sit up and pay attention. Even if you don't recognise how terribly she is being managed in the back of that ambulance. Like my recent read Scrublands (see my review) this is another whydunit. The crime is once again graphically portrayed in the first few pages. There is no mistaking what has happened, only why. But I never got to why.

After that arresting, short first chapter we go back to fill in the story of how these two young children came to be dead.  It starts with Myriam and Paul, their parents selecting a nanny.

'No illegal immigrants, agreed? For a cleaning lady or a decorator, it doesn't bother me. Those people have to work, after all. But to look after the little ones, it's too dangerous. I don't want someone who'd be afraid to call the police or go to the hospital if there was a problem. Apart from that ... not too old, no veils and no smokers. The important thing is that she's energetic and available. That she works so we can work.'
Soon Louise is hired with glowing references. Yes the murderous nanny is called Louise which makes Lullaby the second book in a row for me with a main character, the baddie, called Louise. See my recent post on State of the Union. Louise has smooth features, an open smile, and lips that do not tremble. "She appears imperturbable. She looks like a woman able to understand and forgive everything."

Soon Louise has become invaluable to the household.

'My nanny is a miracle-worker.' That is what Myriam says when she describes Louise's sudden entrance into their lives. She must have magical powers to have transformed this stifling, cramped apartment into a calm, light-filled place. Louise has pushed back the walls. She has made the cupboards deeper, the drawers wider. She has let the sun in. 
Of course no honeymoon can last, and it is the same with this one. Cracks appear, and the relationship between the family and the nanny deteriorates. 

I found Lullaby ultimately disappointing as a psychological crime novel. I didn't understand Louise, or her motivations, how she came to do what she did. Yes, Louise has a sad backstory and a sad current reality, and she comes under new pressures, but still, horrificly killing the kids is where that takes her? I did enjoy the Parisian slice of life aspect of it. The glimpse into the life of a nanny in Paris. 

Around the children- who all look alike, often wearing the same clothes bought in the same shops, with their names written on the labels by their mothers to avoid any confusion - buzzes this swarm of women. There are young black women in veils, who have to be even gentler, cleaner and more punctual than the others. There are the ones who change wigs every week. 
Louise keeps to herself even here, and they wonder about her like we do.  
About Louise, the nannies know very little..... The white nanny intrigues them .... They wonder who she is this fragile, perfect woman...
Lullaby won the Prix Goncourt in 2016. The Prix Goncourt is the most prestigious and well known of the French literary prizes. I have to wonder about that. I doesn't seem literary enough to be a literary prize winner in English.  Lullaby was inspired by a real life American crime

The New Yorker did a big profile piece on Leïla Slimani in 2018. I read two American articles about her, both made the point that she was "laying claim" to an American story, or "cashing in" on it. Yes, I realise that second one is from the New York Post but it's an interesting view that they take on it. 

Lullaby was my first read for Paris in July 2019.

Saturday, 6 July 2019

State of the Union

I love walking into your bookshop and picking up a book you've never heard of. Even better is when you take it home and read it very soon, and really quickly. 

So it was with Nick Hornby's latest, State of the Union. Especially when I saw that yellow cover. It's clearly about a marriage not going so well. A topic I've been quite familiar with in recent times. And then I read the back cover. Tom and Louise meet up in the pub across the road from their marriage counsellor just before they go to their weekly session. And have a drink. Sometimes more than one. An idea which is GENIUS. I wish I'd thought of that. My marriage would probably have ended up in the same place, but at least we'd have had a drink before the sessions. Might have taken the edge off some of the agony. 

State of the Union documents ten of these weekly meetings. We only see Tom and Louise at the pub, we don't see them in their sessions or at home or anywhere else. Tom and Louise talk A LOT for people going to marriage counselling. The book is essentially all dialogue. Some of it was uncanny, like a distant echo, words that I felt that I might have said, or have heard. There were even more parallels, Louise is a geriatrician, and her husband Tom a music critic. Not direct parallels, but close enough. 

As you'd expect from Nick Hornby there are insights into life and marriage, it's clever and witty, but true to life with moments of tragedy and quite a bit of humour.
"He doesn't have to watch it. He just has to not go on about how much he hates it."
"I had to watch it."
"Once. And only because you kept slagging it off without having seen it."
"So he's got to watch it once."
"And I'm sure if he does he'll respect my enjoyment and not make puking noises all the way through."
And no book can come out of the UK these days without mentioning Brexit. Anyone who has been married, or in a long term relationship, happily or not, will get something from State of the Union.
" ... We're married. It's different. We have created a whole life together despite everything. A language. A family. Some kind of understanding..."
I hadn't heard of the book or the tv adaptation (complete series already on ABC iView for those of us in Australia) before I found the book a few days ago. The series is pretty much the book word for word. Odd that the series is already out just as the book is released. Maybe the series came first? Nick Hornby does a bit of work with screenplays these days. Anyway, of course I've also now watched the series. It's delightful. Starring Rosamund Pike and Chris O'Dowd. 

State of the Union trailer

I read quite a lot of Nick Hornby's early work back in the day but for some reason lost the habit of reading him somewhere along the track. I know I have at least some of his books still in the house, I think I'll revisit some of them, and seek out the others.

Thursday, 4 July 2019

Paris in July 2019

Can it really be time for Paris in July again? Seems so. It's certainly snuck up on me this year.

Paris in July is a month long celebration of all things Parisian (or French really) hosted by Tamara at Thyme for Tea. Her sign up post is here.

I had a momentary panic when I realised it was time for Paris in July. I hadn't made any plans for it. What would I read/watch/blog? I'm sure I can find something.

As with every July I will spend 3 weeks staying up late into the night watching the Tour de France. I'm sure there's lots of other French things I could watch on SBS. They even have a new free-to-air World Movies channel with lots of French content (but it seems I'm having trouble accessing it, I need to fix it).

I can go to any of my bookshelves/bookstacks and find some Parisian inspiration, so I quickly bundled some together for this month ....

There is more, a lot more

But the number one thing that I should try and finish reading is Les Mis! To my great shame I never finished it last year with the marvellous Les Mis Readalong. I got 900 pages or so into it. Then I haven't touched it since Dec 31 2018. Quite a while ago now. I need to crack on and finish it. I'm hoping that Paris in July will be the perfect push in the right direction. Even James Corden is pushing me in the right direction...