Monday 31 August 2015

A Little in Love

A Little in Love was another book that I swooped on and bought immediately when I saw it whilst browsing my local bookshop, last year I think. The French flags naturally drew my interest, and that subtitle Eponine's Story from Les Misérables. I've had a growing love affair with Les Mis since I saw the recent movie version in 2012 (see my review), three times I think at the cinema. Then I saw the stage show in Melbourne twice last year and went to an exhibition about Les Mis the book and the stageshow. The stageshow is on in Sydney at the moment, and of course I hope to go.

I do really want to read the book, but my reading dance card is so full that it's not easy to sneak in a 1232 page whopper any old time when I always struggle with books over 500 pages. Recently I listened to the wonderful BBC full cast dramatisation of Les Misérables (see my review), and so the story has been on my mind. Rather unusually I had some spare reading time and figured that A Little in Love would make a nice comfort read. It did.

I was particularly attracted to the notion of Eponine's story. She has a particularly tragic story in the movie, and Samantha Barks is magnificent.

A Little in Love grabs your attention from the start, as Eponine lays dying, shot on the Rue de la Chanvrerie (now Rue Rambuteau).

I'm dying. There's no use hoping I'll live or telling myself, Keep going, it's only a small wound. There's too much blood on the ground.
I'm going to die in this street.

That's some start. We then go back to her childhood, born in a hayfield, and growing up in her parent's inn, The Sergeant of Waterloo, brought up to steal from the guests, from anyone. From an early age Eponine doesn't like her family way of business.

All we do is steal. It seemed to be all we ever did or talked about. Wasn't there another way of living?

The Thénadiers have a fascinating back story. The inn in Montfermeil. Three children! Eponine, Azelma and Gavroche. Years on the run from the law, finally ending up in Paris. The descriptions of the squalor of 1832 Paris are shocking for those of us in her thrall. After all, 1832 is the pre-Haussmann era with slums aplenty. Poverty, crime and disease abound. Many of the iconic Paris landmarks are still to come into being - Notre Dame, the Luxembourg Gardens and Saint Sulpice are all there of course, but the Eiffel Tower has not been conceived of, and neither has Sacre Coeur.

The heat meant that everything- rubbish, milk, human muck, the offal by the butcher's doors- rotted far more quickly. A stench seemed to rise from the river as well. Some people walked with handkerchiefs held over their noses, or with posies in their hand. 

I'm not sure what, if any, liberties Susan Fletcher took with Victor Hugo's most famous and enduring story, but A Little in Love was a quick compelling read. I still look forward to reading the original sometime.

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

French Bingo 2015

Thursday 27 August 2015

39 Books You Need to Read in Your Lifetime

I don't always do well on these kind of lists, indeed I often fare quite badly, but was surprised by this list from Mamamia. But then it's more populist than highbrow big L literature.

Monique Bowley sneaks in an extra book before she starts actually starts the list but warns that it isn't technically an "adult" book.

Oh, The Places You'll Go - Dr Seuss

Hmmm, well neither is Mem Fox or Beatrix Potter... Books certainly don't need to be "adult" to be worthy of inclusion in a books you should read in your lifetime list. Although my lifetime is going to need to be pretty long to get through all that I have already.

1. The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared - Jonas Jonasson

2. Looking for Alibrandi - Melina Marchetta (see my review)

3. Life of Pi - Yann Martel

4. Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austen

5. Cloudstreet - Tim Winton

6. Possum Magic - Mem Fox

7. The Great Gatsby - F. Scott Fitzgerald

8. The Light Between Oceans - M.L. Stedman

9. Jasper Jones - Craig Silvey

10.  Middlesex - Jeffrey Eugenides

11. Me Talk Pretty One Day - David Sedaris (see my review)

12. Bossypants - Tina Fey

13. My Sister's Keeper - Jodi Picoult

14. We Need To Talk About Kevin - Lionel Shriver

15.  The Bronze Horseman - Paullina Simons

16. On the Road - Jack Kerouac

17. The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo - Steig Larsson

18. A Short History of Nearly Everything - Bill Bryson (3 copies I have of this, 3. None of them read)

19. In Cold Blood - Truman Capote

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

21. The Time Traveller's Wife - Audrey Niffenegger

22. Tomorrow When The War Began - John Marsden

23.  The English Patient - Michael Ondaatje

24. The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time - Mark Haddon

25. The Age Of Innocence - Edith Wharton

26. The Virgin Suicides - Jeffrey Eugenides

27. Angela's Ashes - Frank McCourt

28. The Australian Women's Weekly Cakes and Slices

29. Harry Potter - J.K. Rowling (well 1/7)

30. The Alchemist - Paulo Coelho

31. The Kite Runner - Khaled Hosseini

32. High Fidelity - Nick Hornby

33. One Day - David Nicholls

34. The Tale of Ginger and Pickles - Beatrix Potter

35. The Secret History - Donna Tartt

36. The Rosie Project - Graeme Simsion (see my review)

37. Gone Girl - Gillian Flynn

38. To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee

39. Burial Rites - Hannah Kent (see my review)


Not bad. A number of the books that I haven't read yet I don't really want to read in this lifetime or any other. There's still a few that I really do quite want to read though.

Dec 2015 22/39

June 2018 23/39

Wednesday 26 August 2015

The Running Man

It's probably going to be obvious that I loved The Running Man, so let's just say it from the outset- I really loved The Running Man.

I saw Michael Gerard Bauer speak at the CBCA Conference in Canberra last year. I meant to write about that, I really did, but time being what it is I haven't. He was engaging and funny, and I was keen to read his work, but now I've finally had the chance to start, and what a start it's been. It's almost disappointing to like a book this much when it's the first you've read from a certain author because most often you don't find another that you like more. Can he have written a better book than this? Or will I read each one hoping for another Running Man? When I really should just have read Running Man again? Too much? Maybe.

The Running Man was Michael Gerard Bauer's debut novel back in 2004. I have been meaning to read it for some time and am thrilled that I got the chance recently. It's a great read. The Queensland setting and a boy with an absent parent brought back memories of the equally exceptional Steven Herrick's By the River coincidentally from 2004 (see my review) although the two stories are actually very different.

The Running Man has an unusual premise. Fourteen year old Joseph Davidson lives in quiet suburban Brisbane with his Mum. His Dad is away most of the time working on remote construction projects in a kind of fly-in fly-out way, although he never seems to fly out, and only makes it home for a short time at Christmas.

The story starts at a funeral. Joseph is sitting in the front row of a funeral at the start of the book. 

He had been to funerals in the past, but it was different when you sat in the front pew. Before he had been just one in a crowd of restless schoolboys lining a street for someone whose face he would later struggle to recall. Now he was at the centre of it all, and it encircled and held him like an unwelcome and unyielding embrace. 

We the reader don't know who lies in that coffin in St Jude's Church. The story then goes back three months and leads towards the funeral at the end of the book. 

Over this time Joseph has to paint a portrait for a school project, and through this he comes to know his shy, reclusive neighbour Tom Leyton. Tom's reclusive life has made him the object of much neighbourhood speculation, rumour and innuendo. Joseph becomes more nervous about meeting Tom. 

The following Saturday Joseph found himself walking slowly across Leyton's big backyard towards their old timber house. Images of the previous week flickered in his mind like a badly edited video clip. Mrs Mossop's disapproving frown, his mother's scarcely hidden fear, and Caroline's grateful smile all jostled for position, along with his own growing dread.

Everyone in The Running Man is a wonderfully drawn character. I felt I knew these people. Joseph, his Mum, the gossipy old neighbour Mrs Mossop. Even Tom Leyton, the odd neighbour hiding from the world and raising silkworms. I loved the silkworm aspects of the story, it certainly brought back memories of my own shoeboxes stuffed with mulberry leaves, and they make a great metaphor for life. 

'They mirror what life is really like,' Tom Leyton explained. 'They are born, they live and they die. Their life has no purpose, no meaning. And they go on with their pointless existence in blissful ignorance until someone tosses them in a rubbish bin.'

Silkworms also of course raise the inevitability of metamorphosis and change. The Running Man is fabulous. There is just so much here- family, war, miracles, tragedy and friendship. It's one of those books that you already think about rereading it on the way through, and know that you will when you close the covers for the last time. I read a library copy, I think I'll buy my own and put it on the shelf next to By the River for when I want to reread them. I know I will. 


Monday 24 August 2015

BBC Les Misérables

I've been quite a late arrival at the Les Mis party. My love was only awakened by watching the 2012 film. Rather incredibly my first ever encounter. Sadly that movie had Russell Crowe as Javert of course, but even he wasn't enough to put me off the magnificent story and score. I'd never seen a stage version- despite knowing that the rest of the world loved it. I did however make up for that last year in Melbourne and saw it two days in a row!

I have a magnificent edition of the book waiting for whenever I can contemplate starting such a mammoth read (super big books and I don't have a good history).

So when I found this 2001 BBC Radio 4 dramatisation when browsing my local bookshop I snapped it up, and started listening to it immediately whilst driving about town in the car. It is just wonderful. I don't know how closely this story mirrors the book, but Victor Hugo provides narration between scenes. It sounds like it could be straight from the book but of course I don't know yet.

This 5 CD set allows a much broader historical sweep than the film or stageshow can. The story looks back to the Revolution, Waterloo and Napoleon, and it also gives more precise locations for the current Parisian action. While I suspect that many of the street names are fabricated or out of date now, I was thrilled to hear of Marius and Cosette first meeting in the Luxembourg Gardens and then they later they married in Notre Dame.

I had no idea from the movie that Gavroche is a Thénadier! I'll have to rewatch it and see if it is mentioned and I just missed it. Thénadier himself is much more of a character, and a more malevolent criminal than I have seen him until portrayed until now.

It's long been a cherished dream to restart my life in Panama City. The Americas it seems were designed for gentlemen like me. 

It was really quite an emotional experience to listen to this production whilst driving to and from work, or just to the shops. Sometimes you wonder if other motorists can tell that you're crying your eyes out when Eponine, Gavroche and so many others die violent, early deaths? The sounds of the cannon and gun fire can make you jumpy and the sound people excelled themselves with the eerie, drippy sounds of the sewers below Les Halles!

The writing is wonderful, dramatic, full of tension and full of fabulous words like blaggard and swashbuckler.

Over the roofs of the city a soul is set free. Not yet a man, and yet more than many men grow to be- a brave heart and a good friend. 
Ah summer, sweet summer. The convent gardens shimmers in the morning light ...... But in the heart of every flower, in the drone of every bee lies the steady beat of death. Constant as the dazzling summer sunshine. 

There are more characters and many more story lines.

Jean Valjean is still alive when he is lifted onto the hearse. Jean Valjean: the stealer of bread, the despised convict, the generous mayor, the rescuer of Fantine and Cosette is borne alive in a coffin along the back streets and the boulevards of Paris.

The French classics always convey more humour than I find in English classics. When Jean Valjean ponders moving to England to escape the unrest in Paris his servant Toussaint is not sure about the move.
I'll come with ya. Although I can't say what it will do to my constitution- all that damp and bad bread. 

I really loved the production and the opportunity to learn more about Les Mis than I knew before. I imagine it's still a much condensed version- I now must wonder how much more amazing story awaits me in that doorstopper of a book?

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

Sunday 23 August 2015


It's not all that often that I'm up to date with new releases! But I was keen to read Risk after an enthusiastic recommendation from my local bookseller. It pays to know those in the know.

Fifteen year olds Taylor Gray and Sierra Carson-Mills have been best friends since they can remember. Their mothers were friends long before they had children and their families are intertwined ...

... our mums are best friends. They grew up together, did nursing together, they got married at the same time and our dads were mates long before that. They even decided to have babies at the same time, but Mum didn't fall pregnant.

Risk is a totally modern cautionary tale of young girls looking to have fun and to meet boys online. Taylor and Sierra both chat with a cute guy on a chat website. Sierra goes to meet him and everyone's life is changed forever when she doesn't come back when she said she would. It's hard to say more about the story without significant spoilers.

It's all set in Melbourne as are so many books it seems- I'm beginning to wonder if more books are set in Melbourne than in Sydney? Melbourne is our only UNESCO City of Literature after all.

Risk is the debut novel for Fleur Ferris who wrote it in a frantic 35 days, rising at 4am before her kids were up and while her day job is running a rice farm! And I think I'm tired... Risk is exciting and fast paced and Fleur's years as a police officer and paramedic give the story and writing great authenticity.

Topical and compelling, I suspect that Risk will feature in the CBCA Awards next year.

Saturday 22 August 2015

BRAG 200x200

Recently I went along to the Bathurst Regional Art Gallery to see their BRAG 200x200 exhibition. This exhibition showcased 200 artworks from the gallery's permanent collection to mark the 200th anniversary of the proclamation of Bathurst. The exhibition included paintings, drawings, prints, sculpture, ceramics, photographs, installations and new media works.

It was really fabulous. It's a shame that galleries can only ever display a fraction of their collection at any time. Founded in 1955 BRAG now have a collection of more than 2,000 pieces, which are valued at more than 8.6 million dollars.

Somewhat surprisingly there was a big spectacular James Gleeson as the first thing you saw as you entered. I do love his work, although I realise they all look somewhat like disembowelings and so aren't for everyone. 

The Coast Near Coolum Augmented by a Recollection of Mazzepa 1985
James Gleeson
Grace Cossington-Smith is another favourite. Also an immediately recognisable style. But prettier than Gleeson, with more universal appeal, even if many of them seem to be variations on a theme, or the same room.

Open Doorway 1960
Grace Cossington-Smith
The People's Choice award of the exhibition was a rather enchanting still life.

Iceland Poppies
Archibald Marriott-Woodhouse
Each room had quite a different feel and something of interest.

Native's Chest 2010
Danie Mellor

I've seen these pencil sculptures before. They're very cool. 

The Amorphous Ones (the unending novelty of liberated sensation) 2008
Lionel Bawden

Many of the works had a distinctively Australian feel.

Cherries 2008
Amanda Penrose-Hart

Riverside, Bridle Track 1983
Graham Lupp

Petit Testament (verse three) 2003
Garry Shead

Modern art isn't my thing so much.

I'm not sure that I even classify welded
shopping trolleys as art...

The exhibition has sadly closed but BRAG always has something interesting on show.

Bathurst Regional Art Gallery
70-78 Keppel Street
Tues - Sat 10 - 5
Sun 11 - 2
Closed Monday

Saturday Snapshot is a wonderful weekly meme
 now hosted by 

Friday 21 August 2015

CBCA Book of the Year Award Winners 2015

It's always an exciting day for Australian Books- the annual announcement of the Children's Book Council of Australia Book of the Year Awards.

This year has been an absolutely huge year for women writers and illustrators at the CBCA Awards. Freya Blackwood alone won 3 categories! Which is unprecedented in the 70 year history of the awards. And Libby Gleeson won 2! Great stuff. Tonight Libby Gleeson was named as the winner of the 2015 Nan Chauncy Award for an outstanding contribution to Australian Children's Literature.

See the Judges' Report 2015.

Book of the Year Older Readers Winner -

The Protected - Claire Zorn (see my review)

Book of the Year Older Readers Honour Books

Nona & Me - Claire Atkins
The Minnow - Diana Sweeney

Book of the Year Younger Readers Winner -

Libby Gleeson and Freya Blackwood The Cleo Stories: The Necklace and The Present

Book of the Year Younger Readers Honour Books

Two Wolves - Tristan Bancks (see my review)
Withering-By-Sea: A Stella Montgomery Intrigue - Judith Rossell (see my review)

Book of the Year Early Childhood Winner -

Go to Sleep, Jessie! Libby Gleeson, Freya Blackwood

Early Childhood Honour Books

Noni the Pony Goes to the Beach - Alison Lester
Scary Night - Lesley Gibbs, Stephen Michael King (illustrator)

Book of the Year Picture Book Winner -

My Two Blankets - Freya Blackwood, Irena Kobald (text) (see my review)

Book of the Year Picture Book Honour Books

One Minute's Silence - Michael Camilleri, David Metzenthen (text) (see my review)
The Stone Lion - Ritva Voutila, Margaret Wild (text) (see my review)

Eve Pownall Award for Information Books Winner -

A-Z of Convicts in Van Diemen's Land - Simon Barnard

Eve Pownall Award for Information Books Honour Books

Audacity: Stories of Heroic Australians in Wartime - Carlie Walker
Tea and Sugar Christmas - Jane Jolly, Robert Ingpen

Crichton Award for New Illustrators Winner-

One Minute's Silence - Michael Camilleri, David Metzenthen (text) (see my review)

Congratulations to all the winners. There are always more excellent books waiting to be read. 

Last year I managed to pick 50% of the winners by cover work alone. This year I only managed 16%!  Yes I picked one correctly of the 6 categories.

Check out the full Shortlist from April. 

Thursday 20 August 2015

The Stone Lion

Margaret Wild features in the CBCA Award lists each and every year it seems. She is rather prolific, having written over 70 books, and is one of Australia's best writers for young people. I've read quite a few of her books and shared some of them here. The Dream of the Thylacine. The Treasure BoxTanglewood. This years nominated book is The Stone Lion, illustrated by Ritva Voutila who is a new name to me, although she is an accomplished illustrator and artist who has been illustrating children's books for over 20 years. Ritva has two books included in the Picture Book of the Year Award this year- The Stone Lion which was shortlisted, and Outside by Libby Hathorn which is an Honour Book.

The Stone Lion is a beautiful picture book. A story of sadness and joy, despair and hope. The stone lion sits atop a pedestal outside a library. He longs to be alive so he can stroll through the city streets and run through the park opposite his library.

One snowy night, a small homeless girl Sara brings her baby brother to the lion. Sara is freezing and giving up hope.

Sara and the baby will become cold and hard, he thought, unable to walk or jump or feel, Just like me. 

The lion wants to protect Sara and the baby, to take them into the warm library.

Ritva Voutila has created beautiful warm pastel illustrations that have a European feel with stone lions, snowy nights and robins. I expected to see an Eiffel Tower on each page. The illustrations have a Depression-era feel to them.

Gorgeous Endpapers

The winners of the 2015 Children's Book Council of Australia Awards will be announced tomorrow.

Saturday 15 August 2015


Rivertime is the latest book in my quest to read as many of the CBCA 2015 Shortlist as I can before the winners announcement next week. As usual my reading eyes are bigger than my reading stomach. Rivertime made two shortlists - Picture Book of the Year and the Crichton Award for New Illustrators. It has already won the Readings Prize 2015 and the Environment Award for Children's Literature Picture Fiction. And David Suzuki noless wrote the blurb for the cover. 

Rivertime is a first book for author illustrator Trace Balla. It is a gentle, beguiling story inspired by Trace's own 2012 kayaking trip on the Glenelg River in Western Victoria. In Rivertime 10 year old city boy Clancy is taken on a kayaking trip by his uncle. Clancy is not overwhelmed at the prospect of going without all his modern playthings- there will be no computer, no music, no games on the river.

Soon Clancy is enjoying spending time in the great outdoors. Seeing our amazing birds and animals and living life at a slower pace. Written in a pictorial diary format we travel the river with Clancy and Uncle Egg. It's quirky from the very start.

Rivertime is a gentle meandering of a story about taking time to notice the beauty of the world around us.

Kids love it. You will too.

Friday 14 August 2015

Don't Think About Purple Elephants

It seems there are many books written about children's fears and concerns. So much so that there are quite a few lists about them out there too. One from Readings. Or Kids Book Review. Don't Think About Purple Elephants is a great addition to this topic.

Some child are born confident, plucky and happy-go-lucky. Others are born worriers. Sophie is usually a normal, confident girl enjoying her school, her family and her friends. She has a safe life, with a supportive loving family. But at bedtime the worries start to crowd in.

Sophie's worries aren't huge, they aren't life and death, but they are enough to stop her getting to sleep and can disturb her enjoyment of the next day.

Thankfully her mother is very clever and she, and some purple elephants, help ease the burden of Sophie's anxiety. It is all beautifully illustrated by Gwynneth Jones. Don't Think About Purple Elephants was inspired by Susan Whelan's daughters struggles with bedtime anxiety when she was seven.

I came across Don't Think About Purple Elephants back in March because it was launched at the Newcastle Writers Festival. It was a great festival and I saw many wonderful sessions. So many in fact that I didn't get the chance to go to the launch. But I did make sure to buy a signed copy, which I will now donate to my local library. Thankfully author Susan Whelan blogged about the launch.

Sunday 9 August 2015

Coco Banjo Is Having a Yay Day

I've followed Nikki Gemmell's career for some time. From the 90s when she read me my news on JJJ (back when I was almost young enough to listen to a youth broadcaster) I started reading her writing from her first novel Shiver in 1997 when I was drawn in by the Antarctic story line. I then read Cleave and The Bride Stripped Bare, her publishing sensation, initially published as Anonymous.

Two years ago Nikki Gemmell, now a mother of four, rebranded herself as N.J. Gemmell and started writing for children with The Kensington Reptilarium and The Icicle Illuminarium, neither of which I've had time to read despite meaning to. And now I see that the third book in that series, The Luna Laboratorium is on the way in October. 

Last week I found Coco Banjo is Having a Yay Day in the shops and picked it up immediately. Coco Banjo is aimed at younger readers (6+) than her other books and I knew that I could slip it into my busy schedule. N.J. has turned illustrator designer here too and she's done a great job. 

Coco Banjo will be a welcome addition to the modern graphic style novel for young (probably girl) readers. The Wimpy Kid series led the charge, and has been wildly popular in Australia, but it's great to see so many wonderful Australian stories added to the genre such as Andy Griffith's Treestory books, and Anh Do's WeirDo series.

Coco Banjo is a student at Banksia Bay Public School. She has a lovely teacher, Miss Bonkiss (I like what she's done there), and a mean principal, Miss Trample, much in the Miss Trunchbull style of principal. Coco is a seemingly normal Australian girl, but her mother is a world famous fashion stylist and is away much of the time. Coco lives on an island in Sydney Harbour by herself.

It reminded me of an inverted treehouse for girls. Coco Banjo is Having a Yay Day is the story of just one day. Coco's Yay Day involves not going to school, staying home painting her toe nails, eating lollies and riding her dolphin. As you do. I could do with a Yay Day myself. 

Coco's best friend is N (Narianna), and the mean alpha girl is called Belle. While the school may be typical, with it's bush tucker garden, maths lessons, boring assemblies and looming exams for selective high schools, the kids are modern- they take selfies and have instagram accounts.

Random House have provided a great Teacher's Resource where N.J. Gemmell sets out her aims in writing Coco Banjo. She wanted to reflect life in a typical Australian primary school, for parents to have a giggle of recognition, for Coco to be a positive role model and to empower young girls. I think she has achieved all this and more. Coco Banjo ultimately is a story of friendship and loyalty peppered with dresses, tap dancing penguins and school life. Better yet, Coco Banjo is fun. 

Coco's next adventure, Coco Banjo has been Unfriended is out very soon (1/9/15).

Tuesday 4 August 2015

21 Must Read Australian Books

Buzzfeed certainly do come up with some interesting lists. This list of Aussie books is from May 2015. It is a great mix. Some of the usual suspects, and some rather more esoteric titles and little known authors.

1. Obernewtyn Chronicles - Isobelle Carmody

2. The Tomorrow Series - John Marsden (well I've read at least one, more likely a couple)

3. Came Back To Show You I Could Fly - Robin Klein

4. Jessica - Bryce Courtenay

5. On the Jellicoe Road - Melina Marchetta

6. Sun on the Stubble - Colin Thiele

7. Sing and Don't Cry - Cate Kennedy

8. Picnic at Hanging Rock - Joan Lindsay (see my review)

9. Big Little Lies - Liane Moriarty

10. Somewhere Around the Corner - Jackie French

11. The Harp in the South - Ruth Park

12. An Open Swimmer - Tim Winton

13. Lexicon - Max Barry

14.  The Old Kingdom Chronicle - Garth Nix

15. Thunderwith - Libby Hathorn

16. The Book Thief - Markus Zusak

17. The King Arthur Trilogy - M.K. Hume

18. The Green Wind - Thurley Fowler

19. Rowan of Rin Series - Emily Rodda (I've read the first one)

20. Sea Hearts - Margo Lanagan

21. Walking Naked - Alyssa Brugman


There is always much excellent reading ahead.

June 2017 5/21