Saturday 31 October 2015

Iris Farm

Recently I went to Antonia's Irises. I'd never been to an Iris farm before and was astonished at how many varieties and colours there are. I ordered some for my garden.

Neon Blue


Be Counted

White Lightning

Bright Mia

So Vibrant

Crazy For You

Game Plan

Some Dark Knight

Claudia Burton Blair

Imogen Paige

Christiana Baker

Antonia's Irises is at The Beekeeper's Inn, halfway between Bathurst and Orange. They have honey tasting. Which is always fun.

A bee hive in the wall so you can see the workings of the hive. 

We had lunch there this day too.  I had the duck burger with kumara chips. It was delicious. The duck was succulent. 

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Friday 30 October 2015

Grandpa's Great Escape

David Walliams is certainly leading the charge of the comedians who are the new children's writers. He published his first book for kids The Boy in The Dress (see my review) in 2008, and he has released a best selling book each year since. I didn't read any til 2013, but have now caught up and can sneak in a quick read of his latest each year when it is released. Although they do seem to be getting bigger each year. Grandpa's Great Escape is a bit of a brick and comes in at 461 pages. 

Grandpa's Great Escape is rather unusual, even amongst the Walliams books. It is the story of 12 year old Jack and his grandfather. Jack's grandfather is dementing, and his behaviours are becoming increasingly erratic. 

One day Grandpa began to forget things. It was little things at first. The old man would make himself a cup of tea and forget to drink it. Before long he would have lined up a dozen cups of cold tea on his kitchen table. Or he would run a bath and forget to turn off the taps, flooding his neighbour's flat downstairs. Or he would leave the house with the express purpose of buying a stamp, but return home with seventeen boxes of cornflakes. Grandpa didn't even like cornflakes. 

Jack and his grandfather get along famously. Jack loves to hear his grandfather's tales of adventure when he was an RAF pilot during the Second World War. They share the stories, reenact the battles, and form a truly special bond. 

The boy couldn't help but smile. Everyone else always saw Grandpa's condition as a problem. For Jack, the way his grandfather's mind worked was nothing short of magical. 

But things get difficult after Grandpa recreates a few too many of Wing Commander Bunting's exploits. The police take an interest, and Grandpa faces the reality of going into a Nursing Home. Naturally the local nursing home, Twilight Towers, is not a nice place, run by Miss Swine, the Matron, and an odd assortment of rather hairy, tattoed nurses. A rather odd premise for a children's book, but it does work. Part 2 is the most exciting. And of course most of the adults don't come off all that well. 
An extremely large security guard was looking up at him. It was like the museum had captured the biggest gorilla in the jungle, stuffed it not a uniform and placed a peaked cap on its head. Thick tufts of black hair sprouted from his nose, neck and ears. 

Jack's parents are naturally a bit clueless and it is up to Jack and his grandfather to save the day. It's a shame we all have a year to wait for the next fun Walliams story. 

Thursday 29 October 2015

Dymocks Top 51 Children's Books of All Time 2015

Dymocks is an Australian based bookseller. Each year they publish a list of the best 50 or so children books as voted by their readers.

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

2. The Very Hungry Caterpillar - Eric Carle

3. The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe - C.S. Lewis

4. The Treehouse Series - Andy Griffiths, Terry Denton (see my reviews, 13, 26)

5. Magic Faraway Tree - Enid Blyton

6. Matilda - Roald Dahl

7. Anne of Green Gables - L.M. Montgomery

8. Where The Wild Things Are - Maurice Sendak

9. The Percy Jackson Series - Rick Riordan

10. The Gruffalo - Julia Donaldson, Axel Scheffler

11. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory - Roald Dahl

12. Where is the Green Sheep - Mem Fox, Judy Lovacek

13. Possum Magic - Mem Fox, Julie Vivas

14. Hairy Maclary from Donaldson's Dairy - Lynley Dodd

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

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

17. Deltora Quest Series 1 - Emily Rodda

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

19. The Bad Beginning: A Series of Unfortunate Events Book 1 - Lemony Snicket

20. The Very Cranky Bear - Nick Bland

21. Wombat Stew - Marcia K. Vaughan

22. Alice's Adventures in Wonderland - Lewis Carroll

23. The Diary of a Wimpy Kid - Jeff Kinney

24. Guess How Much I Love You - Sam McBratney

25. Heroes of Olympus Book 1: The Lost Hero - Rick Riordan

26. Ranger's Apprentice Book 1: The Ruins of Gorlan - John Flanagan

27. The WeirDo Series - Anh Do (see my review)

28. We're Going on a Bear Hunt - Michael Rosen

29. Oh, The Places You'll Go - Dr Seuss

30. Dragonkeeper Book 1 - Carole Wilkinson

31. Skulduggery Pleasant Book 1 - Derek Landy

32. Once - Morris Gleitzman

33. The Day The Crayons Quit - Oliver Jeffers

34. Tomorrow, When the War Began - John Marsden

35. Dear Zoo - Rod Campbell

36. Paddington - Michael Bond (see my review)

37. Alice-Miranda at School - Jacqueline Harvey

38. Fangirl - Rainbow Rowell

39. Paper Towns - John Green

40. Throne of Glass - Sarah J. Maas

41. Pig the Pug - Aaron Blabey (see my review)

42. Girl Online - Zoe Sugg

43. The Book with No Pictures - B.J. Novak

44. Looking for Alaska - John Green

45. Demon Dentist - David Walliams (see my review)

46. Maze Runner - James Dashner

47. The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas - John Boyne

48. The Mortal Instruments Series - Cassandra Clare

49. Winnie-The-Pooh - A.A. Milne

50. Charlotte's Web - E.B. White

51. The Thea Stilton Special Editions - Thea Stilton

31 and a bit/51

An excellent result. It's always exciting having read more than half of a list.

Not too many surprises I guess, although I was surprised that John Green had two titles in the list, neither being The Fault in Our Stars. I guess Paper Towns was a movie this year.

There's only one book I hadn't heard of- the last one. I hadn't realised that Geronimo Stilton had a younger sister called Thea. I read one Geronimo Stilton book to see what all the fuss was about, and didn't really understand their popularity.

June 2018 32 and a bit/51

Tuesday 27 October 2015

Gentle Ben

I don't think I ever knew Gentle Ben was a book. Of course I'm old enough that I spent a fair amount of my childhood watching the TV series whenever it was broadcast in Australia. Although memory had played some tricks and I thought the TV series was set in Alaska, like the book, but for some reason the TV series was set in Florida.

Walt Morey's Gentle Ben is set in a fictional salmon fishing village, Orca City, on the Alaskan coast in the time before Alaskan statehood (1959). Mark Andersen lives with his parents on the edge of the village.  Mark's father is a salmon fisherman and we learn a lot about salmon and the men who make their livelihood from them. The work was particularly seasonal, the salmon fishermen made their years wages in the six weeks of the salmon run. Naturally any event like that will attract its fair share of crooks too- this was a time of salmon pirates, Mark's mean neighbour Fog Benson among them- men who would let others catch the fish and then steal their fish. 

Mark disliked Fog Benson. He always looked dirty. He spent most of his time in bars, where he talked loud, bragged, and was quarrelsome. 

Fog Benson has a brown bear cub chained up in a shed. Ben, the bear, has been chained there for five years since Benson shot his mother. Ben has become too much bother for Fog, and he is left neglected and untended in the shed until Mark befriends him.

Ben was fastened with a chain about his neck; the other end was tied to a post in the centre of the building. Because the chain was so short that he could not reach the door or the sunlight, most of his five years had been spent in the building's inner gloom.

Naturally, Mark keeps his time with Ben secret from his parents who would worry about such things as children befriending bears. Although it turns out his mother already knows.

"Did you think you could come home late every day with bear hair on your clothes, without my guessing?"

Soon though Fog plans to get rid of Ben altogether and Mark needs to work out how to save him.

Before the advent of television Walt Morey was a pulp fiction writer, and it does show at times. He was also an outdoors man, and that shows too. While the plot can take some unusual and rather fanciful turns, Gentle Ben is an exciting adventure story of a friendship between a boy and a bear. Walt Morey's writing is at its best when he is writing of the astonishing natural beauty of Alaska, and the rhythms of nature.

Every living thing whose roots were anchored in the rich northern earth was growing with wild abandon. And somewhere at sea countless millions of salmon were bearing down on the Alaskan coast; returning with mystifying accuracy to the very streams were they had been spawned three years before.

Every living thing wants a piece of the salmon action it seems. 

The brown bears, lean-flanked and rough-coated from their long winter's sleep, would amble down off the high snow fields and congregate along the spawning streams. Their would be colossal battles for choice fishing sites; but once those were decided, the animals would all settle down to eat their fill every day as the returning salmon fought their way upstream to spawn..... Only Ben would have none of this harvest. 


Tuesday 20 October 2015

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

I am so glad that I was intrigued enough by the title of this book to search it out. I don't think it's all that well known in Australia despite winning many prestigious awards. There are 4 pages of blurbs and gushing at the start of my copy. I had seen it on a number of lists of course, and was growing increasingly curious, but didn't really know all that much of the actual book, or the author.

The Part-Time Indian of the title is Arthur Spirit, known as Junior. Junior lives on the Spokane Indian Reservation (the rez).

If the government wants to hide somebody, there's probably no place more isolated that my reservation, which is located approximately one million miles north of Important and two billion miles west of Happy. 

It's all told in Junior's engaging first person voice, more a journal than a diary, but an amazing and powerful form. It's truly laugh out loud funny at times and wry observation at others. Junior was born with hydrocephalus, he needed surgery as an infant and it wasn't known if he would even survive or if he would have brain damage. He has lopsided eyes, too many teeth, and is skinny. Now Junior is 14 and he wants to leave the impoverished school on the reservation to pursue a better education at the white high school in the nearby small town.

His father is an alcoholic, his mother was an alcoholic. His older sister Mary lives in the basement. They are poor.

Poverty doesn't give you strength or teach you lessons about perseverance. No, poverty only teaches you how to be poor. 

Junior is encouraged to change schools by a teacher who doesn't want him to give up all hope as it seems everyone else has given up.

"All these kids have given up," he said. "All your friends. All the bullies. And their mothers and fathers have given up, too. And their grandparents gave up and their grandparents before them. And me and every other teacher here. We're all defeated."

Junior faces casual and organised racism at his new school. Racism, poverty, parenting among multigenerational desolation and alcoholism are all treated in this poignant, moving, funny and rather extraordinary story. Rather predictably because of these issues this book has been banned in several places in America, indeed it was the most challenged book of 2014, up from #3 the year before. Which is a great shame- to lose such a powerful, important story because of squeamishness over a few references to masturbation is particularly foolish.

I'm fourteen years old and I've been to forty-two funerals.
That's really the biggest difference between Indians and white people. 

It's made all the more fascinating by the fact that The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian started out as a memoir. There is a real place called the Spokane Indian Reservation where Sherman Alexie grew up. Sherman Alexie was born with hydrocephalus too, he had an alcoholic father and he transferred to the white high school in town. He estimates that The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian is 78% true...

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian was published in 2007. I have no idea how it missed inclusion in 1001 Children's Books You Must Read Before You Grow Up, which was published in 2009 and included books up to 2007. I think one of the number of books never available except in Estonian or Catalan and never translated to English could have been jettisoned to make way for this masterful work.

Saturday 17 October 2015

Iandra Castle

Recently I took a lovely day trip to Iandra Castle with a friend. Australia doesn't lay claim to all that many castles, and I'd never heard of this rather unusual place between Cowra and Young before, but I'm always up for an excursion somewhere new.

The land for Iandra was bought by George Greene, who was to become a prominent farmer and politician in the area.

Originally there was a more modest house on the site but as his wealth and influence grew George began work on a rather unusual Edwardian reinforced concrete castle in 1908. I'm not sure if it was finished by his death in 1911. 

Sadly Iandra has fallen into a state of some disrepair. The current owners are undertaking major structural work for its preservation, but it's clearly a long, difficult and expensive process. They have a number of open days each year to help raise funds. 

The ladies withdrawing room

Thank goodness for modern plumbing..

What am I gunna do with a gun rack?
Another Wayne's World moment that helps
me with everyday life. 

Sparrows attempting to take over

It was a beautiful day and there were many more people than I expected for a rather remote location.

Walking to the stables

Memories of my pony riding days

Looking back to the house from the stables
We had a lovely picnic in the grounds. I don't picnic enough. I need to do it more.

As well as establishing his own town, Greenethorpe, George Greene also built his own church, St Saviours, not too far from Iandra.

Looking back to Iandra from St Saviours Church

The scenery on the drive home was lovely. The canola out in bloom is always a special time of year. 

The farmers had left rocks and trees in the paddocks in various places. 

The view from Tout's Lookout

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Thursday 15 October 2015

The Bolds

I'm an infrequent visitor to the twitter sphere and so it was mere chance that  I saw recently that Julian Clary had written a children's book. Is it embarrassing to admit to squealing with joy ever so slightly? I don't think so. It took me back, a long, long time. I remember late night tv watching his show. It is only via Google now that I see that this would have been Sticky Moments way back in 1990-1991. I must have been about 4 at the time....

I knew that anything from Julian Clary would have to be fun and clever, so I snapped it up online straight away. This week I had the chance to finally meet The Bolds.

The Bolds tells the story of a plucky pair of hyenas who seize opportunity when it comes their way. Fred and Amelia Bold are English tourists who suffer a tragic end on safari in Africa. Spot and Sue are hyenas living close to the safari park. They have become used to people, and begun to pick up their ways, and even their language.

'Don't you see?' said Sue. 'This is our way out of here. I've always fancied living in England. Apparently it isn't as hot as Africa and the humans there love queueing. That would make a nice change from always fighting and diving in for scrpas of meat here with the rest of the hyena clan. This is our chance for a new life!'

So Spot and Sue become Fred and Amelia Bold. They fly to England and take up residence in their house in suburban Teddington (where Clary himself grew up). They soon discover that being human means terrible things like bills, and so the need to have a job and earn money. Things all go quite well until the kids arrive one night, and they realise that they will have to take extra precautions so that their true identities are not discovered.

But Betty and Bobby had to be told this before they started school, because of their tails- which needed to be hidden at all times, for obvious reasons. Trust me, a big hairy tail dangling between your legs during a P.E. lesson would not go unnoticed in most schools. 

Special mention must be made of my favourite sentence:

'Oh yeah?' said the spotty oik, limping backwards.

Oik. Noun. British. An uncouth or obnoxious person. Now that's fabulous- I think I like it nearly as much as gobshite.

I was also intrigued by the mention of Joan Collins. "I dated some of the most beautiful women in the world- Joan Collins and I once spent the weekend together in a luxury spa hotel- happy days." But now see that Julian and Joan go way back. Julian performed as The Joan Collins Fanclub in the 80s. And if British tabloids are to be believed they're now great friends, after working together in 2010, and that Julian recently saved Joan from drowning.

Hyenas were perfect animals for Julian Clary to pick to live amongst us. They love to laugh, the like to smell bottoms and mark their territory by rubbing their bottoms on things so there is plenty of opportunities for humour. The author blurb at the back of the book tells us that "His life-long love of animals inspired him to tell a story about what would happen if they pretended to be like us." I did find the omniscient human narrator a little trying at times, but I'll certainly line up to take a look at The Bolds To The Rescue when it is released next year.

Fabulous illustrations by all round clever person David Roberts really work well with the story. I'm ashamed to say that I didn't recognise his name, but I've certainly seen his work before.

You can see Julian reading an extract from the Bolds here. I do love that Mumsnet has subtitled him!

I couldn't resist The Bolds and immediately dived in and ordered my copy online a few months ago before it was released locally. The wait is nearly over and now The Bolds will be published in Australia on November 2 2015. 

Friday 9 October 2015

The Hodgeheg

Dick King-Smith is best known for his book The Sheep-Pig, made famous by the movie version Babe. Most of ex-farmer King-Smith's books are about animals. Not surprisingly The Hodgeheg is about a hedgehog. A rather plucky little hedgehog called Max.

Max lives with his family in a nice suburban yard. But they have a rather large problem. Lots of their friends and family members get killed trying to cross the road. A problem set out in the fabulous first line.

"Your Auntie Betty has copped it," said Pa Hedgehod to Ma. 

Young Max seeks to find a solution to this terrible problem. He wants to find a safe way for his family to cross the road to get to the park on the other side, a large park which serves as a hunting ground for the hedgehogs.

Living in Australia I've never even seen a hedgehog, we don't have any. They are an introduced species in New Zealand but I don't believe I've ever seen any there either. Anyway I don't know much about them, and so I was very surprised to find out that they hunt mice and frogs and snakes!

It's probably no surprise to know that Max does succeed, but only after a few setbacks. He has a near miss with a cyclist and after a whack to the head his speech becomes quite peculiar.

"I don't want to bed into get," said Max. "I feel quite wakeawide. In fact I feel like walking for a go."

Young children love this kind of silly word play. It's a very cute book for a young reader.


Thursday 8 October 2015

Goodreads The Top 100 Young Adult Books Of All Time

An interesting list from Goodreads of their top 100 YA Books Of All Time. Sure there's lots of stuff in here I don't want to read, and will very likely never read. I'm not much on vampire, fallen angels or shape shifting, but there's more than enough other great books here to hold my interest.

And you've got to love a list when you've already read the top 3 books.

1. The Hunger Games - Suzanne Collins (see my review)

2. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's/Philosopher's Stone - J.K. Rowling

3. The Fault In Our Stars - John Green (see my review)

4. Divergent - Veronica Roth

5. The Diary Of A Young Girl - Anne Frank (see my review)

6. The Giver - Lois Lowry (see my review)

7. The Book Thief - Markus Zusak

8. City of Bones - Cassandra Clare

9. Little Women - Louisa May Alcott

10. The Lightning Theif - Rick Riordan

11. The Perks Of Being A Wallflower - Stephen Chbosky (see my review)

12. Looking For Alaska - John Green

13. The Maze Runner - James Dashner

14. Clockwork Angel - Cassandra Clare

15. A Wrinkle In Time - Madeleine L'Engle (see my review)

16. Thirteen Reasons Why - Jay Asher

17. Eleanor & Park - Rainbow Rowell

18. The Outsiders - S.E. Hinton (see my review)

19. Vampire Academy - Richelle Mead

20. Hush, Hush - Becca Fitzpatrick

21. Cinder - Marissa Meyer

22. Anne of Green Gables - L.M. Montgomery

23. Delirium - Lauren Oliver

24. The Selection - Kiera Cass

25. Legend - Marie Lu

26. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn - Betty Smith

27. Anna And The French Kiss - Stephanie Perkins

28. Graceling - Kristin Cashore

29. Fangirl - Rainbow Rowell

30. Daughter of Smoke & Bone - Laini Taylor

31. Shatter Me - Tahereh Mafi

32. Perfect Chemistry - Simone Elkeles

33. Throne of Glass - Sarah J. Maas

34. It's Kind Of A Funny Story - Ned Vizzini

35.  Just Listen - Sarah Dessen

36. The Unbecoming Of Mara Dyer - Michelle Hodkin

37. Obsidian - Jennifer L. Armentrout

38.  Unwind - Neal Shusterman

39. Angelfall - Susan Ee

40. The 5th Wave - Rick Yancey

41. The Truth About Forever - Sarah Dessen

42. The Subtle Knife - Philip Pullman

43. Hopeless - Colleen Hoover

44. Bloodlines - Richelle Mead

45. Unearthly - Cynthia Hand

46. Maximum Ride - James Patterson

47. The Summoning - Kelley Armstrong

48. Shadow and Bone - Leigh Bardugo

49. All Of The Boys I've Loved Before - Jenny Han

50. The Raven Boys - Maggie Stiefvater

51. Under The Never Sky - Veronica Rossi

52. My Life Next Door - Huntley Fitzpatrick

53. Howl's Moving Castle - Diana Wynne Jones

54. Every Day - David Levithan

55. The Absolutely True Diary Of A Part-Time Indian - Sherman Alexie (see my review)

56. Pushing The Limits - Katie McGarry

57. The Darkest Minds - Alexandra Bracken

58. Sabriel - Garth Nix

59. Poison Study - Maria V. Snyder

60. I'll Give You The Sun - Jandy Nelson

61. Red Queen - Victoria Aveyard

62. I Am The Messenger - Markus Zusak (see my review)

63. Half-Blood - Jennifer L Armentrout

64. Sweet Evil - Wendy Higgins

65. Crank - Ellen Hopkins

66. Just One Day - Gayle Forman

67. Nightshade - Andrea Cremer

68. A Monster Calls - Patrick Ness (see my review)

69. Amy & Roger's Epic Detour - Morgan Matson

70. Red Rising - Pierce Brown

71. Born At Midnight - C.C. Hunter

72. Aristotle And Danter Discover The Secrets Of The Universe - Benjamin Alire Saenz

73. The Sky Is Every Where - Jandy Nelson

74. The Immortal Rules - Julie Kagawa

75. All The Bright Places - Jennifer Niven

76. Ruby Red - Kerstin Gier

77. Code Name Verity - Elizabeth Wien

78. Seraphina - Rachel Hartman

79. Steelheart - Brandon Sanderson

80. A Court Of Thorns And Roses - Sarah J. Maas

81. The Scorpio Races - Maggie Stiefvater

82. Starcrossed - Josephine Aneglini

83. Die For Me - Amy Plum

84. Since You've Been Gone - Morgan Matson

85. Alanna: The First Adventure - Tamora Pierce

86. Impulse - Ellen Hopkins

87. The Demon King - Cinda Williams Chima

88. On The Jellicoe Road - Melina Marchetta

89. The Winner's Curse - Marie Rutkoski

90. The Vincent Boys - Abbi Glines

91. Of Poseidon - Anna Banks

92. Hate List - Jennifer Brown

93. The Gathering - Kelley Armstrong

94. An Ember In The Ashes - Sabaa Tahir

95. The House Of The Scorpion - Nancy Farmer

96. Tiger's Curse - Colleen Houck

97. Flat Out Love - Jessica Park

98. The Program - Suzanne Young

99. The False Prince - Jennifer A. Nielsen

100. Alice In Zombieland - Gena Showalter

A mere 13/100 - but 6 of those are in the top 10!

July 2017 14/100