Saturday 30 January 2016

So, This Happened This Week

I got a bit of a fright as I walked into the lounge room this week. 

I saw a shape at the door. It was moving. But wedged in between the screen door and the glass door. 

Was it a huge rat? It kind of looked like it.

Closer, no, not a rat, reptilian. OMG, is it a snake? (Every Australian's first thought... ) The dogs had something cornered in the yard the other day under some wood and I'd been worried it was a snake.

But no, there's legs! YAY, there's legs.

Oh, it's a blue tongue. Our largest skink

I'm not sure what it was doing in there. 

A pretty big one too. Pregnant maybe? I hope so. 

We went out to take the screen door off to help it get out. 

I hadn't seen a blue tongue for quite a few years. We had one that sunned itself out the front of the house for a while, but the neighbour's dogs cornered it in their yard one day, and killed it. 

I wasn't sure if it would eat the skink. It didn't. 

I hope I can keep this one safe from my dogs. I like to think that's she's out there.

Update Feb 23- I found a youngster in the yard today! Well my dog found it in the grass, so I guess she was a she.

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Thursday 28 January 2016

10 Great Books All Children Should Read

A new great list from The Conversation about friendship and families.

1. Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes - Mem Fox, Helen Oxenbury

2. Over the Hills and Far Away: A Treasure of Nursery Rhymes from Around the World - Elizabeth Hammill

3. Bear & Chook - Lisa Shanahan, Emma Quay

4. The Lion and the Bird - Marianne Dubuc

5. The Day the Crayons Quit - Drew Daywalt, Oliver Jeffers

6. Herman and Rosie - Gus Gordon

7. My Two Blankets - Irena Kobold, Freya Blackwood (see my review)

8.  Animalium - Katie Scott, Jenny Broom

9. Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone (illustrated edition) - J.K. Rowling, Jim Kay

10. His Dark Materials - Philip Pullman


Although I have read Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, just not the illustrated edition.

I do love how these lists always contain books you've never heard of.

June 2016 6/10

Thursday 21 January 2016

Indie Book Award Shortlist 2016

Australia's Independent Bookshops run the Indie Book Awards each year. The 2016 Shortlist was released this week.

Fiction Shortlist

The Other Side of the World - Stephanie Bishop
The Secret Chord - Geraldine Brooks
A Guide to Berlin - Gail Jones
The Natural Way of Things - Charlotte Wood (see my review) (WINNER)

Non-Fiction Shortlist

Flesh Wounds - Richard Glover (review coming soon)
One Life - Kate Grenville
Reckoning: A Memoir - Magda Szubanski (see my review) (WINNER)
The Anti-Cool Girl - Rosie Waterland (see my review)

Debut Fiction Shortlist

Rush Oh! - Shirley Barrett
The Anchoress - Robyn Cadwallader
Relativity - Antonia Hayes
Salt Creek - Lucy Treloar (WINNER)

Children's Shortlist

The Bad Guys, Episode 1 - Aaron Blabey (WINNER)
The 65-Story Treehouse - Andy Griffiths & Terry Denton
Olive of Groves - Katrina Nannestad & Lucia Masciullo
The Singing Bones - Shaun Tan

Young Adult Shortlist

Ranger's Apprentice: The Early Years 1: The Tournament at Gorlan - John Flanagan
Soon - Morris Gleitzman
Prince of Afghanistan - Louis Nowra
Cloudwish - Fiona Wood (WINNER)

The Young Adult list is difficult as 3 of those books are part of a very successful series- none of which I have read sadly. Cloudwish is the third in a linked series of books. Soon is the fifth of Morris Gleitzman's series dealing with the Second World War. And I know that John Flanagan has written quite a few of the Ranger's Apprentices books.

And still always books you've never heard of...

You can see the full longlist here. It's always interesting to see what didn't make the cut.

Winners will be announced March 23 2016.

Wednesday 20 January 2016


I'm not really sure why I became so desperate to read One, a book I hadn't really heard of all that much. I did see it on a number of end of year lists out of Britain. Actually I do think this one from the Guardian may have tipped me over the edge. Various authors recommended it- including Katherine Rundell (who is high on my To Read radar herself, and who had many recommendations of her latest The Wolf Wilder on the list). Who can go past this:

Mine is One, by Sarah Crossan. It's a book that shouldn't be possible- a blank verse novel about conjoined twins that never once dips into sentimentality- but Sarah Crossan makes it look so easy. It's a book about love, and courage, and I adored it.
I've come so far in my Verse Novel Journey that this was an added incentive, and soon it was landing on my doorstep. Perhaps because it featured so much on an English list I thought it was an English book. But it most definitely isn't. One is set in Hoboken, New Jersey. I see now that Sarah Crossan was born in Dublin, and currently lives in England, but she did live in New York while working as an English teacher before she became a full time writer. I believe that her other books are set in the UK, I wonder why One is set in America then?

Grace and Tippi are 16 year old conjoined twins who have been homeschooled to hide them from society's prying, and often cruel, eyes. But now the family circumstances have changed and the girls need to go to school for the first time. Hoping that it won't be terrible, hoping to make friends, even perhaps hoping to find love. 

'Are you kidding?
You are normal.
And normal is good.
Normal is my goal,'
I tell him.
The story was always relatable even though unusual, and the characters, especially Grace and Tippi were well written, our narrator Grace was clearly her own persona, and different from her sister. There were just too many issues for my liking. Everyone in the twins immediate family had major stuff going on. So did their friends. While perhaps we all do have our own stuff, it just seemed a bit much at times. One is not Sarah Crossan's first novel in verse, it seems that The Weight of Water was also a verse novel, she also writes in prose. She started One in prose, but it wasn't working, even after 30,000 words, until she swapped to verse. 

Conjoined twins are a rare phenomenon, and not something I've thought about all that often. Every now and then a set of twins will come to prominence as efforts are made to separate them, although sometimes this is not possible of course. I've never thought about what it would be like to be conjoined. I don't think it's something that is actually all that easy to imagine but One gives us some small insight into the internal world of conjoined twins. And even the ethics of it all. 

Gorgeous people strut down catwalks
in dresses made of string
loll half naked on sandy beaches
and no one seems to mind
that they do this for money
no one finds it
at all. 
But when Tippi and I consider cashing in on our
everyone frowns.

In an Author's Note at the back of the book Sarah Crossan says that she modelled the physiology of Grace and Tippi on the bodies of Masha and Dasha Krivoshlyapova, particularly tragic Russian conjoined twins, taken from their mother in 1950 Russia, who were to live a tragic life and die of alcoholism. Although, Sarah tells us

It might be astounding to a singleton, but conjoined twins do not see themselves or their lives as tragedies. 
Grace tells us too. 

It really isn't so bad.
It's how it's always been. 
Two of Sarah's previous books The Weight of Water and Apple and Rain were nominated for The Carnegie Medal. Clearly she is an author to explore.

Update June 2016 One has won the 2016 Carnegie Medal.

Monday 18 January 2016

Jasper Jones Belvoir Street

Picture source

Last week I had the absolute pleasure of going to see the stage version of Jasper Jones, a fantastic book that I read 5 or so years ago. I never blogged about Jasper Jones at the time, which was a bit of a shame, because I loved it so, and now I don't remember all that many details of the book. I remembered the start, the setting, and zombie cheeses, and that I loved every single word- even the quite detailed cricket match! And I really loathe cricket. But I didn't remember most of the story, or even who dunnit in the end.

Jasper Jones is an amazing tale of growing up in a small Western Australian town in 1965. Charlie Bucktin is 14 years old, and a bit of a geek, he reads a lot and doesn't get up to any trouble. His life changes forever when town bad boy Jasper Jones comes knocking on his window late one night. There are major events unfolding in the town and Jasper and Charlie end up right in the thick of it.

All of the adult actors did an amazing job of their juvenile roles. It was a particularly funny play, but not in the least light weight, the big emotive moments were really well done too. I hadn't been to Belvoir Street since my uni days in the 90s, so it was nice to go back there too, although I did think it was in totally the wrong suburb- such are the vagaries of memory. The staging was very clever, I particularly loved how the tree changed from scene to scene.

This stage version only lasts until Feb 7 (and most of it is sold out anyway), I'm so glad I got to see it. There is a movie version of Jasper Jones due out later this year starring Hugo Weaving and Toni Collette as Charlie's parents, Levi Miller as Charlie, and Aaron McGrath as Jasper Jones. I'm not very good at recognising actors, but Aaron McGrath has been everywhere lately - Glitch and Ready for This, and I think he'll make a great Jasper. I've bought myself a new hard back copy of Jasper Jones, and am definitely planning to read it again before the movie comes out. Now just to find the time.

OOPS. I've just seen the film, and Hugo Weaving plays Mad Jack Lionel, not Charlie's Dad- he is played by Dan Wyllie. 

Saturday 16 January 2016

Sydney Festival 2016

I made a rather flying 24 hours visit to Sydney this week. Saw the absolutely fantastic stage adaptation of Jasper Jones at Belvoir Street last night (further gushing here). For those unlucky enough not to be able to see it, then read the book as soon as you can, and there is a movie version coming later this year.

Today we went to the Hyde Park Sydney Festival hub. And participated in a very fun event. Dance Your Hyde Off with Guru Hudu. SO much fun.

Guru Hudu from Melbourne
And soon we were on a silent disco walking tour of Hyde Park. 

I've never thought about the Archibald Fountain
as a disco icon before,
but clearly it is

It was so fun, and even more fun to watch the reactions of other festival goers.

I liberated three books from the Library on the Lawn.

I've never made it to the Speigeltent though. Maybe next year.

And then we went to Bodhi for Vegan Yum Cha.

But you can't live on vegan yum cha alone, so it was back to Hyde Park for Gelato Messina.

Messina Weiner

My fun times at Sydney Festival 2015.

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Friday 15 January 2016

Good Night, Sleep Tight

Good Night, Sleep Tight is a masterful picture book from Australian powerhouse Mem Fox. I was intrigued by this book after I heard Mem speak about it and some of her other books at the Mudgee Readers Festival in 2013.

Mem is a great exponent of children's literacy and she wrote Good Night, Sleep Tight after she heard the fact that if a child knew 6 nursery rhymes by heart by the age of 4 then they would be in the top reading group by age 8. So she wrote a story with 7 nursery rhymes embedded within it, the six necessary ones, and a spare one - just in case. And it works really well.

wonderful bright Judy Horacek illustrations

Parents will remember most of these rhymes from their own childhood, although there was one that was completely new to me, and the rhyming repetitive link Mem has written has perfect Mem Fox cadence.

'We love it, we love it!' said Bonnie and Ben.
'How does it go? Will you say it again?'

Good Night, Sleep Tight is a perfect gift for new babies. It comes in a sturdy board book format too, to stand up to the many readings that will ensue. Even picture books can have fascinating back stories, Good Night, Sleep Tight was originally published in 1998, and then spent many years out of print before being brought back by a father's request.

See Mem read Good Night, Sleep Tight.

Thursday 14 January 2016

A Year in Books 2015

It's time to look back in awe at the best reading I did in 2015. Well, it's actually getting a little late for it, I know most everyone else has done their list, but I do enjoy this retrospection, and will enjoy looking back on it years from now too.

As usual I'm relying on the books I gave 5 stars to on Goodreads this year. I read 118 books in 2015. A fair effort but well short of the somewhat random 200 I set myself as a goal.

Withering-by-Sea. An exciting Victorian tale of mystery and adventure.

I am Juliet. Always good to have a Jackie French on my end of year list. 

See Ya, Simon. Powerful Kiwi storytelling. 

Redwall. It really surprised me that I liked this book so much. It still does. 

The Man Who Loved Boxes. A beautiful picture book about the father son bond. 

Brock. An extraordinarily powerful book about badgers and many other things. 

Pardon My French. A fabulous little book that taught me so much

Sister Madge's Book of Nuns. Doug MacLeod is hilarious. 

Protected. Claire Zorn is going from strength to strength. 

Mister Monday. I finally got to read, well listen to, Garth Nix, and he's brilliant. 

The Impossible Knife of Memory. More Laurie Halse Anderson brilliance. 

Fattypuffs and Thinifers. Perfect French Quirkiness. 

The Running Man. My book of the year. 

Risk. A great page turning YA cautionary tale. 

Thelma the Unicorn. Picture book perfection from Aaron Blabey. 

Ash Road. An Australian classic, still fresh today. 

The Witches. Roald Dahl, the master.

The Girl on the Train. It's so nice to get caught up in a thriller from time to time.

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. Totally lives up to the hype. 

The Lucy Family Alphabet. Is it possible that I love Judith just that little bit more now?

Coco Chanel. A fabulous illustrated biography of fashion's most famous designer. 

The Wolves of Willoughby Chase. A fabulous near Dickensian story with added wolves. 

22 out of the 118 books earnt themselves 5 stars. That's a pretty good hit rate.

12 Aussie Books

3 Picture Books

3 Nonfiction/Memoir

2 Paris Books

3 Audio Books

6 1001 Books

9 Female Authors

13 Male Authors

14 New to Me Authors

I hope 2016 is another great reading year. No reason to think it won't be...

Sunday 10 January 2016

Thelma The Unicorn

Aaron Blabey is everywhere at the moment. He released at least seven books that I know of last year alone, and there are more on the way. It would almost be too much, if they weren't all fabulous. Thelma the Unicorn is especially fabulous.

Thelma is really a shaggy pony, but she dreams of being glamorous and special.

She doesn't want to be outdone by pretty fillies in the field, she dreams of being a unicorn.

Thelma felt a little sad.
In fact, she felt forlorn.
You see, she wished with all her heart
to be a unicorn. 

And in a miracle of transformation just a carrot and truck full of paint and glitter later- Thelma is a unicorn.

But being a glamorous, sparkly unicorn is not all it's cracked up to be. What with continual stalking by fans and papparazi Thelma can't get a minutes peace.

Younger children may not notice the strong message of self-acceptance, the references to celebrity culture and chasing fame, but parents sure will in this cautionary, be-careful-what-you-wish-for tale.

My copy recommends Thelma for primary school age children. Which is rather bizarre- Thelma is perfect for preschool kids as a read out loud book and kids need to hear her message from a very early age.

You can see Aaron give an enthusiastic reading of Thelma here.