Thursday 24 January 2019

Star Jumps

Hmm, is it wrong to read a book about drought whilst sitting in a bath? I suspect it is. Morally reprehensible at the very least, if not full on wrong. It wasn't a dry bath, there was water in it. I didn't realise that was what I was going to be doing tonight it must be said. I decided to have a bath, I had Star Jumps out from the library and it looked like a perfect bath sized snack. And it was.

I've become very fond of verse novels over the past few years, I really can't fully explain it as I'm so terrible at reading poetry. Of course, the reading speed is great, it's not that often that I can knock over a book in a day- I've been known to fall asleep reading a picture book...

I'd been meaning to read Star Jumps for years, probably since it won the Prime Ministers Literary Award for Children's Fiction in 2010 (the first time that a Children's category was included).

Star Jumps is the story of a dairy farming family told in first person by the youngest of the three children, Ruby. Ruby is young enough to not remember a day of rain, she has grown up in drought and knows nothing else.
There is something we don't understand,
 as if we were just kids,
grubby in old clothes,
playing in weeds,
with a dog that doesn't scare strangers 
and cows that want to die 
of making milk. 
The cows, the farm and the family are all doing it tough because of the drought. Star Jumps is about the ties that bind, making your own fun, and coming together in the hard times. Themes that would be familiar to any rural family, and many urban families, but with less cows. 

Lorraine Marwood is an Australian poet and author, and was a dairy farmer herself for many years, and this definitely shows in her depth of understanding of farming, of the practicalities and the hardships. But she kept saying that the newborn calves were baaing.
The gentle baaing from the five new calves
I'm confused. Do calves baa?

I am probably more annoyed than I should be that the kid on the cover is doing a handstand and not a star jump. Otherwise I do like the image of the cover.

Teacher's Notes for Star Jumps

Wednesday 23 January 2019

A Year in Books 2018

I'm very late even starting to look back at 2018, which is quite apt really. I had a bad reading year, and a slow blogging year in 2018. Which is not to say that I didn't enjoy things, I just didn't get all that much done. I did delve (possibly too much) into the fabulous world of Booktube, which made me excited about lots of books and audiobooks but didn't leave me with much time to get them read or listened to. I need to temper that this year. 

Goodreads tells me that I read 55 books and 10,650 pages in 2018, although I suspect this doesn't include the 600ish pages I read of Les Mis as I failed to finish it. That is perhaps my biggest disappointment of 2018- that I didn't finish the Les Mis Chapter A Day Readalong. I will still finish Les Mis some day, I'm still just not sure when. I love it every time I pick it up again, I just don't pick it up all that often at the moment, and certainly not every day. I need to try to get back to that habit again, and get it finished. Then I'm tempted to listen to the audiobook...

Also, many of the books I read were audiobooks. I slipped easily into the arms of audiobooks as my actual reading dwindled. A lovely way to keep "reading". 

I also had a bad year of rating my reads, so this is year in review is made all the trickier. I like to wait until I do my review to rate, but then if I don't do the review, the rating doesn't happen and then it all falls away like grains of sand. So what were the books that I gave 5 stars to? Or those that I think I should have given 5 stars to if I had bothered to rate them at all?

The Pigeon. Patrick Suskind

Les Misérables. Victor Hugo

The Latecomer. Dimitri Verhulst

Claris: The Chicest Mouse in Paris. Megan Hess

Big Little Lies. Liane Moriarty. Audio

The (audio)book, the TV series, the soundtrack. I love it all. 

Migration. Mike Unwin. Jenni Desmond

Poo: A Natural History of the Unmentionable. Nicola Davies. Neal Layton (illustrator)

The Art of Frugal Hedonism. Annie Raser-Rowland. Adam Grubb

Life After Life. Kate Atkinson. Audio

5 stars for the audiobook performance. 4-4.5 stars for the book. 

The Art of Living Alone and Loving It. Jane Mathews

Any Ordinary Day. Leigh Sales. Audio (the tea slurping edition)

Born a Crime. Trevor Noah. Audio

Do I have a book of the year? I'm not so sure. I really liked all these books, but I'm not sure that any particular one shines more than the others. 

11 (12 including Les Mis) of my 54 reads were, or should have been, 5 stars! Not bad for a bad reading year. 

5 Aussie books

9 Adult reads

3 Picture books

0 Verse Novels

4 Audio Books

5 Nonfiction Books

8 Female Authors/Illustrators

7 Male Authors

11 New to Me Authors

I appear to have let another year slip by without reading any Jackie French. How can this be? What an egregious oversight. It must not happen again this year. 

Wednesday 9 January 2019

The Dry

Oh I'm so glad that I finally got around to The Dry, and so glad that it lives up to the hype. That is of course the major risk of leaving a phenomenally successful book a few years, yes the buzz has died down, but then there's years of accumulated expectations, not many books can survive that- but The Dry certainly did.

I was hooked from the very start, the prologue is haunting, and daily reality for many Australian farmers. 
It wasn't as though the farm hadn't seen death before, and the blowflies didn't discriminate. To them there was little difference between a carcass and a corpse.
The drought had left the flies spoiled for choice that summer. They sought out unblinking eyes and sticky wounds as the farmers of Kiewarra levelled their rifles at skinny livestock. No rain meant no feed. And no feed made for difficult decisions, as the tiny town shimmered under day after day of burning blue sky. 
Thirty six year old Aaron Falk returns to his hometown in country Victoria for the funeral of his childhood best friend, Luke Hadler. Luke it seems has killed his wife and young son, and then turned the gun on himself. A type of murder-suicide that is all too common. But a few things don't add up from the start. How did the infant daughter survive for one?

Aaron  is a financial detective with the Australian Federal Police, who has lived in Melbourne since he and his father suddenly left Kiewarra under a cloud twenty years ago. He hates returning due to the echoes from twenty years ago, and can't wait to leave town again, he is counting down the hours til he can quietly leave. 

Jane Harper writes a great story, and one that kept me guessing (wrongly to a large extent, although I did get some minor things right) until the end. Although I was quite confused by some of the twenty year old scenario, and had to dip into sections of the print copy that I have after I finished the audiobook to straighten it out in my head. But she really used emotion very well. We get perspective from many characters, with many different points of view. It's not just a police procedural kind of thriller, there's a great emotional depth to the characters. She was a finance journalist for over a decade and it shows in her understanding of the different characters. And there's lots of great characters here. The town, the pub, the town bullies, the town drunks, the small minds, they all feel real. 
'No-one tells you this is how it's going to be, do they? Oh yes, they're all so sorry for your loss, all so keen to pop round and get the gossip when it happens, but no-one mentions having to go through your dead son's drawers and return their library books, do they? No-one tells you how to cope with that.'
I enjoyed the story from the start, but from about half way through I was totally hooked, and I listened to second half of the book on a single day, "reading" well past my bed time, and into the wee small hours- at which time I fell asleep with 15 minutes to go. Just. Couldn't. Stay. Awake... Luckily I could finish it off the next morning. 

Steve Shanahan does a really great job of narrating the audio book, his laconic Australian drawl was a perfect choice, but I really wish that audiobook editors (that must be a job, yes?) would put a tiny extra pause to give the listener a clue as to when the narrative changes back and forth in time. Readers of The Dry get a change from roman to italic fonts, listeners to the otherwise excellent audiobook don't get any kind of indication that we're jumping back and forth by 20 years. 

The Dry has won many, many awards starting from before it was even published when it won the Victorian Premier's Literary Award for an Unpublished Manuscript in 2015

Jane Harper has now published three books and you can be sure that the next two have pushed their way up towards the top of my TBR. I've already downloaded her second (audio)book, Force of Nature, another Aaron Falk story, but I believe not directly related to The Dry. 

A movie version of The Dry is in production, and will start filming next month in Victoria. Which is great timing on my part, by the time the movie comes out I should have forgotten enough details to make it even more enjoyable. Eric Bana has been cast to play Aaron Falk. It should be great. I can't wait. 

Jane Harper did a TEDTalk about creativity late last year.