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

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

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!

Wednesday, 7 October 2015

The Island on Bird Street

Holocaust Lit for kids is a strange genre. Writing about one of the worst events in human history for children takes incredible skill. The Island on Bird Street is a great example of the genre. It is strangely optimistic and hopeful, although perhaps it is because the Holocaust is not so central to the events of the book as say The Boy in The Striped Pyjamas.

The Island on Bird Street is the story of 11 year old Alex who lives with his father in the Warsaw Ghetto during World War II. His mother has disappeared recently, she never came back after going to visit friends. Alex's father is still working in a rope factory, and Alex must hide as most of the children have already been sent away. There are rumours that Jewish people are being systematically killed in camps.

Alex must hide while his father is at work with only his pet mouse Snow and some books to keep him company.

I don't know how I would have gotten through whole days without him, from early morning until dark, alone by myself in our ceiling hideout or down in the bunker. How long could I just sit there and read?

The boredom must have been incredible, along with the fear.  And then one day Alex's father is taken away too. Alex manages to evade capture and begins to live by himself, hiding in the most extraordinary places. His story is incredible. I know that I couldn't have survived there, and would have been long carted off by the Germans. His resilience and resourcefulness is extraordinary.

I felt as though I were living on a desert island. Instead of an ocean all around me there were people and buildings, but though they seemed close, they were really a world away. 

And yet Alex reminds us that we should be grateful for what we have, and that there are always those worse off than ourselves.

Sometimes I didn't feel like reading or playing with Snow or even looking at the Polish side of the wall. All of a sudden I'd start thinking about father and mother. I never cried, but I'd lie in the larder thinking about all the terrible things that could happen, and about how lucky the Polish kids were for having homes and being able to play where they wanted. Except that then I'd remember the other children who had been in the factory with me and realise that I had no right to complain. Not as long as I was here, waiting for my father. 

No right to complain! I really liked The Island on Bird Street. It was much more optimistic than I thought possible. It is a reminder to those of us living really very comfortable suburban lives just what people can endure and survive.

People should help each other to live. 

A potent reminder in our time of mass migration of refugees.

Uri Orlev is said to be the most widely known Israeli author of children's books. He has written over 30 books for children, and widely translated into many languages. He received the very prestigious Hans Christian Andersen Award in 1996. Alex's experiences in the book are based on those of Uri Orlev who hid in the Warsaw Ghetto himself before being captured by the Nazis and sent to Bergen-Belsen. His survival alone is an amazing story in itself.


Saturday, 3 October 2015


A few weeks ago in Sydney I discovered this amazing place on Victoria Street in Darlinghurst. Even though moments before we had been to Gelato Messina Dessert Bar and were extraordinarily full of delicious ice cream we were drawn into Kürtösh by the amazing smells. And then we couldn't believe our eyes.

So many goodies. Savoury

And sweet. Cake sold by weight. A fabulous idea so you can buy as much or as little as you want. And they have samples out for tasting!

But most of the aroma came from these beauties. A traditional Hungarian pastry called Kurtoskalács.

They make them to order. It's an intriguing process. They roll out a piece of pastry into a long strip, the wrap it round a large mould like a rolling pin- you can see some in the back of the photo if you can manage to look beyond the pastries displayed...

They are then coated in oil and sugar (I didn't say they would be good for you) and then baked in a special oven. The big rolling pin moulds are inside and those are handles of the rolling pins sticking out of the machine. You can glimpse some kurtosh baking inside. After they're cooked they  roll the warm pastries in the topping of your choice- sugar and cinnamon, most nuts.

Sadly we really were too full that day to try anything, but I had another recent trip to Sydney and I made certain that we made it to Kurtosh primed to partake and I'm so glad we did! This time we went to the Randwick store.

Our group managed to select most of the flavours. Naturally I got pistache...

I believe this is my sister's Nutella version. She even shared...

It turns out that one each is a bit much, so I'd suggest sharing. But not surprisingly they're all really good. It's so sad that it will be some time before my next visit.

Saturday Snapshot is a wonderful weekly meme
 now hosted by 

Friday, 2 October 2015

The Girl On The Train

I'm not sure why I had to read this book. Yes, I'd heard a bit about it around the traps. A modern Hitchcockian "Rear Window" vibe. "The new Gone Girl". Well, I didn't read that one. I wasn't overly interested at the time, but then I did see the movie, and liked it up until a point. But I bought The Girl On The Train a while ago, and suddenly it seemed like a good idea. And it was.

I know that I should read more adult fiction, but seriously I don't often get the time. But I usually enjoy it when I get there. Last week it seemed imperative that I read The Girl On The Train. So I did.

Rachel is the girl on the train, making her daily commute into London. She watches the houses on the way, but her attention is always held by the street where she used to live. She knows those houses not just from the outside, but from the inside as well. And of course she knows some of the people who live in those houses, and the lives they live there.

My head leaning against the carriage window, I watch these houses roll past me like a tracking shot in a film. I see them as others do not; even their owners probably don't see them from this perspective. Twice a day, I am offered a view into other lives, just for a moment. There's something comforting about the sight of strangers safe at home.

There are three narrators, all women. Rachel, Megan and Anna. All three are connected by geography, by the street, by the train line, and their lives are interconnected in ways that are slowly unfolded. I've always  liked a multiple point of view read, as long as it's well done. Here I really liked the structure of three intertwining first person voices, in a dated entries, and predominantly morning, evening entries. (Which naturally made me think of one of my favourite cheeses, Morbier- a classic French cheese made from morning and evening milk separated by a layer of ash. Traditionally made from cow's milk, I recently had an insanely good goat milk morbier. But I digress...) Each of the voices were not particularly distinctive in style, but all are clearly marked and it was always easy to tell who was speaking.

I really enjoyed The Girl On The Train. It's more suspense than gore and violence, which is more my preference these days, although I did like a good forensic procedural back in the day. I enjoy trying to work out who did what, and to who. Who is lying? And what are they trying to hide?

There is a movie version of The Girl On The Train on the way, but sadly, and rather predictably, the action is moving from London to New York. Even so, I will be interested enough to see it when it comes out.

Thursday, 1 October 2015

Better Reading's Top 100

Australia's favourite 100 books as voted by the good folks at Better Reading. Apparently 5,000 Australians voted on this one. Yes it's a populist list, but we can't all be reading Patrick White all the time. Seriously, I got through one of his, and I think that maybe I'm done. If I only had Patrick White to read I just wouldn't read. This is clearly a list of books Australians like, not a list of Australian books.

Brigid Delaney at The Guardian Australia got herself in quite a tizz about it all. I can't imagine that anyone really does imagine that this is the new canon. And what if someone did read all of these? Well, they'd have read a 100 books that they hadn't read before. I for one think that that would be a good thing. Although I do think we could leave 50 Shades of Grey off any list whatsoever.

1. The Power of One - Bryce Courtenay

2. The Book Thief - Markus Zusak

3. To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee

4. Outlander - Diana Gabaldon

5. Cloudstreet - Tim Winton

6. Gone Girl - Gillian Flynn

7. Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austen

8. The Potato Factory - Bryce Courtenay

9. The Bronze Horseman - Paullina Simons

10. The Fellowship of the Ring - J.R.R. Tolkien

11. Still Alice - Lisa Genova (see my review)

12. The Narrow Road to the Deep North - Richard Flanagan

13. Burial Rites - Hannah Kent

14. Fifty Shades of Grey - E.L. James

15. My Sister's Keeper - Jodi Picoult

16. The Lavender Keeper - Fiona McIntosh

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

18. The Thorn Birds - Colleen McCullough

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

20. The Kite Runner - Khaled Hosseini

21. The Pillars of the Earth - Ken Follett

22. The Secret River - Kate Grenville

23. Personal - Lee Child

24. The Winter Sea - Di Morrissey

25. Jane Eyre - Charlotte Bronte

26. Life or Death - Michael Robotham

27. The Girl on the Train - Paula Hawkins (see my review)

28. Shantaram - Gregory Roberts

29. The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo - Stieg Larsson

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

31. The Goldfinch - Donna Tartt

32. Hello from the Gillespies - Monica McInerney

33. Ice Station - Matthew Reilly

34. The Da Vinci Code - Dan Brown

35. Hope to Die - James Patterson

36. Jasper Jones - Craig Silvey

37. Little Women - Louise May Alcott

38. A Game of Thrones - George R.R. Martin

39. Breath - Tim Winton

40. The Great Zoo of China - Matthew Reilly

41. The Alchemist - Paulo Coelho

42. 1984 - George Orwell

43. Eat Pray Love - Elizabeth Gilbert

44. The Woman Who Stole My Life - Marian Keyes

45. A Thousand Splendid Suns - Khaled Hosseini

46. The Great Gatsby - F. Scott Fitzgerald

47. The Notebook - Nicholas Sparks

48. Dirt Music - Tim Winton

49. Nightingale - Fiona McIntosh

50. Me Before You - Jo Jo Moyes

51. The Husband's Secret - Liane Moriarty

52. Only Time Will Tell - Jeffrey Archer

53. A Town Like Alice - Nevil Shute

54. Child 44 - Tom Rob Smith

55. Life of Pi - Yann Martel

56. Big Little Lies - Liane Moriarty

57. Magician - Raymond E. Feist

58. It Started With Paris - Cathy Kelly

59. The Help - Kathryn Stockett

60. The Slap - Christos Tsiolkas (see my review)

61. We Need To Talk About Kevin - Lionel Shriver

62. I Am Pilgrim - Terry Hayes

63. Inferno - Dan Brown

64. Chocolat - Joanne Harris

65. Lost & Found - Brooke Davies (see my review)

66. Oscar and Lucinda - Peter Carey

67. The Secret History - Donna Tartt 

68. The Street Sweeper - Elliot Perlman

69. The Tournament - Matthew Reilly

70. The Night Circus - Erin Morgenstern

71. Water for Elephants - Sara Gruen

72. All That I Am - Anna Funder

73. Birdsong - Sebastian Faulks

74. Barra Creek - Di Morrissey

75. Cleanskin Cowgirls - Rachael Treasure

76. Elianne - Judy Nunn

77. The Time Traveler's Wife - Audrey Niffenegger

78. Leap of Faith - Fiona McCallum

79. The Road To Hope - Rachael Johns

80. The Burning Room - Michael Connelly

81. Enduring Love - Ian McEwan

82. Desert God - Wilbur Smith

83. The Great Plains - Nicole Alexander

84. The Forever Girl - Alexander McCall Smith

85. It - Stephen King

86. Catch-22 - Joseph Heller

87. The Harp In The South - Ruth Park

88. My Brilliant Career - Miles Franklin

89. Wolf Hall - Hilary Mantel

90. The Collector - Nora Roberts

91. One Day - David Nicholls

92. The Escape - David Baldacci

93. Before I Go To Sleep - S.J. Watson

94. The Little Coffee Shop Of Kabul - Deborah Rodriguez

95. The Daughters of Mars - Tom Keneally

96. The Shifting Fog - Kate Morton

97. Shopaholic To The Stars - Sophie Kinsella

98. Dark Heart - Tony Park

99. The Pact - Jodi Picoult

100. Year of Wonders - Geraldine Brooks


Many of these books are lurking in my TBR. Exactly when they'll get read who can tell? At least there's always something else to read.

Wednesday, 30 September 2015

The Village By The Sea

I knew from the outset that this would be an unusual book. The back cover blurb set the scene:

With their mother ill and their father permanently drunk, Hari and Lila have to earn the money to keep house and look after their two young sisters. In desperation, Hari runs away to Bombay, and Lila is left to cope alone. 

Cheery stuff indeed. Yes, although the main characters are children, they hardly have child like concerns. Lila and Hari are basically bringing up their two younger sisters as their father is incapacitated by drink, and their mother by illness. I did wonder if the mother was depressed, and wondered if it was possible for a third world mother to take to her bed. Probably not. 

Lila went in with a tumbler of tea for her mother. She stopped to add a little extra milk to it. Then she went past the curtain in the doorway to the room where her mother lay on the string bed on some old grey sheets. She herself looked like a crumpled grey rag lying there. She had been ill for a long time. No one knew what was wrong. She had no pains and no fever but simply grew weaker and weaker all the time. Now she could not sit up to drink her tea. 

The family live in a small fishing village called Thul, and while just a few kilometres from Bombay, it is a completely different world. Hari is forced to take on the role of provider for the family even though he is still a boy. 

What could he do? He worked in the field, he climbed the trees and brought down the coconuts to sell. When he had time, he took a net and fished along the shore. What more could he do? He knew it was not enough but it was all he could do.

The Village By The Sea is a family story at its heart but it's definitely set in the harsh economic situation and environmental risks of the real world. Overfishing threatens not only the livelihood of the professional fisherman, but means that Hari rarely catches a fish near the shore. Overpopulation, the rise of consumerism, overt threats from the chemical industry, and the many other threats to the rural village way of life are all highlighted. But the need to learn, to change and adapt to be successful is quite a pervasive theme throughout the book. 

Hari is overwhelmed by his arrival in Bombay- as I'm sure I would be too. His employment at the restaurant whilst lucky for him is dreadful in its own way too. 

The work was not easy in that firelit kitchen of the Sri Krishna Eating House that seemed to grow hotter and hotter and never to cool down even at night. The eating house never quite shut and customers had to be served with tea and bread or bread and lentils whenever they demanded it, day or night.... What he minded was not being able to leave the eating house and go home when the work was done. He was confined to it day and night: he worked in the kitchen and in the front room, washed and bathed under the tap at the back, ate his meals at the table when there was no customer around, and slept on the bench or sometimes on the dusty back floor. 

My favourite passage naturally enough was about birds. 

'The birds are the last free creatures on earth. Everything else has been captured and tamed and enslaved- tigers behind the bars of the zoos, lions stared at by crowds in safari parks, men and women in houses like matchboxes working in factories that are like prisons. Only the birds are free and can take off and fly away into space when they like.'

At the beginning of the book we are told that Thul is a real village on the Western coast of India. The story and these characters are based on real people in a town where Anita Desai spent many holidays. In the end I'm not quite sure what to make of The Village By The Sea. I wanted to love it, I wanted to get swept up in the grandeur of India- the colours, a life complete unknown to me. But I never was, and to be honest I found it slow going and well, a bit boring at times. The Village By The Sea won the Guardian Childrens Prize in 1983. But I wonder what kids think of this book? Both the western children for whom it was presumably written, and Indian children too.