Wednesday, 28 January 2015

Cinnamon Rain

Sometimes you don't remember how you heard about a particular book, sometimes you do.  I first heard about Cinnamon Rain when I read Brona's review back in 2012. Sadly, I don't think I've seen it blogged anywhere since, although Buzzfeed did recently include it in their list of 27 Awesome Australian Books Every YA Fan Should Read. But I remembered it, and was keen to read it still, and recently I picked up a copy at my library.

Cinnamon Rain is an excellent novel, that just happens to be in verse. I'm so glad that Steven Herrick taught me to read verse novels last year. It has really opened up the format for me. Previously I would have rejected it simply because it was a verse novel. Now, I'm becoming bolder, reading verse novels by different authors- and really enjoying them. I don't think that there's been one that I haven't liked so far.

Cinnamon Rain tells the story of six friends as they traverse the last 2-3 years of high school. The story is of the six friends, but told in the voice of just three- Luke, Casey and Bongo. The six are growing up in the fictitious Australian coastal town of Pebble Beach. These kids are facing much bigger problems than I ever have. Domestic violence, drug abuse, first loves, family breakdown and homelessness all whilst trying to finish up at school and work out what to do with their lives.

The he goes off
to buy some leaf
so he can get bombed.
I used to think
the reason he doped up
was to stop himself sinking
in all the pain.
I think that clouding the pain
is what's making him sink.

Emma Cameron has done a great job capturing this often difficult transitional time in the life of our young people. Their school life, family circumstances and friends all impact on the direction they take and whether they succeed or not. As a parent reading Cinnamon Rain it's often so painful watching several terrible parents set up their children to fail. Perhaps some of them don't do it intentionally, but it seems some of them do. The adults don't come out of things too well actually- of course some of them are normal parents, working and doing their best by their family, but others are making terrible choices that are played out on their children's lives.

Cinnamon Rain is published as Out of This Place overseas. Rather incredibly Cinnamon Rain was Emma Cameron's debut novel, it was a CBCA Notable Book for Older Readers 2013. I hope it continues to be read far into the future.

Monday, 26 January 2015

French Bingo 2015

I don't join in all that many reading challenges, as my 1001 quest does take up most of my available reading time. But I do have somewhat of an ongoing fascination with Paris and all things French, so it makes sense to join in with French Bingo 2015 run by Emma at Words and Peace.

Emma has been running French Reading Challenges for a few years now, and I've been joining in when I can. It was very exciting for me to win the prize draw for contributors last year- that book will be one of my reviews this year of course.

For 2015 Emma has made us a Bingo Challenge.

I'm not sure where it will take me just yet. I will list my books here as I read them. And link to my review page. 

1. How to Be Parisian Wherever You Are January 19, Could be A5, B1, B4 or E5
2. Honeymoon in Paris, January 26, B3, B5 or C2

Honeymoon in Paris

I can't quite remember how I learned that my library had an audiobook version of Honeymoon in Paris, but very soon after I had borrowed it and planned to listen to it while driving back home from Sydney. Never mind that Honeymoon in Paris is a prequel to a book that I haven't read (or really heard of) The Girl You Left Behind. I had a notion that Jo Joy Moyes writes romance/chick lit neither of which are my ususal reading fare, but if you stick a big Eiffel Tower on the cover of pretty much anything then I'll have a look at it.

Honeymoon in Paris is two intertwined stories of honeymooning couples separated in time. Sophie and Edouard are French newlyweds in 1912, while 90 years later in 2002 British newlyweds Liv and David make their way to Paris for their honeymoon. Both marriages have their own teething problems, and both couples their own insecurities.

I did enjoy Honeymoon in Paris, despite my reservations. The 2 1/2 hours of audio CD was a perfect diversion for my drive home. The Parisian setting naturally enough was wonderful. The story starts atop the Eiffel Tower, and takes in the Musee d'Orsay, rue Soufflot, Pont des Arts and the chocolates of Patrick Roger. Naturally I am familiar with all of these.

The narration was problematic at times, they appear to have used two native English speaking actors for the voices, which is fine for Liv who speaks in English with occasional attempts at French.

Even when she employs her best French accent, the waiters still invariably answer in English. 

Oh haven't we all been there?

But Sophie's chapters are done with an outrageous French accent, which is often quite patchy. The accent did become a distraction at times. Still Honeymoon in Paris made a pleasant change from the loud 70s music that often accompanies me on long distance driving. I may just take a look at The Girl You Left Behind sometime.

French Bingo 2015
Dreaming of France is a wonderful Monday meme
from Paulita at An Accidental Blog 

Saturday, 24 January 2015

Mambo: 30 Years of Shelf-Indulgence

I always manage to take in some art when I'm in Melbourne, and my last trip in December was no exception. I went to the absolutely incredible Jean Paul Gaultier exhibition at the National Gallery of Victoria. On the way there I had time to scoot through the Mambo exhibition at theAustralian NGV at Federation Square.

This exhibition is to celebrate the 30th anniversary of Mambo. Mambo is such an iconic brand, immediately recognisable to Australians. Well known for their distinctive designs on t-shirts and clothing, Mambo is actually much more than that. Posters, art works, statuary and surfboards make for a colourful, fun exhibition.

I just love the couch surfboard
The Endless Sofa
commissioned by David Jones

The Emperor

Original artist sketches
I find it incredible that Mambo has worked with over 250 visual and graphic artists over the past 30 years, and yet they have a single, recognisable, cohesive identity and style.

You've got to love magpie and sprinkler boardies
Mambo have never been afraid of the political

Rednecks Tshirt 1998
raised $110,000 for Aboriginal causes

Or the fun

I wish I'd had one of these
it would have been one of my most treasured
tshirts ever...

Mambo: 30 Years of Shelf-Indulgence
NGV Australia
6 Dec 2014- 22 Feb 2015
Free Entry

Saturday Snapshot is a wonderful weekly meme now hosted by WestMetroMommy

Friday, 23 January 2015

Brown Girl Dreaming

Isn't that cover gorgeous?
It's gorgeous.
I hope the cover wins a prize.

Is it wrong to be somewhat thankful for a racist gaffe? I know it is. But it was lucky for me in a way that Daniel Handler made a racist remark to Jacqueline Woodson at the National Book Awards, otherwise without the ensuing controversy I may never have heard of this remarkable book, or ever read it. For Brown Girl Dreaming is an extraordinary read. You can read Jacqueline Woodson's powerful response to Daniel Handler in the New York Times here.

Brown Girl Dreaming is a remarkable memoir told in verse (yes, again with the verse novel for me) that blends slavery, race, history politics, geography and the familial/personal from the very first page.

I am born not long from the time
or far from the place
my great-great-grandparents
worked the deep rich land
dawn till dusk
drank cool water from scooped-out gourds
looked up and followed
they sky's mirrored constellation
to freedom.

I am born as the South explodes,
too many people too many years
enslaved, then emancipated
but not free

I was surprised to read on page 3 that Jacqueline's parents race was recorded on her birth certificate. That is not something I've come across in Australia or New Zealand, either with relatively modern certificates or older ones that I have found in family history research. In some ways I can see that as just another piece of information like eye colour or height, but it's interesting that it's there in the first place. Race is still far from a perfect issue in Australia, but it is quite a different experience to that of America.

Brown Girl Dreaming weaves a family memoir set against the turbulent political times of the 60s and 70s, with Jacqueline's clear attraction to words, writing and story from a very young age. She is a slow reader even so.

I am not my sister.
Words from the books curl around each other
make little sense
I read them again
and again, the story
settling into memory

But even then she recognises the lack of children who look like her in books.

If someone had been fussing with me
to read like my sister, I might have missed
the picture book filled with brown people, more
brown people than I'd ever seen
in a book before.

Another thing that was surprising to my Australian self was her repeated use of the term brown people. It's in the title, it's repeated throughout the book. I'm not sure at all of why brown is used in preference to black, if that is significant, or if either term would have different racial overtones in the US.

Jacqueline Woodson is an accomplished author who has written many books for children and young people. I hadn't heard of her before she won the National Book Award for Young People's Literature 2014, but after Brown Girl Dreaming I'm definitely looking forward to reading more of her work. I'll be donating my copy of Brown Girl Dreaming to my local library in the hope that it will be more widely read here. It deserves to be.

Thursday, 22 January 2015

25 Classic Australian Kids Books

Good Reading is probably my favourite magazine. I buy lots of other magazines of course, but this one I actually read from cover to cover each month, and then reread them when I find them languishing about the house somewhere. There are always many intriguing new books reviewed, and fascinating bookish articles.

Back in September 2014 they published this great list of Cracker Jack Kids Books, highlighting 25 of the best Australian kids books from the last 45 years. As with all things we Aussies don't mind claiming good things that could probably be construed as being from New Zealand.

Possum Magic - Mem Fox, Julie Vivas

Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge - Mem Fox, Julie Vivas

Who Sank the Boat - Pamela Allen

My Grandma Lived in Gooligulch - Graeme Base

Animalia - Graeme Base

Where the Forest Meets the Sea - Jeannie Baker

Clive Eats Alligators - Alison Lester

My Place - Nadia Wheatley, Donna Rawlins

Edward the Emu - Sheena Knowles, Rod Clement

Edwina the Emu - Sheena Knowles, Rod Clement

John Brown, Rose and the Midnight Cat - Jenny Wagner, Ron Brooks

Thing - Robin Klein

Rose Meets Mr Wintergarten - Bob Graham

Sister Madge's Book of Nuns - Doug McLeod, Craig Smith

Grug - Ted Prior

There's a Sea in My Bedroom - Margaret Wild, Jane Tanner

There's a Hippopotamus on Our Roof Eating Cake - Hazel Edwards, Deborah Niland

The Man Who Loved Boxes - Stephen Michael King

Uhu - Annette Macarthur-Onslow

The Giant Devil-Dingo - Dick Roughsey

When the Wind Changed - Ruth Park, Deborah Niland

The Lighthouse Keeper's Lunch - Ronda and David Ermitage

Sunshine - Jan Ormerod

Moonlight - Jan Ormerod

The Inch Boy - Junko Morimoto


And now if you'll excuse me I'm off to reread my childhood copy of Uhu.

Wednesday, 21 January 2015

I am Juliet

I received this book half way through last year, and while I'm always sorely tempted by a new Jackie French, I must admit that the Shakespearean content put me off for a while. Too long as it turns out, I should have trusted Jackie, her skill and judgement to make Shakespeare readable. Even for me. I'm no Shakespearean scholar, but I do go and see the touring company of Bell Shakespeare each year (and sometimes I understand it), but it's not a format that I'm drawn to.

I am Juliet is an amazing first person account from young Juliet Capulet herself. Within pages I was in the thrall of Juliet's world. Juliet is a lonely young girl, cared for by servants, being educated as befitting a young lady of her station, her parents distant. It's a beautiful evocation of the time.
No father would employ a young dancing master for his daughter, but Master Dance looked as if he were made of sawdust, so old a breeze would blow him back to dust. His legs were like a sparrow's in his cotton stockings. 

Juliet faces all the same troubles as any teenager, she is looking for a sense of self in her life even though she is about to be married off at 13.
I would be my father's daughter and my husband's wife. But Juliet, who was she? A person as insubstantial as our shadows on the wall. 

The major events of Juliet's love for Romeo are well known by many of us- their story has been told in many ways over time- the play, movies and paintings document their story, but this in no way detracts from Jackie French's story of Juliet. I've only ever seen the play once I think, and quite some time ago at that. Perhaps I should watch the recent(ish) movie version, I don't think I ever got to watching it.

There are over 30 pages of author's notes at the end of the book where Jackie expands on many of the themes of the story and where she is able to tell of the broader historical context of both Shakespeare and Romeo and Juliet. There are many fascinating aspects to both, and to the history of I am Juliet itself. Jackie was inspired to take on I am Juliet after talking to some high school students who were studying Romeo and Juliet, and hating it. (In her Acknowledgements Jackie says that she didn't realise how ambitious a task she was taking on until she was well into it!) Those students complained about "All those words".

This books cuts down those words, leaving only those spoken by Juliet or in Juliet's presence, as the story is told from her point of view. Even those words have been cut back a little in places, or clarified-

I'm sure those students would have loved Jackie's version to help ease their entry into the often terrible world of studying Shakespeare at high school. I certainly know that I would have enjoyed her version of Henry IV Part I much more than the original.

I continue to be astonished at Jackie French's prodigious output, and the quality of her writing, and her stories. (Check out her latest catalogue) Her scope is so varied- I don't know that there are too many topics, formats or genres that she hasn't pursued, and the books keep coming, despite the fact that she is our current Australian Children's Laureate. She is seemingly indefatigable.

And yet there are even more books on the way. There are at least two more books in this Shakespearean series coming soon, Ophelia Queen of Denmark due out July this year, and Third Witch due out next year. Jackie also another great sounding, completely separate series of books starting later this month with Birrung The Secret Friend.

The lovely folks at Harper Collins sent me a review copy of I am Juliet.