First Australian Reads: May Gibbs and The Gumnut Babies.

The first in what I hope will be a series and ongoing theme about Australian books and literature sincesnugglepot.png colonial times, as well as recent literature, and the bush poets that have shaped what it means to be Australian, this post on May Gibbs and the Gumnut Babies is my introduction to this project. I will still be reviewing books sent to me and by non-Australian authors, but I would like to promote Australian literature and the book industry here as well.

The literature of a nation can shape a country – whether it is oral or written, or oral and later recorded. Australian literature was shaped first through bush stories and bush poets, and some of the most popular authors and their writings have remained in print for decades. As a child, having access to a variety of literature from Australia and around the world – shaped my love of reading and has shaped a passion for Australian stories – wherever they come from and whoever may write them. To begin my series about this area of literature, here are some of my thoughts on May Gibbs.

Australian children have grown up for generations with iconic picture books and stories that have shaped their early years and cemented an Australian identity through the books that are read to them as young toddlers and that they then learn to read themselves. From there, they will explore Australian novels and poetry that have shaped and continue to shape our nation as more unique Australian voices are heard. However, one of the first books that young Australians will be introduced to and that, for nearly a century, has enchanted children and people of all ages, are the stories of the gumnut babies – Snugglepot and Cuddlepie, and their escape from The Big Bad Banksia Men.

aww2017-badgeMay Gibbs began her paintings of the gumnut baby characters in 1916, beginning with the first story, Gumnut Babies as well as illustrating cards to send to soldiers during the First World War. In 1918, Snugglepot and Cuddlepie was published, and will celebrate its 100th Birthday next year. It has never been out of print since, and can be found at the Nutcote gift shop, where May Gibbs lived and wrote, as well as other booksellers across Australia.

Snugglepot and Cuddlepie and the gumnut babies are Australia’s answer to the fairy tales of Europe that children are read. They allow Australian children to explore the Australian environment through a unique fairy tale that does not involve castles and ogres, but babies born from gumnuts and evil banksia men that threaten them when they get lost. A review and giveaway with the May Gibbs Foundation will be forthcoming in the next few months, so watch this space.

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Secrets Between Friends by Fiona Palmer

secrets between friendsTitle: Secrets Between Friends

Author: Fiona Palmer

Genre: Fiction

Publisher: Hachette Australia

Published: 12th September 2017

Format: Paperback

Pages: 352

Price: $29.99

Synopsis: Life was about living, experiencing and emotions. The good and the bad. You had to laugh to cry. You had to love to hurt. You had to jump to fall or fly.

Best friends AbbieJess and Ricki are setting sail on a cruise ship, rekindling the excitement of a school excursion they took ten years earlier to the historic port town of Albany, the oldest city on the stunning turquoise coastline of Western Australia. But are they truly prepared for what this voyage will reveal?

Ricki, a dedicated nurse, harbours a dream she hasn’t chased. Is she actually happy or stuck in a rut?

Jess, a schoolteacher and single mother to little Ollie, had a tough upbringing but found her way through with the help of her closest male friend, Peter. But Peter has bought an engagement ring and is ready to propose to Ricki . . .

Abbie had it all: a career, a loving boyfriend and a future, but a visit to the doctor bears scary news. Her world is tumbling down and she feels adrift at sea.

SECRETS BETWEEN FRIENDS is a poignant novel of romance, family dynamics and friendship. Through her highly relatable, sympathetic characters, beloved Australian storyteller Fiona Palmer writes about issues, experiences and emotions we have all faced while posing the ultimate question: What is really important in this life?

~*~

Ricki, Abbie and Jess have been friends for as long as they can remember, and have always shared secrets, and confided in each other – until recently. Jess is a single mother and teacher, who has never revealed the identity of her son’s father. Ricki is a nurse, living with Peter, Jess’s best friend since childhood, and harbouring her own secrets about her dreams that she’s ignored for years, and Abbie has just lost her job, her boyfriend and received devastating news that she feels she can’t share with her friends – at least not yet, if ever. And Peter, loyal to them all, unaware of the secrets his friends are keeping, harbours feelings for two of them. Together, they embark on a cruise to Albany to revisit where they once went during school. It is on this journey that the secrets they have been hiding from each other explode into the open, with each reacting differently to the revealing of their secret to their friends and everyone finding a way to cope, culminating in events towards the end that change their lives forever.

aww2017-badgeWhen I first received this book, I wasn’t sure whether I would enjoy it – however, I found that in some ways I did – I enjoyed that the focus was on the friendship rather than romance, and the life goals of the characters. I felt this gave it something special and important, that finding the one you love isn’t the be all and end all of your life, but having friends who are your chosen family and whom you care about no matter what is just as, if not more important, and it was to Ricki, Jess, Abbie and Peter. I think reading about friendship and the love of friends who become your family is something we need more of – it gives everyone something to relate to, even if you can’t relate directly to the events and characters, but we can all relate to family and friendship, and the importance of this.

As this was the first Fiona Palmer I have read, having received an uncorrected proof with an adorable little beach chair courtesy of Hachette, I wasn’t sure what to expect – and whilst it is one that I may not read again, fans of Fiona will enjoy her latest offering, exploring friendship and what can make or break friends and relationships. The romantic relationships did happen, but were secondary to the friendship the characters exhibited. I hope that fans of Fiona’s work will enjoy this and maybe she will find some new fans from this book too.

Even though I have no plans to read this book again soon, it is a nice light read, and there will be an audience out there for it, and it is possible I will one day revisit this book, but for now, I’ll work my way through the rest of this year’s review books.

The Book of Secrets: The Ateban Cipher by A.L. Tait

atebanTitle: The Book of Secrets: The Ateban Cipher (Book One)

Author: A.L. Tait

Genre: Children’s, Fantasy,

Publisher: Lothian Children’s Books

Published: 12th September 2017

Format: Paperback

Pages: 250

Price: $14.99

Synopsis: What’s the secret of the book, and why is it so valuable? These are the questions Gabe must answer when a dying man hands him a coded manuscript with one instruction: take it to Aidan. Gabe is hurled into a quest that takes him beyond his monastery home and into a world of danger, political intrigue and adventure.

As he seeks to decipher the code and find a mystery man who may not even exist, Gabe learns that survival must be earned and that some of life’s biggest lessons are not found in books.

Gabe finds himself questioning everything he knows about right and wrong and wondering if he’ll ever find a way back home. He also discovers that the biggest secret of all may be his own.

~*~

aww2017-badgeRaised in an abbey with religious brothers, Gabe was a foundling on the steps of the abbey fourteen years ago, with no clue as to who his true family is. Trained in the various areas of the abbey, Gabe’s favourite place is the Librarium, where he finds comfort in reading and words, and where a special book has been hidden by Brother Benedict, and that the Prior and other people in the land are desperate to get their hands on. Forced to flee with the book and the help of Brother Malachy, Gabe finds himself stranded in the forest, not knowing how to survive. Here, he runs into a gang of what he thinks are robbers or highwaymen, but turn out to be girls: two sisters, Merry and Gwyn, searching for a way to save their father, jailed by Lord Sherborne for a crime he didn’t commit, their cousin, Scarlett, running from a forced marriage to someone older than her father, and their friend, little Midge, who has nowhere else to go. Together, they agree to help Gabe, with Merry taking to him faster than Gwyn and Scarlett, but he fascinates all the girls, and they embark on a journey to help him find the Aidan he’s been asked to deliver the book pressed in his hands at the start of the novel to.

Things get complicated when they enter the town on the day the jails are open for visitors and for the upcoming Tournament. From here, they must decide how to proceed, and how they are going to keep the book from falling into the wrong hands either at the Tournament or the Abbey, and it is here that their friendship is cemented. At the heart of the book is the formation of the friendship and bond between Gabe and the girls as they discover that perhaps their individual quests intertwine in some ways, and the lessons learnt about working together are presented in a fun and exciting way for younger readers. A.L. Tait has created a story and characters that are enthralling, exciting and individual, and I adored reading it, and am keen for the next book to find out what happens to Gwyn, Merry, Gabe and the others on their journey to prevent whatever evil Sherborne and the Prior are planning.

I found the characters to be realistic – they all showed weaknesses and strengths, and all bad flaws that they didn’t like to admit to. This makes them relatable characters to child readers and showing the girls as confident and able gives readers role models to look up to and to show them that they can have a go at what they set their mind to, and not to be afraid.

Set in a fantasy town with a medieval feel to it, The Book of Secrets is a fast paced story, where girls are the heroes alongside the boy, who is learning how to live off the land and away from the comforts of the only home he has ever known. Together, they are strong, and individually, each character has their own strengths and weaknesses, making them well rounded characters that will hopefully develop nicely over the rest of the series. The Ateban Cipher is a book that shows that girls can do anything, and is a great adventure for boys and girls aged eight and older from the best-selling author of the Map-Maker Chronicles.

Ava’s Big Move by Mary van Reyk (Surf Rider’s Club #1)

Ava's big moveTitle: Ava’s Big Move (Surf Rider’s Club #1)

Author: Mary van Reyk

Genre: Children’s Fiction

Publisher: Hachette Children’s Books Australia

Published: 12th September, 2017

Format: Paperback

Pages: 129

Price: $12.99

Synopsis: Join the girls as they take on the world, one wave at a time!

Meet five very different girls with one thing in common: they’ve caught the surfing bug!

Ava has grown up in a big city. But everything changes when her parents decide on a sea change – they’re moving to the small town of Beachcrest to open a cafe. Ava will be starting high school that year, and now she has to say goodbye to her life in the city. Her new school is very different and Ava misses her friends. When she hears that surfing is going to be offered as a sport for the first time, Ava uses her snowboard skills to give it a try. Not everyone thinks she can become a surfer but Ava is determined to prove them wrong, and she’s making new friends along the way!

Ava, Alex, Bronte, Janani and Molly form the Surf Riders Club to help each other practise, but it quickly becomes much more than that. Whether it’s learning how to get barrelled, problem parents or annoying boys, the Surf Riders Club are there for each other, no matter what.

~*~

aww2017-badgeWhen Ava’s parents decide to move to a coastal town, Ava is distraught at the thought of leaving her school and her friends, and having to start over in a place where she’ll be the outsider. She has always been close to her older brother, Shane, who spends the summer teaching her to surf and body board at the local beach before school starts, prompting her to join the surfing sports club at school with a group of girls who immediately pull her into their circle: Alex, whose bubbly nature and kindness is instantaneous, Janani, whose Sri Lankan parents run a restaurant, and is part of the circle as a body boarder, Molly, whose mother is vehemently against her taking up a sport and would rather she spends her time on the piano, and Bronte, with two older siblings and parents who own the local surf shop, Ava finds friends, even though at first, she is unsure about Bronte until the girls start hanging out at Ava’s parents cafe and spending their weekends surfing together.

Aimed at children ages seven years and older, it is written for readers of all reading levels, from those who may need help to those who can read alone, and deals first and foremost, with friendship and acceptance. The surfing comes later, and whilst it forms the backbone to the friendship group, it is not the be all and end all, which is nice, as it presents opportunities for exploration of characters and relationships.

It is simply written, so it’s easy for readers starting to read alone to get through, but also a good book for not so confident readers to test themselves out on and learn to read longer books than they might normally be reading. For someone like me, who has been reading much longer books since I was quite young, it was a quick, two nights read. The surfing aspect wasn’t as interesting to me as it will be to some readers, but I did like that it had themes of friendship and acceptance, regardless of who you are and where you are from. It dealt with the idea that girls shouldn’t surf, perpetuated through some of the secondary characters, but will hopefully encourage girls who do want to surf that they can do it, and overall, I think sends the message that anyone can do anything they desire, and they shouldn’t allow people to put them down.

An enjoyable novel for young girls aged seven and older, and especially for those with an interest in surfing.

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The Australian Reading Hour

AustralianReadingHourFacebookPost1200x6281

It’s a simple idea, but one that has many benefits, and that can introduce children to something that they will hopefully develop a lifetime love for and continue to do for the rest of their lives. What is it?

The Australian Reading Hour, this Thursday, the fourteenth of September, is the day we are all encouraged to stop what we are doing for an hour and pick up a book and read – by ourselves, to any children in our lives or in a group at work, at a library, or at home. It is a time for Australians of all walks of life to rediscover or introduce themselves to the joy and magic of reading, and to share this with those around them.

Children who know adults who readReading can benefit children and adults: in children, reading has been shown to help them form an identity, and set them up for success in the future, and in adults, it can help to reduce stress by 68%, more than listening to music, going for a walk or having a cup of tea.

As part of the initiative, The Australian Reading Hour encourages booksellers, libraries and teachers to do any or all of the following:

  • Organise reading events
  • Coordinate author events,
  • Promote the initiative in store and on social media, something that readers and book bloggers can do actively as well,
  • And promote their favourite Australian books.

Reading a gripping novel causes positive biological changes in the brain that can last for days.To participate in The Australian Reading hour register here and designate one hour of your day on the fourteenth to reading something you enjoy, in the format you enjoy. I haven’t elected my hour yet but hopefully I will be reading a review copy of A Dangerous Language by Sulari Gentill, and if not, another Australian book. The book does not need to be Australian but this even can help promote reading Australian authors just as much as it promotes reading, and will hopefully give readers the chance to explore a new book and find new authors that contribute or have contributed to our sense of being Australian through our literature over the past centuries.

When tested for empathy, readers of narrative fiction achieved significantly higher scores than other groups.

The Australian Reading Hour is sponsored by: The Australian Society of Authors, Australian Library and Information Association, Australian Publisher’s Association, Australian Bookseller’s Association, Copyright Agency Cultural Fund, Australian Literary Agents Association, ACT Government Libraries, NSW Public Library Associations, Northern Territory Government, Northern Territory Library, Queensland Public Libraries Association, Government of South Australia, State Library Public Services, Tasmania: Explore the Possibilities, Learn, Discover, Access, Public Libraries Victoria Network, Public Libraries Western Australia.

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The Strange Disppearance of a Bollywood Star by Vaseem Khan (Baby Ganesha Agency #3)

baby ganesh 3.jpgTitle: The Strange Disppearance of a Bollywood Star

Author: Vaseem Khan

Genre: Crime and Mystery

Publisher: Mulholland Books/Hachette Australia

Published: 16th May 2017

Format: Paperback

Pages: 360

Price: $29.99

Synopsis: In the third delightful Baby Ganesh Agency novel, Inspector Chopra investigates the darkly glittering underbelly of Bollywood when a film star vanishes into thin air…

The enchanting new Baby Ganesh Agency novel sees Inspector Chopra and his elephant sidekick investigating the dark side of Bollywood.

Mumbai thrives on extravagant spectacles and larger-than-life characters.

But even in the city of dreams, there is no guarantee of a happy ending.

Rising star and incorrigible playboy Vikram Verma has disappeared, leaving his latest film in jeopardy. Hired by Verma’s formidable mother to find him, Inspector Chopra and his sidekick, baby elephant Ganesha, embark on a journey deep into the world’s most flamboyant movie industry.

As they uncover feuding stars, failed investments and death threats, it seems that many people have a motive for wanting Verma out of the picture.

And yet, as Chopra has long suspected, in Bollywood the truth is often stranger than fiction…

~*~

Ashwin Chopra, his wife, Poppy, and their little elephant, Ganesha return in this third instalment of the wonderful Baby Ganesh Agency series. This time, the star of an upcoming Bollywood movie, Vicky Verma, has gone missing at a promotional performance for the movie and his role, with Chopra and Ganesha in the audience. Together, they watch him vanish and supposedly reappear on stage, and from there, the investigation begins. Chopra speaks to the movie company, and the director, PK Das, Bijli Verma, Vicky’s mother and anyone else who has ever worked with or known Vicky during his attempts to find him. At the same time, Chopra’s partner, Rangwalla is caught up in an investigation amongst a eunuch community, where he goes undercover to investigate the activities they are being lured into, and so, he agrees to help the Queen find out what is going on. As Rangwalla and Chopra investigate their cases, ACP Rao, the officer whom Chopra bested in the last book during the Koh-I-Noor investigation, simmers in the background as a threat to Chopra and his case, leading to a series of events that Chopra, Ganesha, Poppy and their friends must find a way to get out of so that Chopra can find Verma and the person, or people who took him. But, as with any case, things are not what they seem, nor are they as simple as one might think, and Chopra’s confusion and disillusionment with the Bollywood industry and the way they operate, illuminating the way these people treat others, and this is contrasted with the case Rangwalla looks into, and the slums where the eunuchs live, their isolation from society and the way they are seen by others, as something to be discarded almost – but still retain their humanity and appreciate what Rangwalla does for them.

The contrast between the cases shows the spectrum of society in Chopra’s Mumbai, and shows that money cannot buy affections or humanity, a theme that weaves through both cases eventually, and as Chopra comes to the conclusion of his third case, the flaws of humanity and the way people react in the face of the truth illustrates that you cannot judge someone without knowing them or only knowing a public persona that they might hide behind – but the way Vaseem Khan has presented this moral was effective and done in a way that wasn’t overtly obvious, but could still be understood by the reader.

Poppy was at her finest in this book – she is a strong, capable character who has flaws and vulnerability and can be every bit as sneaky and deceptive as her husband – skills that she has picked up from Chopra. She is fast becoming a favourite of mine, because she takes no prisoners and doesn’t give up on those she cares about. And how could I not mention the star of the series, Baby Ganesha, the little elephant that started it all when he came to Chopra as an inheritance from a dead relative. Ganesha is more than just a pet – he is a special elephant whose diet consists mainly of Cadbury’s Milk Chocolate, a habit that not even Chef Lucknowwallah or Poppy can break him of. Ganesha knows when to help, and when his Chopra is in trouble – and he has saved the day before, and is loyal to Chopra, Poppy and Irfan in the fiercest way possible.

This third story with its dual plot meanders at a gentle pace, and without a hint of unnecessary gore and violence. When things get complicated and dangerous, Poppy finds a way to sort things out and ensure nobody gets hurt. As in the first two books, Ganesha comes to Chopra’s rescue at least once, and is perhaps the true hero of the series, even though it is usually Rangwalla and Chopra who uncover the truth, sometimes in unconventional and unexpected ways. The Strange Disappearance of a Bollywood Star is a wonderful addition to a series with a difference, and one that will hopefully continue for many years to come. I look forward to next year’s book, and hopefully, many more after that.

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Moonrise by Sarah Crossan

moonriseTitle: Moonrise

Author: Sarah Crossan

Genre: YA

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Published: 1st September 2017

Format: Paperback

Pages: 400

Price: $16.99

Synopsis: The astonishing new novel from Carnegie Medal, CliPPA Poetry Award, YA Book Prize and CBI Book of the Year Award winning author Sarah Crossan.

They think I hurt someone.
But I didn’t. You hear?
Cos people are gonna be telling you
all kinds of lies.
I need you to know the truth.

Joe hasn’t seen his brother for ten years, and it’s for the most brutal of reasons. Ed is on death row.

But now Ed’s execution date has been set, and Joe is determined to spend those last weeks with him, no matter what other people think …

From one-time winner and two-time Carnegie Medal shortlisted author Sarah Crossan, this poignant, stirring, huge-hearted novel asks big questions. What value do you place on life? What can you forgive? And just how do you say goodbye?

~*~

Moonrise is the latest extraordinary offering from Sarah Crossan. Another novel told in verse, something Sarah pulls off extremely well, it tackles another story of the underdogs, the ones who are disadvantaged by a justice system, and other systems skewed in the favour of others and those who hold the fate of innocent people in their hands. Through the eyes of Joe, in poems that occasionally flashback to a childhood before his brother went to jail, and the years in between his journey to Texas to save his brother, Joe tells the story of what it was like growing up with a mother who didn’t care, a brother and sister who did, and who did everything they could to keep him safe, and an aunt who, after his mother left, refused to help his brother, Ed. It is a story that has few rays of hope and happiness within it, showing the gritty reality of a broken justice system that shackles and condemns people without proper investigation, and that varies from state to state, as Joe says in one of the verses, that the crime his brother had committed in Texas and earned him the death penalty would have carried a life sentence in another state.

Throughout the novel, which is solely seen through the eyes of Joe, we catch glimpses into his family members and how he responds to them. He is closest to Ed and his sister, Angela, whilst his mother has gone off. His aunt cares but in a harsh way – in a way that at the time, Joe sees as repressive and cold. She brings religion and a strict nature into the house, ensuring Joe and Angela will not end up in the same place as Ed, but as Joe relates through his poetry, people still associate what Ed has supposedly done with them, and they become isolated.

It is a poignant novel about the injustice of a justice system that serves to punish based on circumstance and misfortune of a casual link to a person, without evidence, leading to an inevitable conclusion that the reader hopes won’t happen. The grim reality that the Moon family face is something that many families face in America, and Sarah Crossan has done a sensitive job taking on a challenging topic that may not be understood by those not affected. Through the eyes of a teenager, she has shown how something like this can not only change the life of the accused, but the life of a family, and those who come to know them and who try to help them.

It is a powerful story that does have an effect on the reader, making your mind tick over about the issues dealt with in the book. To date, I have read two of Sarah’s books told in verse, and in both she has taken characters who are not fully accepted by society and not properly seen, and has told their story, opening up a world beyond what many readers might know, and evoking empathy and sympathy for those less fortunate, and those whose lives are affected by events that not everyone will experience. Telling it in verse makes it all the more powerful, and though it is a quick read, you still get the gist of the story, and the emotions that drive it.

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