Zebra and Other Short Stories by Debra Adelaide

Zebra.jpgTitle: Zebra and Other Short Stories

Author: Debra Adelaide

Genre: Fiction

Publisher: Picador

Published: 29th January 2019

Format: Paperback

Pages: 326

Price: $29.99

Synopsis:A body buried in a suburban backyard.

A suicide pact worthy of Chekhov.

A love affair born in a bookshop.

The last days of Bennelong.

And a very strange gift for a most unusual Prime Minister…

Tantalising, poignant, wry, and just a little fantastical, this subversive collection of short fiction – and one singular novella – from bestselling author Debra Adelaide reminds us what twists of fate may be lurking just beneath the surface of the everyday.

~*~

In this series of short stories, Debra Adelaide explores the spectrum of humanity and the human condition, from a dream about a murder, and the suburban lives it almost disrupts, to stories about love affairs that start in a bookshop, and suicide pacts, and an interesting story about the last days of Bennelong – a man who was captured and served the governor of New South Wales and travelled back to England, told from the perspective of Governor Phillips’ wife. Finally, the novella-length story Zebra is about an unnamed female Prime Minister in Australia who is gifted a zebra – and how this changes her and her life, and her relationships with those around her in government and her neighbours.

Each story encapsulates a different aspect of the human condition, and how we respond to the world and people around us, and how we handle ourselves. They are subversive, touching on the things we do not speak about, or the things about ourselves that we have to hide from the public, or the public persona versus the private persona and how we reconcile these. Or, the lengths humans go to in order to ensure their quirkier, fantastical aspects of their lives are kept private, and hopefully not released. This is what made me enjoy it – that each story was so different, and each perspective has been told from a unique perspective in first, second or third person. To make this connection, the book is divided into three parts – one, two and three – that represent which stories are told through which perspective. Doing this was brave, and unique – it is something I have never seen before and where some might think it takes away, I think it makes each story, each section and finally, the entire anthology more powerful because it shows the world through so many different perspectives, you always find yourself engrossed wholly in one story, and then pulled wholly into another.

If I had to choose a favourite story, it would have to be the novella, Zebra – about a female PM. What was striking about it, and indeed the rest of the anthology, was the tight, and varying imagery used throughout to convey what the characters were doing. Zebra was my favourite because I enjoyed the way the PM dealt with her neighbour, her staff members and everything in her life – too many to quote, I think. I liked that she was allowed to be human in her own world – we were allowed to see the vulnerabilities of politicians we never see in the media, such as when she was contemplating whether she should call Malcolm on a work pretence, but really, she just wanted to tell him how she felt.

Each character can represent people at different stages of life, or at various times and spaces in our lives – whether it is the culmination of many things, or a single instance where we cross paths with a like-minded person in a bookstore and start an affair. The subtlety in each story is excellent and enjoyable. It allows the reader to imagine some of what happened without completely explaining it, and this is the power of the stories in this anthology – that anyone can see themselves in these characters and situations. The subtlety also allows the reader to imagine how they might handle things, and what happens in the story.

Debra Adelaide has created a series of stories and a novella that are engulfing and subversive, that allow the depths of human nature to be explored and the reality, so to speak, is shown here in an unusual and intriguing way.

Short story collections are often hard to review, because they don’t always necessarily always link through a theme. In Zebra, the only discernible link is the subversiveness of the stories and characters, and the fantastical elements and quirkiness that feels uniquely Australian that connects these stories. I found this to be very effective, and it allows for the stories to be read in isolation, or as whole, seeing the progression of human nature and tearing ourselves away from our normal, everyday lives that might feel suffocating or claustrophobic. Debra Adelaide allows readers to feel like they were in that enclosed space with the characters until that final release of what constrains the characters, the narrators of the stories, and this release is like a weight lifting off the reader’s chest.

I quite enjoyed these stories and their uniqueness that showed another side of human life. Each story is tightly plotted and tells the whole story succinctly in a way that feels like a novel or epic story.

An excellent read if you enjoy short stories.

Booktopia

The Orchardist’s Daughter by Karen Viggers

orchardists daughter.jpgTitle: The Orchardist’s Daughter

Author: Karen Viggers

Genre: Literary Fiction

Publisher: Allen and Unwin

Published: 4th January 2019

Format: Paperback

Pages: 400

Price: $29.99

Synopsis:A story of freedom, forgiveness and finding the strength to break free. International bestselling writer Karen Viggers returns to remote Tasmania, the setting of her most popular novel The Lightkeeper’s Wife.

Sixteen-year-old Mikaela has grown up isolated and home-schooled on an apple orchard in south-eastern Tasmania, until an unexpected event shatters her family. Eighteen months later, she and her older brother Kurt are running a small business in a timber town. Miki longs to make connections and spend more time in her beloved forest, but she is kept a virtual prisoner by Kurt, who leads a secret life of his own.

When Miki meets Leon, another outsider, things slowly begin to change. But the power to stand up for yourself must come from within. And Miki has to fight to uncover the truth of her past and discover her strength and spirit.

Set in the old-growth eucalypt forests and vast rugged mountains of southern Tasmania, The Orchardist’s Daughter is an uplifting story about friendship, resilience and finding the courage to break free.

~*~

Miki’s world has been one of isolation her whole life. She was home-schooled on a Tasmanian apple orchard, in the forests and mountains. When her life is altered by the ravages of a bushfire, she is forced into an even more isolated life by her brother Kurt. Kurt keeps many secrets from Miki – and ensures she never ventures out of the takeaway shop he owns and forces her to work in until the arrival of the new resident, Leon, a Parks Ranger whose presence starts to link Miki with other people in the town: Geraldine, and a family whose young son – Max – befriends Leon. Max’s father and friends are loggers, and Leon’s presence rubs Shane and his friends the wrong way.

2019 BadgeThe new guy in town, Leon finds he has few allies: Miki, Max, Geraldine, and Wendy – Max’s mother. They are the first people to welcome him and stick up for him in the face of hatred from the loggers, Shane and Kurt – and the story traverses several weeks and encounters between the characters, as Geraldine and Leon encourage Miki to leave the confines of her prison when Kurt is gone. Max faces a bully at school, and Wendy, like Miki, faces her own kind of isolation, and both face things that will eventually come to a head with a series of events that sees the coming together of a community.

In this story, the mountains and forest of Tasmania are as much characters as Miki, Leon and the others. It is a living, breathing, and natural character in this story. The human characters lives revolve around the forest and become connected by it – through the good and the bad, and what the forest can provide and take from them.  It is a love story of sorts – an ode to the forests and mountains of Tasmania and nature as a whole. It reveals the flaws in the people Miki and Wendy thought they loved and knew. The flaws and cracks in the small town are revealed slowly – through alternating chapters from the perspectives of Max, Miki and Leon, and the bonds that grow between them.

In this story, the focus is on personal growth, as well as community connection, and what isolation can do to someone and how it makes them feel – and the final chapters are filled with heart stopping moments that make you want to read on and find out what happens and how it all turns out. The rest, I enjoyed meandering about, and taking in the story slowly, but not too slowly, of course. It is the kind of book that can be savoured and devoured in equal amounts. Some sections need to be gobbled up, but some need time spent on them, and Karen Viggers has done this well – when you’re in each character’s life, you are wholly in their life, but at the same time, wanting to know how the others are doing. Seeing how they came together was very satisfying and I liked that the story focussed on friendships between Leon, Geraldine, Miki and Max, and used their backstories to build what it was that drew them to each other, and the flaws in humanity that can lead us to do the unexpected, and why.

I really enjoyed this novel  – it was complex and intriguing with a cast of characters who reflected a diverse selection of human nature, and showed what pressure can do to us – and the ways people respond differently to the same situation they might find themselves in.

2018 Reading Wrap Up Post

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In 2018, I had the aim of reading 120 books throughout the year. This was my general reading goal from the first of January to the end of December, and included review books, books I had to read for work as a quiz writer with Scholastic Australia, and my other challenges – The Australian Women Writer’s Challenge, the Pop Sugar Challenge (which I came close to finishing, but several categories were too hard to fulfil when it came to it), and Book Bingo 2018 with Theresa and Amanda, which we will be attempting again in 2019.

AWW-2018-badge-rose

In 2019, I will be participating in each of the above challenges again – The Australian Women Writer’s Challenge, Book Bingo and the Pop Sugar Challenge. My main aim will be to complete the 2019 Book Bingo, and to see how I go with the 2019 PopSugar Challenge – which will be addressed in a separate post. Below is my list of books I read in 2018:

 

Reading Log

 

  1. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (Illustrated) by JK Rowling (Newt Scamander)
  2. The Tides Between by Elizabeth Jane Corbett
  3. Where’s Jane? Find Jane Austen Hidden in her Stories by Rebecca Smith and Katy Dockrill
  4. Rose Raventhorpe Investigates: Hounds and Hauntings by Janine Beacham
  5. Four Respectable Ladies Seek Part-Time Husband by Barbara Toner
  6. Mr Dickens and His Carol by Samantha Silva
  7. Smile:The Story of the original Mona Lisa by Mary Hoffman
  8. The Secrets at Ocean’s Edge by Kali Napier
  9. Differently Normal by Tammy Robinson
  10. The Endsister by Penni Russon
  11. The Last Train by Sue Lawrence
  12. Graevale by Lynette Noni
  13. Eventual Poppy Day by Libby Hathorn
  14. The War That Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley
  15. Olmec Obituary by LJM Owen
  16. The Passengers by Eleanor Limprecht
  17. The War I Finally Won by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley
  18. The Wicked Cometh by Laura Carlin
  19. Draigon Weather: The Legends of Arnan – Book One by Paige L Christie
  20. Miss Lily’s Lovely Ladies by Jackie French
  21. The Sealwoman’s Gift by Sally Magnusson
  22. Surf Rider’s Club #2: Bronte’s Big Sister Problem by Mary van Reyk
  23. Before I Let You Go by Kelly Rimmer
  24. Jorie and the Magic Stones by A.H. Richardson
  25. The Belles by Dhonielle Clayton
  26. Skin in the Game: The Pleasure and Pain of Telling True Stories by Sonya Voumard
  27. Babylon Berlin by Volker Kutschner
  28. Spinning Tops & Gum Drops: A Portrait of Colonial Childhood by Edwin Barnard
  29. Tin Man by Sarah Winman
  30. Mayan Mendacity by L.J.M. Owen
  31. The Opal Dragonfly by Julian Leatherdale
  32. Grandpa, Me and Poetry by Sally Morgan
  33. The Paris Seamstress by Natasha Lester
  34. The Freedom Finders Series: Touch the Sun by Emily Conolan
  35. The World Goes On by LĂĄszlĂł Krasznahorakai (translated from the Hungarian by John Bakti, Ottilie Mulzet and Georges Szirtes
  36. The Book of Answers: The Ateban Cipher Book 2 by A.L. Tait
  37. Munmun by Jesse Andrews
  38. Little Gods by Jenny Ackland
  39. Leaving Lucy Pear by Anna Solomon
  40. I am Sasha by Anita Selzer
  41. Heidi by Johanna Spyri
  42. The Good Doctor of Warsaw by Elisabeth Gifford
  43. Thunderwith by Libby Hathorn
  44. Monty the Sad Puppy by Holly Webb
  45. The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris
  46. Lovesome by Sally Seltmann
  47. Egyptian Enigma by L.J.M Owen
  48. The Ship that Never Was by Adam Courtenay
  49. Other Worlds: Perfect World by George Ivanoff
  50. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows
  51. The Enchanted Places by Christopher Milne
  52. The Beast’s Heart by Leife Shallcross
  53. Eleanor’s Secret by Caroline Beecham
  54. Australia Day by Melanie Cheng
  55. The Most Marvellous Spelling Bee Mystery by Deborah Abela
  56. Other Worlds: Beast World by George Ivanoff
  57. Circe by Madeline Miller
  58. Miles Franklin: A Short Biography by Jill Roe
  59. The Book of Colours by Robyn Cadwallader
  60. The Jade Lily by Kirsty Manning
  61. The Burning Chambers by Kate Mosse
  62. Jane Seymour: The Haunted Queen by Alison Weir
  63. Ready to Fall by Marcella Puxley
  64. A Home for Molly by Holly Webb
  65. My Girragundji by Meme McDonald and Boori Monty Prior
  66. Burning Bridges and Other Hobbies by Kitty Flanagan
  67. Bluebottle by Belinda Castles
  68. Selected Short Stories by Katherine Mansfield
  69. The Upside of Over by J.D. Barrett
  70. P is for Pearl by Eliza Henry Jones
  71. Into the Night by Sarah Bailey
  72. The Seventh Cross by Anna Seghers, translated from the German by Margot Bettauer Dembo
  73. The Yellow House by Emily O’Grady
  74. The Notebook of Doom #10: Snap of the Super-Goop by Troy Cummings
  75. Embassy of the Dead by Will Mabbitt
  76. Dragon Masters: Search for the Lightning Dragon by Tracey West
  77. Ella and Olivia: A Wild Adventure by Yvette Poshoglian
  78. Kensy and Max: Breaking News by Jacqueline Harvey
  79. Captain Cook’s Apprentice by Anthony Hill
  80. Swallow’s Dance by Wendy Orr
  81. We See the Stars by Kate van Hooft
  82. The Far Back Country by Kate Lyons
  83. Beneath the Mother Tree by D.M. Cameron
  84. The Peacock Summer by Hannah Richell
  85. Harry Potter – Diagon Alley: A Movie Scrapbook by Warner Brothers and Jody Revenson
  86. Strange Meeting by Susan Hill
  87. The Desert Nurse by Pamela Hart
  88. The Gypsy Crown by Kate Forsyth (Chain of Charms #1)
  89. The Silver Horse by Kate Forsyth (Chain of Charms #2)
  90. If Kisses Cured Cancer by T.S. Hawken
  91. The Herb of Grace by Kate Forsyth (Chain of Charms #3)
  92. Bookshop Girl by Chloe Coles
  93. The Cat’s-Eye Shell by Kate Forsyth (Chain of Charms #4)
  94. Children of the Dragon: The Relic of The Blue Dragon by Rebecca Lim
  95. The Legacy of Beauregarde by Rosa Fedele
  96. The Lightning Bolt by Kate Forsyth (Chain of Charms #5)
  97. The Botanist’s Daughter by Kayte Nunn
  98. Ninjago: The Mystery of the Masks by Kate Howard
  99. Spirit by Ellen Miles (The Puppy Place)
  100. The Butterfly in Amber by Kate Forsyth (Chain of Charms #6)
  101. The Mitford Murders by Jessica Fellowes
  102. Scrublands by Chris Hammer
  103. When the Lights Go Out by Lili Wilkinson
  104. The Last Firehawk: The Crystal Caverns by Katrina Charman
  105. Hey Brother by Jarrah Dundler
  106. The Magic School Bus Rides Again: Satellite Space Mission by AnnMarie Anderson
  107. Amazing Australian Women: Twelve Women Who Shaped History by Pamela Freeman and Sophie Beer
  108. The Honourable Thief by Meaghan Wilson Anastasios
  109. Early Riser by Jasper Fforde
  110. The Psychology of Time Travel by Kate Mascarenhas
  111. The Brink of Darkness by Jeff Giles
  112. Mouseford Academy: Lights, Camera, Action by Thea Stilton
  113. No Country Woman by Zoya Patel
  114. The Extremely Inconvenient Adventures of Bronte Mettlestone by Jaclyn Moriarty
  115. Disappearing Act by Jacqueline Harvey (Kensy and Max #2)
  116. A Kitten Called Tiger by Holly Webb
  117. Fairy Tales for Feisty Girls by Susannah McFarlane
  118. The Distance Between Me and The Cherry Tree by Paola Peretti
  119. The Clockmaker’s Daughter by Kate Morton
  120. Sisters and Brothers by Fiona Palmer
  121. The Note Book of Doom: Battle of the Boss-Monster by Troy Cummings (#13)
  122. Mission Alert: Island X by Benjamin Hulme-Cross
  123. Time Jumpers: Stealing the Sword by Wendy Mass
  124. Archibald, the Naughtiest Elf in the World Goes to the Zoo by Skye Davidson, Illustrated by Ágnes Rokiczky
  125. We Three Heroes by Lynette Noni
  126. The Christmas Tale of Peter Rabbit by Emma Thompson
  127. The Colours of all the Cattle by Alexander McCall-Smith
  128. Frieda by Annabel Abbs
  129. Secrets Hidden Below by Sandra Bennett
  130. The Shelter Puppy by Holly Webb
  131. The Case of the Missing Marquess (An Enola Holmes Mystery #1) by Nancy Springer.
  132. The Case of the Left-Handed Lady (An Enola Holmes Mystery #2) by Nancy Springer
  133. What the Woods Keep by Katya de Becerra
  134. The Cat with the Coloured Tail by Gillian Mears
  135. Bright Young Dead by Jessica Fellowes
  136. Total Quack up by Sally Rippin and Adrian Beck
  137. Wundersmith: The Calling of Morrigan Crow by Jessica Townsend
  138. Have Sword, Will Travel by Garth Nix and Sean Williams
  139. Let Sleeping Dragons Lie by Garth Nix and Sean Williams
  140. Stormtrooper Class Clowns by Ace Landers
  141. Lenny’s Book of Everything by Karen Foxlee
  142. The Slightly Alarming Tale of the Whispering Wars by Jaclyn Moriarty (Kingdoms and Empires #2)
  143. Storm troopers: Class Clown by Ace Landers
  144. The Turn of Midnight by Minette Walters
  145. Victoria and Abdul: The Extraordinary True Story of the Queen’s Closest Confidant by Shrabani Busi
  146. The Nutcracker by Alexandre Dumas
  147. Lethal White by Robert Galbraith
  148. The Little Fairy Sister by Ida Rentoul Outhwaite and Grenbery Outhwaite
  149. Hogwarts: A Movie Scrapbook
  150. Goodbye Christopher Robin by Anne Thwaite
  151. Talking as Fast as I Can by Lauren Graham
  152. Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald by J.K. Rowling
  153. Mary Poppins by P.L. Travers
  154. Edward by Ellen Miles
  155. Clementine Rose and the Bake-Off Dilemma by Jacqueline Harvey
  156. All the Tears in China by Sulari Gentill
  157. Last Woman Hanged by Caroline Overington
  158. The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl #1: Squirrel Power by Ryan North
  159. The Rescued Kitten by Holly Webb
  160. The Au Pair by Emma Rous
  161. Dear Santa, edited by Sam Johnson OAM
  162. A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens
  163. The Night Before Christmas by Clement C Moore
  164. A Very Murderous Christmas by Cecily Gayford
  165. Wiser than Everything by Lorena Carrington
  166. Time Jumpers: Escape from Egypt by Wendy Mass]
  167. Henry VIII and the Men who Made Him by Tracy Borman

SmallLogo

As you can see, I have read kids’ books, young adult books, fiction and non-fiction books and everything in between for quiz writing and reviewing, and my own reading that I was able to do in between the books sent to me as a reviewer and quiz writer.

2019 Badge

In wrapping up my 2018 reading, there are definitely some books I wanted to get to but didn’t, and that I hope I can get to in 2019. With similar goals for 2019, I hope to achieve similar numbers, more books read, and hopefully more reviews coming your way for the next twelve months.

Pop Sugar Challenge Round Up

One of the challenges I did during 2019 was the PopSugar Challenge. It had forty categories, plus an additional ten advanced ones – a couple of which I managed to check off, and I filled most of the main categories, some with multiple books. It was a good challenge, but one thing I think lets it down is that it is overly prescriptive – and I think this made it too hard to fill in – almost impossible for some, in fact.

One was an author with the same first or last name as you – and this could let many people down, as there will be many names, not just mine, that do not appear as any part of an author’s name. Some I didn’t fill due to lack of time, but there were some that relied on accessibility as well – being able to get the book, or something being available in a library, bookstore or your collection. The point of a challenge is to challenge you and your reading – but perhaps not in a way that lets you down when you find you can’t fill a category.

Still, it was a fun challenge and I’ll be doing it again this year – but I feel that the categories get too prescriptive and specific each year, and rely too much on the accessibility of books – just because you can find a title in a Google search does not mean that book will be readily available for you – and my plan is to fill as many as I can with what I have.

Challenge #1

A book made into a movie you’ve already seen: Victoria and Abdul: The Extraordinary True Story of the Queen’s Closest Confidant by Shrabani Basu Victoria and Abdul (2017)

True crime: Last Woman Hanged by Caroline Overington

The next book in a series you started: Mayan Mendacity by L.J.M. Owen, The Silver Horse by Kate Forsyth (Chain of Charms #2)

A book involving a heist: The Book of Answers: The Ateban Cipher Book 2 by A.L. Tait, Bright Young Dead by Jessica Fellowes (Mitford Murders #2)

Nordic Noir:

A novel based on a real person: Mr Dickens and His Carol by Samantha Silva

A book set in a country that fascinates you:

Country: Scotland
Book: The Last Train by Sue Lawrence

Country: England
Book: The Silver Horse by Kate Forsyth (Chain of Charms #2)

A book with the time of day in the title: early – Early Riser by Jasper Fforde

A book about a villain or anti-hero: The War That Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley and The War I Finally Won by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley and Babylon Berlin by Volker Kutschner, The Ship that Never Was by Adam Courtenay

A book about death or grief: Before I Let You Go by Kelly Rimmer, Embassy of the Dead by Will Mabbitt

A book with your favourite colour in the title: Bluebottle by Belinda Castles

A book with alliteration in the title: Rose Raventhorpe Investigates: Hounds and Hauntings by Janine Beacham
Olmec Obituary by LJM Owen
Mayan Mendacity by LJM Owen

A book about time travel: The Psychology of Time Travel by Kate Mascarenhas, Time Jumpers: Stealing the Sword by Wendy Mass

A book with a weather element in the title: Draigon Weather: The Legends of Arnan – Book One by Paige L Christie, Dragon Masters: Search for the Lightning Dragon by Tracey West

A book set at sea: The Passengers by Eleanor Limprecht, Bluebottle by Belinda Castles, Captain Cook’s Apprentice by Anthony Hill

A book with an animal in the title: The Sealwoman’s Gift by Sally Magnusson, The Opal Dragonfly by Julian Leatherdale

A book set on a different planet: Graevale by Lynette Noni

A book with song lyrics in the title: The Last Train by Sue Lawrence (Last Train Out of Sydney)

A book about or set on Halloween: Wundersmith: The Calling of Morrigan Crow by Jessica Townsend

A book with characters who are twins: The Paris Seamstress by Natasha Lester, Other Worlds: Beast World by George Ivanoff

A book with a female author who uses a male pseudonym: Lethal White by Robert Galbraith (JK Rowling)

A book with an LGBTQ+ protagonist: The Wicked Cometh by Laura Carlin, Tin Man by Sarah Winman

A book that is also a stage play or musical:

A book by an author of a different ethnicity to you: The Belles by Dhonielle Clayton, Grandpa, Me and Poetry by Sally Morgan

A book about feminism: Olmec Obituary by L.J.M. Owen, No Country Woman by Zoya Patel

A book about mental health: Differently Normal by Tammy Robinson (mental disabilities, dealing with grief and loneliness)

A book you borrowed or that was given to you as a gift: The Enchanted Places by Christopher Milne, Goodbye, Christopher Robin by Anne Thwaite

A book by two authors: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows

A book about or involving sport: Surf Rider’s Club #2: Bronte’s Big Sister Problem by Mary van Reyk

A book by a local author: The Secrets at Ocean’s Edge by Kali Napier (AU author), Grandpa, Me and Poetry by Sally Morgan, Olmec Obituary by LJM Owen, Mayan Mendacity by LJM Owen, Four Respectable Ladies Seek Part-time Husband by Barbara Toner

A book mentioned in another book: Heidi by Johanna Spyri, mentioned in Little Gods.

A book from a celebrity book club:

Book Club:
Book:

A childhood classic you’ve never read: Mary Poppins by P.L. Travers

A book that’s published in 2018: Four Respectable Ladies Seek Part-time Husband by Barbara Toner

A past Goodreads Choice Awards winner: Talking as Fast As I Can by Lauren Graham

A book set in the decade you were born: Little Gods by Jenny Ackland

A book you meant to read in 2017 but didn’t get to: Miss Lily’s Lovely Ladies by Jackie French

A book with an ugly cover: Skin in the Game: The Pleasure and Pain of Telling True Stories by Sonya Voumard

A book that involves a bookstore or library: Bookshop Girl by Chloe Coles

Your favourite prompt from the 2015, 2016 or 2017 POPSUGAR Reading Challenges:

2015: A book with a one-word title: Thunderwith by Libby Hathorn, Lovesome by Sally Seltmann.

2016: A book based on a fairy tale: The Beast’s Heart by Leife Shallcross

2017: A novel set during wartime: Eventual Poppy Day by Libby Hathorn

TOTAL READ: 61 in 37 categories
ADVANCED

A bestseller from the year you graduated high school (2004):

A cyberpunk book:

A book that was being read by a stranger in a public place:

A book tied to your ancestry (Scottish):

A book with a fruit or vegetable in the title: Leaving Lucy Pear by Anna Solomon

An allegory: Munmun by Jesse Andrews

A book by an author with the same first or last name as you:

A microhistory: Spinning Tops & Gum Drops: A Portrait of Colonial Childhood by Edwin Barnard

A book about a problem facing society today: When the Mountains Roared by Jess Butterworth – poaching. No Country Woman by Zoya Patel – Racism.

A book recommended by someone else taking the POPSUGAR Reading Challenge:

TOTAL READ: 5

As you can see, some categories were easier to fill than others, some I didn’t manage to find anything for aforementioned reasons, and some had multiple entries. Some were filled in with a stretch – perhaps this is why I like looser themes, rather than ones that dictate what must be in a title or part of the authors name – you still get the challenge of finding a book that fills it, without causing panic because nothing fits in – this takes the fun out of it. So in 2019, my goal is to fill whatever categories I can. And if there are some where I don’t find a book, or a book does not appeal to me, I will give it a miss – and just let it happen as it happens.

In my mind, a challenge like this whilst fun, can also be inhibiting, which is why in the group that does this challenge, I’ve suggested a list of other challenges in case others want to take those on as well as this one or instead of – something I might do, or tweak them for my individual needs.

So ends another year of reading challenges.

Booktopia

Gendered Reading: Why Do We Still Insist on Gendering Books?

Over the past few months and years, I have been following online discussions about the way people gender reading – not only the act of reading, as a pursuit that girls are said to prefer, but the books we give younger children and what we expect of them as they grow and how they develop their reading tastes. Trends in publishing for children and young adults, but especially children, at that age of discovering independent reading and what they enjoy for themselves, can be gendered – targeted stories about princesses being saved for girls, and boys playing sports for boys, for example, are the two extremes. Girls are frilly and passive, boys are dirty and active. It sometimes seems that there is no in between, and children are often presented with books chosen by adults, the ones who buy the books – which, when you only know a few brief facts about a child, can be hard, because what if you buy the wrong book? Understandably, people like to play it safe, and that is where gendered reading can come in.

 

AWW-2018-badge-roseYesterday, I followed Word of Mouth TV and Jacqueline Harvey on Twitter as they tweeted and chatted about and at the Colin Simpson Memorial Lecture, with the Australian Society of Authors and the Children’s Book Council of Australia, on the issue of gendered books and reading, and how adults in the lives of children – whether implicitly or explicitly, in schools and libraries, guide children towards books “for girls” or “for boys”. Which brings me to the question – just what are boy books versus girl books? Well, apparently, if you’ve been following the discussions, a few things boys won’t read, or are said to be discouraged from reading:

 

– a book with love in the title

– a book with a girl on the cover

– a novel (boys apparently prefer comic books)

– a girl in the title

– a female author.

 

However, as adults, parents, teachers, booksellers and librarians, we encourage girls to read widely, but still within what is seen as “acceptable” for girls: no crime, no violence, passive princesses! LOVE! As a girl reader who has read widely since the age of six, war and crime have never been a deterrent. Spies? GREAT, I love Kensy and Max, and so do many other boys and girls when I read the reviews – and adults. Yet, Jacqueline Harvey has only had the chance to present to one or two groups of just boys – rather than mixed groups or just girls, and George Ivanoff pointed out that he saw that the boys in the mixed group were just as enthralled as the girls – excellent news for Kensy and Max, Alice- Miranda and Clementine-Rose. In my view, anyone can read anything they desire, and that they feel ready for – readers should be free to explore the world around them, so whenever I see people asking for “boy books” or “girl books”, I often feel the desire to point out that books do not have a gender, they are just books. Kensy is exactly the kind of girl character I would have enjoyed as a kid – because she was so different and refused to be overly girly.

 

So why do we encourage these reading habits? Is it because we associate reading with characters in popular culture like Hermione Granger and Rory Gilmore (By the way, two of my favourite characters), or even Spencer Reid in Criminal Minds? The lack of male characters who enjoy reading, and who aren’t broody and sullen like Jess Mariano, also of Gilmore Girls? Girls as readers seem to have a few role models to look up to when it comes to reading and seeing themselves as readers but also as people who have interests beyond reading. Boys, it seems, are always shown as the hero, or the nerd (Spencer, but he’s an adorable nerd, and a positive reading role model), or Jess, who often faced unfair comparisons with certain literary men, like Holden Caulfield, whilst Rory, and indeed girls, have many to be compared to. Supporting characters can be readers if they are boys – Percy Weasley, but often, they fade into the background, and so, it feels, does reading as a pleasurable activity for our boys.

 

Of these characters I know of, Spencer, Rory and Hermione are the three whose reading is prominently and positively portrayed – to the point where other characters don’t blink. And when the other male characters in these books and shows – Derek Morgan, Harry and Ron, Dean or Logan – are shown as sporty and brave, or disinterested in reading (Ron), or a someone who would rather disrupt learning than learn (Logan), we don’t blink either. My point is these, whilst exceptionally well written characters, and ones I can either love or hate in varying degrees, are characteristic of how we portray what it means to be a boy or a girl, and therefore, what activities and indeed, books we desire them to read. And perhaps this is why we are seeing a trend in books aimed at both boys and girls by authors like Kate Forsyth and Jacqueline Harvey, and George Ivanoff, and a trend in reimagined fairy tales for girls who dare to not be a passive princess – gone are the days of the prince saving the day, Rapunzel can save herself now!

 

And books aimed at both boys and girls that tell stories of men and women, across a diverse group of people, who have dared to be different to what their respective societies, cultures, nations and times in history expected of them, and why Disney movies are starting to pull back on ending it with the marriage of the main male and female characters. There are quite a few to name that have done this over the years, but the three recent ones that stand out to me are Frozen, Brave and Moana, where it was love of family that saved the day. Sure, Anna might have ended up with Kristoff (I had Hans picked as the villain from the start – if they look too good to be true, they probably are), but it was the love she had for Elsa, and Elsa’s love for her – their acts of true love, that drove the movie and the idea that love does not have to be romantic to be powerful. It is the same love we see in Kensy and Max, and in the Other Worlds series, especially in book two, Beast World, narrated by a girl, Xandra, who is also disabled. George Ivanoff wrote her really well and made sure she was represented as a disabled girl in a way that wasn’t demeaning. In our Twitter conversation, he said he had written books one and three with a male protagonist, and two and four with a female protagonist, and hoped boys reading them would continue with the female characters.

 

Unpacking gendered reading and representation of this in film and other media is not going to be resolved in this one post. It requires self-reflection, and asking ourselves why do we hope boys will begin a series with a boy and continue reading the books narrated by a girl? Why do we assume boys are naturally more interested in comics, sports and certain male-coded things rather than fairy tales or girl spies, or anything that girls are supposed to inherently be drawn to? We assume, we don’t ask, unless we think the child is old enough to decide for themselves – and at what age do we start this? Before they start school? When they’re learning to read? Somewhere in between, or only once they hit age ten? My own reading experiences are varied. I read Narnia at age nine, and books like The Wind in the Willows, The Neverending Story and a few others that might have been deemed “boy books”. I also read what are likely deemed “girl books”: The Babysitters Club, Seven Little Australians, Little Women (many, many times), and The Secret Garden, amongst many others. These days, I read whatever I can, and whenever I can. I read books by women, by men, by both, by people with various identities, and books aimed at boy, girls and everyone in between. I laugh with Bridget, I spy with Kensy and Max, I paint with Rowly, and explore all avenues of history with Kate Forsyth. I traverse London with Charles Dickens, and solve crimes with Phryne, and so many others that I cannot list, otherwise this will become an exegesis rather than a blog post.

 

 

During this blog post, I have worked in the binary because many discussions I read do. This is a whole other level that needs unpacking, the inclusion of all genders, and perhaps a really good reason why we should refrain from using the terms “boy books” and “girl books” – and just go with books so we can all feel included, and all find our way to characters we identify with. This layer is something I do not have enough of an understanding about yet, and will leave to those who do to comment on and write about – and leave it at we need to stop gendering our books and reading habits. Just Read.

 

A list of books that we can all enjoy, whatever our gender:

Kate Forsyth

Chain of Charms series

The Gypsy Crown

The Silver Horse

The Herb of Grace

The Cat’s Eye Shell

The Lightning Bolt

The Butterfly in Amber

Jacqueline Harvey:

Kensy and Max series

Kensy and Max: Breaking News

Kensy and Max: Disappearing Act

George Ivanoff

Other Worlds series

Other Worlds: Perfect World

Other Worlds: Beast World

Other Worlds: Game World

Other Worlds: Dark World

frogkisser

 

Garth Nix

Frogkisser!

Garth Nix and Sean Williams

Have Sword, Will Travel series

Have Sword, Will Travel

Let Sleeping Dragons Lie

Jessica Townsend

Nevermoor: The Trials of Morrigan Crow

Wundersmith: The Calling of Morrigan Crow

Comment with your books that you’d recommend to anyone regardless of gender – I have based this on what I have read!

 

Total Quack Up by Sally Rippin, Deborah Abela, Jacqueline Harvey, Oliver Phommavanh, R.A. Spratt, Paul Jennings, Alex Miles, Adrian Beck, Tristan  Bancks and Matt Stanton

total quack up.jpgTitle: Total Quack Up

Author: Sally Rippin, Deborah Abela, Jacqueline Harvey, Oliver Phommavanh, R.A. Spratt, Paul Jennings, Alex Miles, Adrian Beck, Tristan  Bancks and Matt Stanton

Genre: Children’s fiction/humour

Publisher:  Penguin Random House/Puffin

Published: 15th October, 2018

Format: Paperback

Pages: 288

Price: 14.99

Synopsis: Authors Sally Rippin and Adrian Beck have gathered together an awesome line-up of writers and their funniest stories. Not only will the stories make you laugh out loud and feel good, royalties from sales of the book go to Dymocks Children’s Charities – so you can feel extra good!

Total Quack Up! features stories from Deborah Abela, Tristan Bancks, Adrian Beck, Jacqueline Harvey, Paul Jennings, Alex Miles, Oliver Phommavanh, Sally Rippin, R.A. Spratt and Matt Stanton, plus a prize-winning story from a child!

~*~

Total Quack Up is a new anthology of short stories aimed at children, and published by Puffin for the Dymocks Children’s Charities, with royalties going towards these charities to help children learn to read and engage with reading. In these stories, there are superheroes, animals and magic, as well as robots and siblings, and practical jokes – all the things that kids find enjoyable and funny, in stories that they will enjoy and engage with, at all levels.

Each story is a quick read, starting with How to Be A Superhero by Deborah Abela – and ending with a story from a schoolkid, Ella Wallace, who won a competition to be included in the anthology. Each story stars a child as the protagonist, navigating life at school, at sport, or as a superhero, and with family, friends and siblings. Written by some of Australia’s most popular male and female authors, this makes my count for the Australian Women Writers Challenge seventy – with another review to write for a quiz book, and many more reviews to come – I hope. This will be included in my next challenge catch up post.

AWW-2018-badge-roseWith a uniqueness to each story, every reader who picks up this book will find a story and character they will enjoy, love and laugh with. From Arabella von Champion, a superhero who sees herself as extraordinary and is quite daring, to the little brother at the end who blocks up the dunny with everything imaginable, and the soccer team with the pig as a mascot – all other animals are banned from the sports field, to everything in between from some of the best-loved Australian authors, and some new voices to discover between these red covers, all aimed at raising money to help with children’s charities in Australia.

The variety of stories shows just how diverse and eclectic Australian authors are, and how different stories and characters will appeal to different children, and what will hook them into reading. This book offers bite-sized pieces of Australian talent for new readers to discover, and for old readers of these authors who have enjoyed their previous works and books over the years, and for the adults who would have read some as children, now able to pass these authors down.

Another great book aimed at kids, and with stories to enjoy and laugh with, I hope all those who get to read this enjoy it.

booktopia

The Clockmaker’s Daughter by Kate Morton

the clockmakers daughter.jpgTitle: The Clockmaker’s Daughter

Author: Kate Morton

Genre: Crime/Mystery/Historical Fiction

Publisher: Allen and Unwin

Published: 12th September 2018

Format: Paperback

Pages: 592

Price: $32.99

Synopsis:Kate Morton’s highly acclaimed novels have sold over 11 million copies worldwide and are number one bestsellers around the world.

‘A truly hypnotic tale that is bound to please both fans and newcomers, The Clockmaker’s Daughter is another wonderful read from one of Australia’s most beloved authors.’ – Booktopia

‘Morton explores the tangled history of people and place in her outstanding, bittersweet sixth novel.’ – US Publisher’s Weekly

My real name, no one remembers.
The truth about that summer, no one else knows.

In the summer of 1862, a group of young artists led by the passionate and talented Edward Radcliffe descends upon Birchwood Manor on the banks of the Upper Thames. Their plan: to spend a secluded summer month in a haze of inspiration and creativity. But by the time their stay is over, one woman has been shot dead while another has disappeared; a priceless heirloom is missing; and Edward Radcliffe’s life is in ruins.

Over one hundred and fifty years later, Elodie Winslow, a young archivist in London, uncovers a leather satchel containing two seemingly unrelated items: a sepia photograph of an arresting-looking woman in Victorian clothing, and an artist’s sketchbook containing the drawing of a twin-gabled house on the bend of a river.

Why does Birchwood Manor feel so familiar to Elodie? And who is the beautiful woman in the photograph? Will she ever give up her secrets?

Told by multiple voices across time, The Clockmaker’s Daughter is a story of murder, mystery and thievery, of art, love and loss. And flowing through its pages like a river is the voice of a woman who stands outside time, whose name has been forgotten by history, but who has watched it all unfold: Birdie Bell, the clockmaker’s daughter.

~*~

Opening with an unnamed voice, reflecting on a distant past, there is an element of mystery and intrigue that crosses time and space, and envelopes several people into the mystery, all of whom have some kind of connection to Birchwood Manor. The story moves between the 1860s parallel to the Pre-Raphaelites, into World War One and Two, and 2017 and various years in between as Elodie, Ada, Lucy and other narrators with a link to Birchwood Manor tell their part of the story as the Clockmaker’s Daughter, Birdie Bell, narrates in interspersed sections that flow with the narration of the other characters as she bears witness to the years from 1862 to 2017, as people come in and out of Birchwood Manor, uncovering the past, attending school and unfurling the history that drew Elodie, and her mother, to the house that inspired a family story Elodie has never forgotten.

AWW-2018-badge-roseEach narrator tells their story, though the house, Birchwood Manor, and Birdie are the stars. Elodie’s story is woven throughout, and the ending to her story is hinted at quite cleverly. Not all stories are wound up as neatly as Birdie’s – as neatly as can be, given the plot, or Lucy’s, or indeed I suppose Elodie’s, where we find out little bits about the end or presumed ending to these stories, but I think this works and adds to the mystery and what the manor bore witness to over the years and decades. This adds to the mystery, and develops the history of the house in a unique ay, where all its secrets are not revealed at once, but gradually, each clue leading to another as the novel progresses.

As each time period is woven in and out of Birdie’s story, the four or five different stories are seen through Birdie’s eyes, and the other characters, each living their own story, contributing to the mystery and intrigue, and history of the house, leaving it with an ongoing sense of self and mystery as Birdie’s spirit lingers within the walls and grounds.

The sense of mystery, the various stories that trailed off once the connections had been made at first feel strange but then fall into place when I realised the star of the novel was truly the manor, and Birdie’s connection to the manor – a connection that slowly became clear as the novel went on, invoking a mystery that was unforeseen at first, and very intriguing.

Where Kate’s previous novels have been focussed very much on the mystery of people, and identity, here she has intersected people and place, and woven it across a span of over 150 years to create a mystery that is seemingly never solved completely solved, yet at the same time, there is a sense that someone knows what happened – is it Elodie, Lucy, Ada or one of the many other people with a link to the manor who discovers the secret that manor is hiding?

The intricacies and complexities of this novel are what make it work, and that allow the wispy strands of some plotlines to float away yet still have a feeling of completion in relation to Birchwood Manor. A stunning read that I really enjoyed.