Grandpa, Me and Poetry by Sally Morgan, Illustrated by Craig Smith

grandpa me poetry.jpgTitle: Grandpa, Me and Poetry

Author: Sally Morgan, illustrated by Craig Smith

Genre: Children’s Fiction

Publisher: Omnibus/Scholastic

Published: 1st May, 2018

Format: Paperback

Pages: 52

Price: $9.99

Synopsis: Melly likes poems that rhyme with words like frog, bog, doggedy-dog.

And when the school holds a poetry competition, Melly has her eye on the prize, with a little bit of inspiration from Grandpa.

~*~

One of Melly Wilson’s favourite things is poetry, and her favourite person is her grandfather. While Melly is at school, Grandpa is in hospital, and she is learning about poetry – which is something that connects her with Grandpa. Together, they come up with rhymes, and poems that don’t rhyme for school. When a poetry competition is announced, Melly is excited: she loves words that rhyme and wants to write a poem that will stun her teacher and win the competition, and perhaps she will – with some inspiration from Grandpa.

I was sent this book by Scholastic as part of a quiz writing program and decided to also review it here.

AWW-2018-badge-roseGrandpa, Me and Poetry is about Melly, who enjoys poetry – but only if it has sounds, beats and repeats – and if it rhymes. She doesn’t like poems that don’t rhyme, but her teacher does. Melly is a cute character, and the book is told from her perspective, as she worries about her Grandpa, who is in hospital, her Mum and writing the perfect poem to please her teacher and win a prize at Family Day at school. But will Melly have her family there?

It is a story about a family, told from the perspective of the daughter and her love of poetry, and how she uses it to express herself at an uncertain time, with a nice resolution at the end of the story that brings a smile to the face of readers.

As well as being cute, it was also funny. Melly’s rhymes were a highlight and will delight readers as they read it and enjoy the sense of rhyming and rhythm that Melly enjoys too. From her cheeky rhymes in class, to her poem that doesn’t rhyme, and her final poem about her Grandpa, Melly’s poetic journey is funny, cute, and enjoyable. and has a great main character, who is full of life but also, shows that everyone has worries and obstacles that they need to overcome.

A great book for children starting to read chapter books and novels, or for reluctant readers, and also a great book to learn to read with, this is a highly enjoyable book for all ages from one of Australia’s fabulous Indigenous authors.

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Australia Day by Melanie Cheng

Australia Day.jpgTitle: Australia Day

Author: Melanie Cheng

Genre: Short stories, Fiction

Publisher: Text Publishing

Published: 3rd July 2017

Format: Paperback

Pages: 272

Price: $29.95

Synopsis: Australia Day is a collection of stories by debut author Melanie Cheng. The people she writes about are young, old, rich, poor, married, widowed, Chinese, Lebanese, Christian, Muslim. What they have in common—no matter where they come from—is the desire we all share to feel that we belong. The stories explore universal themes of love, loss, family and identity, while at the same time asking crucial questions about the possibility of human connection in a globalised world.

Melanie Cheng is an important new voice, offering a fresh perspective on contemporary Australia. Her effortless, unpretentious realism balances an insider’s sensitivity and understanding with an outsider’s clear-eyed objectivity, showing us a version of ourselves richer and more multifaceted than anything we’ve seen before.

Prizes won:

  • Winner, Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for Fiction, 2018
  • Longlisted, Indie Book Award for Debut Fiction, 2018
  • Longlisted, ABIA Literary Fiction Book of the Year, 2018
  • Longlisted, ABIA Matt Richell Award for New Writer of the Year, 2018
  • Longlisted, Dobbie Literary Award for a first time published author, 2018
  • Shortlisted, Readings Prize for New Australian Fiction, 2017
  • Winner, Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for an Unpublished Manuscript, 2016

~*~

AWW-2018-badge-roseAustralia Day by Melanie Cheng contains fourteen unique, and individual stories about Australians – those born here, immigrants, and from all walks of life, moving through a society and country that has various expectations, and where those they encounter respond to them in a variety of ways, from ignorance to trying to help, to saying the wrong thing and sometimes, misunderstandings that could happen to anyone, as well as clashes of cultural and generational expectations that illustrate the differences in everyone’s lives.

They are simple, yet complex – stories where identities and sense of self are sometimes at war internally, and sometimes externally, and where the flaws of humanity are exposed – no character is perfect, no character knows everything, and no character has ultimate control.

I wasn’t sure what story was my favourite because they were all so different and diverse. Melanie allowed the characters to speak for themselves, revealing their true natures, how they thought and went through their lives. Since publication, Australia Day has won two awards in 2016 and 2018, and been longlisted for four awards this year and shortlisted for one last year – a remarkable achievement for a new book, and very much deserved.

It is filled with various experiences of Australia and Australia Day – the first and last story – both taking place on Australia Day – bookend the book, with the in between stories taking place, around the day, before, or after, but still capturing something of what it means to be Australian, and how this differs for many people, regardless of your race or gender – that being Australian and living in Australia is not the same for everyone. It is a multicultural book, where cultures clash or come together, and where some people try to embrace the multicultural world, and accept it, or where some look upon the differences with disdain or disappointment that things are not what they always expect them to be – perhaps a key factor in Australia, with the ever-changing world we live in. I found this aspect to be the most interesting – to see how different people responded to and accepted difference, or perhaps, struggled to. How people tried but failed to be inclusive or perhaps said the wrong thing or felt trapped by what was going on around them and just tried to fit in with it all. The diversity these stories show give a snapshot into modern Australian life and how everyone is trying to find a way to live together.

An intriguing book, and one I enjoyed, as I don’t often read short stories but thoroughly enjoyed the way these were written and opened my eyes to the different way people approach living in Australia and Australia Day.

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The Belles by Dhonielle Clayton

the belles.jpgTitle: The Belles

Author: Dhonielle Clayton

Genre: Fantasy/Magical Realism, Young Adult

Publisher: Gollancz/Hachette Australia

Published: 13th February 2018

Format: Paperback

Pages: 434

Price: $19.99

Synopsis: ‘Looking for the next big ground-breaking event in YA? This is it.’ Rick Riordan, #1 New York Times bestselling author of the Percy Jackson series Welcome to the dark decadence of Dhonielle Clayton’s sharp tale of beauty, obsession and magic. . . 
I AM A BELLE. I CONTROL BEAUTY.
In the opulent world of Orleans, the people are born grey and damned, and only a Belle’s powers can make them beautiful.
Camellia Beauregard wants to be the favourite Belle – the one chosen by the queen to tend to the royal family.
But once Camellia and her Belle sisters arrive at court, it becomes clear that being the favourite is not everything she always dreamed it would be. Behind the gilded palace walls live dark secrets, and Camellia soon learns that her powers may be far greater – and far darker – than she ever imagined.
When the queen asks Camellia to break the rules she lives by to save the ailing princess, she faces an impossible decision: protect herself and the way of the Belles, or risk her own life, and change the world forever.

‘Sumptuous and original world-building, heart-pounding plot and gorgeous prose.’ Samantha Shannon, New York Times bestselling author of The Bone Season ‘A whip-smart writer with grand, grand talents.’ Roxane Gay, New York Times bestselling author of Bad Feminist ‘Breathtakingly beautiful and deeply unsettling.’ Marie Lu, #1 New York Times bestselling author

~*~

In the magical world of Orléans, beauty is everything, and people will do anything to attain it and hide the drab features they are all born with. But there is a select group of girls who are born into this world with the power of beauty, who have the power to control beauty, and give people the look that they want” The Belles. Each generation has its own set of Belles, going back as far as Orléans does, an isle-like nation where the Belles are placed either in the palace as the favourite, or in the island tea houses to assist clients and make them beautiful, in the image that they desire, though they must adhere to rules set forth by the queen. In the generation in the books, it is Camellia and her sisters, Ambrosia, Hana, Padma, Edelweiss and Valerie who are competing for the role of the favourite. They’ve been training their whole lives for this chance, and when it comes, the result is not what they expected, nor what each of them desired.

Within the walls of the palace are dark secrets, secrets that nobody is privy to, and that the newsies and tatters can merely speculate at and send hushed whispers throughout the kingdom. The only people who truly know what is going on are at the palace – and unable to leave or disobey an order that they are given by the queen or her daughter, Princess Sophia. What Camellia will see, hear and have to do will be dark, and dangerous, hinting at a much darker power than any of the Belles could ever have imagined existing, and resulting in a climax that hints that there might be a sequel to come, as there are quite a few unanswered questions.

The world of the Belles is lavish and shows the darker side of beauty and fashion obsession and what it can drive people to, how desperate they might become. In a world where changing ones skin tone and entire look can be paid for, the racial tensions we experience in our world do not seem to be there, and relationships between the same sex and opposite sexes appeared to me to be the norm – where people are paired up based on alliances and the desires of a princess at times, and at other times, their own, but where a Belle is forbidden to fall in love with anyone. she must remain loyal to her sisters and the tea house she serves.

On the surface of Orléans, things appear perfect: because people seem free to choose their look – skin tone, features, hair colour, eye colour, and clothing (for a price and only if you can afford it), and be with someone you love, the dark, underbelly seems that much more sinister – it is hidden beneath a layer of perfection, and desire for what one cannot be. In a world where loyalty can be bought, Camellia and her sisters will learn the price they must pay for loyalty and their own safety.

As the favourite, Camellia finds an ally in the Queen, her guard, Rémy, and the various former Belles who mentor her, including Arabella, the favourite from a former generation. As the story goes on, secrets are slowly revealed – ensuring that the interest of the reader is held throughout, even in darker areas where characters are forced into situations that where they fear for their lives. In a few scenes, the tension is raised, and the pacing in these scenes works well for what they portray – the darker side of the world the Belles live in and what they must do to survive Sophia.

It is a novel of many layers and facets that were peeled back slowly, and where things were hinted at that perhaps mean future books – the ending felt more like the climax of a to be continued storyline, where there is more to come about the Belles and their origins, secrets and powers.

All in all, I enjoyed reading this. I went into it not really knowing what to expect and was pleasantly surprised. Dhonielle Clayton has created a wonderfully complex world, and I hope we get to find out more about this world and its characters.

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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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2017 Pultizer Prize Winner: The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

undergroud railroad.jpg

Title: The Underground Railroad

Author: Colson Whitehead

Genre: Fiction, Literary Fiction, Historical Fiction

Publisher: Hachette Australia

Published: 26th April, 2017 (latest edition), Trade paperback 9th August 2016

Format: Paperback

Pages: 306

Price: $19.99

Synopsis: #1 NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER and a NEW YORK TIMES BOOK OF THE YEAR

NATIONAL BOOK AWARD WINNER FOR FICTION 2016

2017 Pultizer Prize Winner

‘Whitehead is on a roll: the reviews have been sublime’ Guardian
‘Luminous, furious, wildly inventive’ Observer
‘Hands down one of the best, if not the best, book I’ve read this year’ Stylist
‘Dazzling’ New York Review of Books

Cora is a slave on a cotton plantation in Georgia. All the slaves lead a hellish existence, but Cora has it worse than most; she is an outcast even among her fellow Africans and she is approaching womanhood, where it is clear even greater pain awaits. When Caesar, a slave recently arrived from Virginia, tells her about the Underground Railroad, they take the perilous decision to escape to the North.

In Whitehead’s razor-sharp imagining of the antebellum South, the Underground Railroad has assumed a physical form: a dilapidated box car pulled along subterranean tracks by a steam locomotive, picking up fugitives wherever it can. Cora and Caesar’s first stop is South Carolina, in a city that initially seems like a haven. But its placid surface masks an infernal scheme designed for its unknowing black inhabitants. And even worse: Ridgeway, the relentless slave catcher sent to find Cora, is close on their heels. Forced to flee again, Cora embarks on a harrowing flight, state by state, seeking true freedom.

At each stop on her journey, Cora encounters a different world. As Whitehead brilliantly recreates the unique terrors for black people in the pre-Civil War era, his narrative seamlessly weaves the saga of America, from the brutal importation of Africans to the unfulfilled promises of the present day. THE UNDERGROUND RAILROAD is at once the story of one woman’s ferocious will to escape the horrors of bondage and a shatteringly powerful meditation on history.

~*~

In the antebellum South, Cora hasn’t seen much beyond the cotton plantation she is enslaved at in Georgia. An outcast as a slave and amongst slaves, Cora’s impending womanhood heralds an uncertain and painful future – one that she longs to escape but doesn’t know how. Until Caesar tells her about the Underground Railroad, a network of secret routes and safe houses set up during the nineteenth century to help slaves escape to free states. Assisted by abolitionists along the way to navigate the route and keep hidden from the slave catcher, Ridgeway. Running for her life and freedom after killing a white boy who tried to stop her, Cora must take on new identities and try to blend – working with a system that at each point, brings disadvantage and bondage of different kinds, and faced with the ignorance that breeds racism in the antebellum South.

Separated at one stage from Caesar, Cora must continue alone, and rely on fellow escaped slaves, freemen and abolitionists, all working to abolish slavery in America, in the decades leading up to the Civil War of 1861-1865. In a penultimate confrontation at a community of former slaves and abolitionists, tragedy strikes and Cora must use all the strength she has left to cross over into the free states, and begin to venture into a life she has control over, but that is still scarred by the shackles and chains of slavery.

Before reading this book, I knew a little bit about the antebellum South, the Underground Railroad, and slavery from a university history course on the American Civil War. It did not go into too much depth from memory, so Colson Whitehead’s novel helped to bring these stories to life more for me. As I read Cora’s story, I found it engaging, and at the same time horrifying: it was a story that gripped me on a human level, horrified at the way Cora had been treated, and as soon as she had some hope, it was ripped away too quickly. As the key character, all events and characters are seen through her eyes, and her judgement, but as she travels the Underground Railroad and encounters a variety of people in all walks of life, it felt that Colson Whitehead was showing the breadth and depth of how different people reacted to slavery, and how they felt about it. This made Cora’s story more powerful as she worked out who she could put her trust in and when, and in her dealings with Ridgeway when he caught up with her.

Using this historical backdrop, Whitehead has created a world of authenticity with a darkness to it that can’t be escaped or denied when discussing slavery and the antebellum South in the nineteenth century. Whitehead’s story mingles literary fiction and historical fiction, with a nice balance of character and plot throughout, interspersing Cora’s story with perspectives of her mother, Caesar and an abolitionist’s wife who nursed her back to health when she got sick. Cora travels through states that are determined to drive out the black population entirely, and states who seem to deal with black people but still treat them like second class citizens, or worse. The dehumanising language of slurs and “it” to refer to runaway slaves are shocking – but necessary. They set the tone for the characters and the setting of the novel as well.

Colson Whitehead has sewn the threads of this novel together eloquently, and by evoking a sense of place for each stop along the Underground Railroad, a sense of self in Cora and utilising speech patterns that fit the characters and places, has created a novel that must be read to understand the other side of the story to slavery and the Underground Railroad: the hopelessness felt by slaves, and the way they were mercilessly pursued and viewed as property in many places.

By shocking readers with the raw brutality of this period in time, Colson Whitehead’s novel will hopefully open up a dialogue and allow these issues to be explored further.

Sydney Writer’s Festival Appearances and links:

Colson Whitehead: The Underground Railroad (Conversation)

Saturday 27th May 8.30-9.30PM

https://www.swf.org.au/festivals/festival-2017/colson-whitehead-the-underground-railroad/

Pulitzer Prize Winners Colson Whitehead and Hisham Matar

https://www.swf.org.au/stories/pulitzer-prize-winners-colson-whitehead-and-hisham-matar/

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