Any Ordinary Day by Leigh Sales

Any Ordinary DayTitle: Any Ordinary Day

Author: Leigh Sales

Genre: Non-fiction

Publisher: Penguin Random House

Published: 19th November 2019

Format: Paperback

Pages: 272

Price: $24.99

Synopsis: The day that turns a life upside down usually starts like any other, but what happens the day after? Dual Walkley Award-winner Leigh Sales investigates how ordinary people endure the unthinkable.

As a journalist, Leigh Sales often encounters people experiencing the worst moments of their lives in the full glare of the media. But one particular string of bad news stories – and a terrifying brush with her own mortality – sent her looking for answers about how vulnerable each of us is to a life-changing event. What are our chances of actually experiencing one? What do we fear most and why? And when the worst does happen, what comes next?

In this wise and layered book, Leigh talks intimately with people who’ve faced the unimaginable, from terrorism to natural disaster to simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Expecting broken lives, she instead finds strength, hope, even humour. Leigh brilliantly condenses the cutting-edge research on the way the human brain processes fear and grief, and poses the questions we too often ignore out of awkwardness. Along the way, she offers an unguarded account of her own challenges and what she’s learned about coping with life’s unexpected blows.

Warm, candid and empathetic, this book is about what happens when ordinary people, on ordinary days, are forced to suddenly find the resilience most of us don’t know we have.

~*~

Any Ordinary Day, winner of the 2019 Walkley Book Award, looks at those moments in life, the tragedies, the horrific situations, that happen on days that start like any other – as any ordinary day. A day where we get up and begin our ordinary routine to go about our daily lives. Until something out of the ordinary, like a sudden death, a landslide, an accident – or something like the death of a well-known figure such as Princess Diana, the 9/11 attacks or the Lindt Café Siege – occurs, and the world of the people connected to people involved in such events, and even beyond, is altered forever, and the subsequent grief and other reactions that come from it differ from person to person, and situation to situation. This is what Leigh considers in her book, as well as the role of the media, her career as a journalist and how the beginning of the twenty-four hour a day, seven days a week rolling news cycle altered reporting when it began around the First Gulf War.

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Within this book, as well as the human cost and reaction to events that are life-changing, Leigh examines how the demands of the need to know can impact how a journalist reports – where they need to navigate ethics, time constraints, and pressure not just from the public but by those that employ them. She acknowledges that the new media, the insertion of new technologies that allow people to access, and perhaps wat, news at their fingertips at any time of the day, has and can affect how the media responds to, and reports the news. In one case she talks about throughout the book, the Lindt Café Siege, she talks about one survivor she talked to, who had also been dealt a blow with her health, and how she dealt with the aftermath, and worked her way back to her life and what she was dealt. In some cases, Leigh points out that there were instances where people (specifically, the research she talks about from American institutions where people were asked about why they thought something bad had happened to them) thought it was God’s will, or it was meant to happen and various sentiments along those lines. In contrast, it felt like the Australians she spoke to – Stuart Diver, Hannah Richell and others – found more pragmatic ways to move on, even if it took them some time. Walter Mikac, who lost his wife and daughters in the 1996 Port Arthur Massacre, started the Alannah and Madeleine Foundation to help children touched by violence as a way to help him remember his daughters and find a way to move on. What all of these examples have in common is that everyone will find a different way to cope with tragedy and will find their own ways to move on.

The role of the media in presenting stories can drastically affect how the public views those involved. Leigh illustrates a vulnerability in examining her role in inadvertently hurting people, and taking feedback into future stories, so she knows where she has gone wrong as she’s tried to balance ethics and the public need to know. She tells stories where she has been worried about what to write or report on, and where she has held back, especially early in her career where she was plagued with uncertainties. She also points to how a journalist reporting on a medical student who was missing for about two months, and who ran a story on 60 minutes soon after and how the public response was somewhat against him. It was a story she heard about second hand, and as with all the examples here, researched it.

Leigh also talks about a few times where her own life – her children, and the challenges of one being disabled and a difficult birth, things she has managed to get through with the help of friends, and the overwhelming feelings of gratefulness she felt. By combining her experiences and research, I feel Leigh has given a well-rounded take on how news reports on certain events from her perspective, and how something out of the ordinary can change us – and how events like the death of Princess Diana and 9/11 are the kinds of events where we all remember where we were when we found out. I remember that day in August 1997 – we were in David Jones buying a new computer when it was splashed across the television screens in the electronics department. Watching it unfold there and at home is a clear memory, and perhaps a good example of why the twenty-four seven news cycle doesn’t help anyone – those involved in the stories, the journalists and the viewers – because there will always be facts that cannot be delivered when they need to be or when viewers think they should. Perhaps the only exception to this rule is an event like the catastrophic bushfire situation plaguing the whole of Australia at the moment – where we need to know if we need to evacuate or what the fire fronts are doing. Other stories perhaps, can wait until all the facts are in place, and I felt like this is something Leigh grapples with – and has her whole career as she entered the world of journalism as this sensation was taking off.

Finally, keeping in mind that the role of technology has changed the way reporting happens – and the way it can now beam these tragedies as they happen into our living rooms, there is a further impact – on those who see it that way, and the way we try to cope with it. It is at its heart about dealing with the blows of life that come our way, and how everyone deals with them differently.

Pippa’s Island: Camp Castaway by Belinda Murrell

pippas island 4.jpgTitle: Pippa’s Island: Camp Castaway

Author: Belinda Murrell

Genre: Fiction

Publisher: Penguin Random House

Published: 2nd April 2018

Format: Paperback

Pages: 240

Price: $14.99

Synopsis: Pippa and friends are off to a tiny tropical island for school camp – but what happens when their group are split up?

The students in class 5M are heading off to school camp. Pippa has never been away on camp before, at least not to a deserted tropical island! The Sassy Sisters look forward to five blissful days together exploring Shipwreck Island’s beaches and lagoon. But when the teams get regrouped, Pippa has to learn to cooperate with Olivia and the other girls.

Mrs Marshall promised challenges and adventure, but she forgot to mention the pranks. After one too many of the boys’ tricks, the girls decide to take their revenge.

Will class 5M survive Camp Castaway?

~*~

Pippa is off on her first real camping trip – five days away on a deserted island with her class, and the Sassy Sisters. All seems to be going well until Mrs Marshall and Zoe change the teams around – splitting up the Sassy Sisters and putting Pippa and Meg with Olivia and her friends. They must learn to work together for the next few days – with Meg and Pippa making an effort to include everyone, but Olivia taking charge and thinking everyone should do what she says. All the while, the boys are playing pranks on the girls – and when they get pushed too far, they decide to take revenge, leading to a bonding experience between Pippa and Olivja.

2019 BadgeThe fourth Pippa’s Island book is my one hundredth book by an Australian Women Writer for 2019. This is a delightful series, and I have one book left to read in it before I have read all that is available. These books capture what it is like to be twelve, and to be the new kid, and what it is like trying to fit in and make new friends, but also, trying to understand different people when forced to work together, which is the focus of this book.

I started reading this series a couple of months ago, and now that I am one away from finishing what is out, I am hoping there will be more to come, as they really are lovely stories with universal themes of friendship and feeling like an outsider – things that we have all felt at some point, whatever our age, race, gender, sexuality, and many other aspects, such as having a disability. These stories are universal and diverse in many ways and allow kids to see a bit of themselves in each of the characters.

I’m looking forward to reading the next book in the new year – I really want to see Pippa’s house finished and what happens next for her family – I feel like there are many things that could happen with this series, and it will be one of those key series for girls of a certain age and their friends. Another great Belinda Murrell book, and I am looking forward to reading more from her in the future.

Best books of 2010 to 2019

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In compiling this list, I had to go back to all my reading log lists – which I began in about 2006, and to date have over 1300 on my combined list. But in doing this, I discovered it was quite difficult to narrow things down to just a handful of ten or fifteen like Theresa did. In fact, there was one series that had one book a year from 2010 to 2019 that could have made up my entire list – but instead, it has comprised one entry as a series.

So, in no particular order:

The Matilda Saga (2010 – 2019)

The Matilda Saga began with A Waltz for Matilda in 2010 and ended this year with the ninth and final book, Clancy of the Overflow. It tells history from a different side – the voices often silenced based on race, gender, class or a combination of these, and other factors such as disability, and other experiences that are not always recorded in the history books. From 1894 to the 1980s, the series spans nearly one hundred years of changes in Australian society – from cars to Federation, to war and the social movements of the sixties and seventies. This is a series well-deserving of a place on this list.

Miss Lily series (2017-2019)

Miss Lily begins just before the outbreak of World War One and has taken us so far to the Wall Street crash of 1929, and the beginning of the Great Depression that would lead into Nazi Germany and another war that would see millions killed in concentration camps, and on the battlefield. With book four due out in 2020, this is a series I am watching keenly to see where it takes us and our beloved Sophie. The Miss Lily series also has three e-books set at Christmas, one of which I am yet to read.

Medoran Chronicles (2014-2019)

This has a place as a whole series because this is the series that got my blogging journey started seriously – when the publisher was looking for reviewers for the first book, Akarnae. I said I would, and from there, the blog grew, as did my love for the series, reviewing each subsequent book for Pantera Press over the years until the final one earlier this year, Vardaesia. From wonder to heartbreak, and everything in between, this series has it all, and the way certain aspects are executed are exceptional and done in a way that is heart-warming, heartbreaking, and very, very fitting for the characters.

Rowland Sinclair Mysteries (2010 – 2019)

Ahh, Rowly. I was introduced to Rowland Sinclair by the NSW Writer’s Centre when they were seeking reviewers with book two, and since then, have read the entire series and sent the reviews to Pantera Press. I am looking forward to reading more of these books as they come out. Poor Rowly has been through many beatings and been caught up in investigating many murders, attacks and with politics that are quite the opposite to his brother, Wilfred. Accompanied by sculptress, Edna, fellow artist, Clyde, and communist Jewish poet, Milton, Rowly travels the world and Australia during the turbulent 1930s as Europe hurtles towards yet another war, twenty years after the end of the war to end all wars.

Kensy and Max (2018-2019)

I have read all four available Kensy and Max books, and love them all. They’re fun, and engaging, and filled with danger, wonder, intrigue and friends. As spy kids, Kensy and Max – twins – are training with fellow students at Pharos, whilst trying to keep the kids who aren’t spies at school from discovering what they are up to, and travelling across the world on various missions. From London to Sydney, Rome and Paris, it seems trouble will always find Kensy and Max – but they will always manage to find a way out of it and get back to their family.

2010

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Now by Morris Gleitzman

2011

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One of Our Thursdays is Missing by Jasper Fforde

2012

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Bitter Greens by Kate Forsyth

2013

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The Wild Girl by Kate Forsyth

2014

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The Sequin Star by Belinda Murrell

2015

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The Beast’s Garden by Kate Forsyth

2016

Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz

Barbed Wire and Cherry Blossoms by Anita Heiss

2017

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Beauty in Thorns by Kate Forsyth

2018

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Pippa’s Island: Cub Reporters by Belinda Murrell

2019

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488 Rules for Life by Kitty Flanagan

Again, many of these are Australian authors, some with multiple entries but their books just stayed with me and wouldn’t let me rest, for a variety of reasons. Of course, some appeared on my list for this year – as the books for the year, but these are the ones that made deep impacts on me, and the ones I can actually remember being published in these years – some I wanted to include I wasn’t sure but I loved them anyway and may need to write something about other books I have enjoyed at some point when things calm down. As for the ones with entries in both – these were ones that had such impact, it was difficult to choose which book from the series to include.

So rather than one per year, I probably now have closer to up to five for each year, and many are fairly heavy in what they deal with, but some are lighter, and filled with humour. It was very hard to decide – I wanted to include everything possible! Okay, 2016 has two entries – but for very different reasons. Upon reading the reviews you will see why. So there you have it. The books that made the biggest impressions on me for many, many reasons over the past ten years. Some authors get multiple mentions – because they wrote books that had many impacts on me and they created worlds I never want to leave, and worlds I will have to revisit.

 

Best Books of….2019

Readings and Musings on all things books, Aussie authors and everything in between

As the year comes to a close, many in the book blogging and reviewing community, and the book community in general – radio shows, podcasts, authors – have been posting and recording about this. And let me tell you, it is hard, and often, so many good ones are left off, and to me, ranking them is just mean because how can you rank books? Especially all those ones that stayed with you.

I had hoped 2019 might be easier to start with – not only do I have the list with me now, but for 2010-2019 I need to go back into other lists and hope I have those records. Or at least be able to work out what books I read that were published between those dates. 2019 seems to be the easiest place to start – as I have that list easily at hand for now. Out of 196 read so far, I found fourteen I loved – and the majority are by Australian women. Of course, these are in no particular order of favouritism, simply the order I read them throughout the year as that was easier to copy across.

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Vardaesia by Lynette Noni

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The French Photographer by Natasha Lester

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Kensy and Max: Undercover by Jacqueline Harvey

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 Women to the Front: The Extraordinary Australian Women Doctors of the Great War by Heather Sheard and Ruth Lee

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The Blue Rose by Kate Forsyth

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While You Were Reading by Ali Berg and Michelle Klaus

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Kensy and Max: Out of Sight by Jacqueline Harvey

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There Was Still Love by Favel Parrett

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Rebel Women who Changed Australia by Susanna de Vries

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The Glimme by Emily Rodda

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Weapon by Lynette Noni

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Pages and Co #2: Tilly and the Lost Fairy Tales by Anna James

The Lily in the Snow

The Lily in the Snow by Jackie French

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Clancy of the Overflow by Jackie French

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All the Tears in China by Sulari Gentill

Even though we still have two weeks left in December, I’m trying to get as many of these posts ready as possible – with my full wrap up posts appearing at the very end of the month or early in the new year, as well as the start of all my reading challenges in 2020 as well.

Choosing best of lists is always hard – there are often so many good books, but this year I went with the ones that stood out for me. Some that did were published earlier than 2019 and will possibly make it onto the 2010-2019 list – which of course, is bound to be longer and have entire series on there as I simply cannot choose only one from each year. It feels like a betrayal to a whole series to do that!

So there you are – for once I was able to choose fourteen favourites!

 

Mermaid Holidays: The Reef Rescue by Delphine Davis and Adele K Thomas (Illustrator)

mermaid holidays 4.jpgTitle: Mermaid Holidays: The Reef Rescue

Author: Delphine Davis and Adele K Thomas (Illustrator)

Genre: Fantasy

Publisher: Penguin Random House

Published: 3rd December 2019

Format: Paperback

Pages: 128

Price: $9.99

Synopsis: Sign up for Sea Star Reef Summer Camp and join Olivia Ocean, Chloe Coral, Sophia Seashell and Willow Wave for another splashing adventure in MERMAID HOLIDAYS . . .

The mermaids are off on a summer camp adventure. Olivia can’t wait! She loves camping under the waves, eating sea cucumber sizzles and EXPLORING. But when the besties find themselves on the wrong side of the reef things start to go very, very wrong.

Buckle up for a rip-roaring reef rescue!

~*~

In the fourth Mermaid Holidays book, focused on Olivia Ocean, the four friends – Willow, Chloe, Sophia and Olivia are back for the summer holidays, and this time they’re off on a summer camp adventure under the sea, next to a reef. They are determined to have fun and adventures, and to look for a creature called the Dumbo octopus!

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But with an angry camp director leading the explorer activities, Olivia and her friends decide to head off on their own, to explore the reef. When they find themselves in the out of bounds area of the reef, lost, and not sure how to get back to camp, they must work together to get back to camp before anyone can notice they are gone!

This was the fourth, and I believe, final book in this series, and it is just as charming as its predecessors. Each mermaid is unique and the activities they choose at camp reflect what they all enjoy and have enjoyed individually and as a group in the previous three books.

This series celebrates friendship and girls doing what they like and enjoy without relying heavily on gender stereotypes, and can be enjoyed by all ages. It allows each character to be herself but also shows that not everything will always work out  – and working together is sometimes the best outcome for everyone.

A great series for younger readers who are starting to gain confidence reading alone, or to read with children learning to read, and enjoy the stories together.

 

Pippa’s Island: The Beach Shack Café by Belinda Murrell

Pippas island 1.jpgTitle: Pippa’s Island: The Beach Shack Café

Author: Belinda Murrell

Genre: Fiction

Publisher: Penguin Random House

Published: 3rd July 2017

Format: Paperback

Pages: 240

Price: $14.99

Synopsis: A gorgeous new series about friendships, family and seaside adventures, from our beloved bestselling author Belinda Murrell!

Pippa has just arrived at a new school, in a new town, and even living on a gorgeous island isn’t cheering her up. Her arrival causes ripples at Kira Island Primary School – but Pippa soon starts to make friends with eco-warrior Meg, boho-chick Charlie, and fashionista and cupcake baker Cici.

Pippa’s mum plans to buy a rustic old boatshed and start a bookshop cafe, and Pippa worries they’ll lose all their money in this madcap venture – until her new friends come to the rescue to help get the grand opening back on track.

Will Kira Island ever feel like home?

~*~

Starting a new school is always scary – but for Pippa Hamilton, she has had her entire life uprooted, moving from all she has known in England, to a small island in Australia called Kira Island. In between school, she is helping her mum get the beach café/bookstore ready while she lives in a caravan with her mum, brother Harry, and sister, Bella, behind their grandparents’ house. Yet it is school that poses the real challenge: though she meets four really cool girls who will become her best friends – CiCi, Charlie and Meg – Pippa still feels isolated by popular girl Olivia, who seems nice enough, yet when Pippa starts doing better than her, tensions arise.

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At the same time, Pippa is trying to deal with what has happened between her parents, keeping things close until she learns she can really trust her new friends. Pippa is relatable, and fun, and filled with such joy that she shines off the page and dances around. Her story is engaging for all ages over nine. What I loved about Pippa’s Island was the uniqueness each character brought to the series and the way it all unfolded – in a classy, fun and stimulating way that wasn’t too complicated or too simple, and perfect for reading anywhere – on the couch, in bed, at the beach.

There were times when I felt like I was on Kira Island, and living near a beach, it was easy to imagine that some of the things that happened could have happened at the local beach as well – a bookshop café would be awesome to have where I live! So, once I get the chance, I will be heading to my local bookstore to grab the next two or three in the series to follow  Pippa’s adventures on Kira, and these will make for great summer reading.

 

The Christmasaurus and the Winter Witch by Tom Fletcher

christmasaurus winter witch.jpgTitle: The Christmasaurus and the Winter Witch

Author: Tom Fletcher

Genre: Fantasy/Christmas

Publisher: Puffin

Published: 15th October 2019

Format: Paperback

Pages: 368

Price: $24.99

Synopsis: The magical new story from bestselling author of The Christmasaurus and The Creakers, Tom Fletcher.

‘She is the best-kept Christmas secret of all,’ whispered Santa Claus. ‘Which is surprising, because Christmas itself would not exist without her. She is older than time itself, yet still as young as tomorrow. She is known only as the Winter Witch.’

One year has passed since William Trundle’s incredible adventure with the most extraordinary dinosaur: the Christmasaurus. Now, William is swept back to the magical North Pole, where he meets the mysterious, icy Winter Witch – whose power to control time allows Santa Claus to make the long journey all around the world every Christmas Eve. And when they learn that the fate of Christmas itself hangs in the balance, William and the Christmasaurus must work with the Winter Witch to protect it . . .

Full of magic and music, humour and heart, and a friendship like no other, The Christmasaurus and the Winter Witch is the most enchanting Christmas read for the whole family.

~*~

Christmas stories are always fun, and I love discovering new ones, and reading them, as well as the classics like A Christmas Carol and The Nutcracker during December if I can to get in the mood for Christmas as we decorate and bake for Christmas, and listen to the music and watch the movies and sometimes, the Christmas episodes of my favourite shows. I’ve not yet read the book that introduces the Christmasaurus, but I have added it to my list, as I feel it would be interesting and fun to read.

This is the second book, and starts when William, his father, Bob, stepmother, Pamela and stepsister, Brenda, are starting their Christmas break, and getting into the Christmas spirit completely – from what they wear, to what they bake and many traditions that Bob and William have enjoyed over the years. What is different this year, is that they are taken up to the North Pole to see Santa and the Christmasaurus.

Here, William is given a special bean and a wish as gifts – and he decides to save them for something special, until he notices the bean has disappeared when they arrive home, after Brenda has to go to her father. What happens next threatens Christmas’ very existence – and it is up to William and Christmasaurus to find a way to save Christmas, with the help of the Winter Witch, and ensure everyone goes on believing.

There are many things I love about this book. First, CHRISTMAS! Christmas stories are delightful, cheery and make readers feel good and bring joy to the holiday and show that there is more to it than what we are led to believe. Each story has its own magic and mythology that imbibes Christmas with its very magic and joy that we should all be able to experience with those we love. Second, the main character is disabled! This may not seem important to some readers, but for wheelchair users or who use mobility devices or are limited in some way due to a disability, this is fantastic! William is able to do things in his wheelchair, his family and Christmasaurus adapt for him so he isn’t left out and most importantly, he’s just disabled. I haven’t read the first book, but I want to so I can see how Will does things in that book as a wheelchair user, and the other challenges he faces, which are not shied away from here, but also, I felt, not dealt with as impossible. Nothing big is made of it, he just is. He’s his own person, not an object of pity, or passively treated character as some disabled characters are. And he is allowed to be disabled. This is fabulous – it shows that disabled kids and adults can be and do things like everyone else. We just have to find a different way to do it.

Third – a new take on Christmas with Christmasaurus. Combining dinosaurs and Christmas is a wonderful idea, and very creative. I loved that William and his father were so welcoming to Brenda and her mother, and that they wanted Brenda to stay for their family Christmas. Mostly, I just like a good story and this one had so many elements that worked for me and was so funny that I just gobbled it up and loved the way it incorporated lines and references from songs sung or played around Christmastime. And the Winter Witch’s role in Christmas – that was a new, and unique take on it and seeing how it all worked was a lot of fun in the end, and I hope kids and other readers find this book entertaining and wonderful as well.

A good book to read in the lead up to Christmas or at Christmas, or even as a Christmas gift from Christmasaurus himself. I recommend this for all ages!