Tuesday, December 27, 2016

I once applied for a job as a bingo caller. I thought I would be brilliant at it. Legs Eleven! Two ducks swimming! Add in a little bit of nudge, nudge, wink, wink, and Bob’s your Monkey's Uncle. I auditioned....and I didn’t get the job. I was not so secretly gutted. Ever since then bingo has been associated with pain and disappointment.
But I will overcome all that to play………………… Reading Bingo 2016!!!

To put my game into context, this year I have read 86 books (so far- you’re not over yet 2016). I work in a library which, for this non sugar eating bibliophile is exactly the equivalent to being a kid in a lolly shop. Better even. Library books are free! Greedy, greedy me can’t keep my mits off them. (As I work in the children’s area many books I read this year were junior boks. You can read about them over here.)
So here goes. I’m the bingo caller now! Cards ready, pens sharpened - it’s time to play READING BINGO!
First up. Tome alone. ½ a kg of minced beef thanks.
The book over 500 pages. It’s a Big Fat Pappa Franzen.
Both books over 500 pages that I read this year were by Jonathan Franzen. But I am nominating "Purity" because I read on my e-reader at the beach and, in fact, had no idea how many pages it was. May not have read it if I did!

So. Purity. Like all Franzen, it’s cutting, tongue in cheek funny at time, (but at other times the tongue is made of sharpened steel and hurts!) and the tale is all so global, intertwined and complicated. I love the way he tells stories and extrapolates so much from a narrative - all these wonderful glistening threads that he pulls out and curls and plaits and crimps. I enjoy his insight into relationships and his astute observations of families. This book riffs on the cult of celebrity in the age of the internet and on the morals of being a good person and I found it all riveting. For over 500 (unbeknownst) pages.
Next up we have….a Tristram Shandy. A forg-austen. An Edward G Robinson.
Or simply – A Forgotten Classic.
Working in the Library this year, I was pretty excited about new books. The slippery shiny stainless springy spined selection of stories. This year over half of the books I read were published in the last year. The closest to forgotten classic I think I can get is "The Idea of Perfection" by Kate Grenville­­. Winner of the Orange Prize in 2001 this is impressive writing. Bristling description, complex characters, large themes, honest insight, subtle observation and masterful control of narrative. A reminder of the treasure she is. Do you pay that?
Girl on the Train Book to Film Hit.The book that Became a MOVIE.
"Danny the Champion of the World" by Roald Dahl. This year celebrated the 100th anniversary of Roald Dahl's birth. I read Danny The Champion of the World" aloud to my kids. They were perplexed because essentially the protagonists are committing a crime - poaching pheasants - and in these days of political correctness hunting pheasants, stealing pheasants, worshipping an adult who breaks the law and the concept of rich land owners are all perplexing ideas for most kids. But at the heart of this book is a prental bond that knowns no bounds and a community that bonds together to make fools of the rich. What's not to like?
Next up is wooh wooh (I'm blowing on my fingers here) hot off the presses. Hot potatoes. I want some hot stuff baby this evening.
A book Published this Year -

My choice HAS to be "Museum of Modern Love" by Heather Rose. Just finished this book yesterday. It floored me. It infiltrated my dreams and I could barely stop raving to everyone about it all Christmas day. This is an ambitious work of faction (okay I probably made that word up but it’s a short cut…bear with me) based around the performance art piece The Artist Is Present by Maria Abromavic. This book could have been pretentious drivel. Instead it is a moving treatise to the artist, to why humans create and share, to how we love and fail and love again. It is a book that explores the human condition on various levels. It is alive with inspiration and challenges the reader with ideas and insights. This book will win all the prizes in 2017 including the stella or I will eat my crocheted poncho. Really seriously impressive stuff.
We're at Farenheit 451 now people . It's One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish - Book with Number in the Title...
Granta 135 New Irish Writing. Oh I am a sucker for an Irish turn of phrase. This collection had some authors I already knew and loved like Kevin Barry and Colm Toibin but also had me clamouring to find out more about the many authors I discovered and who bowled me over. Colin Barrett! Sara Baume! Sally Rooney! Donal Ryan - lovely to meet you. Memorable gems in here.

We’re hanging tough! N K O T B! *
Book Written by Someone Under Thirty
Emma Cline “The Girls.” Enthralling. Resonates. Brilliant.

Let's do the Monster Mash! Book with a Non-Human character.
What are the odds of reading two books in the one year that have sentient squirrels? The Portable Veblen and Flora and Ulyssus both had enlightened squirrels. Most junior fiction I read always includes at least one memorable dog per book  and H is for Hawk delves into the majesty and mystery of falconry and the power of a relationship with a bird of prey.

But my favourite book with a non human character would have to be, “Confessions of anImaginary Friend.” By Michelle Cuevas. Jacques Papier didn’t know he was imaginary. He just thought everyone, including his parents, didn’t like him. In this memoir we follow Jacques as he discovers he doesn’t really exist and through the resulting existential angst, self-doubt and confusion that, in the end, leads him to where he truly belongs and which is all truly very human.
LOL My Funny Valentine. A Funny book!

 Easily the funniest book I have read in a long time is "Dead Men Don’t Order Flake". By Sue Williams. I was lucky enough to get a signed copy at the launch. The way Sue writes about a small Australian country town, Rusty Bore, is so wry, so true, so warm and so hilarious. The good news is she is working on the third novel in this series. This book is genuinely, embarrassingly laugh out loud funny. And not just because of the leopard print g strings and ferrets.
Next up we have the George Eliot Schmeliot.
Book By Female Author.
Yeah…what? Out of 86 books I read this year 66 were by female authors. For the past few years I have undertaken the Australian Women Writers Challenge (and so should you - click on the link and sign up!) and aimed to read more local female authors. But to tick this bingo box (does that sound rude?) I’m going with “The Glorious Heresies” by Lisa McInerney, 2016 Bailey’s prize winner, a prize for women authors.

Strangely I haven’t seen much buzz about this book and yet it is monumentally good - a mesmerising tale – a spirograph narrative of intersecting lives that loops with the pull of Irelands’ past and powerful religiosity and darts forward with an exploration of post GFC Ireland. It is about how connections to others are unavoidable, can bring damnation, but how the bonds can also bring salvation. McInereny inhabits different characters with such depth and scope it is breathtaking. And the language is electric! Read it.
Mystery Shopper is up next. Book with a mystery.
"Gillespieand I" by Jane Harris.
Oh this book has a few tricks up it’s sleeve. Wonderfully playful unreliable narrator and mystery. A masterpiece.

The Power of One - Book with a One Word Title

"Autumn" by Ali Smith. This is one of my favourite books of the year. Ali Smith wrote this quickly and it is so relevant it is searing with heat. Post Brexit England, Pythonesque bureaucracy, Shakespearian dreams, antique hunting reality shows and the wonderful forgotten art of Pauline Boty written with warmth and wit this book is a stunner.
Short and sweet. Who wants some strawberry shortcake?
Book of Short Stories
"Hey Yeah Right Get a Life" by Helen Simpson. This is the sort of short story writing that makes you never want to attempt short story writing ever again. Too good.
It's a lucky one next. It's get out of jail free card. FREE SQUARE

I have to include "LaRose" by Lousie Erdrich.  A book that destroys your heart and gradually remakes it. A book about indigenous wisdom that seems like madness, about community and the past haunting the present. About grief and revenge. About everything. On the second page I closed the book and wondered if I could go on. I did. And it was worth it. Sometimes I felt I couldn’t breathe with the pain expressed on the pages and at other times it became wondrously, delightfully pedestrian. In the end it is a celebration of endurance: of cultures threatened by colonisation, of hearts broken, of lives destroyed, of grief and guilt and punishment. Ultimately it is about forgiveness.
Next we set sail to a World Apart. There be dragons. Book set on a different continent.
Most books I read were set on a different continent. In fact if you want figures (I draw the line at graphs), 70 of the 86 were set on a different continent to the one I am on. So I will take my pick.
And my pick is the Booker shortlisted “Hot Milk” by Deborah Levy because the sense of place is astonishingly well conveyed and because it is a brilliant book.

Okay, so everyone is raving about it. I know. But it is so good. The best mother daughter relationship I have ever read, dreamlike, dense with meaning, buoyant with humour and weighted with insight.
Next up is, There’s a fraction to much fiction.
Book of Non Fiction
Gut: The Inside Story of our Most Underrated Organ by Guilia Enders is completely enlightening and so important – from the mouth to the poohing, who knew the guts were where it all matters the most – that’s right. Get to the guts of it. This book is scientific, accessible, entertaining and important. Reading this will change how and what you eat….and how you pooh. You will never take your intestines for granted ever again.
Next in your best Julie Andrews voice it's do re me. Start at the very beginning.
First Book of a Favourite Author.
One of the best reads of last few years was Karen Joy Fowler's “We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves.” In the libraryone day I spied Karen Joy Fowler’s first book "Sarah Canary".
It is 1879 west coast America. A mute woman in black appears in the forest. A Chinese man, Chin, is ordered to take her far away. They are locked up in an insane asylum and then escape, taking an inmate with them, BJ. They meet Harold who has a fake mermaid and Adelaide, a suffragette. This is a dreamy, mysterious road story, a retelling of the Wizard of Oz that is wild and weird. It is interspersed with true histories of strangeness and wonder and each chapter begins with Emily Dickenson. A book with great momentum and scope. Utterly absorbing.
Ooh ooh I heard it through the grapevine –  heard about it online.
Shame there isn’t a category – "Heard about it while walking the dog " because there are a few of them on my list of books this year.
A trickier category would be “What didn’t I hear about online?”
How do I hear about books? Personal recommendations in the library, friends, book reviews and the radio. But mostly, increasingly, it is online. Goodreads. Twitter. Lists. Shortlists. Longlists. And that is how I found "The Portable Veblem" by Elizabeth McKenzie.

Don't be put off by the talking squirrels. this books is magnificent, generous, insightful, though provoking, heart warming and grand.

Ca-ching - ca-ching! Money money money, must be funny, in a rich man's world - BEST SELLING BOOK

I have always wanted to read "The Psychopath Test" since hearing an interview with the author Jon Ronson years ago on Radio National. Two things to say about this. The book is riveting. I am not a psychopath.
BOOK BASED ON A TRUE STORY There's a fraction too much faction...

Orphans of the Carnival” By Carol Birch. I am a Carol Birch fan as of about five minutes ago – see later categories- and this was her greatly anticipated new release! But alas, it is a bit disappointing. Based on the true story of Julia Pastrana, a world famous freak show performer in the 1800s who suffered from two conditions – one which caused extreme hairiness and another that thickened her lips and gums giving her an ape-like face. She married her manager but died in childbirth, along with the baby. The manager then had her and the child preserved and stuffed and continued to exhibit her. Yeah. I know.
This book never took off, perhaps too bogged down in the facts. Julia never seemed to have much depth as a character- other than being really sweet and nice. Her manager/husband was a more interesting character but much of the book was a transparent attempt to justify his later actions – embarrassingly transparent. Exposition in dialogue, hackneyed back stories. It was gauche and disappointing.
Okay everyone! Lets play Jenga. Or Stacks on.
A book at the bottom of your reading pile.
I have been meaning to read Jane Gardam for years and years. Finally I did. And now I plan to read as much as I can get. I read “God on the Rocks” A book small but huge; so tightly wound and precise like an exquisite time piece. Words fail me.
The BFF book award. A book your friend loves and now you love too.
Recommendations from friends are often through the online portal of goodreads or twitter or email. And let’s admit it. Some of those friends are not friends. I have never met them, never had a drink with them, never borrowed money from them or lent them a frock, never shared a taxi home or helped them move house. So they don’t really qualify as friends. And some goodread friends are more like the recipient of my stalking. Confession time.  I stalk good readers. Sometimes this leads to friendship. Other times to court orders. (Just joking.) One of those is AnnabelSmith author and voracious reader. Through her I discovered “The Life and Deathof Sophie Stark” by Anna North.

It’s a modern, cinematic book about the necessarily parasitic nature of creating art, the opportunistic hunger inherent in genius, the power of interpreting some one else’s story, questioning who owns a story and can truth be found through a camera lens. Told from various points of view we ask all the way through who is Sophie Stark? "I thought making movies would make me more like other people," said Sophie. "But sometimes I think it just makes me even more like me."
Goosebumps time. A book that Scares you.

"City of Bohane" by Kevin Barry. The violence is visceral. The language is poetry. It is like a futuristic Peaky Blinders written by a time travelling James Joyce.  Sweet.

Next we have - An oldie but a goodie.
A book that is more than ten years old
"Little Sister" by Carol Birch. I discovered Carol Birch books this year while shelving in the library. “Jarmach’s Menagerie” had a grandiose recommendation on the cover by none other than A S Byatt. So I read it. It was terrific! So I grabbed “Little Sister” and read that too. She is a terrific writer – language that is descriptive, perceptive and memorable. This book explores grief and a toxic sibling relationship where the notorious little sister haunts her older sister’s every move.
Oh and we are almost there folks! It's Always the bridesmaid and never the bride. Second Book in a series.
FridayBarnes Under Suspicion” by R A Spratt. This series for kids bristles with cleverness. So smart and entertaining. Recommend them for ten years and over.
And last but not least, please don't tell me that it's over, it's Am I too Blue for you Book with a Blue Cover

Many books seem to have blue covers. But I will have to go with another junior fiction because it's one of the best books I read this year. "Wonder" by RJ Palacio
A junior fiction book about Augie, born with severe facial deformities and always protected from the world by his family until now, when they want him to attend normal middle school. Wonder tells the story of that year from different points of views, including Augie’s voice. It’s a big bear hug squeeze of a book that swells the heart and makes you cry on the tram.

And that, my friends, is it. Bingo!

*N K O T B - New Kids on The Block.
Find me on goodreads here we could be "friends"
p.s. A friend of my grandmother had a stroke. Afterwards she couldn’t speak, except for one word. That’s right. Bingo. Surprisingly, it is a versatile word when it has to be.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Australian Women Writers Challenge Completed

 It's like a long distance endurance event. And, well, I honestly didn't think I'd make it. In the beginning I was so motivated for the Australian Women's Writers Challenge. Pumped up. Nimble. Been in training for two years on smaller challenges. Ready for to go for it!

It started well with Kate Grenville's "Idea of Perfection". Really, you can't go wrong with such an expert writer. You are in safe hands.

Then I made a fatal error. I went too hard too fast. And conked out.

My mistake was to gorge myself on the Stella Longlist (see last post) at the beginning of the year. And it was all too rich, too much the same, too fatty, too dense and I wanted to puke.

Any Australian writer wanting to write about a mother daughter relationship should be first made to read "Hot Milk" by Deborah Levy and "The Portable Veblen" by Elizabeth McKenzie.

These are the recent contemporary books I read.
Anchor Point Alison Robinson
The World Without Us Michelle Juchau
Night Street by Kristal Thornell This was at least different to the other contemporary books I was reading. The imagining of the life of painter Clarice Clift. The language replected the visuals very well. I like the paintings.
And for something completely different and utterly enjoyable I read and reviewed  Dead Men Don't Order Flake by Sue Williams. Worth reading for the ferrets and the laughs. Yes. That's right. Ferrets.

My reading list has been huge and so satisfying this year thanks to my employment in a library with a terrific collection. I soon forgot all about Australian Women Writers while I submerged myself in international literature very happily thanks very much. However my job is in Children's Library services so I did have to read some Young Adult and Junior Fiction and here's where I went back to some Australian Women authors.

Green Valentine By Lili Wilkinson is a whimsical Young Adult tale with environmental tips, fast moving comic plot with enough gravitas to give it weight and enough romance to keep it ticking along. Nothing surprising here but it certainly delivers.

The Summer of Angus Jack by Jen Storer.
Jen is one of my favourite children's author. I highly recommend the Truly Tan and Danny Best Series and her picture book "Clarie's Pig Day Out" never fails to have the kids in fits of giggles. You might have a fart attack!
Angus Jack is for older readers - around 12 years. The book is bursting with mystery and magic.
If you are interested in writing for children then Jen is your go to girl for tips. Check out her website girl and duck. for all sorts of advice.

Iris and the Tiger by Leanne Hall
It has to be said - this book has THE BEST COVER!!! Thanks to the wonderful and talented artist Sandra Eterovic.
Again - for readers 10 plus. This book is set in Spain in an strange old house and it delves head long into the world of surreal art and I liked that a lot. I questioned the plot many times but the playful fun and games of the infusion of surreal elements kept me hooked.

Cicada Summer by Kate Constable Eloise is a grieving girl who has lost her mother and her voice and is dumped with a cranky grandmother she doesn't know. She explores the old abandoned house that once belonged to her grandmother and which her father has great plans to develop. But she finds when she is there that time slips. Who is the little girl she meets there? Could it be her own mother as a child? And what will make her find her voice again?

Okay so here I am finding another trend in these two books of junior fiction. Duplicitous greedy fathers. Hmmm.

Friday Barnes #2 Under Suspicion by R.A.Spratt
These books are so clever and so well written and so brilliant. Get your 10 plus year old kids to read them.

So 10 books of the 80 books I have read this year have been by Australian Women Writers. I've shuffled to the end of the challenge - kind of skipped and cartwheeled along with the junior fiction and crossed the finish line.

The challenge is on again. And I will be there. This is an important venture to rectify the gender imbalance in mainstream reviewing with 70% books reviewed being by male authors. With my job and busy life I haven't done the challenge justice in 2016 and hope to be better, read better and review better in 2017.

On my attempt to read the Stella Longlist

The stella longlist is a like a platter of canapes to those doing the Australian Women Writers challenge. Afterall, here are the top books by Australian women writers for the last year. Naturally I stuck my hand out to the passing plate and stuffed my gob. The result? Well to be honest I’ve overindulged on a string of reading that may have been made with different recipes but all used essentially the same ingredients. And I’m afraid I've got indegestion. Burp. Hiccup.  I’ve developed an intolerance to frustrated artistic mothers, mean mothers, teen girl point of view, hints of climate change and frankly I’m allergic to even traces of hippy communes.

And that is not to say the books are not good. They are! Just not to be taken all at once. And yet – what does it say? Is it coincidence?  Are these themes so central to female concerns? Is it about writing the past?  Writing as therapy? Working out issues? Is it zeitgeist? Fashion? Trend? 

Let’s look at the books I have read from the long list so far:

"The Other side of The World" by Stephanie Bishop – so devastating and beautifully written. Of all of the books this has been the most affecting and interestingly did not make it to the Stella shortlist. This book broke my heart. It was written with great tenderness toward the central characters – a couple at odds in their idea of happiness and their needs. A couple that can’t work it out for reasons of origin, identity, cultural background, ambition and the times. Central to the book is a frustrated artist mother, an immigrant to Australia, who is, at times, mean, neglectful and frustrated. Several times I flinched and wanted to avert my gaze from seeing elements of myself. The ending I found so sad I actually re imagined the whole thing in my head to erase the heavy helplessness that descended on me. This one is distinct in that it is set in the 50’s/early 60’s.

"Anchor Point" by Alice Robinson

For the first third (?) of the book the POV is that of a child/young teenager. A family broken, a mother neglectful mean (yes another frustrated artist with hippy past) also an immigrant to Australia (German) who abandons the family. There is a filter of climate change issues washed over the whole book, set in the bush, in the 80’s through to the future. While the book moved beyond the bad mother incident, the abandonment was central.  A lovely hook to the story was a Hardy-esque secret involving a destroyed letter which has (or should have had) deep consequences.This book broadens in scope, telling a story over decades, but in doing so many themes and tensions become diluted. The language was punchy and poetic. I enjoyed elements very much. Yet I still questioned the central character, plot and motives. There is little joy in this book.

"The World  Without Us" by Mirelle Juchau

A frustrated artist mother with a hippy commune past who is mean and neglectful. A dead sister, a teenage POV for part of the book (And I believe where the book was strongest voice) an immigrant Dad (German again!) and overtures of climate change. I actually found reading this book like trying to get through dense brush  with a rubber chicken instead of a much needed machete. There is no joy in this book, lots of sadness, cruelty and loss. Interestingly – it’s on the shortlist, very similat to "Anchor Point" and if I had to pick the better of the too it would be the Alice Robinson book.

"Hope Farm" by Peggy Frew

I wrote a more detailed review of this book here.

A teenage girl POV. A mother daughter relationship full of misunderstanding. And guess what? A neglectful frustrated mother (although not an artist NOR an immigrant! phew!) ) and a hippy commune. This book is kinder to the mother character, giving her a voice and past and an interesting technique where the reader is privy to information that illuminates the reasons why the mother has come to this point in her life while the daughter character remains in the dark – which heightens the tension and tragedy. Some terrific memorable descriptions and characters.Quite a conventional and accomplished novel. And it's made it to the shortlist.

So that’s my reading of the long list so far and I needed a break. So I'm reading  some international contemporary novels with less description more substance – also by women writers – and reflecting on why Australain Women writers are all writing the same book.

Sunday, March 27, 2016


Well hello blog. Long time no see. Remember me? Here's a photo in case you've forgotten.

Yes I know. It's been worse than silent here.  *crickets *  I’m surprised I have remembered the password let alone how to write a blog post. You’ve been long neglected dear blog. I don’t expect you to forgive me but it would be great if you could take the time to at least listen to my excuses.
I got a full time job! Hooray! I’m working in a library surrounded by books which is just perfect and I also get to do crazy craft with kids...like this....ninjas and rocket jet pack!

AND sing silly songs  AND yes! I even get paid for it. I know. It’s hard to believe.  I love it.

Here's me on my first day smiling my face in half. I wore my 'specially bought Our Lady of Guadalupe frock.

Starting a job after being home with kids for over 9 years has been *ahem* challenging. And I will write more about that...later.

To add to my new roller coaster life there has been the school fete. In the past I have made things for the Made in Merri craft stall and the enviro stall and shown off my creations here for you all. This year I made a little...

button necklaces...
 pom pom hair bands and clips...

crochet card boxes and bowls...



but I was also one of the dynamic duo of gals who coordinated the WHOLE SHEBANG!It was huge! An organisational (nightmare) feat!  (stay tuned for the sitcom "Fete Mums") But it all came together and we made $70,000 for the school. A great achievement and I was so glad to put in the hard work and be involved.

And just because I wasn’t quite busy enough I also formed a band to play at the fete. We’re called Best Western and we did a short sharp set of Country duets.

So yes blog. I’ve been busy! But I’ll try and swing by and tickle your fancies when I can!