Friday, 21 April 2017

Back Between the Sleepers once more

Those of you I've met around the place in Perth this year will probably know that I've been working on a collection of short fiction entitled "Well-Behaved Women".  This collection, featuring the stories which have been previously published or shortlisted in other places, as well as some new work I've been developing over the last six months, has been a consuming project.  I was inundated with different character voices I didn't know I'd been storing up for later.  All sorts of things were inspiring me.  The news.  Our trip to Albany.  Classic Australian literature.  People I saw on the street.  I was getting close to having enough stories to start thinking about arrangement.

And then everything came to a crashing halt.  

I mean everything.  My short stories, this blog... even writing in my journal.  I was fresh out of ideas, and what's more, I was completely out of words for the stories I was trying to rework.  

All of this happened at around the time of the Perth Writers' Festival which was two months ago now.  

You see, I handed over the manuscript of my historical fiction novel to a local writer who had offered to mentor me.  I thought I would be fine, that I would work away on my short stories, practise my craft, sharpen the knives of my prose on the metaphorical whetstone so to speak.  But the part of my brain that writes fiction seemed to shut down.  

Okay, I thought.  That's fine.  I'll have a break.  I'll read some of the many novels piling up next to my bed and on my desk and in our living room.  I'll write some reviews.  I'll get myself mentally ready for the next draft of Between the Sleepers.  I had a few months.  I would be fine.  

Essentially, I was going to trick myself into writing again, but I wasn't going to be fooled by myself that easily, as it seemed.  

As time wore on, it got worse and worse.  It reached its apex two weeks ago when I couldn't even bring myself to write during one of the fortnightly Write Nights sessions which I help run at the Centre for Stories.  Writing prompts did not move me, writing books did not move me, listening to Elizabeth Gilbert's podcast did not move me and meditation did not move me.  By this point, I was ropeable.  I had a mini tantrum just the other night because I felt like I was turning into a blocked drain with legs.  

And then, like the clouds parting after a particularly vicious storm, a thought came to me while I was sitting at my desk at work.  Just a simple premise at first, but then layers started to build until I had a character and a situation.  I quickly scribbled them down, and that night, when writing time came around... 1000 words came.  

And then the next day, my manuscript assessment came back.  So now, it's time to get down to business on the tenth draft of Between the Sleepers, and wait for the short story well to fill up again.  

Monday, 17 April 2017

Easter Long Weekend- The Four Day Book Binge

I don't know about all of you, but I find it somewhat frustrating when I go a while without finishing any books.  I've had writer's block lately, and I've also been reading really long fantasy novels that were recommended to me, so I actually was reading-- but it had started to feel like all I ever did was sit around watching television.  It's the Netflix curse.  It's far too easy to turn the TV on now and then realise a few hours later that you've forgotten to do vital things like wash clean clothes for the next day, or take a shower, or exercise.  (Just kidding.  You can't forget to do something you had no intention of doing in the first place... although I really should...)

Anyway, with the glorious prospect of a four day weekend ahead of me (thank you, Easter), I decided to hit the reset button, and set myself a reading challenge.  I was going to finish four books in four days.  Or, to be realistic, I knew that I could probably finish two books in that time, but that if I really loved the books I chose, I could probably make it to four.  So I aimed high.

It's been a great weekend.  Many cups of tea have been consumed.  In fact, I have had so many cups of tea this weekend that my boyfriend is sick of making them for me.  (He shouldn't make such delicious tea, then I wouldn't ask him all the time.)  I've eaten WAY too much chocolate (see above comment about exercise.)  And I've almost finished my fourth book.  I also have a slightly sore back from lazing around so much but I'm not going to dwell on that.

Here are the books I read over the long weekend.

Before they are Hanged by Joe Abercrombie

The last book in the the First Law trilogy.  This was a recommendation from the boyfriend, who loved these books he's devoured all three of these, plus the three companion novels, and is currently reading the recently released short story collection from the same universe.  Yep.  He loves them.  And I can see why.  There are a lot of tropes in fantasy, but Abercrombie's characterisation is complex and challenging, and it's not always true that you can see clearly who the good guys are and the bad guys are.  It's hard to guess any of the major plot points in these books but they've clearly been thought out.  I really enjoyed jumping out of my comfort zone and into the realm of epic fantasy... but gosh did these books take FOREVER to read.  Full disclosure, I was halfway through this book when I woke up Friday.

The Hidden Hours by Sara Foster

I think Sara Foster has really hit her stride with her last two novels, which were more firmly grounded in the thriller genre.  She's a master of making you turn the page, enticing her reading through a trail of breadcrumbs to keep going until the whole book has been read in a single sitting.  I loved that the premise of The Hidden Hours was a murder within the publishing industry, because it was that detail which made this reader who usually avoids crime novels pick up this book as soon as the library got it in stock (in fact, she may have asked the library to get it.)  Through a recent trend in domestic thrillers which feature a central character who is not a detective or part of the police, books like this are challenging the typical and frankly sometimes tired murder mystery genre, experimenting with unreliable, inexperienced and sometimes untrustworthy points of view to force the reader to take a more active role in the investigation.  Though the fact that Eleanor, the main character of The Hidden Hours, was unable to remember her part in the crime because of memory loss led me to think of The Girl on the Train, I relished the way that Foster used clever characterisation to flip notions of 'victim' and 'perpetrator' on their heads.  I definitely recommend you read this.  Make sure you have a whole day free.

The Wrath and the Dawn and The Rose and the Dagger by Renee Ahdieh

A YA/ Romance retelling of the 1001 Nights, The Wrath and the Dawn and it's sequel, The Rose and the Dagger tell the story of Shahrzad, who volunteers to wed the caliph of Khorasan, knowing full well that he murders his brides with a silver cord at dawn.  She enters the marriage intent on getting revenge for the murder of her best friend, Shiva, but discovers that there is more to the situation than meets the eye.  But can that ever excuse what has been done?  I've not finished the sequel yet, and I'll be back in the chair after this to do so, but what I love about these books is the way the elements of the setting and the culture have been gently braided into the narrative, the strength of Shahrzad as a character, and the effortless feel of the romance between the two main characters.  There are no heaving bosoms, there are very few cliches, and I completely believe that these characters belong together without the author having to lecture me about it.  She saves her words for more important parts of the plot.  I recommend if you're going to read book one, you have book two ready to go-- don't make the mistake I made, finishing book one when all the libraries and bookstores were out of your reach.

Now that I'm feeling nice and rested (and actually ready to go back to work... who knew!?), hopefully my writer's block will go away.  
Here's hoping!

Monday, 10 April 2017

Progress Report- Most Anticipated Reads

Last December, I posted this piece about the books coming out in the first half of 2017 I was excited to get my hands on.  But like so many bookworms, I have a habit of never getting around to reading all of the things I want to read-- or, even worse, buying them, and letting them pile up and never reading them.  In an effort to keep myself accountable, I thought I'd check in and see how many of the books I wanted to read I had actually read!

I've removed a few that aren't out yet or have only just been released.

The Fifth Letter by Nicola Moriarty

Have I read it?  Yes!

Did I love it? Yes!  I enjoyed this book so much more than the latest book by that other famous Moriarty and I would definitely put another book by Nicola Moriarty on my most anticipated books list again.  


Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders

Have I read it? No, but I do own it.  I am hoping to get to it very soon!

A little taster from the blurb on Goodreads... On February 22, 1862, two days after his death, Willie Lincoln was laid to rest in a marble crypt in a Georgetown cemetery. That very night, shattered by grief, Abraham Lincoln arrives at the cemetery under cover of darkness and visits the crypt, alone, to spend time with his son’s body. 

The Possessions by Sara Flannery Murphy

Have I read it? Yes.

Did I love it? The Possessions is already a strong contender for one of my top books of the year. It was dark and delicious with this intelligent, Margaret Atwood style writing and I want more. 


The Roanoke Girls by Amy Engel

Have I read it?  Not yet but I do own it.

From the Goodreads blurb: After her mother's suicide, fifteen year-old Lane Roanoke came to live with her grandparents and fireball cousin, Allegra, on their vast estate in rural Kansas. Lane knew little of her mother's mysterious family, but she quickly embraced life as one of the rich and beautiful Roanoke girls. But when she discovered the dark truth at the heart of the family, she ran fast and far away.Eleven years later, Lane is adrift in Los Angeles when her grandfather calls to tell her Allegra has gone missing.

See What I Have Done by Sarah Schmidt

Have I read it?  It one of the books on my TBR pile next to my bed.  I still can't believe I didn't read this months ago when I first got the proof copy.  

Read more on Sarah Schmidt's blog if you dare!

Difficult Women by Roxane Gay

Have I read it?
Technically yes, but I didn't finish it.  

Did I love it? No.  I was a bit disappointed in this book. 


The Keeper of Lost Things by Ruth Hogan

Have I read it?

Am I still going to? Probably not!  This was a case of cover lust for me and I have to be realistic--- there are only so many books I can read a year.  

You Too Can Have a Body Like Mine by Alexandra Kleeman

Have I read it?
Am I still going to?  Again, probably not.  

Trapeze Act by Libby Angel

Have I read it? No, but I own it and I plan on getting to it soon.

This novel is about a young woman whose mother was a world-famous circus performer, worked out on her lout of a husband while on tour in Australia, and tried to settle down in Adelaide...  sounds great, right?  Hurry up January so I can find out!

Came Back to Show You I Could Fly (Text Classics) by Robin Klein

Have I read it? Yes, I finished it last week and I can't believe I read this in Primary School.  There's no way I would have understood all the references to drugs and clinics and prostitution back then.  Still an excellent book.  I am now pondering whether I want to read all of the Melling Sisters books.  

Her Mother's Secret by Natasha Lester

Have I read it yet?  

Did I love it?  I love all of Natasha's books and always enjoy escaping into them.


Armistice Day should bring peace into Leonora's life. Rather than secretly making cosmetics in her father's chemist shop to sell to army nurses such as Joan, her adventurous Australian friend, Leo hopes to now display her wares openly. Instead, Spanish flu arrives in the village, claiming her father's life. Determined to start over, she boards a ship to New York City. On the way she meets debonair department store heir Everett Forsyth . . . (Goodreads)

Ambulance Girls by Deborah Burrows

Have I read it? Just finished it recently.
Did I love it?  It was pretty delightful and made a great weekend read.  My favourite Burrows is still definitely Taking a Chance though.


From Goodreads: As death and destruction fall from the skies day after day in the London Blitz, Australian ambulance driver, Lily Brennan, confronts the horror with bravery, intelligence, common sense and humour.

Gwen by Goldie Goldbloom

Have I read it yet?
No!  And I have had it since before Christmas.  Shameful.

In 1903, the artist Gwendolen Mary John travels from London to France with her companion Dorelia. Surviving on their wits and Gwen’s raw talent, the young women walk from Calais to Paris. In the new century, the world is full of promise: it is time for Gwen to step out from the shadow of her overbearing brother Augustus and seek out the great painter and sculptor Auguste Rodin. It is time to be brave and visible, to love and be loved – and time perhaps to become a hero as the stain of anti-Semitism spreads across Europe.

The Hope Fault by Tracy Farr

Have I read it yet? Again, no!  I am sorry Tracy.  *Hangs head in shame*

Iris’s family – her ex-husband with his new wife and baby; her son, and her best friend’s daughter – gather to pack up their holiday house. They are there for one last time, one last weekend, and one last party – but in the course of this weekend, their connections will be affirmed, and their frailties and secrets revealed – to the reader at least, if not to each other. The Hope Fault is a novel about extended family: about steps and exes and fairy godmothers; about parents and partners who are missing, and the people who replace them. (Goodreads)

The Lonely Hearts Hotel by Heather O'Neill

Have I read it yet? No, but I just got it for my birthday last week. 

Goodreads says: Two babies are abandoned in a Montreal orphanage in the winter of 1910. Before long, their talents emerge: Pierrot is a piano prodigy; Rose lights up even the dreariest room with her dancing and comedy. As they travel around the city performing clown routines, the children fall in love with each other and dream up a plan for the most extraordinary and seductive circus show the world has ever seen. 

The Woolgrower's Companion by Joy Rhoades

Have I read it yet? No, but I think this will be one I get out of the library at some point.  It is definitely a subject I am interested in but I have been drawn to other sorts of books recently.  

From Goodreads: Kate Dowd’s mother raised her to be a lady but she must put away her white gloves and pearls to help save her family’s sheep farm in New South Wales.

It is 1945, the war drags bitterly on and it feels like the rains will never come again. All the local, able-bodied young men, including the husband Kate barely knows, have enlisted and Kate’s father is struggling with his debts and his wounds from the Great War. He borrows recklessly from the bank and enlists two Italian prisoners of war to live and work on the station.

With their own scars and their defiance, the POWs Luca and Vittorio offer an apparent threat to Kate and Daisy, the family’s young Aboriginal maid. But danger comes from surprising corners and Kate finds herself more drawn to Luca than afraid of him.

Scorned bank managers, snobbish neighbours and distant husbands expect Kate to fail and give up her home but over the course of a dry, desperate year she finds within herself reserves of strength and rebellion that she could never have expected.

The Woolgrower’s Companion is the gripping story of one woman’s fight to save her home and a passionate tribute to Australia’s landscape and its people.

Before You Forget by Julia Lawrinson

Have I read it yet? No, which is ridiculous because it won't take me long and I know I am going to love it.  

I have lost count of how many times I have read Skating the Edge.  A new YA book by Julia Lawrinson is always a must-have for me as her words spoke to me when I was a teen and continue to do so now that I am a grown-up (hey, the numbers say so even if the behaviour doesn't!).  Here's what Goodreads has to say:  Year Twelve is not off to a good start for Amelia. Art is her world, but her art teacher hates everything she does; her best friend has stopped talking to her; her mother and father may as well be living in separate houses; and her father is slowly forgetting everything. Even Amelia.

Scorecard: 6/ 22

Hmmm time to get reading I think!  

Have you read any of these?  Let me know what you thought in the comments.  

Wednesday, 5 April 2017

Weekend Read: Ambulance Girls

Ambulance Girls (Ambulance Girls #1)
Deborah Burrows
Ebury Press 2017 

This past weekend, I devoured WA author Deborah Burrows's latest book in a couple of sittings.  It was delightful to escape into the version of World War Two London that this talented author had created, and follow alongside the eponymous Ambulance Girl of the title.  Lily Brennan, a young Australian teacher, has being travelling--  working as a governess in Europe for a wealthy family, learning languages-- but when the Blitz begins, she is a member of the Ambulance service and her job is to go out onto the streets and help those trapped or wounded when the bombs fall.  When we first meet Lily, she is crawling through the remains of a bombed out house in order to rescue two children who have been left stranded inside.  We quickly learn that Lily is tenacious and a woman of great moral integrity.  Lily's partner is David Levy, a young Jewish man whose background causes some unrest among his fellow ambulance station workers.  Anti-Semitism is rife, as is an underlying class-based elitism that Lily finds upsetting and outdated.  When David doesn't show up for work one day, Lily thinks for certain that something has happened to him-- and that it was no accident.

This was a quick read, and light-hearted, but unlike many books that may be considered similar, it didn't rely on easy coincidences or deus ex machina to advance its plot.  The mystery at the heart of the novel was extremely well thought-out and Lily Brennan was a great character to follow along with. Her outsider status as an Australian in Britain provided a lens through which to critique the London attitudes of the time, providing a much more balanced view of Londoners during the Blitz than that which has become so stiflingly common.  As for the love story in this book-- well, there had to be one, didn't there!  And when a character is as lovely as Lily, you absolutely want her to get her man.

A fabulous weekend read, four out of five stars.

Monday, 27 March 2017

Book Review: Her Mother's Secret

Natasha Lester
Hachette Australia (I own a copy, courtesy the publisher)

Image Source: author website
We are extremely lucky in Western Australia to have a thriving literary community, and you would be hard pressed to find another writer in that community who is as generous with their time as Natasha Lester.  Not only is Natasha a writer, she is also a teacher, a mother, a blogger, and I'm sure she finds a few moments of her spare time in which to fight crime as well.  Natasha's first novel, What is Left Over After was the recipient of the TAG Hungerford award administered by Fremantle Press for an unpublished manuscript.  She then went on to publish her second novel, If I Should Lose You with Fremantle Press too.

But for novel three, Natasha Lester chose a different direction for her fiction.  While both previous novels had been well received by critics and readers alike, and Natasha Lester had amassed a following of local writers through her blogs and courses, it was time for a different sort of book.  Both If I Should Lose You and What is Left Over After were more in the literary fiction vein of things.  2016's A Kiss From Mr Fitzgerald was something else entirely.  And so, Natasha Lester almost got to have her debut novel all over again, under the stewardship of the team at Hachette Australia.  An historical fiction novel about a young woman growing up in 1920s New York and dreaming of becoming an obstetrician in a time when women simply did not do such things, A Kiss From Mr Fitzgerald demonstrated the massive commercial appeal of Natasha Lester's writing, putting her in direct comparison with authors such as Kate Forsyth, Kimberley Freeman and Pamela Hart.

This year, Natasha Lester releases her fourth novel, but her second novel in her new genre.  Her Mother's Secret is the story of Leo, a young woman from a small village in England who spent most of the First World War making cosmetics for nurses stationed at the local hospital, using ingredients from her father's pharmacy.  Like Evie in A Kiss from Mr Fitzgerald, Leo is a strong-willed woman who is determined not to be restricted by the conventions of her time.  When fate leads her to New York, Leo decides to make a name for herself by starting her own line of cosmetics and attempting to get it into all the major department stores.

Of course, there is also a love story, but this is not simply a romance novel.  Leo's story is not just about whether she gets the man.  Her determination to meet her goals and support herself comes above all things, making her a remarkable character to follow, and one which modern women are sure to relate to.  She's supported by a cast of secondary characters right out of the page of an F. Scott Fitzgerald novel (and though Lester's writing style is very different, the influence of the Gatsby author remains clear), such as Faye, a binge drinking society gal who threatens to crush Leo's future in the palm of her well-manicured hand.

At times, I found the pace of the novel a little faster than perhaps I would have liked, with events seeming to be racing towards the finish line-- though admittedly, this is a novel that has to cover more than 20 years in under 350 pages!  It did mean that some scenes seemed lacking in detail and some of the character's actions and reactions were a little sudden.

Readers who enjoyed A Kiss From Mr Fitzgerald will not be disappointed by the follow up, which demonstrates that Natasha Lester knows how to write a fast paced commercial novel without following the usual old formula.  You will be surprised by the twists and turns this novel takes and the decisions made by its protagonist.  Surprised and, most likely, delighted.

Natasha will be the guest speaker at the Bookcaffe Book Club on April 6th at the State Library of WA.  To book tickets, visit Trybooking.

Thursday, 16 March 2017

A few thoughts on Difficult Women by Roxane Gay

Difficult Women
Roxane Gay
Corsair Publishing 2017 (I own a copy, courtesy Hachette Australia)

This is not strictly a review of Roxane Gay's collection of short fiction, it's more of a collection of my thoughts.  Since I decided that I was going to put together my own collection of short stories, I've been increasingly fascinated by the ins and outs of single author collections.  What holds the pieces together?  How well does the author manage to differentiate the different voices in the stories?  How do you have a huge impact in a very short space?

The premise of Difficult Women really intrigued me, right from the blurb which reads:

The women in these stories live lives of privilege and poverty, are in marriages both loving and haunted by past crimes or emotional blackmail.  A woman married to a twin pretends not to realise when her husband and his brother impersonate each other.  A stripper putting herself through college fends off the advances of an over-zealous customer.  A black engineer moves to Upper Michigan for a job and faces the malign curiosity of her colleagues and the difficulty of leaving her past behind.  From a girls' fight club to a wealthy subdivision in Florida where neighbours conform, compete and spy on each other, Gay gives voice to a chorus of unforgettable women in a haunting vision of modern America.

That is one spectacular sounding collection.  And herein lies the problem.

Try as I might to let these stories get under my skin, I just couldn't get into any of them.  In fact, I've abandoned the book after 100 pages, and I think I've read all of the stories hinted at in the blurb there, none of which were as interesting as the blurb made them sound like they would be.  Which is weird, when you think about it, because they are stories about really intense subjects like sexual assault, miscarriage, racism, love-- none of those subjects could be called pedestrian.  But each story had a distance to it.  They never really let the reader in.  Through a combination of structural experiments (such as in 'Florida', where the story was broken up into chunks according to which apartment we were glimpsing inside... some of which were in first person and some in third, which try as I might I could not see a reason for) and this detached, almost fable-style tone, the half dozen stories I read did nothing for me.  Which was a shame, because I was really looking forward to this book.

As a wordsmith, it's clear to see that Roxane Gay has a lot going for her, because there were some real gems of sentences in this book, but it wasn't enough.  So many books, so little time, and this one wasn't keeping my attention, so it was a DNF after 100 pages for me.

Monday, 6 March 2017

Film Review: Jasper Jones

Image source:
One of the most hotly anticipated film releases for this year-- for me, anyway-- was the film adaptation of Jasper Jones by WA author, Craig Silvey.  Some of you may know that I wrote my Honours thesis on the novel, back in 2012, so I approached this film with a degree of trepidation.  Whenever a beloved book is adapted for the big screen, there is always the possibility that it will be a let down.  Reading is such a personal experience, whereby the novel gives you just enough information to allow you to imagine its world all on your own-- what the characters look like, what particular events might mean, and why certain things may have occurred.  When those books are adapted for the movies, sometimes what the director and the cast and the screenwriter choose to portray can be in direct contrast with your own thoughts.  And sometimes, that's just a plain disappointment.  Let me just preface this blog post by saying that I am not a professional film critic, and that I am by no means an expert on Australian cinema.  But Jasper Jones has been my favourite novel for a long time, and while I was incredibly excited to see the film, I was also terrified that maybe watching someone else's version of it on the big screen would be a let down, or change the way I saw the book.  

If it sounds like I am setting up to pan the film, you can relax-- I'm not.  Critics have compared the movie to Stand by Me, and I can certainly see where that comparison comes from.  In both films, we are presented with protagonists who are wrenched from childhood by events beyond their control.  In Jasper Jones, that character is Charlie Bucktin, played by Levi Miller who some may recognise as the boy from Pan and Red Dog.  Miller's portrayal of Charlie Bucktin, a deeply introverted and introspective character, is a real highlight of the piece.  Everything he does just flows, it makes sense.  There is never a line of dialogue out of place.  Considering that this is a film with very limited voiceover (I can think of one scene, very early one when it is used), Miller is faced with the enormous burden of conveying Charlie's character non-verbally.  This is a particular challenge, because readers of the novel come to Charlie's character through his voice-- Charlie is the one telling us the story.  But in the film, he can't do that.  He can't explain to us how he feels about Eliza Wishart, or how he's fascinated by Jasper, or how much the racism in the small town of Corrigan makes him furious and confused.  All that considered, I think Levi Miller's performance really made this film.  

Image source: Allen and Unwin
It's worth noting that you can't take an incredibly nuanced novel like Jasper Jones and just squash it into an hour and forty five minutes, so some of the things from the novel have gone or been condensed.  For example, while Charlie tells Eliza that he wants to be a writer, we don't see him trying to write a novel and we don't see him fantasising about meeting Papa Hemingway at a gala in New York with Eliza on his arm (though there is a picture of Hemingway tacked to the wall above Charlie's desk).  The Vietnam War is mentioned but only briefly, and while there are still scenes where the town turns their anger on Jeffrey Lu and his family, these are much reduced compared to how they appear in the novel.  (I was excited to see WA actress Alexandra Jones make a cameo in this film as the grieving mother who yells at Mrs. Lu at the town meeting.  Those of you who saw the stage show Jasper Jones by Kate Mulvany a few years back will know that Alexandra Jones played Ruth Bucktin (Charlie's mother) in the WA performances and did an absolutely amazing job.)  The scenes relating to the Lu family were a key part of the novel for me, but I understand why they may have hit the cutting room floor when the movie had to be condensed.  Just another reason why books are better than movies, I suppose...

One result of the change of point of view afforded by the novel was we got a much more sympathetic portrait of Charlie's mother, Ruth, played by Toni Collette.  In the novel, Ruth is almost an antagonist.  She seems unreasonable and she's always yelling at Charlie for things and meting out cruel and unusual punishments-- such as when she makes him dig a massive hole for no reason and then fill it in.  But in the film, we're not just seeing Ruth through Charlie's eyes, and at first, that really jarred me.  When Ruth tucked Charlie in, kissed him on the head and made him put his book away, I found myself thinking that I was going to have a really hard time hating her later on.  But looking back now, I think that was the point.  The addition of  a scene in which Charlie stumbles upon his mother dancing in the kitchen goes a long way towards explaining why Ruth is so unhappy-- she feels trapped.  She has secret longings.  She's bored out of her mind, and that's why she does what she does-- she leaves.  The moment in the film where she tells Charlie why absolutely broke my heart.  The actors got that scene so right, and while it's different to the book, it works.  In a Q and A session after the screening, author Craig Silvey, who was one of the screenwriters, explained to us that the reaction came from Levi Miller himself.  When director Rachel Perkins asked him to run it again with less emotion, Miller explained that Charlie had just had the most tumultuous week of his young life and that this was the first time he'd had a chance to express that.  And so the moment stayed.  

No, it's not a perfect film, but was any adaptation of my favourite book ever going to be?  It's a movie that bears watching, and I hope rewatching, full of stunning shots that could only have been taken in the South West of WA.  It's a story that could only have happened here, and a story that has captured the hearts of so many readers.  The book is now being studied in secondary schools.  And sooner or later, someone was always going to make it into a movie.  So I'm glad that it was this team, who clearly love what they do, because they've done a wonderful job.    

Sunday, 26 February 2017

Perth Writers Festival 2017- A Wrap-Up

The Perth Writers Festival comes but once a year, and for us writerly types in the West, it can be better than Christmas.  Under the excellent direction of Katherine Dorrington and her team, each year we are treated to a three day program of talks which complement one another in different and sometimes surprising ways, meaning that each year's festival has a distinct personality all of its own.  The 2017 Festival has been no exception, and to me, the theme of this year's festival seemed to be all about the political.  From an opening address by Ben Rawlence on world's largest refugee camp, Dadaab, on the Kenyan border with Somalia, and tonight's closing remarks by Syrian writer and architect, Marwa Al-Sabouni, to sessions on feminism, American politics, Australian politics and more, this was a weekend of big ideas.

For those of us whose interests lay more in the realm of fiction, there was an abundance of sessions to choose from, and some particular highlights for me were the panel on Anti-Heroes, featuring Anna North, Laura Elizabeth Woollett and Ian McGuire, talking to local bookseller and editor Geraldine Blake.  Blake is no stranger to the chair's seat at the festival and her gentle guidance made this panel one which was jam-packed with interesting statements.  While Anna North's novel The Life and Death of Sophie Stark blew me away in 2016 with its unique use of a number of point of view characters to create a picture of Sophie Stark, it was Laura Elizabeth Woollett's book I was most keen to rush home and read, as her stories (about the women who were the paramours of some of history's bad men) have been described as intense and powerful, and when she talked about the researching of and the finding of her subject matter, her eyes had a glimmer in them that I knew meant there would be something very special about this book.  When asked by an audience member about the meaning of the term 'Anti Hero', it was Woollett who hit the nail on the head, defining the term as a character who is not the villain, but who does bad things, and yet we sympathise with them anyway.  I'm keen to see how she applies this to characters who are essentially murderers and criminals.

The next session of the day was Laugh Lines, a slightly comical panel about comedy, in which visiting author Liam Pieper chatted to Toni Jordan, Nathan Hill and Josephine Wilson.  Pieper's interviewing style made for interesting viewing, and I was slightly confused by his process of scrunching up his notes and throwing them on the floor as he spoke.  I loved listening to this panel talk about their novels as they all had such different styles, and through listening to this panel, felt I had to rush out and get The Nix by Nathan Hill right away, if only to read the hilarious publisher character I had heard so much about.  Toni Jordan was a real highlight on this panel, as I simply adore her, and listening to her speak made me want to read Our Tiny Useless Hearts all over again.

In the afternoon I had the absolute pleasure of chatting to Jacinta Halloran, Anita Heiss and Armando Lucas Correa about the enduring fascination in fiction with the Second World War.  All three panellists had a personal connection to the stories that they were writing and their passion for narrative shone through in their readings.  Armando Correa began the session with a power point presentation instead of a reading, to contextualise for us all the story of the real life tragedy that his novel deals with, and if you have not read The German Girl, I do encourage you to check it out because the story of the St. Louis has a very real and very chilling parallel with our world today.

On the Saturday, Geraldine Blake also chaired the panel Past Tense, about the writing of historical fiction with authors Jessie Burton, Hannah Kent and Melissa Ashley.  For me, Jessie Burton was one of the biggest draw cards at the festival.  Her debut novel The Miniaturist remains one of the best books I have read in recent years, and it was a delight to see her speak frankly about the way people's reactions to that book had shaped the way she approached her second novel, The Muse in terms of the way she now thinks about art, creativity and the commodification of artists.  Melissa Ashley held her own on the panel with these two literary heavy hitters, charming audiences with her novel on the life of Elizabeth Gould, wife of the famous birdman, John, who it seems took credit for a lot of his wife's work, leaving her as a footnote in history until now.  I imagine a fair few books were purchased after this session, as Ashley beguiled and entertained us with the story of her book and the research that was involved in it.

On Saturday afternoon it was Jay Kristoff talking one on one with journalist Ara Jansen who stole the show, as he discussed his adult fantasy epic, Nevernight. The two had a real natural chemistry, and Jay's enthusiasm for story and for fantasy was infectious.  I absolutely adored his book with Amie Kaufman, Illuminae, but now that I've heard a little about Nevernight, I suspect I am going to love it all the more.

Finally, today-- a little more worn out, a little worse for wear, but ready for some more, I headed to UWA for one last time to listen to Will Yeoman talk about classical music and fiction with Man Booker Prize shortlistee, Madeleine Thien, and Australian author, Zoe Morrisson, whose book Music and Freedom was released last year to critical acclaim.  As a non-musical person I was entranced by the many subtle ways music could inform writing and was inspired to head home and look up The Goldberg Variations for myself.  It was a nice touch that Will wove short musical interludes into the talk.

Then it was on to Little Magic, where local short story guru Laurie Steed chatted to Ken Liu, author and translator, Julie Koh and Laura Elizabeth Woollett.  The natural rapport between these four was wonderful.  It was like watching four short fiction authors catch up for coffee, and the genuine respect they all seemed to have for each others' work and different styles made for a great discussion.  Ken Liu's insights into his fellow panellists' work was especially interesting, though as always, it was the keen questioning of Laurie Steed which made this session the success that it was.  I was particularly pleased to see so many people attending a panel on short fiction, so well done, Perth!

The final session of the festival for me was one that I chaired.  I was in the Octagon Theatre, talking about Placemaking with Holly Throsby, David Francis and Patrick Holland.  This session was such a pleasant surprise, even for me as facilitator, as the panellists took the questions that I gave them and came up with very rich, well thought out responses.  They built on what their fellow panellists were saying and I am very proud to have been involved in such a wonderful discussion.

After much chatting, eating, sweating (it was 40 degrees on Saturday!!!) and thinking, my weekend came to a close and it was time to go home and get ready to head back to work-- via my desk of course, because it wouldn't be the Perth Writers Festival if I didn't feel like writing afterwards.  A huge thank you to Katherine, Maria and Sava (and the team) for having me along, and I look forward to seeing what they come up with for next year.  (Maybe have a small break before you start working on that though, guys-- you've earned one!)

Friday, 10 February 2017

Book Review: The Possessions by Sara Flannery Murphy

Scribe Publishing 
Published 2017 (I own a copy courtesy of the publisher)

When my copy of The Possessions arrived in the post earlier this week, I stopped reading what I was reading and started it right away.  I have been excited to read this book ever since I first heard it was coming out, late last year.  The Possessions is the story of Eurydice, called Edie, who works as a 'body' for the Elysian Society, a secretive organisation which offers the bereaved the opportunity to speak to their lost loved ones again.  The bodies' job is to channel those spirits.  Edie has been working for the Elysian Society for five years, longer than anyone else has ever stayed, and then she meets Patrick.  Patrick Braddock's wife Sylvia has drowned, and he chooses Edie to be the method he will use to speak to her again.  From the moment Edie first channels Sylvia, she begins to feel different.  Are the strong feelings she is experiencing towards Patrick coming from Sylvia, or from Edie herself?  As Sylvia begins to become stronger in Edie's mind, the reader must ask which of them will prevail.

This is a stunning, genre-defying novel.  It has all the excitement of a thriller, the magic of a fantasy and the beautiful prose of a literary masterpiece.  Through Edie's point of view, we see the world Murphy has created to be her setting with a sense of cool detachment, which creates a growing sense of unease as she begins to realise nothing, and no one are as they seem.  Even Edie.  She is a strong character, likeable to us as the reader, even as she might be seen as distant and haughty by the others at the Elysian Society.  She is calm, intelligent, and though she tries to hide it, deeply saddened by events from her past.  Her guilt over what she did before she became Edie is heavily hinted at throughout the novel, and it appears to be her motivation for wanting to help her clients.

One of the major themes of the novel is the idea of disappearing, of one person's personality being completely subsumed by another's.  We see this in scenes where Edie switches back and forth between channelling Sylvia and being herself, failing at times to recognise herself, and at other times, staring into mirrors and searching for the intersections between the two women's faces.  Rather than being frightened by the idea that Sylvia might want her body permanently, Edie becomes obsessed with her, poring over photographs and even going so far as to investigate the woman's death.

Other characters in the novel are more concerned with the identity of the girl found dead in the building site nearby, whom the press are calling Hopeful Doe.  No one seems to know who she is, but her story captures the hearts of the public.

I don't know much about Greek mythology, but The Posessions appears to be thick with references to it.  All the bodies at the Elysian Society have assumed names.  Eurydice was the wife of Orpheus.  When she died, he attempted to retrieve her from Hades, but had to lead her out without looking back.  Another of the bodies, Dora, is named for Pandora.  In the legend, Pandora opened a box which let all the evils out into the world.  It is Dora's arrival at the Elysian Society which starts Edie questioning her life at the society.  Leander, a potential love interest for Edie before she knew Patrick, and another body, takes his name from the story of Hero and Leander.  Hero was a priestess of Aphrodite, and Leander a young man from across the strait.  He would swim across to tryst with her, but drowned one stormy night in the crossing, perhaps a reference to Leander's quashed chances with Edie.  Ana, whose full name we hear only once, is really Ananke-- the personification of inevitability, compulsion and necessity.  It is Ana who has been breaking the rules at the Elysian Society, Ana who shows Edie what's really going on, and Ana who gives Edie the way to be with Patrick.  The pills the bodies take in order to allow themselves to be possessed are called Lotuses-- a reference perhaps to the lotus eaters, a race of people who lived on an island covered in lotus flowers, who spent much of their time in a drugged state.  And the Elysian Society itself is a reference to the Elysian Fields, where the souls of heroes went to rest.  Much of this is from Homer's Odyssey, which admittedly I have never been able to read, though I like the stories contained within.

Quite simply, I loved this novel.  It had everything.  A love story, a puzzle, the supernatural, a connection with myth, beautiful writing and a character whom I felt connected with the whole way through.  It reminded me of some of the best Margaret Atwood, or of Anna North's The Life and Death of Sophie Stark, which I read and adored last January.  In some ways it also reminded me a little of what Audrey Niffenegger did in Her Fearful Symmetry, but much more satisfying (and a totally different plot.)  I have seen reviews online which say this sounds a little like Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier, but it's not right to say that this book is like any others, because it is wholly original, wholly unsettling and wholly engrossing.  Go pick it up.  It's out February 7th.

Five stars.  Possibly a contender for a top book of the year, already.  

Monday, 6 February 2017

Book Review: The Golden Child by Wendy James

HarperCollins Australia (I own a copy, courtesy the publisher)
Published February 2017

Blogger Lizzy's life is buzzing, happy, normal.  Two gorgeous children, a handsome husband, destiny under control.  For real-life Beth, things are unravelling.  Tensions are simmering with her husband, mother-in-law, and even her own mother.  Her teenage daughters, once the objects of her existence, have moved beyond her grasp and one of them has shown signs of, well, thoughtlessness...

Then a classmate of her daughter is callously bullied and the finger of blame is pointed at Beth's clever, beautiful child.  Shattered, shamed and frightened, two families must negotiate worlds of cruelty they are totally unprepared for. 

Last weekend was a good reading weekend.  Straight off the back of devouring one of my most anticipated reads of the year (The Fifth Letter by Nicola Moriarty), I picked up another HarperCollins new release, The Golden Child, and leap-frogged it up to the top of my to-be-read pile.  I was in the mood for quick, gripping reads, books that would keep me flicking the pages to the exclusion of all other tasks.  I got what I wished for and then some!

Beth is an Aussie expat, living in the US because of husband Dan's job.  She doesn't have a green card and so doesn't work, meaning her days are filled with two things-- looking after her daughters, Charlotte and Lucy, and writing her blog about being an expat Mum.  The book is told in multiple perspectives: mainly we hear from Beth, but there are occasional chapters from other characters as well.  In between these chapters are excerpts from blog posts, some of which are written by Beth about her life and family, and others which are anonymous accounts of how to manipulate and bully others, written by someone identifying only as 'Golden Child.'  After an incident at the girls' school in which an 'initiation challenge' run by Charlotte (Charlie) and her 'gang', Beth begins to see her younger daughter a little differently.  Only twelve years old, Charlie is smart and popular and always seems to have some sort of gang around her, made up of other smart, popular, pretty girls.  But is she also a bully?  Beth is certain that this must all be a misunderstanding, and that Charlie is being punished for something that was truly an accident.

Dan announces that he's being transferred back to Australia, meaning Beth is now going to be blogging about being an ex expat.  She's excited to be moving back to somewhere close to where she's from (Sydney), but less excited to be moving close to Dan's mother in Newcastle.  And if Charlie's school is going to view her as a bully over a misunderstanding, perhaps the move has come at exactly the right time.

At their new school in Newcastle, Charlie (now wanting to be known as Charlotte) immediately finds herself a new 'gang', and Beth manages to find herself a friend too.  Andie is the mother of a girl in Charlotte's year, and so Charlotte and Sophie (known as Slowphie to her horrid classmates) find themselves hanging out.  After Sophie is introduced, we start to see the story through her point of view as well, and we are witness to the horrendous cyberbullying and physical bullying Sophie is subjected to.  The worst of it is, while some of it is anonymous, some of it is coming from Charlotte and her friends.  And because we never see the story from either Lucy or Charlotte's points of view, we never know if Charlotte is lying or not, though we suspect if she is, she's also the 'Golden Child' of the blog.

This is a fast paced and tightly plotted novel, with all the twists and turns perfectly set up for without letting you figure them out too early.  It's a novel that will appeal to readers of Liane Moriarty and Jodi Picoult's earlier work.  Beth's struggle between needing to be responsible for what her daughter may have done, and needing to be a good mother to her and give her the benefit of the doubt is intensely wrought on the page, allowing the reader to really consider what they may have done were they in her shoes.  The contrast between Beth and Sophie, who is mostly happy in her own skin except when she's being tortured by her classmates, really makes you consider which side you are on, and whether or not it's as straightforward as simply picking one.  While Beth is caught in the middle of it all, needing to mother Charlotte, support her friend Andie, and defend Charlotte to Dan, who seems increasingly convinced that she must be guilty, we see her character struggle and grow to new depths.  Meanwhile, Sophie's interactions online force you to realise that all of this is happening to a very young girl, and for many readers, her experience will be all-too familiar.

This is a complex story about bullying which takes a unique perspective-- that of the parent of the perpetrator, asking us if bullies always come from unhappy homes.  I highly recommend this book and gave it four out of five stars.

Friday, 3 February 2017

Mini-Review: The Locksmith's Daughter by Karen Brooks

Harlequin Books 
Published 2016 (I bought myself a copy)

It's no secret that I am huge fan of the Tudor period, and that I love books set around that time-- though it seems I like the ones which give voices to women more than I like the ones which fictionalise all the battles and focus on the men, because I gave Conn Iggulden's War of the Roses series a go and it didn't grab me in the same way.  I was intrigued by The Locksmith's Daughter because, while it's heroine Mallory Bright was not a real person, her position in the novel as a watcher for Mister Secretary Walsingham, the Queen's Spymaster during the Elizabethan period, promised to give me as a reader an insight into the time period I had not been afforded before.  While I found some of the adherence to a Shakespearian language still (for example, calling people 'Sirrah' when they annoy you, saying 'Zounds' as an exclamations etc) a bit overdone and distracting, the book did take me in.  It was lovely, historical escapism, right down to the English Mammoth, Lord Nathaniel Warham, who was Mallory's love interest-- he reminded me a little of Fitzwilliam Darcy but with a little bit more of a personality.  (Sorry Darcy, but it's true, you're a stick in the mud sometimes.)  It was clear from the author's note that a lot of research had been done in the writing of this book, and while there were a few phrases the character used which were directly from Shakespeare, who wouldn't have had so much influence during his own time and is never even mentioned in the book, though one of the characters is a playwright and an actor, I did not notice any glaring anachronisms.  This was an absolutely massive book, but I read it quickly, and recommend it if you're in the mood for some light historical fiction with a love story.

Sunday, 29 January 2017

Book Review: The Fifth Letter by Nicola Moriarty

Harper Collins Australia (I own a copy, courtesy of the publisher)
Published March 2017 (Pre-order it from your favourite bookshop now!)

Joni, Deb, Eden and Trina try to catch up once a year for some days away together.  Now in their thirties, commitments have pulled them in different directions, and the closeness they once enjoyed growing up seems increasingly elusive.  This year, determined to revive their intimacy, they each share a secret in an anonymous letter to be read out during the holiday.  But instead of bringing them closer, the revelations seem to drive them apart.  Then a fifth letter is discovered, venting long-held grudges, and it seems one of the women is in serious danger.  But who was the author?  And which of them should be worried?

It's been a long time since I read a whole book in a single sitting, but that's what happened when I picked up The Fifth Letter last night.  Nicola Moriarty has crafted a near-perfect page turner in her latest offering (due out in just under two months here in Australia), keeping me up well after my bedtime to find out who wrote the fifth letter and who it was about.  The book fits perfectly into an increasingly popular sub-section of books which nestle somewhere between commercial fiction and thrillers, using the conventions of the crime novel to keep up a cracking pace while examining the ins and outs of the lives of ordinary, suburban characters.  One other author who is also writing books that belong to this sub-section is Nicola's older sister Liane, whose novel Big Little Lies is about to become an HBO mini-series.  But I'm sure many reviews are going to comment on this familial connection, so I'm going to leave that well enough alone.  This is a great book in it's own right, and for whatever reason people pick it up, whether it be the name of the author, the great premise or that stunning cover, readers are in for a treat.  It's a perfect novel to read with a glass of wine in your hand, lazing on the couch after a long day.

The initial frame narrative does seem a little contrived-- Joni Camilleri, the member of the group who both threw them together on the first day of high school and is responsible for keeping them together through an annual retreat, is visiting a Catholic Priest to give confession.  Except her confession is more like a narrative, and she's treating poor Father O'Reilly like her therapist.  Good thing for her, he used to be a psychologist before he was a priest!  (Sigh...) Plus, he's very interested in Joni's story.  And so was I.  It begins in high school, when Joni, determined not to sit alone at lunch, gathers up four girls one of the teachers identified as having surnames that start with 'C' who are all Scorpios.  Sure, she has to whine and complain-- and yes, even lie a little bit-- to convince these girls to sit with her, but it works.  While other students begin to refer to them as The C-Word Girls, it doesn't really matter, because a friendship that's going to last beyond high school has been formed.

Skip forward to the fateful holiday, June 2016.  We are still seeing most of the story through Joni's eyes, though she's changed a fair bit through high school.  She's always felt she was the 'least cool' of the group, the one who was always willing to have a try but wasn't particularly good at anything.  Been there, Joni.  Felt like that.  And while Joni may be slightly irritating in the way that she wheedles her friends to do things with her, and even lied to Trina in order to make her hang out with them at all, which I thought was pretty bad, the fact that she feels this way when she compares herself to her friends makes her extremely relatable.  Joni is the only one with no children and the last one to get married.  She feels like her career (she writes articles for a blog) is accidental, whereas the others are all successful.  So when the idea is put forward that they all write anonymous confessions (there's that word again) and read one each night in an attempt to regain intimacy in their friendship, we see that Joni thinks she needs it more than the others.  And then she is reminded you should always be careful what you wish for.

The revelations of what is in the letters is done masterfully.  There is never too much exposition as Joni works through which of her friends she thinks is the author, and the readings of the letters are interspersed with scenes in which the friends do fun holiday things, like walk to a beach in search of a secret waterfall, try abseiling and do an obstacle course challenge for over-thirties, which starts off as fun until it starts to get a little bit competitive.  Each letter contains revelations which colour the way the girls interact with each other in these challenges, and it's easy to see the characters changing, and having to confront the things they'd written down.  After all, if they weren't telling them to their oldest friends, they probably weren't dealing with them at all.

So when Joni finds the fifth letter, half burned in the fireplace, and works out it has to be one of the other three who wrote it, things are already getting tense.  She can't just show the letter to all of them, but she can't seem to work out who wrote it.  And the reader by this point has been given enough reason to believe it could be any one of them.

I'm going to try and keep the rest of this review spoiler free, but if you haven't read the novel yet and you want to, perhaps stop reading now.

It's when things start to get wound up that the book starts to rely a tad too much on conveniences.  I was annoyed by the solution to the puzzle because I felt like there was no way I could have guessed it, and that it was not exciting, or juicy-- it was just stupid.  That, for me, took a point off the novel, which otherwise would have been five stars.  Add to that a minor character turning up in a new role in the epilogue (seriously, read it and let's whinge about that in the comments, please) and you have an ending which has veered a little of course in an otherwise spellbinding novel.

While I'm still really happy to have read this book, because I really enjoyed it, my reaction to the ending is still smarting the day after.  And perhaps it's because when I started this book, I thought it was going to be like nothing I'd ever read before that the ending let me down so.  I think for many readers, this won't even be an issue-- perhaps my focus was just in the wrong place and the revelation didn't hit home, but I think it's more likely that in trying to use the old Agatha Christie technique of making the culprit the least likely suspect, the story sort of missed its mark.  It was more like the culprit was the most likely suspect but for what felt like a silly reason.

That being said, I think this book is going to appeal to a lot of readers and I am going to recommend it to friends because I did really enjoy reading it.  I would definitely read Nicola Moriarty again (and in fact I think I probably have some second hand copies of her other books...)

I gave this book four stars.

Friday, 20 January 2017

Book Review: Extinctions by Josephine Wilson

Josephine Wilson
UWA Publishing, 2016 (I own a copy, courtesy the publisher)

Extinctions by Josephine Wilson was the winner of the inaugural Dorothy Hewett award, which ran for the first time in 2015.  The award was created in response to a significant change to the funding and structure of the WA Premier's Book Awards, which were reduced to a biennial format in 2015.  It is a prize which aims to "support literary talent both in and related to Western Australia, and to celebrate the life and writing of a stalwart Australian radical."  To read more about the award, click here.

The novel follows Professor Frederick Lothian, once an engineer, now a lonely man living in a retirement community, regretting the mistakes he has made and the people he has isolated himself from.  Frederick is a fascinating, and not wholly likable character, one who is far-removed from the world of words and language-- Frederick is a scientist, a man who likes angles and physics and science and numbers.  He is logical, rather than emotional, which has meant he has not always been the most compassionate person. It's proven difficult for him to relate to others, such as his wife and children, or to the students he lectured.  (There is one particularly poignant scene in which Frederick tries to speak to a student in distress about Earthquake resistant building design, when all she wants to do is confess she is troubled by the human toll of the Earthquake he uses as an example.  He simply cannot relate.)  Yet the language of the book is beautiful, and just right, perfectly calibrated to suit this highly intelligent character, and capture the beauty of the Western Australian setting as it moves through recognisable landmarks such as Cottesloe Beach and King's Park.  It is a novel which is at times deeply thoughtful and moving, while at others it is acerbically funny.

Frederick, now living in a retirement community among people whom he views as being much more elderly than he is (thus belying a lack of self-awareness, I believe, for he frequently seems confused and contradicts himself) is forced to confront his past head on, as he faces the task of unpacking the detritus from his old life into a small apartment.  He is still hanging on to his deceased wife's belongings-- such as a half-knitted jumper-- that he cannot bear to give away; and yet when a care home calls to speak to him about his son, he hangs up on them.  It is not until he meets Jan, a chatty neighbour with troubles of her own, that Frederick realises it's time to stop feeling sorry for himself and deal with the lot he has been given.

If at first, the arrival of an off-kilter neighbour to show him the error of his ways seems a little familiar, read on, for the novel makes use of the situation well.  Far from being a two-dimensional tool for the writer to move the plot along, Jan is a character who must go on a journey of her own-- from being a retired teacher and a mother, to having to adopt her own grandson after the death of her son and the child's abandonment by his mother, she struggles alongside Frederick, and in many ways, is helped by him as much as she is a helper.  Jan is kind, and takes the time to get to know people, but she is not a pushover.  She makes no bones about telling Frederick what she really thinks.  But she's not his romantic interest and this is not a meet-cute. Jan is independent and strong-willed, and is far too busy for romantic entanglement-- after all, she has a small child to look after, and has to find a place to do it.  But she knows something that Frederick seems yet to have worked out-- you cannot simply outrun emotions, or reason them away.  And sometimes the best way to cope is with a little help from others.

This short novel packs in many themes, and pays tribute to quiet lives of suburban anguish, showing that you never really know what is going on in the lives of others.  From issues such as adoption, race, drug abuse, disability, fatherhood and masculinity, as well as being a measured treatise on so-called 'old age', Extinctions is a masterpiece.

I gave this book five stars.  I can't wait to read what the Hewett Award winner will be for 2017.

Join Josephine Wilson, UWA Publishing and Westbooks at the State Library of WA on February 2nd for an exclusive book club event and author talk.  Details here.

Thursday, 19 January 2017

Elimy Down South

If you were wondering why it's been a little quiet here lately, it's because I have been on an adventure in the South and South West of WA for the last couple of weeks.  We began our trip in Albany, then moved to picturesque Margaret River after a week.  It's been a fortnight filled with walking, reading, eating, and more reading, with a little wine drinking thrown in for good measure.  I managed to finish reading eight books in two weeks... a number I am a little astounded at myself because it wasn't like we spent every waking moment with books in our hands... but it is a wonder what some rest can do!

For those of you who are bookworms, we checked out a few choice literary establishments while we were down south, and if you're heading that way too you can check out the following:

* Gemini Secondhand Bookshop, York Street, Albany-  An Aladdin's cave of books with a great selection of sci-fi/ fantasy.  Friendly and knowlegable staff.  I even managed to find a book with a sticker from the bookstore I used to work at on the back, one I very likely sold in the first place.

* Paperbark Merchants, York Street, Albany-  This is a newsagent and bookstore, which is more for the new releases than the secondhand treasures you may be hunting for.  It used to be the Angus and Robertson, but I am super glad to see that Albany still has a bookstore at all after that chain closed.

* Margaret River Bookstore, Bussell Highway, Margaret River-  I've been to this charming store before as I've now been to the Margaret River Readers and Writers Festival twice.  Sadly, they didn't have the book I was desperately seeking (To the Sea by Christine Dibley) but they did have lots of other lovely things.

* Margaret River Secondhand Bookshop, Bussell Highway, Margaret River-  This was a bit of an odd one.  The first time I went there, I traded a Liane Moriarty for a much sought-after Anita Brookner, and I was struck by how hard it was to search the high shelves, and how hot and stuffy it was inside.  But when I went back a few days later to get all the other Anita Brookners they had in stock, I couldn't stop finding hard to get books, or out of print classics that I wanted to read.  It's not as idyllic as your usual secondhand shop but I think the stock is worth it!

Me on the Treetop Walk in the Valley of the Giants, Denmark.  Can you tell I hate heights?

Mammoth Cave, Margaret River

Lake Cave, Margaret River

Jewel Cave, Margaret River

Monday, 2 January 2017

Book Review: Ida by Alison Evans

Ida by Alison Evans
Echo Publishing/ Bonnier 2017 (I own a copy courtesy the publisher)

Ida is the first young adult novel to be published by Bonnier imprint, Echo Publishing.  In many ways, Echo are the new kids on the block, but they are punching well above their weight and have award winners in their stable of authors already.  In Ida, we meet Ida Wagner, an ordinary teenager suspended in the void between high school and university, trying to decide what direction she wants to take with her life.  Except she's not all that ordinary at all. Ida possesses the ability to go back in time to any decision and change the outcome, a power she uses liberally.  She avoids car crashes, she saves plates and cups that get dropped.  The only trouble is that she doesn't fully understand the ability she has.  But Damaris does.  Damaris knows that Ida is not going back in time at all, but shifting to another alternate universe where a different decision was made.  She is pulling her other selves out of their homes and they are not happy about it.  Damaris, a mysterious being from another plane of existence is sent to track down Ida-- the original one-- and put a stop to the shifting before the gaps between the realities is worn away to nothing.

This is a smart and fast paced novel.  Its protagonist, Ida Wagner is very relatable, particularly when it comes to her sassy observations about working in a coffee shop, guaranteed to have anyone who has worked as a waiter or a barista nodding their head in sympathy.  Ida's life is populated with people who don't usually appear in mainstream fiction-- people whose relationship with gender is outside of just male and female.  Her partner, Daisy, is genderqueer and therefore identifies as neither male nor female.  Her cousin Frank may be transgender (there is one scene in which there is a subtle clue).  And Damaris, while not strictly part of Ida's world, is genderfluid.  Yet the book does not go out of its way to try and educate the uninformed reader about these people and their identities.  They just are.  There is the occasional, subtle comment worked in about language choices (them, they are personal pronouns for Daisy, which did take the untrained brain a little getting used to) and about the way that people react to others when they cannot label them with a gender.  I thought this aspect of the novel was well tackled, and I feel like a learned something.

The other thing about this novel which I was struck by was the maturity of the plot.  While the ability to shift between parallel universes is something that crops up in speculative fiction from time to time, this novel felt new and intelligent, and it didn't rush to tie up all the loose ends and questions at its conclusion.  Life is messy and complicated, and we make mistakes-- this is the lesson Ida has to learn, that things will happen and sometimes you can't change them.  The novel's conclusion respects this lesson.  Ida's travel through the parallel lives mean that she has a chance to see different permutations of her own life-- one where she doesn't have Daisy, one where her mother has not died, one where her father isn't speaking to her (though I wasn't sure exactly why), and while there are aspects from a number of worlds she would like to pick and choose and have as her 'real' life, she cannot have everything.

An entertaining and clever read about life, love and knowing what you want.