Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk by David Sedaris

Release Date (Australia): 1 October 2010
Rating: 7.5/10

David Sedaris makes me laugh like almost no other author can, except Bateman. I love his bluntness, his lack of fear of swearing, and his sarcasm. His intelligence shows through his humour, which is usually showcased through non-fiction. I have been reading his books for years now and they are still my favourite new releases of the year when a new book comes out. I was intrigued when he released this little collection of short animal stories in Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk: A Wicked Bestiary.

It was here that the toad entered the conversation.
"You want pissed off? I got to the front of the line, I showed my ID, and I was then told that I needed two forms of it. Can you beat that? I said, 'I didn't see that ugly-assed bobcat give you two forms,' and the one behind the counter, a black snake she was, said that this a special rule for reptiles.
"I said, 'No problem, I'm an amphibian'. And to this she goes - I kid you not - 'Same difference'."
"I said, 'It's not the same fucking difference. First off, I only mate in the water. Number two, the skin I was born with - I still got it. So don't feed me any of that 'same difference' bullshit. You should know that better than anyone."

But luckily the humour was still fantastic. It's probably not a book for all David Sedaris fans, but I found it cute and amusing. Almost like Aesop's Fables but funny and sometimes crude. The illustrations by Ian Falconer (of Olivia fame) are a highlight as well, all drawings in black and white and orange. It looks very effective and suits the stories immensely.

"You know what I like?" he said, "I like jazz."
"I didn't know that," the chipmunk said. "My goodness, jazz!" She had no idea what jazz was but was worried that asking would make her sound stupid.
"What kind exactly?" she asked, hoping his answer might narrow things down a bit.
"Well, all kinds, really," he told her, "Especially the earlier stuff."
"Me too," she said, and when he asked her why, she told him the later stuff was just too late for her tastes.

PS, Sorry for the lack of updates for a month. University exams are fun!

Monday, October 11, 2010

Wicked Appetite by Janet Evanovich

Release date (Australia): 14 September 2010
Rating: 8/10

Seven Stones of Power...
No one knows when they were created or by whom, each said to represent one of the Seven Deadly Sins. For centuries, treasure hunters have been eager to possess the Stones, undeterred by their corrupting nature. The list is long – Genghis Khan, Alexander the Great, Napoleon, to name a few. Now the Stones have found their way to Salem, Massachusetts, and so has Gerwulf Grimoire, adding himself to this rogue’s gallery of power seekers. He’s an uncommonly dangerous man with a hunger for the forbidden and a set of abilities that is way beyond ordinary. Abilities that he feels entitle him to possess anything he might desire.

That would include Elizabeth Tucker, the woman he needs to find the Stones. She’s freshly transplanted from New York City to Boston’s North Shore. With a new job as a Pastry Chef at Dazzle’s Bakery and an old house inherited from her Aunt Ophelia, her life is pretty much on track … until it’s suddenly derailed by a man named Diesel, a rude monkey and a ninja cat. Lizzy can handle the monkey and the cat. She’s not sure about Diesel. The Seven Deadly Sins are pride, greed, lust, envy, wrath, sloth and gluttony. That pretty much covers everything that is wicked. Diesel thinks it also pretty much covers everything that’s fun. And Lizzy thinks Diesel and the Seven Deadly Sins cover everything her mother warned her about.

I love Janet. I hate that so many people have this impression of her as being a chick lit author (as a condescending thing). I’ve never associated Janet Evanovich with that type of writing, especially because the Stephanie Plum novels are crime stories. They’re ridiculously funny and awesome and brilliant, but they (especially the earlier ones) can be quite violent and, at times, a bit scary. But the best part of her writing has always been her humour, to me. There are numerous authors I love because of their humour, but unfortunately it is very male dominated. I love that Janet writes such kick-ass, hilarious stories while still being girly and violent and brilliant all at the same time.

Being a huge fan of hers already, I was thrilled to read about Wicked Appetite before it was released. I am a nerd for supernatural elements in real life situations within stories, so this book sounded perfect. However, I am yet to read any of the between-the-numbers books in the Plum series (due to other books taking importance more than anything else), so I hadn’t been introduced to Diesel through them. I think I preferred it that way, because this series felt like an entirely new series unconnected to Stephanie Plum et al at all.

The pacing of the books are very similar to what Janet Evanovich fans would be used to, with stumbling into amusing situations in the middle of a greater storyline. The parallels between the Plum series are undeniable and mentioned extensively in a lot of other reviews, but I felt the characters stood alone enough to be likeable, funny, entertaining, and not carbon copies of Janet Evanovich’s most famous series.

It was the perfect book for me the last couple of weeks, because I haven’t had any time to read with university assignments due and the off chance I did get to read (aka, on my lunch breaks at work and prac) it was a great, funny, crazy book to get into. It made me smile a lot and, really, what more could you want for a book when you have a lot of other more stressful things to read for study? Lizzy Tucker is my new hero.

(I also spent most of the book wanting to eat cupcakes.)

"You've got to stop with the eye rolling. You're going to strain something."

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Favourite Author Focus: Audrey Niffenegger

It’s might be odd to do a favourite author focus on someone who has only written two books, I suppose, but I adore both The Time Traveler’s Wife and Her Fearful Symmetry beyond almost any other books.

Don't you think it's better to be extremely happy for a short while, even if you lose it, than to be just okay for your whole life?

I first read The Time Traveler’s Wife on recommendation from my cousin with whom I was staying with in London for a month in mid-2005. I couldn’t put it down. I read it obsessively on the tube, at night before bed, and in the mornings while eating breakfast after my cousin and her two flatmates had gone to work. It was one of a few books I’ve ever read that I finished and quite honestly could’ve started from the beginning again straight away. I completely fell in love. I have a weird fascination with the idea of time travel; I blame reading Emily Rodda’s Finders Keepers and The Timekeeper at a very young age. (Oh, how I loved everything Emily Rodda when I was in primary school. I love that she still writes and is still being read by kids today, even if they’re different books to the ones I read.) The Time Traveler’s Wife is a love story like no other and still one of the most original stories I have ever read. A lot of people feel it’s overrated because it's so popular, but I don’t care if something’s popular or not – it’s either good or it’s not. And The Time Traveler’s Wife is amazing. (How could I not love something that even references a John Locke theory?)

'What we need,' Henry says, 'is a fresh start. A blank slate. Let's call her Tabula Rasa.'

I was ridiculously happy when Her Fearful Symmetry was announced as being released. I waited MONTHS for it to arrive in the bookstore I work at. I remember unpacking the boxes and my excitement at opening a box of them made my colleague make fun of me for days about it. Speaking of weird fascinations, I also love twins, particularly identical twins. It’s a crazy thing. But naturally when I heard that Audrey Niffenegger’s new book was going to involve TWO sets of identical twins, I was just a smidge (read: extremely) excited. Some reviews seem to just dislike it compared to The Time Traveler’s Wife. Do people read books by the same author because they want a repetition of their last book? How lame. It’s either too different to their previous books or authors get crap for making them too similar. I thought Her Fearful Symmetry was brilliant and read it in two days. But then, twins + ghosts + paranormal + London + a love story that isn’t typical = awesome to me.

In the dim light of the computer screen he seemed otherworldly; Julia thought him beautiful, though she knew it was the beauty of damage.

I really look forward to anything else Audrey Niffenegger writes in the future; her stories are different, beautiful, poetic, and amazing. They’re literary without being difficult to read for the sake of it, reference awesome music, include supernatural elements, the characterisation is realistic (including swearing, which the absence of often seems unnatural to me), and I find them incredibly difficult to put down. Perfect kind of books, if you ask me.

Of course... some people, me included, believe that punk is just the most recent manifestation of this, this spirit, this feeling, you know, that things aren't right and that in fact things are so wrong that the only thing we can do is to say 'fuck it', over and over again, really loud, until someone stops us.

Saturday, September 25, 2010


I wish I had time to read stuff other than about electrophysiological auditory testing and how to set up soundproof booths and how to analyse speech sonograms and background reading on my research project for next year.


PS, To anyone that actually does read my reviews, "Wicked Appetite" by Janet Evanovich is awesome so far. She is so fun. I will post a review if I finish it sometime in the next millenium.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Tomorrow When the War Began movie!

I feel I need to write a blog post about this movie, seeing as the books are by my favourite author of all time and I’ve seen it three times already. Plus, I keep incessantly commenting on everyone else’s updates about it! I read Tomorrow When the War Began in 1994 for the first time, six months or so after it’s release. I was lucky that I read So Much To Tell You in 1993 and found my favourite author so early, otherwise I might have had that dreaded experience of reading Tomorrow When the War Began in English in Year 8 as my first Marsden introduction.

I bought the entire series in hardcover (including Tomorrow because the paperback was yet to be released at that stage) and then, as the paperbacks were released, did the really stupid thing of buying them and getting rid of my hardcovers. I don’t like hardcover books, I find them frustrating to read. If I buy them, I will always replace them with the paperback when it’s released. People think I’m insane for this. I really, really regret getting rid of my hardcovers of this series, though. Not because I would sell them but because they mean so much to me even after all these years. I own the Ellie Chronicles in hardcover and paperback; I think the covers of those are really pretty. I also have the "adult cover" of When the War Began in paperback from 1995 (apparently they didn't think adults needed the "Tomorrow" in the title), which I adore. It helps that my brother went and had this signed by John Marsden for me years ago ("Dear Linda, take risks! John Marsden") when I couldn't go to meet him doing a signing in a bookstore.

I don’t think I have ever been so happy (and relieved) about a movie adaptation in my entire life. I knew John Marsden had said he was happy with it, so I wasn’t TOO concerned going in. Not that your expectations are necessarily the same as the author’s because your imaginations are different, but it was at least reassurring that he was happy with how it turned out. Particularly considering John Marsden has been getting offers for movies/TV shows/mini-series for more than ten years and has apparently turned down something like 130 offers.

I won’t babble too much about it (because otherwise we’d be here all day), but I thought it was absolutely fantastic. The characters were great, the acting was a lot better than I was expecting, and the action was awesome. It was true to the book without being a direct translation (which in my experience doesn’t tend to work so well). Small things were changed, but nothing major. (I actually find some of the small things they changed kind of odd - like the snake being in Kevin's sleeping bag instead of Homer's, etc.) Wirrawee was perfect, I thought. Hell was different to what I'd imagined, but still so pretty. My favourite character from the start of reading the books was Homer. As we got further into the stories, Fi became my favourite character because of the amount that she changed and became who she did. I thought Homer in the movie was brilliant; definitely my favourite actor. Fi showed promise in the latter half of the movie of becoming the Fi that I love. I also LOVED the all-Australian soundtrack; I’m really pleased they did that.

I really hope they make more movies, at least the first three. I think The Third Day, the Frost would make the most amazing movie with all the action in it. When I was 14 (also the year the Tomorrow series finished), I decided I wanted to get a John Marsden book related tattoo if I still wanted it at 21. (This was my stipulation for all my tattoo ideas as a teenager, haha.) It was actually the first tattoo I thought about. I couldn’t decide between the words, “darkness be my friend” or the words “the other side of dawn”. Darkness Be My Friend is my favourite Tomorrow series book, but I fell in love with the title of The Other Side of Dawn when I first heard about it. I’m not sure why I never really thought about getting So Much To Tell You. Anyway, I think Dawn has won for a few years now but we’ll see what fits where I want it :)

Between the movie and John Marsden commenting on my blog entry a few months ago, this is has been a pretty awesome Marsden year!

Friday, September 10, 2010

Favourite Author Focus: Chuck Palahniuk

Oh, Chuck. Sometimes I love you, sometimes I don’t even like you. But when I love you, I REALLY love you.

It's so hard to forget pain, but it's even harder to remember sweetness. We have no scar to show for happiness. We learn so little from peace.

The first book I ever read by Chuck Palahniuk was Choke, which is an... interesting introduction to a somewhat controversial author. Controversial not entirely because of the content of his stories (although there is that, too), but also because a lot of people have issues with his originality. For me, though, his books were different to anything else I had read before. I adore the way he writes in his early work, the way he uses language, and the crazy things that happen in his books. However, there is not many people I know that would like his writing. (But then, I know a lot of people that don’t like things that are a little ‘different’.)

Nothing shows you the straight line from here to death like a list.

Most people would know of him through the fact that he wrote Fight Club, which was later turned into an awesome movie with Brad Pitt and the amazing Edward Norton. I love this movie; I have seen it more than almost any other movie in my life. This is one of the only cases where I love the movie and the book and I saw the movie first. But both are fantastic and entertaining and, dare I say it, original.

On a long enough timeline, the survival rate for everyone drops to zero.

Invisible Monsters is my favourite and most likely always will be. There are some things in that book that really get to me on a personal level; if it weren’t for that, I’d say Survivor would be my favourite of his books. Apparently Invisible Monsters was rejected from being published for being ‘too disturbing’ and was only accepted after the success of Fight Club. That is bizarre to me. I was the biggest wuss at 15 and I still loved that book. Notice how I’m not saying any storylines? I don’t want to without spoiling the endings because that’s half the point of Chuck’s stories. Think of Fight Club, if you’ve seen it. If you know the end before you’ve seen it once, the brilliance is kind of lost. If you don’t like reading about violence, sex, drugs, swearing, death, and (particularly) fragmented trains of thought, his books may not be for you.

Nothing of me is original. I am the combined effort of everyone I've ever known.

Lullaby was the end of a flawless ride with Chuck. I hated that book and still do. I couldn’t even finish it and there has been maybe ten books in my entire life that I have completely given up on and never returned to. Since then, it’s been a bit up and a down. Diary was a big improvement on Lullaby for me, Haunted was a bit different, Rant was awesome, Snuff was blah, I don’t plan to read Pygmy but I do plan to read Tell-All as I have a reader’s copy. So we’ll see how that goes. But I still consider Chuck to be a favourite author of mine for his pre-Lullaby books and their brilliance.

Who you are, moment to moment, is just a story.

PS, Usually I like to post the book covers of the versions that I read/own but I cannot for the life of me find the covers of Choke or Survivor that I read. Grr.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin

Release date (Australia): August 2010
Rating: 7.5/10

Gretchen Rubin had an epiphany one rainy afternoon in the unlikeliest of places: a city bus. "The days are long, but the years are short," she realized. "Time is passing, and I'm not focusing enough on the things that really matter." In that moment, she decided to dedicate a year to her happiness project. In this lively and compelling account of that year, Rubin chronicles her adventures during the twelve months she spent test-driving the wisdom of the ages, current scientific research, and lessons from popular culture about how to be happier. Each month she tackled a new set of resolutions: give proofs of love, ask for help, find more fun, keep a gratitude notebook, forget about results.

She immersed herself in principles set forth by all manner of experts, from Epicurus to Thoreau to Oprah to Martin Seligman to the Dalai Lama to see what worked for her—and what didn't. Her conclusions are sometimes surprising - she finds that money can buy happiness, when spent wisely; that novelty and challenge are powerful sources of happiness; that "treating" yourself can make you feel worse; that venting bad feelings doesn't relieve them; that the very smallest of changes can make the biggest difference - and they range from the practical to the profound.

I’m finding it hard to review this book because I really enjoyed it but I’m not quite sure what to write about it. Gretchen Rubin’s writing is conversational and funny, despite the fact that this somewhat biography could also be put into the self-help section in a bookstore. It’s realistic about the average person’s life and their level of ability to include her ideas and suggestions into their busy schedules.

The time to start exercising, stop nagging, and organise our digital photos was when everything was going smoothly. I didn’t want to wait for a crisis to remake my life.

One aspect I loved about this book is that Gretchen has obviously done a significant amount of research into the psychology and history of happiness, which I found interesting. She doesn’t rely on it in her own story of happiness, but manages to incorporate the research into what she did and why. Gretchen is also well-read on subjects such as religion, parenthood, general health and work.

"Nothing,' wrote Tolstoy, 'can make our life, or the lives of other people, more beautiful than perpetual kindness."

I enjoyed this book because it gave me some small manageable ideas on how to make life happier, which is important in a year that has been quite full of stress and anxiety. I feel that this is what Gretchen Rubin was aiming to do, giving people manageable ideas on how to make their lives happier without having to jet off to Italy for a year or do something drastic like quit their job. And for this, she succeeds.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

The Worst Thing She Ever Did by Alice Kuipers

Release date (Australia): 1 May 2010
Rating: 8/10

Sixteen-year-old Sophie is convinced her life is OK now, if only she could just be allowed to move on from what happened last summer. Sure, her mother is crazy and all of her friends treat her as if she’s made of glass, but she’s FINE. She just wishes she could forget about Emily. When her therapist – whom her mum makes her go and see – suggests she keep a diary, Sophie realises that the panic attacks she’s suffering from might, in fact, be a sign that she’s actually not OK, at least not yet. Gradually, though, with the help of the new girl at school, and, eventually, her mother, Sophie finds strength in herself and those around her. And as she allows herself to remember, she also begins to forgive.

I am currently taking forever to read the book I’m currently reading, even though it is brilliant, but I just have been really busy. So I thought I’d do an update on a book I read earlier this year because I thought it was wonderful. (As a side note, this book is called Lost For Words in the United States.)

Written in diary format, which I know is not everyone’s cup of tea, but in this case I think it really suits the story and the character of Sophie. At times a typical teenager, feeling like she has no one to confide in and no one that understands what she is going through, she is also dealing with a tragedy that no human being should have the endure. The details of this are pointedly left hazy with small hints given as the book progresses. I find this technique sometimes frustrating in books, but in The Worst Thing She Ever Did I think it works incredibly well and you get to ‘know’ Sophie before you know exactly what has happened to her and her family.

Love, sisterhood, friendship, family, post-traumatic stress disorder, death, and panic attacks are all dealt with in this story with eloquence and beauty. But it’s not all gloom and doom, with enough light-heartedness of other aspects of the story to prevent it from being depressing. I think it’s an important read and well worth the sometimes heart-wrenching content. Without giving anything away, it’s a book that I found moving and beautiful and touched on an event close to my heart.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Pretty Bad Things by C.J. Skuse

Release date (Australia): 1 August 2010
Rating: 8/10

Twins in Candy-Store Crime Spree...
I know what you’re thinking. Tearaway Teens. Yadda yadda. Maybe you’re right. But we’re all out of choices. Last time we made headlines, Beau and I were six-year-old ‘wonder twins’. Little kids found alive in woods after three days missing, looking for our dad. We’ve just hit sixteen and life’s not so wonderful. In fact, it sucks out loud. Still no Dad. Still lost. Still looking. But now we’ve got a clue to where Dad could be. Everything’s changed. It’s a long shot but we’ve nothing to lose.

I loved this book far more than I expected to. I was halfway through another book and just felt like reading something easy and light-hearted. I saw this on the shelf at work and figured it would be okay. But it was actually one of the coolest and most daring young adult books I have read in a while. I might be biased, though, because I am a big fan of Las Vegas. I’ve only spent one night there, but it was just fun. Being from the most isolated city in the world, perhaps I just loved the bright lights and the craziness. So finding out not only that this book featured twins as the main characters (another weird thing I love), but that it was primarily set in Vegas sold it to me then and there.

“It’s the living you want to be scared of, Beau, not the dead.”

The story alternates perspective from Paisley to Beau, the 16 year old twins at the centre of the story. Their mother is dead and their father has been absent since they were six years old, hence they have been living with their awful grandmother. Paisley is brash and crude and brave where Beau is quiet and determined and cautious. The contrast is perfect and the relationship is incredibly realistic. The strength of their relationship and the support and love they have for each other is evident from the beginning, as well as the sacrifices they would make in a heartbeat if it meant helping their sibling; this is the heart of the story for me. C.J. Skuse’s writing is almost flawless, incredibly witty and intelligent, with the points of view of the teenagers done perfectly.

Then I did something I haven’t done since I was a child. I screamed. It was the scream I screamed in the woods when I was six, on the second day of looking for Dad. It was the scream of lost causes.

There are some serious issues within the story, not only involving the search for their missing father, but issues of right and wrong, crime, sexuality and getting into dangerous situations, and many others. But there’s also Vegas, fun, wicked music, and awesome action. I hope this author writes another book soon, preferably involving Paisley and Beau again!

Monday, August 2, 2010

Favourite Author Focus: Francesca Lia Block

Your whole life you can be told something is wrong and so you believe it. Why should you question it? But then slowly seeds are planted inside of you, one by one, by a touch or a look or a day skateboarding in a park, and they start to burst out of old hulls shells and they start to sprout. And pretty soon there are so many of them. They are named Love and Trust and Kindness and Joy and Desire and Wonder and Spirit and Soulmate. They grow into a garden so dense and thick that it starts to invade your brain where the old things you were once told are dying.

I never really “grew out of” fairy tales, I still love them. I love the real ones, Hans Christian Andersen, Grimm, et al, but I admit to loving the Disney-fied versions too. I love happy endings and everything falling perfectly into place. It’s in such contrast to real life and that is a significant part of why I loved stories that I could get lost in while I was growing up. I could forget about other scary things like surgery and pain (in the past, present or future) and live someone else’s life for a while. My love for fairy tales is primarily what brings me to write about the beautiful stories of Francesca Lia Block.

Magic can be found in stolen moments.

I started reading Francesca Lia Block in 2001 after reading her name being mentioned by some people on a band’s message board. I may have been a little ‘old’ at 16 to start reading her books, but I have never been bothered by reading books intended for audiences older or younger than myself: as long as they are well-written. It’s probably why I was reading George Orwell's 1984 at age 12, but also read Lauren Oliver's amazing Before I Fall at age 25. Francesca Lia Block’s books were (and are) virtually impossible to find in Australia, so I ordered The Rose and the Beast from Amazon because the subtitle, “Fairy Tales Retold” intrigued me. To this day, I consider this to be my favourite book of hers partly because it was the first I read and partly because it is literally fairy tales retold, which naturally I loved.

Sometimes you fall, spinning through space, grasping for the things that keep you here. Sometimes you catch them. Sometimes you don't. Sometimes they catch you.

Through The Rose and the Beast, I fell in love with Francesca Lia Block’s incredible use of language. It is fluid like poetry and the imagery is stunning. I went on to read the Weetzie Bat books (now in a collection called Dangerous Angels) within a month or so and she became one of my top five favourite authors of all time. The way she writes about love, family, sexuality, life, happiness, depression, self-injury, suicide, anything and everything, is done in such an original and creative way that I am yet to come across another author like her. I also admit to adoring the cover art of her books; this a significant part of what drew me in to want to know more about this author and her stories.

You make me feel like I have wings when you touch me.

I think Francesca Lia Block is an important author for teenage girls; I think it’s an incredible shame that her books are not really known here. I really believe that reading her books earlier in my teenage years would have helped me cope with some of the things I went through, largely due to the significant topics she covers in her books without being too opinionated. The stories she creates are, simply, beautiful.

Love is a dangerous angel.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Together Alone: The Story of the Finn Brothers by Jeff Apter

Release Date (Australia): 1 June 2010
Rating: 7/10

The hits of Neil and Tim Finn read like a checklist of recent pop history. And to think it all began in sleepy, rural Te Awamutu, New Zealand, where Brian Timothy Finn fell in love with The Beatles, an obsession that would also work its way into his younger brother Neil’s DNA. Based on interviews, critical analysis, extensive research, and the author’s 30+ years of following the Finns, Together Alone is the first biography written about the Finn brothers. This is a story of breakthroughs, breakdowns, sibling rivalry and respect – and some of the best pop songs this side of Lennon and McCartney.

I have been listening to Tim and Neil Finn, in some form or another, for my entire life. My mother is from New Zealand and her influence on this love of mine from such an early age is undeniable – she has been listening to them since the late 1970s. The earliest song I ever remember loving by anyone is “History Never Repeats” by Split Enz. Crowded House, the most famous incarnation of their music, formed the year I was born. I was 12 years old the first time I saw Neil Finn live; it was my second live concert and is a large part of the reason I fell in love with live music. Seeing Neil perform live (and he wasn’t even my favourite - Tim was, is, and always will be) blew my mind. As a child with a hearing loss, I still loved music so much but it had to be loud, which wasn’t always possible without bothering other people. Sometimes listening to music could be a struggle and required concentration. I couldn’t understand the lyrics or hear the individual instruments within a song unless the volume was high. Live music never posed this issue for me: it was always loud. I loved seeing live bands at 12 and still love it beyond almost anything 13 years later. I love that feeling in your heart like your whole body can feel the music. Tim and Neil Finn are a large part behind my early development of a love for music in general. Their songs are still among the most beautiful songs I have heard and Tim Finn, especially circa Split Enz, is one of the most inventive, creative and original songwriters I have ever had the pleasure of listening to.

I read a biography Jeff Apter wrote about Silverchair years ago, despite never being a significant fan of Silverchair. But I loved Apter’s biography: it was written intelligently and with just the right amount of distance and personality. He wrote considerately of Daniel Johns' illnesses and the struggle of those young kids learning to cope with such sudden, incredible fame. This book, as well as his biography of Dave Grohl, really made me respect Jeff Apter as a biographer, which is a difficult thing to do successfully. I was therefore intrigued when I heard he was releasing a book on the Finn brothers. I know far too much about Tim and Neil to be deemed healthy, hence I wasn’t sure how much reading a biography would give me in terms of new information. I was also apprehensive because a lot of people can make it all about Neil – and make Tim look somewhat irrelevant – simply because Neil was the 'successful' one to reach fame in the United States, especially with Crowded House.

“I was endlessly fascinated by music, partly by looking at it through Tim’s eyes, because he was six years older than me and what he was doing seemed incredibly evolved.”

I needn’t have worried. Apter wrote beautifully and carefully of the entire story of the brothers – from family days in Te Awamutu to the early days of Split Enz, from the success of Split Enz after Neil joined to the eventual disbanding of the band, from Tim’s solo career and formation of Crowded House, from Tim joining Crowded House to the end of the band, and the joining of the brothers in the two Finn Brothers projects. He discussed the ups and downs of the brothers' relationship carefully and without bias.

Most importantly to me, Apter wrote of Crowded House drummer, Paul Hester’s suicide with dignity and respect: briefly discussing the aftermath on a personal level for Paul’s family, but largely concentrating on the Royal Albert Hall shows the Finns were scheduled to play the days after his death, with Nick Seymour flying in to join them. These shows meant a lot to the musicians and the fans alike, in a sharing of the grief felt after the shock that Paul was gone and that someone so lovable and funny had decided to leave this world in such a way.

When the curtain rose, a row of three mic stands had been set up in the middle of the stage, along with a solitary snare drum, a nod to the usual Crowded House set-up for “Sister Madly” and a very obvious tribute to Hester.

I have read a lot of music biographies, many of them not very good, but to anyone that has an interest in Tim Finn, Neil Finn, Crowded House or Split Enz, this is a perfect introduction to two men from a tiny town in New Zealand who have created some of the most beautiful pop songs in existence (and worn some of the craziest outfits in existence, too).

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer

Release date (Australia): 1 November 2009
Rating: 9.5/10

“This story didn’t begin as a book. I simply wanted to know – for myself and my family – what meat is. Where does it come from? How is it produced? What are the economic, social and environmental effects? Are there animals that it is straightforwardedly right to eat? Are there situations in which not eating animals is wrong? If this began as a personal quest, it didn’t stay that way for very long...” Jonathan Safran Foer

I am a vegetarian. Let’s just put that out there. I find there are generally two types of reactions to this statement: either the person firmly (read: rudely) states their beliefs as to why meat is necessary for good nutrition and I must be very unhealthy or the person feels the need to tell me how they “barely” eat meat at all and they’re “pretty much” a vegetarian. Either way, I hate it. I hate these reactions because I just don’t care if you eat meat. I stopped eating meat when I was eight years old because I strongly disliked it. I might have become vegetarian as time went on for the animal aspect, but it’s impossible to know. I think that’s why I never thought seriously about trying these foods again as I grew older to see if my tastes had changed. But I’ll never know if I would have the willpower to stop eating red meat, chicken and seafood solely because I don’t like the idea of eating animals.

I have often felt that my vegetarianism matters more to such people than it does to me.

I do, however, like Jonathan Safran Foer. A lot. Everything Is Illuminated and Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close are two of my favourite books in existence. Their beauty, humour and originality still astound me each time I read them and I love recommending them to anyone that will listen to me at the bookstore I work at. I somehow managed to be unaware of his writing of this book until it arrived in the store as a new release. I was thrilled when I realised what the book was, because Jonathan Safran Foer writes in such a beautiful way that I assumed it would translate effortlessly into non-fiction and make the dry, often harsh, facts of meat production more readable. Again, I was lucky to be right about this.

Cruelty depends on an understanding of cruelty, and the ability to choose against it. Or to choose to ignore it.

Despite being a vegetarian myself, I was relieved the book was not an argument for vegetarianism – I don’t like forceful opinions or being ‘told’ what to think, regardless of whether I agree with the person or not. If anything, the book was an argument against factory farming and the way in which animals are treated in such cruel ways, but this is presented in a factual manner without much of the judgements that are usually thrown in with any discussion of eating meat, seafood, eggs, and dairy. Jonathan Safran Foer freely admits his own varying degrees of vegetarianism over the course of his life and by no means states that this is the way in which human beings should live.

On average, Americans eat the equivalent of 21,000 entire animals in a lifetime.

The only minor issue with the book, for me personally, was that it was purely focused on the American meat industry, which doesn’t necessarily provide complete relevance to non-American readers. This is not surprising, given that Jonathan Safran Foer is American and researching even just Western world would be an almost impossible job to undertake. I like the fact that he allows the factory farmers, animal activists and many other people to speak for themselves.

Eating was carefree. My grandmother made that life possible for us. But she was, herself, unable to shake the desperation.

What I loved most about the book was the personal aspect; for example, Jonathan discussing his grandmother who only survived the Holocaust by eating repulsive things from rubbish bins and then her future of savouring food like she was constantly preparing for war. It was these stories interwoven within the often devastating facts that made this easily the most amazing and intelligently written discussion of eating animals that I have ever come across. I struggle to see how anyone could read this book and be the same person they were when they started it.

Food matters and animals matter and eating animals matters even more.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Favourite Author Focus: Henry Rollins

When I was 11 years old, I started to gain an interest in the music my older brother was getting into. The first song I really liked was “Come As You Are” and it’s because of that song that Nirvana is the first band I felt a passion for (other than Split Enz). I didn’t really know who Kurt Cobain was when he died; I didn’t know his music or his words that only couple of years later I would completely fall in love with. Within the next few months of this ‘discovery’ of Nirvana, my brother played me a few other songs he thought I might like; I wasn’t particularly interested in most of them. I just listened to Nirvana incessantly. Then one day not long before turning 12, I walked past my brother’s room and heard a song playing and stopped dead. I went and asked him what it was and he said, “I’m not sure. It’s the second song on that single I played you the other day. All I Want. It’s by The Offspring, I don’t remember what this song is called.” I picked up the single and checked the track listing. “Way Down the Line. It’s called Way Down the Line.” That day changed nearly every aspect of my life to come. It’s because of that band, that song, that I became enamored with music with no return. I had to know everything about them; I learned the lead singer and bass player had a record label – and I had to know all of the bands on that label. (Oh, AFI, how much amusement you have given me over the years and how you changed my life.) It’s through that obsession of knowing everything about that one band and the musicians that they associated with and the music they were associated with by others that I fell in love with a little thing called punk rock.

When I was 14 and I had access to the internet and international online sites where I could order CDs that were impossible to find (or ridiculously expensive) in Australia, I could finally gain access to numerous albums I’d been wanting for a while. I also decided I wanted to learn more about the ‘classic’ punk bands from the 1970s and 1980s. Two of these were Black Flag and Minor Threat. I learned what straight edge was, a movement which still fascinates me a decade later. But more importantly, I learned of the most recognisable ex-lead singer of Black Flag: Henry Rollins. By this time time it was 2000 and Henry was in Rollins Band and, to be honest, the first thing that made me want to know more about him was his tattoos. I became obsessed with tattoos when I was 14 and just never moved past it. Luckily for me that I did develop this obsession, because delving further into the brilliance of Henry Rollins is easily one of the best things I have ever decided to do.

In the last ten years, I am yet to come across someone whose intelligence surpasses Henry Rollins’. His musical talent, his knowledge, his ability to work with such intense energy at all times, his writing, and his love of travel are only a few of the reasons why I find him truly amazing. The fact that I can sit and listen to him talk for three hours and still not want him to stop really does show his incredible ability to speak and keep his audience interested. As a lover of books for my entire life, finding out he wrote books based on his journals was wonderful to me. The first Henry Rollins book I read in early 2001 was Smile, You’re Traveling. It was the latest of his books when I decided to order one from Amazon to see what his writing was like, but I mostly chose to order it because I loved the title. This book was largely focused on the writing and recording of Rollins Band’s last album and, despite the fact that I’m not even a huge fan of Rollins Band, I still managed to finish this book wanting to read everything else Henry Rollins had written and would write in the future. The way he writes about travelling makes me want to get on a plane then and there and go somewhere I’ve never been before and experience a whole new world. As it turns out, all of his books do this for me.

Not long after this, I read Get in the Van and Black Coffee Blues. Get in the Van became my favourite then, because I loved reading about Black Flag and the things that happened in that era - not only of Henry’s life but also of music itself. Black Coffee Blues more fully introduced me to Henry’s wicked sense of humour and even for that alone, I loved it. See a Grown Man Cry, Now Watch Him Die kind of broke my heart. Reading about Henry witnessing the murder of his friend Joe Cole was heartbreaking. You can tell he was in a (particularly) dark place in this book, but despite the anger, violence, loneliness, and pain held within this book, it only made me love Henry more. Broken Summers is my all-time favourite of his books now. I didn’t even know who the West Memphis Three were until I read it but I read the book (and far too many websites about the WM3) in two days because it intrigued me. I am also a nerd for loving this book the most, because of the mentions of Ryan Adams, Tim Armstrong, Lars Fredrickson, Dee Dee Ramone, Iggy Pop, and so many others involved in the recording of the Black Flag cover album they did for the West Memphis Three. More recently, A Preferred Blur is quite similar to Smile, You’re Traveling – Henry generally talks about travel, touring (doing spoken word shows), and all of his usual suspects: religion, music, current affairs, the Bush administration, life. His travels to Pakistan, Iran, Lebanon, and Syria interested me because I haven’t travelled to any Middle Eastern countries as yet. There are numerous other books Henry Rollins has written, but these are some of my favourites. Really, I could write about him all day.

Thank you, Henry Garfield, for becoming the man that is Henry Rollins and in many ways changing my life: my outlook on music and travel, as well as my ability to push myself further to accomplish the things I feel I need to do.

“If I lose the light of the sun, I will write by candlelight, moonlight, no light. If I lose paper and ink, I will write in blood on forgotten walls. I will write always. I will capture nights all over the world and bring them to you.” Henry Rollins

Monday, June 28, 2010

Alice I Have Been by Melanie Benjamin

Release date (Australia): 1 March 2010
Rating: 7/10

“I was inspired to write Alice I Have Been after unexpectedly viewing a photographic exhibit called ‘Dreaming in Pictures: The Photography of Lewis Carroll’. Among the many photographs there, one stood out to me. It was of a young girl clad only in rags, but with an expression on her face that stopped me in my tracks. She was so adult, so frank, so worldly, as she gazed at the man behind the camera. She was 7-year-old Alice Liddell. It was to her that Lewis Carroll - or Charles Dodgson, as she knew him - told the story of a little girl who tumbled down a rabbit hole. She was the one who begged him to write it down.
I wondered what happened to her after she grew up; I wondered what happened between the two of them to result in such a startling photograph. I wondered so much that I decided to write about it, write her story in her own ‘words’ - although of course, with historical fiction, I got to make those words up.” Melanie Benjamin

I am incredibly in love with Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass and have been since I was a little girl. I have a collection of different versions of these books and really, I’m just a complete nerd about them. When I first read about Alice I Have Been being released, I was a little excited but a mostly apprehensive. I didn’t want the story to possibly taint my love for Alice by focusing too much on the relationship between Charles Dodgson and Alice Liddell when there is not a great deal of fact to work with in regards to this relationship. Luckily, it only made my love for Lewis Carroll's stories stronger and it is a true credit to author Melanie Benjamin’s beautiful writing. The fluidity and poetry of her writing makes me wish I could ever write so well.

Try as I might, I could not understand how one man – one shy man with a camera, a stammer, and an endless supply of stories – could be responsible for so much disarray.

In the story, readers’ see Alice in three phases of her life - as a young child, a young woman, and an old woman. It is as a young child, up until the age of 11, that the reader largely see Charles Dodgson’s involvement in Alice and her siblings’ lives while they were growing up. The lack of facts surrounding Alice Liddell and Mr Dodgson’s relationship is at least partly as a result of missing diary entries around the time in which their relationship ceased. Hence, in Alice I Have Been, this is largely made up and in my opinion, dealt with quite well.

A man who fancied himself a child and a child who thought she was a woman turned to each other on a hot summer day , mindful of nothing, no one, but each other – not even the sister who sat opposite, watching.

One thing I really liked about the book is the reminders of the era that it is set in, because odd things occur which would not happen to the same extent these days (especially in the relationships between those higher up in society, such as Princes, and women or children). The reader is reminded of what is controversial at the time (such as having a skirt a certain distance above the ankle but still below the knee) and how commonplace it is for a young woman of 16 to marry a man 15 years her senior (especially if he is equal to or above her in the social hierarchy).

I was grateful to be in Oxford, at least, where young ladies attending lectures and reading books wasn’t quite as shocking as it would have been in a more fashionable place, such as London.

I enjoyed the way the story unfolded in a non-linear format, from one important era in Alice’s life to another rather than simply year to year. I found older Alice far more fascinating to read about than Alice as a child, which seems to differ to most readers of this story. Small things such as Alice’s sons finding out she is “Alice in Wonderland” after finding her original copy of Alice’s Adventures Under Ground (published as Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland) made the story touching and beautiful at times without being over the top. As a fan of Lewis Carroll’s books, I did not find Alice I Have Been to ‘ruin’ Alice for me or anything to that effect and simply found it to be an enjoyable read which shed some light on Alice Pleasance Liddell and her life.

For eighty years I have been, at various times, a gypsy girl, a muse, a lover, a mother, a wife. But for one man, and for the world, I will always be a seven-year-old girl named Alice.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Reading By Moonlight by Brenda Walker

Release Date (Australia): 29 March 2010
Rating: 7/10

The first time Brenda packed her bag to go into hospital, she wondered which book to take. Her life had been built around reading and writing. Now she was also a patient, being treated for breast cancer, battling for her life and terrified for herself and her family. But turning to medicine didn’t mean she turned away from literature. Books had always been her solace and sustenance, and now, choosing the right one was the most important thing she could do for herself.

A book that has the subtitle “How books saved a life” is naturally going to catch my eye. I am a firm believer in the idea that art, whether it be in the form of books or music or any other kind, can save your life. It can help you through things you don’t believe you’re strong enough to survive and sometimes you don’t want to burden the people you love with how much pain you might be in or how sick you feel. There are books that I have re-read more than ten times and with those books are the individual memories of who I was and where I was in my life at each reading. “My” books, as I tend to call the ones I hold close to my heart, are the ones that such memories are attached to. They are my lifelines.

Brenda Walker is a Perth author who has written of the books that helped her through the surgery and chemotherapy for breast cancer. Reading By Moonlight is beautifully written and shows the reader how the process of reading can almost mirror the process of healing. Many authors are delved into throughout the book, but some of Brenda’s favourites seem to include Samuel Beckett, Dante Alighieri, Leo Tolstoy, Vladimir Nabokov, and Charles Dickens. The insights into the writers and books are fascinating, intelligent, and often beautiful.

Empathy, the way that we can place ourselves, imaginatively, in the position of another person, is at the heart of what we do as readers, as people striving for a generous understanding of one another.

The book is broken up into Brenda’s five stages of treatment – surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, reconstruction, and survival. Her writing enters a positivity to the horrific process of breast cancer, a disease that affects almost everyone in some way, whether it be directly, or through a family member or friend with the disease. Stories are told with emotional optimism; Brenda’s first thought after her diagnosis was that she can’t leave her son alone.

That’s when it came, the simultaneous sense of falling and of being crushed. I was thinking about my son. He was fourteen then. I knew, urgently, that I couldn’t leave him...

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book and being given the opportunity to gain understanding about many authors I knew, many authors I have read, and a few authors I hadn’t even heard of until now. I do hope that readers are not put off reading a biography such as this simply because of the protagonist’s breast cancer and the assumption it will be a depressing read; they will miss out on one of the most optimistic and uplifting stories of survival and an author with a natural love of reading and of life.

When I tell myself that books can save a life, I don’t mean that books can postpone death. That is the job of medicine. I mean that certain books, by showing us the inner fullness of individual life, can rescue us from a limited view of ourselves and one another.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

The Castle in the Pyrenees by Jostein Gaardner

Release Date (Australia): 1 May 2010
Rating: 8/10

Two former lovers meet across space and time. But what brought them back together? And can they really trust their pasts? A dialogue between world views reopens and an old love burns again...

I love Sophie’s World by Jostein Gaardner. I think it’s one of the most amazing creations in this life. That book is a significant part of the reason as to why I became fascinated by philosophy and history at quite a young age. It was a difficult read the first time I read it; I was 11 years old. Reading about Aristotle, Plato, Kant, Descartes, Satre, Marx, Darwin, and Freud, among others was a lot to take in when I didn’t really know any of them or their ideas when I began the book. My favourites were the empiricists, John Locke and David Hume. (Is it any wonder I fell in love with Lost?) I went on to study these two, and Freud, in particular at university and loved every second of it. I thoroughly enjoy reading about the different theories behind human existence and human actions. This and my love for history (especially Russian) is not something I often talk about, but when I find someone that is interested in the same kind of things, I can ramble for hours.

What Jung called synchronicity is just pure, simple coincidence in my opinion.

I’ve never read anything else by Jostein Gaardner, which might seem a bit strange to some people, but sometimes a book has such an impact on me I almost don’t want to ‘taint’ it with another book by the same author that might not live up to my expectations. When A Castle in Pyrenees was released, I gave into temptation given that it is written in a similar style to Sophie’s World and returned to the world of philosophy as well as the possibility of psychic phenomena. This time it is intertwined with a love story that makes the sometimes dry facts much easier and more fluid to read. The overwhelming questions within the book are the issues of science vs. faith, facts vs. destiny, control vs. destiny. Is reason the only aspect that sheds light on human existence or are there greater forces at play?

I see this new contact as a stream of thought vibrating between two souls rather than an exchange of correspondence which will be there between us forever.

Told in correspondence format, similar to Sophie’s World (except this time via email, as it’s no longer 1995), Steinn represents the firm belief in science and Solrunn can’t understand a lack of belief in fate or destiny. Between their emails written over a couple of weeks after they fatefully (or coincidentally) meet again after decades apart, they discuss their different opinions and ideas on how and why they met again and also their contrasting versions of their history together. I loved this book, but I can certainly see how it would not be everyone’s cup of tea. If you have even a minor interest in philosophy or the issue of science vs. faith, you will most likely love it as I did – but if such things bore you, the book’s love story may not be able to make you fall in love with the story alone.

Perhaps Jesus was able to walk on water because the Sea of Galilee was covered in ice!

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Favourite Author Focus: John Marsden

Seven young people go camping in a wild place known as Hell. They emerge to find their homes empty, their animals dead, their country invaded. How much courage does it take just to stay alive?

As a break from exam study, and due to my lack of time to read more than half a book in the last week, I thought I’d update about my favourite author of all time. I started reading John Marsden’s books in 1993 at the age of eight. Since then, I always think of him first as my favourite author. He would be the author I would choose if I could only read one person’s books for the rest of my life, without a doubt. (Sorry, Neil, you know I love you, too.)

Is there something wrong when your main ambition in life is to be dead?

John Marsden, for those of you not from Australia (or somehow not aware of if you are Australian) is an Australian author who is most known for the Tomorrow series, the first of which is soon to be made into a movie. He writes about hard hitting topics in many of his novels - parental abuse and looking different in So Much To Tell You, psychiatric wards in Checkers, juvenile detention in Letters From the Inside, suicide and sex in Dear Miffy, parental deaths with an unexpected twist in Winter, and of course the possibility of invasion and war in Australia in the Tomorrow series. Homosexuality, anorexia, self-injury and many other ‘controversial’ aspects are also delved into across Marsden’s stories.

Dreamed about you again. Like I do most nights. Sometimes it’s nightmares. Sometimes it’s good dreams. Sometimes I have to change the sheets.

There is a band I believe saved my life, because I feel like without them I would never have been able get through some of the things I went through as a teenager. I think the same about John Marsden’s books. I have scattered memories of reading his books in numerous different hospitals, in waiting rooms, while listening to doctors’ have group meetings to talk about their future “plans” for me: taking my face off or breaking my jaw or cutting through my skull behind my ears to reconstruct my ear canals. I pulled ‘packing’ (special gauze) out of my right ear after having surgery when I was 12 years old because I was absent-mindedly fiddling with my ear while reading Burning For Revenge. When it came out, blood went everywhere. While my mother was panicking about my ear and the damage I might have caused, I was only upset about my now blood-covered book. The following year, when I first heard someone say something nasty to my face about the way I look, I thought, “This is how Marina felt.” That’s why So Much To Tell You is my favourite book of all time and the title of this blog.

I don’t know what I’m doing here. Well, I do, really... I have been sent here to learn to talk again. Sent here because my mother can’t stand my silent presence at home. Sent here because of my face...

John Marsden’s stories were, and still are, a significant part of my life and I truly cannot imagine my life without them. He is the only person I’ve ever drafted a fan letter to, multiple in fact (unless you count the letters I’ve drafted to the craniofacial surgeon I saw for 16 years; he is the person I admire most in the world). I felt like I couldn’t put into words what John's stories meant to me and still feel like that today. So let’s just leave it as this: they changed my life.

I’m an expert on fear now. I think I’ve felt every strong feeling there is: love, hate, jealousy. But fear’s the greatest of them all. Nothing reaches inside you and grabs you by the guts the way fear does. Nothing else possesses you like that.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Shades of Grey by Jasper Fforde

Release Date (Australia): 1 January 2010
Rating: 9/10

It’s Britain, but not as we know it. Democracy has been replaced by Colourtocracy. Visual colour dominates society – there is a social hierarchy based upon one’s limited colour vision. You are what you see.

Edward Russett has no ambition to be anything other than a loyal drone of the collective. With his better-than-average Red perception, he could marry an Oxblood, inherit the Stringworks, maybe even make Prefect. Life looks colourful. Life looks good. But then he meets a Grey named Jane who opens his eyes to the painful truth behind his seemingly perfect society.

I truly love dystopian fiction. I have a fondness for weird, frightening versions of the future written in stories. Books such as Brave New World by Aldous Huxley, 1984 by George Orwell, The Handmaid’s Tale and Oryx and Crake/Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood are all among my favourite books primarily for this reason. However, I am not a huge fan of most extensive Lord of the Rings-style science fiction or fantasy; anything based too far from my reality is not to my liking most of the time. But if a world is based on ours, with supernatural or futuristic elements thrown in, I can fall in love with it.

I am also completely in love with Jasper Fforde’s stories. I had a friend speak of how great his books are and I kept planning to read them but not getting around to it for a long time. I finally gave in and borrowed my friend’s copy of The Eyre Affair and ten pages in, I knew. I knew these books, this writer, was going to be among my top five authors and I would read his books again and again.

The point of all this is that when I first heard that Jasper Fforde was writing a new book in what may become a new series about some kind of dystopian world based on colour, I was ecstatic to say the least. And I was not disappointed. Shades of Grey keeps Fforde’s clever ideas, perfect humour, and many of the other aspects I adore in the Thursday Next and Nursery Crime series’. There is a strong emphasis on the importance of colour within Chromatica, and yet their world is very much one of black and white. Rules are followed blindly and unquestioned, regardless of the sense they may or may not make. And, naturally, there is a character that stands up against those rules that I think is the heart of the story. As with many of these types of books, it takes a bit of getting into because numerous concepts need to be set up so the reader has a general idea of the rules, who is ‘above’ (the Purples at the top) and who is ‘below’ (the Greys at the bottom) within the hierarchy, and so on. But once you’re in, that’s when it starts showing its true brilliance.

I loved this book, but would still recommend a new Jasper Fforde reader to read The Eyre Affair or The Big Over Easy as their first taste. But if you’re already a fan, I fail to see how you could not love to hate this new world that Jasper has created for us and fall in love with these characters.

Why, when you begin to question the world around you, do black and white certainties reduce themselves to shades of grey?

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

When Dogs Cry by Markus Zusak

Release Date (Australia):
1 November 2001; reprinted 1 May 2010.
Rating: 7.5/10

“You’re a bit of a lonely bastard, aren’t you?” said Rube.
“Yeah,” I answered, “I guess I am.”
But Cameron Wolfe is hungry.
He’s sick of being the filthy, torn, half-smiling, half-scowling underdog.
He’s finally met a girl.
He’s got words in his spirit.
And now he’s out to prove there’s nothing more beautiful than an underdog who’s willing to stand up.

I am a huge fan of The Book Thief and, especially, The Messenger by Markus Zusak. I haven’t read The Underdog or Fighting Ruben Wolfe, both of which feature the family of main characters in When Dogs Cry. However, I found it didn’t matter at all and it is very much a stand-alone novel.

I love the stories that Markus Zusak creates; I like to see the ‘underdog’ stand up and be counted as incredible, as so many of them are. Cameron’s story is one of bravery and family, love and acceptance, and the passage from youth to adulthood. Early in the book, Cameron is seen as the ‘loser’ of his family, but with some guidance from Octavia Ash, he begins to see himelf in a new way and accept that he can be ‘someone’, especially through his ability to write. Each chapter ends with a snippet of Cameron’s writing and the reader receives a chance to see his ‘words’.

The main thing I fall in love with in Markus Zusak’s stories is the poetic beauty of the language he uses to write them. I always admire writers that can use language in such a beautiful and stunning way, yet have it be so simple at the same time.

Silence bent down then, just for a moment, and whispered to each of us.

Although When Dogs Cry is a book intended for young adults, I would recommend it to anyone from age 14 to late 20s that appreciates a story of the underdog gaining the strength to rise up written through magnificent use of the English language.

I think now, of the edges of words, the loyalty of blood, the music of girls, the hands of brothers, and of hungry dogs that howl through the night.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Once, Then, and Now by Morris Gleitzman

Release Date (Australia):
1 August 2005; 2 June 2008; 3 May 2010.
Rating: 9.5/10

Once I escaped from an orphanage to find Mum and Dad.
Once I saved a girl called Zelda from a burning house.
Once I made a Nazi with a toothache laugh.
My name is Felix.
This is my story.

A couple of years ago, I read a book (at age 23) for children aged approximately 10+. It made me cry and laugh and was easily one of the best books I have ever read. Not one of the best kids' books; one of the best books. That book was Once, by Morris Gleitzman, the first in the trilogy of Once, Then, and Now.

Morris Gleitzman is an Australian author known for his funny, yet intelligently written, children's books. Once, Now, and Then all keep this humour in amongst the heartbreaking and beautiful story of Felix and his friend Zelda and their experiences in Nazi Germany during the Holocaust. I won't give too much away about the events that occur in Once and Then, but I really came to love these characters more than almost any other characters I've ever encountered in fiction.

Having just recently finished reading Now, the third book in the series, it made me want to write about how beautiful these books are. Now is slightly different in that it is set in the present day and Felix is now a grandfather, but it is still a moving story of the strength of family and love in times of crisis.

At the end of each of these books, Morris Gleitzman encourages his readers to learn more about the events that occurred during the Holocaust and the voices of the survivors by providing a link on his website to other books on these matters.

I strongly recommend these stories to anyone, not just children, who is interested in reading a beautiful story and learning more about the history of the Holocaust.

I had a plan for me and Zelda.
Pretend to be someone else.
Find new parents.
Be safe forever.
Then the Nazis came.