Replica – what does that mean?

There are some books where writing too much in a review can spoil even the beginning of a novel. You could think here of the Book Thief, the Life of Pi and the Boy in the Striped Pyjamas (which was even published without a blurb). Replica is another title, where too much information early on would spoil the twists and turns the story takes.

Source: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/books/children_sbookreviews/11032027/Replica-by-Jack-Heath-review.html

Author Jack Heath and cover of Replica

That said, it can be revealed that Jack Heath’s tale is one that will grip you, and have you guessing about what is real, and where the next twist in the tale might happen. Indeed, the main character, Chloe, spends a lot of time trying to understand who she is, what her role in life might be, and what sort of dangers her family and friends might be facing:

Chloe wakes up to find all her memories have been wiped. And the only person who knows what happened is a teenage girl who looks and sounds exactly like her.  [Source: http://jackheath.com.au/replica/]

As more is revealed about where Chloe is and who she is dealing with, challenges arise in the story. Will the replica be able to fool her family? Friends at school? Will that protect Chloe and her family?

There are many questions to be answered, and changing circumstances to be overcome, as our heroine makes choices in how to act and who to trust. (Great to have an active female protagonist too!) The action in the story is fast and furious, creating a page-turner where you struggle to be able to place all the pieces togther. (Can you guess some of the twists and turns ahead?)

Cleverly scripted, Replica is another book from Jack Heath, who rose to fame as a young author. Having started writing The Lab when he was 13 years old, he was given a publishing contract at the age of 18. Other titles which followed, Remote Control, Money Run and his latest titles, the Cut Out and 300 Minutes of Danger are all action-packed thrillers for young adults, and always eagerly awaited by his followers.

Jack is an author who likes to share his love for reading and writing and has many videos to promote this. In this interview from 2012, he speaks a lot about his ideas for writing, how he does it, and why. His compulsion to write and his ideas leading up to the writing of Replica, a book set in Canberra about a robot who is pretending to be a human being… are interesting to hear, especially after the release of Replica:

Jack Heath: “Writing is what keeps me happy. (I’m) Just a guy who’s interested in stuff”.

Aren’t we lucky he is? What ideas can you pick up from this interview?


Fairest of them all…

imageIf you are expecting a retelling of Snow White from Sophie Masson’s ‘Hunters’ Moon’, then you will be disappointed.Though it refers to the ‘Fairest Lady’ and deals with a step-mother plotting her step-daughter’s downfall, it is far more than ‘Snow White and the Seven Dwarves’.

The tale of Snow White explodes in Masson’s tale. It is full and detailed; with characters new and real; with familiarity and clever modern twists that make it her own.

Bianca is not a helpless Snow White waiting for a prince to rescue her, but an observant, resourceful young woman, ready to take action and seek out the truth behind her father’s demise.

The world Masson has created is alive with characters, alliances and mysteries that Bianca must sort through. At first, she is blessed with rescue in the Haven after her stepmother’s servant, Drago fails to kill her. Unlike Snow White, however, she plans to overcome her alluring stepmother’s plans to win over the adoring community, to help them see through her pretentious facade.

‘Hunter’s Moon’ weaves fantasy, fairy tales and traditions with a little bit of magic and steam punk (automata) to bring about a challenging tale. You can never be sure who is hanging around in the shadows – friend or foe.

This is the challenge Bianca faces throughout the tale – who can she trust? Who can she rely on? How can she expose Belladonna for who she really is? Does she have the strength to do it herself? Who is on her side in the end?

A fantastic twist on a traditional tale – another great novel from the prolific Sophie Masson.


the Martian – book or movie?

martianScience fiction has not been my favourite genre for some time now (though it used to be..). But I convinced myself to read ‘the Martian’ after recommendations from an English teacher (thanks, Amanda) – before watching the movie, of course. [Note: it is suited to a mature audience.]

If you want a example of the genre, science fiction – then this is it! ‘The Martian’ is full of scientific events, descriptions and data calculation, which at times I found overwhelming.

The complex explanations and calculations that Mark Watney makes (in order to decide how best to cope with being stranded on Mars) consume a lot of the early part of the book; but after all, he is an astronaut with the associated scientific background. The lucky thing is that he is a botanist, and so able to calculate the best way to grow his own food in the ‘Hab’ – the unit in which the crew of 6 had previously habitated on Mars.

Did I mention Mark Watney was stranded on Mars? This happened after a severe storm, which NASA had predicted, and had thus ordered the evacuation of the team to Hermes, the vessel orbiting Mars (ready for their return to Earth). Assuming he was struck dead in an accident, the other 5 team members reluctantly left him there.

Understandably, there are lots of tensions in ‘the Martian’. Tensions between NASA and Mark Watney regarding the best ways for him to survive. Tensions for the Commanding Officer, Lewis (and her team) who left Watney behind, believing he was dead. Tension also arises as parties within NASA try to decide the best ways to rescue Watney, and whether they should risk the lives of others to rescue him. And of course, global political tensions and overtones are always under consideration.

Mars-Discovery

Martian Landsacpe – Source: http://www.lifehacker.com.au/2015/09/marsnasa-live-blog-watch-tonights-major-announcement-here/

There are also lots of laugh-out-loud moments; which humanise the predicament Watney finds himself in. He complains about the disco music Commander Lewis left behind. He laughs when he makes mistakes. And, he laughingly pronounces loudly the firsts he has achieved as a human on Mars eg. the first colony (his potato farm in the hab). Or to quote the book:

It’s a strange feeling. Everywhere I go, I’m the first. Step outside the rover? First guy ever to be there! Climb a hill? First guy to climb that hill! Kick a rock? That rock hadn’t moved in a million years! I’m the first guy to drive long-distance on Mars. The first guy to spend more than thirty-one sols on Mars. The first guy to grow crops on Mars. First, first, first!

Source: http://www.techinsider.io/the-martian-best-space-sci-fi-movie-2015-8

Movie still – Source: http://www.techinsider.io/the-martian-best-space-sci-fi-movie-2015-8

One of the big issues Watney has is forgiveness –  for the crew that left him behind. They did what they were expected to do, given the information they had, and for this he forgives them. Of course, they have no hesitation when called upon later to initiate a rescue mission. But that, they must realise, could have implications for their future careers – as well as their lives.

In reality, how long can a man survive when his survival depends on monitoring all things needed for survival in a harsh environment – food, water and oxygen? Would you survive, or just give up?

Having already told too much of the story, I will pause here with a comment from a recent Catalyst program which actually praised the value of sci-fi literature (the Martian, in particular) for inspiring the imagination:

NARRATION
But perhaps one of the key benefits of sci-fi is it helps makes the future seem more possible.

Dr Katie Mack
Like with The Martian, you know, you see this landscape, it’s depicted as a place you can go, an achievable goal. And so I think a lot of times people see these kinds of depictions in science-fiction and that makes it seem more achievable and it makes it seem like more of a goal that they can work toward. Source: http://www.abc.net.au/catalyst/stories/4415534.htm

Another part of the Catalyst program pointed out discrepancies in ‘the Martian’, and scientific fact as we know it; BUT, who knows what science fiction will inspire in the future?

## Looking forward to watching the movie soon – to fill visual gaps – and of course, so that I can point out what they missed from the book! Did YOU read the book first?


One Thousand Hills – Remembering Rwanda

One Thousand HillsFor Pascale, life had a predictable routine which included regular chores at home, regular teasing by his older brother and a pattern to the week. As a child in Rwanda, life was simple, but set in a loving and supportive family. He knew the happiness of running around with his friend, Henri; the pestering of a (lovable) little sister, Nadine, and the warmth of his loving parents.

But things were set to change, as events with catastrophic impact on the country of Rwanda ignited.

James Roy has set his novel ‘One Thousand Hills’ in April 1994, in the days leading up to, and during, the first of 100 days the genocide in which eight hundred thousand Rwandans were slaughtered. Through the eyes of Pascale, we view some of the horror and the impact of civil strife on innocents – innocents who are caught ‘hiding or running in fear’ when they should be running around in the playful games of childhood.

Through the voice of Pascale, we slowly learn of the whispers and hushed tones that alert him to something being amiss. His neighbour, Mrs Malolo released her chickens, explaining to them:

We can’t take you with us… I hope you lay your eggs somewhere peaceful and safe.

Things were even noticeably different at church on Sunday, in what was usually a joyous occasion in the week. The sermon was ominous, and afterwards people were less cordial to one another. ‘An uncomfortable heaviness hung in the air.’ Pascale notes. He also noted glances and nods  between his parents, as if there was something secret they were sharing.

As a 10 year old boy, the explanation of events Pascale is able to give is cloudy, fragmented and incomplete. Interjected in between these descriptions, however, is the record of counselling sessions with Pascale as a 15 year old – a 15 year old dealing with a traumatic past. But waht we read is enough to imagine the horrific times.

The ugly divisiveness of cultural differences between the Hutus and Tutsis of Rwanda is introduced in several ways, including the tearful break-up of his teacher, Miss Uwazuba and her boyfriend – ‘A Hutu Romeo and a Tutsi Juliet’. Many others with whom Pascale had friendships within his village Agabande, end up rejecting him – and slowly, with increasing uneasiness, he begins to understand the radio news about ‘crushing the cockroaches’.

In ‘One Thousand Hills’ James Roy tackles an enormous event in world history, in partnership with Noel Zihabamwe, who actually lived through these events as a ten year old. Their reasons are clear:

We wanted to tell this story because we believe it’s only by understanding the terrible and tragic events of the past that we can prevent similar events happening again in the future. (Author’s Note)

A challenging read. While ‘One Thousand Hills’ is not a happy tale, it reminds us of a bleak part of world history which has had far-reaching consequences (including two decades of unrest in neighbouring DR Congo, which have cost the lives of an estimated five million people) – something we cannot simply brush aside or ignore.

Sometimes we need to take on challenging reads like this, or those listed below. What do you think?

Further reading

Rwanda genocide: 100 days of slaughter (BBC News) explains more.

For an older (biographical) perspective on Rwanda, read:


Capturing magic

nnestLife is not easy for ‘Little John’. His little sister is dead, his mother is in mourning, while his dad drinks away the money which is meant to pay their rent. Feeling mistakenly responsible for Raelyn’s death, John works hard by his father’s side in his tree-felling business during the summer.

While at a job for a wealthy community member, Mr King, John discovers Gayle – a young girl, perched in a tree on the property, who brings forth a beautiful birdsong. Gayle has also been noticed by the property owner, Mr King, who conspires a deal with John to get her to sing to him – so that he can ‘capture her voice’.

Tragically, Gayle is a foster child in a spiteful family – they have even renamed her, and so ‘Little John’ is drawn to protect her. At the same time, John is tempted by the offer from Mr King (to encourage Gayle to ‘sing for him’).

The struggles faced by both the children and adults in the story are realistic and thought-provoking. There are many decisions John needs to make – with sometimes conflicting outcomes.

Mixed in with this, is the mystery of Gayle’s songbird qualities – and her tale of longing to remain in her ‘nest’ for when her parents return for her. Ultimately, after she is left to sing for Mr King, Gayle loses her songbird skills, and we are left to ponder what happened. Further tragedy occurs, and John has to consider the outcomes of some of the choices he has made over the summer.


Taking a stand – ‘The Beauty is in the Walking’

the-beauty-is-in-the-walkingDoes the title of a book ever keep you wondering all the way through? Does it capture you more, or less, than the book cover?

I admit that I picked this book up based on the reputation of the author. Australian author, James Moloney has over 40  books for children and teenagers in his writing swag, along with a collection of literary awards. But the title had me puzzled.

It is only gradually that the reader is introduced to the narrator, 17-year-old Jacob O’Leary, who seems to be an average teenager – looking for friendship, his own status and love. What makes Jacob unique is his cerebral palsy (CP).

The Beauty is in the Walking shows how this impacts his daily life, his own thinking and his family’s expectations of him. Also, though he has a strong circle of friends, he is sometimes the victim of bullying. And of course, at times, even these friendships can be fickle and changeable when under pressures such as final exams and outside influences.

Set in a fictional country town in Queensland, the story raises issues about outsiders, racism, fitting in and the adolescent search for romance, against the mystery of a series of violent crimes. Jacob shows strength, determination and commitment when he beleives that the police have accused the wromng person for the shocking crime that has impacted the whole community.

At the same time, he begins to question, with the help of his outspoken English teacher (Mr Svenson) and friend, Chloe, the limited opportunities set out for him after he completes Year 12. He struggles with the plan his parents have set for him (to remain in Palmerston in the family business), against the changing perception of his own potential.

Students will identify with the angst felt by Jacob, as he ventures timidly into his first romantic relationship. They will feel his pain as he deals with his mother’s protective nature, intensified since his older brother, Tyke, has left home. And older students will understand the difficulties and anxieties faced in the final days of high school. (Though students in NSW schools may question the timing of some end-of-year events)

Jacob has a lot to prove – to the community, his parents, his teachers and himself. With determination he will try – can he succeed in his ‘walk’?


Light and Dark

all the lightA young blind girl living in Paris. A poor German orphan. A mystical precious gem, the Sea of Flames. And the ominous background of World War II.

These are the characters to be blended together in ‘All the Light We Cannot See’ – a novel 10 years in the  making, a novel awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2015.

Marie-Laure, who has been blind since the age of 6, lives with doting father, a locksmith who works at the Museum of Natural History of Paris. Building a small wooden model of their neighbourhood, her father has cleverly encouraged her to use all her other senses to get about. Time spent at the museum has also alerted her quick and curious mind. When trouble looms from the German occupation of Paris, Marie and her father flee to refuge with relatives in Saint Malo, a walled city by the sea. [See image below]

In another world, Werner seems doomed to follow in his father’s footsteps, working in the mines which ulitmately killed him. However, fortune shines on him (though lightly), when he is discovered as a clever young boy capable of fixing radios; saved from the mines, but caste into the Hitler Youth.

‘All the Light We Cannot See’ tells their tales in parallel for some time, slipping backwards and forwards through times from 1934 – 1944, and on to 1974. Through their eyes, we experience the conditions in 2 different countries before, during and after WWII, and can begin to understand the dark condition of Europe and its inhabitants, during these times. Like many war stories, we are exposed to many grim situations and many dark personalities. The presence of the young, through whose eyes this is ‘seen’, makes it all even more chilling – especially if you multiply by the millions of children they might actually represent in real events.

Anthony Doerr plays with light and dark in many ways. That Marie-Laure spends her life in darkness, but brings some lightness to the story, is one. She ‘sees’ quite a lot in the story – sensing a lot about people, even just from the way they walk or speak. Her ability to move about her home town, and her new home and village (at Saint Malo) are what her loving father wisely prepared her for. It is not surprising, however, that ultimately darkness pervades her tale.

city-of-st-malo2

The walled town of Saint Malo

Werner’s story has little light to it. His options are dark mines, or dark enlistment to the Hitler Youth and WWII. As an orphan, he has lived somewhat happily with his sister in a children’s home. Taken from this to work ‘for the Fuhrer’, he experiences and witnesses many dark events and situations. Reading these experiences is harrowing and upsetting; through the study of history we know too well that they are quite true reflections of what happened for many – though perhaps we don’t always consider it from the point of view of children.

Other light plays into the story with the legend of the ‘Sea of Flames’ – a precious diamond which is said to be both valuable and a curse – a diamond which has 3 replicas made to keep it safe. And the light we cannot see – radiowaves – impacts them all.

As you might expect, the storylines don’t remain parallel, and events (and the Sea of Flames) draw their lives together, though perhaps not as truly expected.

Here’s a short video you might like to watch before you read the book – Anthony Doerr discusses the inspiration for ‘All the Light You Cannot See’. Or read this interview.


Boys – Stories of war

boyBack in 2006, John Boyne released ‘The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas’ – a tale about a nine-year-old boy growing up during World War II in Berlin. Despite being the son of a Nazi Commandant, Bruno sees the world through the eyes, of a child, which provides an interesting slant on this passage of history.

Once again, Boyne has written a novel set in this time period, and again from a child’s focus – ‘The Boy at the Top of the Mountain’.

This time ‘the boy’, Pierrot, has a mixed heritage, being the son of a French mother and a German father, living initially in Paris. Sadly, this doesn’t remain the case, due to the gradual disintegration of his family:

Although Pierrot Fischer’s father didn’t die in the Great War, his mother Emilie always maintained it was the war that killed him. (opening sentence)

Thus, life changes for Pierrot and he has several relocations and events in a very short time, all set against the background of WWII.

Once again, Boyne’s writing brings the young adult reader some understanding of what life could have been like for young children. It would help to have a knowledge of European geography, as well as what was meant by the Berghof (a home of Hitler), to gain some understanding of the significance in this story – but maybe that’s a challenge for YA readers to reach!

Hear John Boyne talk about his novels:

I didn’t find ‘The Boy at the Top of the Mountain’ as engaging as ‘The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas’. Perhaps the mystery of ‘The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas’ (released without a blurb or much detail about the story from publishers) intrigued readers to begin with? Bruno’s loneliness certainly captured my heart, and I definitely sobbed at the end.

This new tale has similar elements, though it doesn’t feel as complete, but is definitely worth reading as it asks questions of loyalties vs the power of indoctrination. Pierrot faces many choices and changes in his life – some with tragic consequences. No doubt, there will be criticism of some aspects of this story, but its value remains as a way to take a different view of history, and to consider how those, other than the people ‘in power’, were affected by the catastrophic decisions of war – the young, the subservient, those of the ‘wrong’ religion or background.

[For me, this has also been an interesting companion read to ‘All the Light We Cannot See’, another novel set in occupied France during World War II, but at 529 pages of course with a lot more research and detail.]


Australia Day Awards!

What a great pleasure to be skimming through the Australia Day Awards to find the names of 4 amazing Australians involved in creating children’s books and promoting literacy. Applause to Geraldine Brooks, Jackie French, Ann James and Ann Haddon!

calebGeraldine Brooks (AO)

Geraldine is an author who began a career as a journalist for the Sydney Morning Herald. However, she is perhaps more well known for her historical novels and non-fiction writing, having won the Pulitzer Prize in fiction in 2006 for her second novel, March. Other books which followed, have received a popular following on best seller lists, and translations into many different languages for a world-wide audience.

Though she now lives in the United States, Geraldine has her roots here; having grown up in the Western suburbs, and attending Sydney University. As a journalist visiting the outback, she was exposed to indigenous children with a great hunger for reading; and this translated to her becoming one of the first ambassadors for the Indigenous Literacy Foundation. As an author, she has also been one to share with, and inspire young writers, during school visits and writing workshops.

Her aims are clear – to encourage literacy and creativity:

“I tell them to be adventurous and unafraid, to do everything and explore every opportunity, because if it doesn’t work out, then sod it, do something else. The beauty of a writing life is there’s no one way into it.

“In all my roles I’ve tried to be open to the world and willing to receive what it has to offer in terms of diversity of thought, and at the same time I’ve tried to advance some of the very great ideas that Australia, at its best, embodies.”http://www.smh.com.au/entertainment/books/australia-day-honours-2016-geraldine-brooks-books-are-essentially-australian-20160123-gmcc5u.html#ixzz3yJZRuBGc

frenchoam

Jackie French (AM) is also well-known to all, and was awarded this year in recognition of: significant service to literature as an author of children’s books, and as an advocate for improved youth literacy.

After being recognised as last year’s ‘Senior Australian of the Year’, Jackie’s star continues to shine – in recognition of her work towards promoting literacy; especially in her recent role as Australian Children’s Laureate.

As an author of more than 140 books, Jackie is not only a household name, but an authentic patron for anyone who has struggled to read and write. In her talks to children, parents and educators, she often recounts her early struggles with dyslexia, and admits those struggles still remain. Her own personal triumphs, in learning to read and write, drive her desire for ways to be found to improve the literacy of all children:

“It has inspired my work for literacy and teacher training … every child has a right to learn to read with the methods that best suit them.” Read more at: https://au.news.yahoo.com/a/30657135/childrens-author-french-takes-home-award/

Both Ann James (AM), author and illustrator of more than 60 children’s books, and Ann Haddon (AM), who has worked as a teacher librarian, have been actively involved in promoting children’s literature, and received an AM for significant service to children’s literature

After initially working as an arts and crafts teacher in Victoria, Ann James expanded her horizons into graphic design and book illustration. Her career in illustrating children’s books provides a rich legacy. Another great achievement came about when, with Ann Haddon, she co-founded the gallery, Books Illustrated. Their aim was to exhibit and promote the works of many outstanding Australian illustrators – and has included the likes of Terry Denton, Shaun Tan and Leigh Hobbs. Theirs was always a clever collaboration, as they explain on Books Illustrated:

A shared love of books, art and children inspired Ann James and Ann Haddon to establish Books Illustrated in 1988.
Together they have a unique view of the picture book industry, seen from many angles – librarian, bookseller, gallery director, writer and illustrator. http://www.booksillustrated.com.au/bi_about.php

What a fabulous collection of talents! Thank you for your inspiration and enthusiasm, and congratulations to all of you, as we celebrate Australia Day.


Indie Awards 2016

Each year, the Independent Booksellers select an array of Australian books for recognition. Often these books receive applause further afield, and so the shortlist proves to be a great point, for readers young and old, to select from. Previous winners include Anh Doh, Tim Winton, Richard Flanagan and Craig Silvey (with ‘Jasper Jones’ soon to be released as a movie).

This year’s shortlists (released last week) include:

LEB Indie Shortlist 2016 tiled web banner_1.indd

CHILDREN’S SHORTLIST
Olive of Groves by Katrina Nannestad & Lucia Masciullo, Illus (ABC Books, HarperCollins Australia)
The 65-Storey Treehouse by Andy Griffiths & Terry Denton, Illus (Pan Macmillan Australia)
The Bad Guys, Episode 1 by Aaron Blabey (Scholastic Australia)
*The Singing Bones by Shaun Tan (Allen & Unwin)

YOUNG ADULT SHORTLIST
*Cloudwish by Fiona Wood (Macmillan Australia)
Prince of Afghanistan by Louis Nowra (Allen & Unwin)
*Ranger’s Apprentice: The Early Years 1: The Tournament at Gorlan by John Flanagan (Random House Australia)
*Soon by Morris Gleitzman (Penguin Australia)

Source: http://www.indiebookawards.com.au/#!Shortlist-Announced-for-the-2016-Indie-Book-Awards/cmbz/569c69ff0cf28074ac9d3348

Many of the authors mentioned above would be well recognised by most readers, and our library has those marked *.

I wonder which of these titles will be awarded the top honour? Which one would you choose? 

Other categories also exist at the Indie site –  for debut novels adult reads and non-fiction titles – which are also worth looking into. The Indie Book Awards category winners and the Book of the Year 2016 will be announced at an event in the Sydney CBD on Wednesday 23 March.

Have you been to see your independent bookseller to chat about these titles? Will you have read some of these titles before then? which one will you vote for?

*** Shaun Tan is always hard to beat – so different from the others in the Children’s Shortlist – maybe he’s really in a class of his own?

# Some of the local independent booksellers we rely on include:

the Turning Page, Springwood

Megalong Books, Leura

Wisemans Books, Richmond

Harvard Books, Blaxland

and further afield, the Children’s Bookshop, Beecroft