We are all connected to our past; to our relatives and to choices – sometimes choices and determinations made by someone else.
‘Nine Days’ opens with the voice of Kip as a young boy, dealing with a grieving mother and the family situation which has resulted from his father’s untimely death. Kip is accepting, but seems unfairly dealt with; he is the younger twin sent out to work, while his spoilt, 7-minutes older brother is able to remain at school.
In his ‘day’ we learn much about the Westaway family, whose history unrolls as further chapters unfold. The days that follow deal with other members of Kip’s family and across four different generations, with many questions along the way…
How was his older sister, Connie trapped/ affected by the attitudes of the times? Did the favouritism offered to his twin brother, Frank, lead to a prosperous and happy lifestyle?
For Toni Jordan, this is her third novel; though it differs from her past books. Inspiration began with a photo – shown on the front cover of the book. From this, Jordan has magically woven and interwoven her tales of the Westaway family, each chapter dealing with a defining day in the life of one of the family members.
‘Nine Days’ feels like a bit of a jigsaw puzzle to me. Since the chapters focus on one individual in the extended Westaway family, then jump across time and back again. As a reader you have to join the pieces together to see how they fit. It raises a number of different issues, and makes you wonder how things might have turned out differently with slight changes to choices made by some of the characters. Indeed, some chapters leave you with a sense that more could be told. In many ways, this is a sign of a good book - it shows the reader is hooked and wants to know more.
Many people have commented favourably on this book – particularly online at GoodReads (a great site to share everything about great reading!). For a longer review, see http://whisperinggums.com/2012/09/09/toni-jordan-nine-days-review/. For an interview with Toni Jordan about writing ‘Nine Days’, see the video below:
# ‘Nine Days’ was a winner recently in the Indie Awards for Best Fiction 2013 - http://www.indies.com.au/BookAwards.aspx
Posted by Linda J
on May 21st,2013 ABIA awards
A new film or a stage show will often create a renewed interest for a book. Indeed, one of my recent reads began when the stage show was heavily promoted in the media – ‘War Horse’ by Michael Morpurgo. The book was first published in 1982; it has of course been reprinted to include scenes from the 2011 movie, and has also been adapted to the stage – which the author “they must be mad” to do. As with many good books, there is also an audio version to enjoy.
In a way reminiscent of Anna Sewell’s ‘Black Beauty’, ‘War Horse’ is told anthropomorphically - from the perspective of a horse. And like Sewell’s Black Beauty, Joey’s ownership changes throughout the tale, and both stories deal with shifts in the horse’s circumstances. This perspective asks the reader to consider how animals are treated and shows how they will respond differently in some situations.
Human weaknesses are shown through Albert’s father (bidding for Joey initially to beat a rival – even though he couldn’t afford him), and through some of the riders who fail to bond with Joey (using him as an onject rather than a sensory animal). Human triumphs are displayed in those who treat their horses humanely and lovingly – and hence, get the best the horses can offer. Bonds of friendship are also emphasised - ties between horse and man, as well as horse and horse, develop throughout the tale.
Initially set in the English countryside, ‘War Horse’ introduces the gradual creep of wartime struggles. At first, times are hard financially for Joey’s farming owners. The distant war comes closer to home, as villagers suffer family losses – and the sale of Joey for military purposes also illustrates this creep. Joey also describes the adversities faced by both civilians and soldiers closer to the warfront in France, through his eyes and through lost relationships.
‘War Horse’ is a book to be enjoyed by animal lovers as well as those who would like a different persective on war – seen through the eyes of a horse yes, but perhaps reflections from the little man rather than a historian. In Michael Morpurgo’s words:
“let the horse tell the story, through the eyes of the British… the Germans, then through the French. That way, you have some of sense of the universal suffering that took place in that war.” (from the video interview below)
Much of my ‘reading’ was done in the car via an audio version, though I still felt the need to touch base with the book from time to time. The audio reading was enhanced by the accents (English, German, French and Welsh) supplied by narrator, John Keating. From all accounts, the stage play is also magnificent – if only I had tickets!
Which of the many ‘wonderful adaptations’ of War Horse’ do you like best?
Are there other similarities you could draw between War Horse and Black Beauty?
What would you do if a baby washed up in a boat, accompanied only by her dead father? Would you wonder what had happened to her mother? And if you lived on a remote island housing a vital lighthouse, how would you go about reporting the lost (and found) baby?
Add another complication – you are a young couple who have faced the loss of several babies before they had time to even be; the last being stillborn just a few weeks previously. Is the baby perhaps a gift from God? Why was she alone in the boat with a dead father? Perhaps her mother had also perished?
Tom and Isabel live a solitary life as lighthouse keepers. Together they decide on a path which is always destined for sorrow and trouble. By the time they have their regular visits to and from the mainland, Lucy has well and truly become part of their life. Isabel’s parents, who live in on the mainland welcome their only grand-daughter with open arms, convinced of course that she really is their flesh and blood. And Lucy delights all who see her. How can they change the course of action they have slipped into by caring for baby Lucy?
This is an amazing debut novel for M.L. Stedman – told with gentleness and mystery. It succeeds in getting you to change your point of view, depending on whose story you are reading at the tim, without making you feel you have deserted one of the other characters. There are many different perspectives from which they can all be judged, as Stedman reveals the inner workings of each person in the tragic turn of events.
And as a reader you can sympathise with each one: Tom the solitary returned soldier; his wife, Isabel grieving several miscarriages; Isabel’s parents who have lost their sons to war; and of course, Hannah, who has lost both a husband and a child.
Though set in a fictional coastal community, the Light Between Oceans represents what life might have been like for those performing essential duties along our coastlines in times gone by.
As the author states: “The plot of THE LIGHT BETWEEN OCEANS isn’t based on personal experience, other than to the extent that it’s set in Western Australia, where I’m from, so the landscape and weather hopefully have an authentic feel” ( comments from a GoodReads forum about her book). The setting describes the isolation of this part of Australia (and the lighthouse even more so), heightened even further by its post war time period. The tale reflects things which might occur in relationships when life doesn’t always give people what they want.
The impacts of war, isolation and loss are some of the key issues Stedman weaves into this tale of several tales, and the reader is left guessing, never quite sure of the final outcome. While the pace of the story has been criticised by some, it really just echoes the way things would have been before communications were so instant, and gives the reader time to consider how different things might have been in the past.
Movie options have been discussed, and the book has recently won the Indie Awards for a Debut novel. For more about M.L.Stedman see: http://www.smh.com.au/entertainment/books/interview-ml-stedman-20120322-1vkty.html
What did you think of the book?
After many years of home schooling, August Pullman is facing his first year at school. Like any new student, he is not sure what to expect and how he will fit in. His parents are unsure whether it is the right time for him to start school – they have protected him from the cruelty of the outside world up until now. All of them have been to the school before it starts in order to prepare him for this next step in his life, and buddies have been set up to help out.
The trouble is, August will stand out, due to a facial deformity he was born with. In spite of many operations, he has faced many years of taunts and stares from strangers, and he now faces exposure to a much bigger group of people on a daily basis. Students who don’t ven know him will judge him harshly, call him names and some, even bully him.
The story is told from a number of different points of view – that of August; his sister, Olivia; her boyfriend, Justin; and a school friend, Jack. This helps to show the struggles of people who care for August, along with the joys they have of knowing the boy behind the face. August’s thoughts and reactions in the story are the ones that really make you think.
Problems of fitting in, and the bullying associated with being different in a new situation, are among the issues to be dealt with in ‘Wonder’. The impact on others around Auggie is also one of the key elements of the story. His sister, school mates and others all reflect their position in his life – what they see and how they act to the way others treat Auggie.
Though ‘Wonder’ is probably written for a younger age group (set in grade 5, and with an 11 year old protagonist), there is great value in older students reading this tale. With the different perspectives shared, and the simple way which August expresses his point of view, there are lots of things to wonder about. Do we treat others fairly? Do we too often judge others based on their appearance? How many people are handicapped, not by their own physical disabilities, but instead by the way others label them?
For some, the ending will be wrapped up too warmly – the years of staring and laughing that August has faced being swept under the carpet. However, some of the precepts in the final ‘Appendix’ chapter are worth dwelling on. And if a book like ‘Wonder’ can make people think about life from a different perspective, then that makes it a worthwhile tale to recommend!
For an insight to what inspired the author to write ‘Wonder’, her debut novel, see: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/books/authorinterviews/9086974/Interview-with-RJ-Palacio-author-of-Wonder.html
“I went to Support Group for the same reason that I’d allowed nurses with a mere eighteen months of graduation to poison me with exotically named chemicals: I wanted to make my parents happy. There is only one thing in this world shittier than biting it from cancer when you’re sixteen, and that’s having a kid who bites it from cancer.”
Obviously, Hazel doesn’t think much of her Support Group. But as an only child and the concentrated focus of her parents’ life since her cancer diagnosis, she succumbs to their wishes. What else can she do? Her illness has meant that she no longer attends school regularly, she has to sleep a lot, while her mother tries to encourage her to have a normal life. How normal can it really be when you know you have a terminal illness?
This is not a ‘happy-ending’ story. Very often in real life children and families fighting cancer do not have a happy ending. This is not a book to make you feel good, or to tell you how to be when someone you know experiences the illnesses associated with cancer. But it will make you think.
This fan-made book trailer gives some insight into the thoughts within ‘The Fault in Our Stars’ – a story of what happens when teen cancer patients fall in love.
In an interview, author John Green makes the statement:
“It’s important to note or remember that people who are sick and people who are dying aren’t dead. They’re still alive. And sometimes we forget that, and we treat the sick and the dying so gingerly and so carefully, when often what they most want is to be alive while they are alive.” ‘Star’-Crossed: When Teens With Cancer Fall In Love
That is why he wanted his book to be realistic, and not a sugar-coated tale ready for Hollywood to take to film. The kids in ‘The Fault in Our Stars’ want to live and make their mark on the world.
What sort of impression have they made on you, the reader?
And the winner is:
The Light Between Oceans*, by M.L.Stedman -a debut novel which is…
…primarily set in the 1920s, far off Western Australia’s south-west coast, as well as in a small mainland port, The Light Between Oceans is an evocative tale with an irresistible ethical and emotional conundrum at its heart.
The book riffs heavily on the theme of duality, starting with the tiny, fictitious island where the story unfolds. Janus Rock, named after ancient Rome’s two-faced god of beginnings and endings, is at the confluence of two oceans. SMH review April 15, 2012
Read more: http://www.smh.com.au/entertainment/books/the-light-between-oceans-20120414-1x05y.html#ixzz2OXtSIM3s
And you will find the book trailer below intriguing – especially given the renowned ‘book’ people who comment on this debut novel.
What is it about this novel which has intrigued the judges (independent booksellers – probably as varied as you and I) to give it this honour – ahead of well-known authors like Margot Lanagan*, Maureen McCarthy* ,and Drusilla Modjeska; as well as other tales like Secrets of the Tides by Hannah Richell (my favourite), and challenging thought-provoking texts like Tohby Riddle’s Unforgotten*?
Other award winners include:
Sea Hearts* by Margot Lanagan (Children’s & YA winner)
QF32 by Richard de Crespigny (Non-fiction)
For more details about the awards see:
* We have copies of these in the library waiting for you – would you like to review them? Or are others on the list (mentioned in a previous post) more to your liking?
It’s been interesting getting into Life of Pi in a number of different ways, as I have read the book from both a paperback and while driving my car (obviously with an audio version…).
Life of Pi has been on my to-read bookshelf for some time and, of course, came to my attention again recently, when promotion of the movie began. By ‘reading’ using combined audio and paperback, I found an unusual richness was added to the story with the contribution of a quality audio production*.
Martel’s writing is where all the magic begins, however, as he tells the tale of a young Indian boy on his journey to manhood. Pi has struggled for many years with taunting at school, derived from his name, Piscine. In spite of this, (or because of this?) Pi is a strong willed young man with a great curiosity of life and how the world around him works.
With a somewhat unusual homelife as a zookeeper’s son (what child wouldn’t love to grow up in a zoo?), Pi has developed keen powers of observation of animals of all kinds – humans included. This awareness of animal behaviour provides a great background later in the story, when he is set adrift in a lifeboat with a menagerie of different animals. His survival skills are well and truly tested to the limit!
His questioning nature is also revealed as he digs into the 3 main religions which exist in his Indian homeland – Christianity, Hinduism and Islam. As a curious child, he seeks an understanding of the differences and similarities of these faiths, and commits to all 3 – much to the ire of each of his religious teachers!
A move by his family, away from the politics brewing in India, results in their journey on a Japanese cargo ship to Canada. Their zoo is dismantled and animals are sold afar; some of which journey on the ship with them. The tragic sinking of the cargo ship begins another section of the book, where Pi faces the many challenges of being afloat on a lifeboat with very unusual company – including Richard Parker!
Martel’s writing is memorable, poetic and so rich that it is believeable. It is a book to make you think long after you finish it. It is fantasy, but also holds many truthful observations within it, and doesn’t necessarily provide a neat ‘happy ending’. As a winner of the Man Booker Prize in 2002, Life of Pi has had many reviews over the years, and has now been made into an award winning film (which I can now see, having first read the book!)
What messages did Life of Pi relate to you? Is it a believeable tale? Or is it an abstraction from reality? An allegory about human existence perhaps?
* the Audible.com version of Life of Pi was well narrated – the Indian accent added so much to the story, and made it even more compelling to listen to Martel’s poetic tale.
You can also view the film trailer:
(I have now seen the movie, and while it was great, I do prefer the book!!)
In a moment of stupidity, John’s life changes course. His happy self-indulgent existence, as a school boy enjoying a comfortable home and cruising along at school, comes to an abrupt end. He is expelled from school and will face criminal charges – all over a few photos he shared with his mates.
Understandably, his parents are horrified by the prospect of their son being sent to gaol. They both question where they may have failed to reach him and guide him as a teenager. The difficulty for his dad is that he, Peter, is at work at Mawson Station in the Antarctic – and not likely to be heading home for some time.
From the icy and challenging environment of the ice station, Peter Harvey writes to his son in an effort to try to advise his future choices as John’s trial looms closer. Interesting parallels are drawn of the challenges faced by early explorers to South Pole, as well as the daily challenges faced by those at Mawson, and are reflected within the episodes occurring in John’s life at home, as the consequences of his actions become real.
No longer attending a private school with his mates, John starts work as a labourer for a bullying boss, Ben’s dad, and begins to realise what he has lost. He continues to party hard and seek quick thrills. He admires Ben’s slick car and the status it offers, and dreams of owning something similar. But dreams can sometimes turn into nightmares. (Indeed, Ben’s life isn’t as rosy as John first imagined.)
Away from home, his father continues to struggle with his absence from his family at this time of need, and calls on significant others to help his son. Uncle Geoff, and JJ, his grandfather, provide John with physical presences and seek to help him make sense of his predicament. In his own world, Peter seeks help and advice from his work colleagues – all of whom share differing perspectives, which Peter in turn shares with John in his stream of regular emails.
Blizzard Lines (as noted in its blurb) slips between two worlds. John’s world, once comfortable and easy-going, has become a place of stress, angst and danger. Peter’s world is isolated and distant from this, while the people he works with provide insight, comfort and concern.
As things change for both of them, we view conflict and peace, mistakes and choices; and nod knowingly to the feelings experienced by the many of people impacted in this tale. Tim Hawkes has developed real characters, tied them all together in situations which today’s teenagers could very well face. Added to this, he cleverly mixes in some interesting snippets of history, and facts about contrasting worlds in which people live and work. And he describes how different people cope in these different worlds.
Reading Blizzard Lines, you should wonder: Who will grow in character from their experiences? what can be learned? and importantly, who will listen? (and what might the reader take from this book?)
Every kid in the world would love to live in the places Andy Griffiths creates. Especially in his multi-storey treehouse! And especially as it has grown from 13 to 26 storeys since his last book, the 13-Storey Treehouse.
Not only does it have its own dodgem car rink, a skate ramp and an anti-gravity chamber, but you can choose from 78 different flavours of icecream and have them served to you by Edward Scooperhand! You just need to be careful when you do it, and in whose company.
Andy lives in the treehouse, we are told, with Terry. Cleverly, the story of how they met is interwoven in the tale – just be sure you look carefully at all the illustrations, so you get Terry’s point of view also.
When it comes to dealing with sick sharks (because they ate Terry’s underpants), they have to rely on Jill who seems to love all animals – well, almost all of them. Using her charms, and the help of Andy and Terry, she is able to conduct ‘open shark’ surgery. As they do this, they empty all sorts of things out of the shark, and the complications of the tale develop further.
There are lots of fun characters and events in the 26-Storey Treehouse; starting with Andy and Terry, the main characters from the The 13-Storey Treehouse. You will love all the improbable things that happen, and laugh out loud as Andy plays with words, and Terry adds punch with his drawings. You have to take the time to view both carefully together – and then go back again to see what you missed.
For more value, you can watch as Andy reads the first chapter of the 26-Storey Treehouse to a couple of children. See if you can catch things he adds along the way:
For lots more information about the series, and advice from Andy about the way he writes, go to: http://www.andygriffiths.com.au/.
Keep an eye out for the next instalment, the 39 Storey Treehouse, and Once Upon a Slime, which is “designed for teachers, students and young aspiring writers; it contains 52 fun writing and storytelling activities, such as lists, instructions, cartoons, letters, personal stories, poems and pocket books”.
She is only 15, but American authorities suspect she may be more than she first appears – but is Parvana really a terrorist?
Parvana’ Promise is the sequel to Deborah’s Ellis’s Parvana and Parvana’s Journey; books which were inspired by the author’s visit to Pakistan to help at an Afghan refugee camp. They focus on the life struggles of Parvana and her friends and family, as they face the turmoils of daily life under Taliban rule in Afghanistan.
Life as a girl in Afghanistan is particularly challenging. In past books, Parvana disguised herself as a boy in order to support her family, since the Taliban forbids girls working. Education of girls is another forbidden, as highlighted recently in real life, by the shooting of a 14-year-old schoolgirl, Malala Yousafzai, in Pakistan (for daring to oppose its rule and advocating for the right of girls to go to school).
In Parvana’s Promise, Parvana and her mother run a school for girls, and they face lots of dangerous opposition to this. This school is where she is found and apprehended by the US Military, when they bomb the school. From here, Paravana is imprisoned and questioned constantly – but she refuses to utter a word, much to the frustration of her captors.
Parvana’s story moves from the present to the past and back again, as we try to understand why she is remaining totally silent. Her strengths and loyalties shine through, though it is sometimes hard to comprehend that life could really be like this for children around the world. However, through her tale, we catch glimpses of life under Taliban rule which are realistic, given Ellis’s own experiences among Afghan refugees.
Interestingly, Deborah donated the royalties for both Parvana’s Journey and Parvana to ‘Women for Women’ in Afghanistan. A recent interview with Deborah Ellis gives an insight into how her books have come about and how she thinks as she writes. It highlights so much how good writing comes from writing about things you really know.
Parvana’s Promise has been criticised for its negative portrayal of both the US military and the Taliban, but Ellis simply wants to focus on the child’s perspective in a dangerous land. What do you think?