June 7

Big questions – the Honest Truth

Your friend has gone missing, and you have finally worked out where he is heading. The trouble is, you think he doesn’t want to be found. And he is trusting you not give him away. What should you do?

For most of his life, Mark has been battling to stay alive. When his cancer returns, he decides he wants to do what he wants to do – and not be dictated to by others such as doctors. In other ways, Mark is lucky – he has loving parents, a great friend in Jessie, and a loyal dog. These are his supports – but he has had enough. He wants to be a normal kid, but how can this happen if you spend your life in and out of hospital?

‘The Honest Truth’, by Dan Gemeinhart, is a gentle but emotional tale, dealing with big questions – of life and death, friendship and promises. It will have you in tears; then in the next minute, pondering what YOU might do if YOU were Mark’s friend.

For those who have loved books like ‘the Fault in our Stars’, or ‘Zac and Mia’, this tale presents the thoughts of a terminally ill protagonist who fights to achieve a personal goal. It intersperses these with the thoughts of his friend Jess, and how his parents deal with his choices. How this occurs, and the impact his disappearance has on others, make for a moving story with a powerful message about some of the important things in life.

A closing quote from the Honest Truth states:

“What Jessie said wasn’t a lie. It was just a better kind of truth.”

How this fits with the story is for the reader to discover; just like understanding “the mountain was calling me”, and why. Recommended read.

August 6

Thirst by Lizzie Wilcock

thirst-21Imagine:

  • a car accident in the desert
  • driver (probably) dead
  • 2 foster kids stranded
  • one totally disenchanted with foster care
  • the other a young boy

This is the way Thirst begins, and, as we learn a little about the stranded kids, 14 year old Karanda and 8 year old Solomon, it seems that there is little chance their luck is likely to improve in a hurry.

Karanda’s emotions are mixed – angry, perhaps privately scared, but she is determined to get away from her miserable existence as a foster child, passed from family to family. On the other hand, Solomon simply wants to tag along, as Karanda begins to storm off who-know-where, but away from the car-wreck (which is probably their one chance of discovery and rescue). What other option does he have, really?

In her anger, Karanda is uncaring; suspecting that it would be easy for searchers to eventually find sweet little Solomon near the car wreck. However, he is persistent, and keeps up as she marches away from the wreck and her old existence. Thus their circumstances ends up binding them together in a struggle for survival; which would challenge anyone of any age.

Thirst, by Lizzie Wilcock, is peppered with great descriptions of the Aussie outback, and many unique survival tips from the wise-for-his-age Solomon – lucky for Karanda that he follows along.

Karanda’s anger and struggles are palpable throughout, while Solomon’s quiet perserverence is far beyond his years – making much of Karanda’s action seem quite immature and thoughtless.

The physical situations they face are a good reflection of the harshness of the outback; and their emotional battles give the reader lots to pause and think about. But whether it is a realistic story has been questioned – there have been mixed reviews. It is a good survival story, if you just go with the flow.

In the end, is it worth the struggle? What do we learn? What really challenges us the most from this tale?

April 30

Guest post: Listen to the Moon

Listen-to-the-Moon-jacketFrom the author of War Horse, Michael Morpurgo, this is an intriguing tale full of warmth and friendship set against the backdrop of World War 1.

It includes an injured girl washed up on a rocky island off the end of England, Mozart’s music, a cranky school teacher, the German U-boat campaign, a kindly doctor, a boy who prefers sailing to going to school,  a mystery, islanders who swing between suspicion and compassion for the stranger in their midst, a floating piano, a family who were determined to do what was right, a horse, the Lusitania, and courage and resourcefulness, all of which is true. To say any more would be to spoil the story.

 Morpurgo says that he wrote it because this is ‘the most unlikely and unbelievable story I have ever heard.’

You too will be amazed. Highly recommended. (M.Cayzer)

N.B. If you visit this link, you will see what sort of things inspired Michael Morpurgo to write ‘Listen to the Moon’. You can also hear from Morpurgo in the video below as he answers FAQs.

March 5

Movie to book? Worth a look?

As always,  over the summer break in Australia, there is a flurry of movies released to the cinemas. At the same time, there is often a hive of activity to publish (or re-publish with a movie-jacket), the associated books. This summer was no exception – though this activity included at least 2 books which were written from the movie – Paper Planes and the Water Diviner.

paper-planesThe magic of what happens in Paper Planes is well suited to a movie format. The struggles of Dylan with his father’s depressed state, alongside bullying issues at school and further afield, are clearly recognisable in the early stages of the movie.

Scenes shot in slow motion capture the drama of what is happening and of course background music enhances the flights taken. Particularly engaging is the scene where Dylan’s grandfather fires up his imagination with a flight in a vintage plane in an Aviation museum. It certainly captured the imagination of the 6 year-old I took to see it.

The book itself lacks a bit of depth – I didn’t feel the same anticipation of what was to happen, nor imagine as vividly the action taking place. The addition of photos from the movie, within the book, and instructions for making paper planes at the end, were a bonus – and certainly inspired my 6 year old companion before we saw the movie. From the photos and the movie trailer we had seen previously, he could already identify some of the themes and characters – “He’s the bully… She does lots of backflips and somersaults… He gets pushed down the stairs.”

Certainly the story has value with great themes of resilience, friendship and the value of imagination- whether consumed as a book or a movie.* (Further review to come.)

the-water-divinerOn the other hand, having just finished the Water Diviner, I am really keen to now see the movie. Andrew and Meaghan Anastasios have developed rich characters and locations in the Water Diviner, and help you see both sides of the story of our historical Anzac tragedy.

You can truly imagine the rough-tough-but-sensitive Connor in his quest to find out the fate of his three sons. Details about the battle fields, life after war in the invaded country and reflections on family life from differing cultural perspectives develop throughout the story.

Thus, the Water Diviner provides the perspective of loss from point of view of the Turkish people. Contrasts and similarities abound in this tale, there is much to ponder about the impact of war.  (Further review to come.)

*********

Anyone who has read this blog before would know that I am an advocate for read-the-book-then see-the-movie. And my bias is often towards the richness of what the book has to offer over the movie. However, I have also agreed in the past with comments from authors who point to the fact that we can appreciate both mediums equally – that it is often unfair to judge them on their differences:

I can only respect what a screenwriter has to do when trimming a sizeable novel to a 120-page script.

I feel like when you give someone a creative job, you can’t say, “Right, be creative, but do it how I want you to do it.”

Source: Marcus Zusak – How I Let Go of the Book Thief,http://www.smh.com.au/entertainment/movies/markus-zusak-how-i-let-go-of-the-book-thief-20140102-306he.html

And…

A film is a film is a film.

[On the other hand] Readers [bring a] box of effects and nuances to colour in the spaces left by the writer [of a book].

In film, the magic tends to be woven on the surface. The viewer is treated to another’s dream. In literature, the reader does the dreaming. And that, for me, remains the greatest magic of all.

Source: The Weight of Expectations for Lloyd Jones,http://www.smh.com.au/entertainment/movies/the-weight-of-expectations-for-lloyd-jones-20131031-2whz8.html

 

So now it is over to you to judge – which way are you going to find a story? Will you always “read the book, then see the movie”? or does a movie sometimes inspire you to go back to discover the delicacies and intricacies of the book? 

* I do have one alteration that I would make to Paper Planes, and that is that I would at least infer that he had adult company to and within Japan – perhaps with Maureen?

 

August 14

Brotherband series continues…

socorroRight from the beginning, I have to confess that I haven’t read the previous books in John Flanagan’s Brotherband series. However, this hasn’t impacted on my recent enjoyment of ‘Slaves of Socorro’ – no. 4 in the series.

After the introductory comments, explaining sailing terms, the tale begins with the fun and frolics of the seafaring community of Skandia. Bjarni is anxious about his boat rebuild, Hal is anxious about his recognition as a master boat builder and Lydia is seeking a way to flee an aspiring lover. Thus, some of the Heron Brotherband are reintroduced and the scene is set for future adventures.

Fortunately, John Flanagan’s storytelling ability enabled me to understand not only the concept of the Brotherband, but also to understand some of the quirks and talents of Hal and his intrepid crew. In this, the fourth of the series, their ship (Heron) becomes the Skandian duty ship to the Kingdom of Araluen – a ship at the disposal of King Duncan ready to move people and things quickly if necessary.

Fans of the Ranger’s Apprentice will appreciate the time and the world in which the Brotherband books are set, though these adventures take place in seafaring communities.  Flanagan brings a mixture of characters to this series, and Slaves refers seamlessly back to events from the past books, without sounding like he’s on repeat. Indeed, there is also a Ranger who joins Hal’s crew to fight a common foe.

There are many likable characters in Brotherband and plenty of action for them take on. In the video below, John Flanagan talks about some of his ‘Brotherband’ characters:

If you are already a fan of the Ranger’s Apprentice series, then you would definitely enjoy the Brotherband series – just ask the author! (This is but one of the comments he makes in  SIX THINGS YOU SHOULD KNOW ABOUT BROTHERBAND.)

If you are like me, and yet to catch up with the previous books in the series, they are: the Outcasts, the Invaders and the Hunters – and all 4 books including Slaves of Socorro are available in our library.

For those who are already fans, Brotherband no.5 Scorpion Mountain is due out in November!

April 30

Circus Star! the Sequin Star

sequinEver wanted to run away to join a circus? Or just wanted for a time to run away from your daily life? Is life perhaps more glamorous somewhere/ anywhere else?

As Claire ponders her chances of being chosen for the next ballet concert, she is also starting to ache for a bit more freedom to just ‘hang out with friends’. Some of her friends’ parents seem to be less controlling; according to Amy, her mum “let’s me do pretty much whatever I want”, while Claire has to fall in with her mother’s plans and wishes.

However, Claire’s life is turned upside down when firstly her dear grandmother has a fall at the ballet, and then Claire herself is knocked out in an accident. When she returns to a conscious state, none of her surroundings make sense – especially the monkey peering down at her!

Befriended by two young circus performers, Rosina and Jem, she is slowly introduced to a different world in a different time – far removed from the leafy northern suburbs of Sydney she has known. As her displacement slowly dawns on her, Claire has to adjust to not having everything at her fingertips. Things like her mobile phone, her modern wardrobe and a regular family meal just don’t appear in her new environment – that of a travelling circus.

Gradually, Claire gets a sense of place and time as she takes in the colours, activities and odours of circus life in 1932. Learning more about her new friends, she is also exposed to a lifestyle far removed from her own.

Author Belinda Murrell paints an interesting picture of life of the Great Depression, when many families struggled to survive in tight circumstances. Often, when the travelling circus arrived, it would transport families to a world away from their daily cares and worries, if only for a short but grand time.

For some like Jem, it provides an income to share with his large but destitute family; and for others like Rosina, it provides her family. And for Claire it provides an intriguing link to her past.

Within the circus confines, Murrell weaves an exciting and entertaining story about circus performers. Outside of the circus, she alsoBelindaMurrell adds in some notes of history, including celebrations for the opening of the Sydney Harbour Bridge and political intrigue of the times. Mixed in with this are questions about class differences and how we often unfairly judge people. All of which make the Sequin Star a great adventure story, inspired by the stories of young women who grew up performing in Australian circuses. (Published: May 1, 2014)

I have always been fascinated by circuses. One of my earliest memories is visiting The Great Moscow Circus with my father and being entranced by the performing bears. (As a vet, Dad was called out to treat one of the Russian bears when the circus first came to Australia.) I remember as a teenager trying to teach myself bareback circus tricks on my pony and getting thrown off multiple times. Over the years I managed to break several bones attempting fancy tricks on horseback. (A comment from Belinda Murrell, in notes available from Random House)

Were you surprised by the actions of any particular character in this story?

Would you like to run away to join a circus?

## For more details about the other (20 or so) books written by Belinda Murrell, check out her website: http://www.belindamurrell.com.au/

Image source: http://www.randomhouse.com.au/