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/

November 12

Oh, my darling – Divine Clementine

Clementine has had a fabulous relationship with her aunt, Stella – who is only 10 years older. But one fateful day she sees her groovy aunt smashed by an oncoming bus, right in front of her.

For some, funerals are a place to farewell a loved one – for Clementine, Stella’s funeral launches her into a rage against life. Nothing seems to make sense anymore, and she dives into great depths of depression. She no longer sees the need to  conform to any of the world’s standards, or connect in any way to her school, friends or family.

After the funeral, Clementine joins her mother and grandmother at Stella’s, collecting and sorting though Stella’s things for memorable items. A crazy quilt, a favourite jacket and some of Stella’s diaries are among the items collected by Clementine. Unfortunately, the diaries reveal a lot of things that Clementine doesn’t know about her aunt – and many things her mother had protected her from.

As a result, Clementine dives even further into herself and fails to consider why her mother made the choices she did regarding her aunt. Within herself, Clementine has a lot to deal with – the betrayal of those close to her, her own great sorrow with the loss of her aunt, and the goodhearted but clumsy attempts of her friends, as they try to pull her out of the depression which follows.

‘Divine Clementine’ is a debut novel for Hayley S. Kirk. She deals realistically with problems that many teens could face, as illness and death challenge the solidity of families, and the voices in the story are genuine. What do you think?

 

July 22

Love? ‘A Straight Line to my Heart’ by Bill Condon

Not sure what I expected from this book, but it was a fun read. I liked the (believable) characters, but maybe I’ve reading too much YA lately and expected more action…

I loved the portrayal of Tiff’s family, which is not your typical ‘parents-and-2.5-kids’ type of family. I also thought the introduction of a love interest Davey was clumsy – but hey, maybe that’s real life!

Reggie, Tiff’s adopted grandfather, was adorable and sensitive – even though he was no pushover. And even Tiff’s relationship with her ‘stepbrother’ Bull was pretty special; as was her developing relationship with his girlfriend, Zoe.

So, I guess I loved the characters, but wanted them to more than live an average life in the week I visited Gungee…

However, there are many other readers, commenting on http://goodreads.com , who have loved ‘A Straight Line to My Heart’. They love the genuine characters, the ‘Aussieness’, and are able to ‘take Tiff’s hand’ as she navigates the precious time of beginning to find herself after school is over.

And indeed, I also got involved with the trials and tribulations Tiffany faced – especially with the tender moments and comments she shared with Reggie. Condon’s story grabs you in with real people, a mix of funny and sad situations, and connects you with Tiff’s family. He certainly grabbed me with his opening lines:

“There’s nothing quite as good as folding up into a book and shutting the world outside. If I pick the right one I can be beautiful, or fall in love, or live happily ever after. Maybe even all three.”

# Makes you wonder whether he was talking about his book, or the power of books to take us into other people’s lives, if only for a very short time. What do you think?

May 29

the Dead I Know – by Scot Gardner

“In a curious way, I felt unburdened by the lack of hair. Something stirred in the pit of my belly and I wondered if the late Mrs Carmel Gray would like my shirt and my JKB tie and my new haircut. I wondered if I would be in the same room as the body. I wondered if I would smell the dead. Touch the dead.”

Aaron has just arrived to begin a new job. His new employer, John Barton, has already sent him to the barber, provided him with white shirts, a tie and measured him up for a suit! And Aaron has quietly accepted all this happening to him.

Strangely, the world he enters suits Aaron’s personal demeanour. He is told to watch and say nothing; so that’s what he does – he watches and observes. And he learns from John Barton, as he mimics the tasks he needs to perform at the funeral parlour, an unusual occupation for a teenage boy.

Back in his own personal world, things are less ordered and far more chaotic. He lives with Mam in a caravan park, as they have for many years, but things are changing. Often now, he has to rescue the burnt remains of Mam’s cooking, keep on the lookout for Westie and occasionally he finds himself waking in the strangest locations, pinned down by those who try to rouse him from his nightmares.

Little insights to Aaron’s past are revealed as the story progresses, but only as slowly as he cares to reveal details to the new people in his life. I love the way Mr and Mrs Barton deal with him, gently guiding and occasionally pushing him in certain directions. They are understanding adults, who avoid pressuring the somewhat troubled teen, without being too intrusive and making a subtle difference. This contrasts with those he sees at the hospital when his Mam has a broken arm. They feel she has others needs, and pressure him, but Aaron stands firm refusing further tests for her.

The Barton’s impudent and inquisitive daughter, Skye, asks many of the questions we would like to ask, and makes many wild assumptions also. Mostly, Aaron humours her, though occasionally she strikes a nerve. Piece by piece we discover more about Aaron’s life.

Scot Gardner has created another interesting world in ‘the Dead I Know’, and is able to portray the development of friendships across generations in a realistic manner. The quiet fondness of the Barton family for Aaron is accepted, though there is a slight sense of awkward reluctance from Aaron – a little reminiscent of when young Daniel begins to work for Eddy, an 89-year-old Dutch woman in ‘Burning Eddy’. (This book was on a previous CBCA shortlist in 2004)

‘The Dead I Know’ takes us into a different world, where death is all around, and the struggles of life are reduced to family memories and funeral services. Aaron fights past demons, at the same time as dealing with family concerns, and we are able to empathise with his quiet considerations of what is best to do for everyone concerned. Yet he faces his own shadows and personal doubts.