Love Objects

At a time when minimalism is so widely promoted, have you ever wondered about the value you place on objects in your home? Are there precious items you would find it hard to throw out? what if someone else threw out things you valued?

In ‘Love Objects’, 45-year-old Nic would definitely not be a fan of Marie Kondo; although she does believe that everything in her house has a purpose and meaning. However, decades of newspapers stacked in the hall do not deter her from scavenging even more leaflets and envelopes that may someday ‘be useful’.

Many other items she gathers make her ponder their past lives, as she considers their new special place in her home (as Marie might also do). It is the quantity of items she loves that provides a catastrophic turning point in her life; Nic has a fall, her hoard comes tumbling down and well-meaning family members arrive to take charge.

Family relationships can be a curious thing – especially when life hiccoughs get in the way. Nic has no children, but has always been close with her niece, Lena. Until her sister, Michelle, moved her family away, she enjoyed fun times with Lena and her brother, Will. Then, time and distance and failed relationships over the years set other securities in motion.

Emily Maguire cleverly introduces the idiosyncrasies of hoarders in the opening chapter – the way she writes, the way she voices what Nic is feeling – and sets up the chain of events to follow. It is awkward reading, but nuanced to the character of Nic.

The web woven for Lena is also cleverly set, as she follows her attraction for a fellow uni student. She is oblivious to his grooming efforts and is soon, so easily, a victim, in spite of some awareness of sexual assault issues at uni. Much of what happens to her, consumes her and looks to ruin her life ambition.

Many questions arise from reading ‘Love Objects’. What would you have done if you were Lena? her mother Michelle? Could you have done something differently, earlier, if you were Nic? an aware Lena? a different sister version of Michelle? Would it have made a difference?

Hear what Emily Maguire has to say about ‘Love Objects’ here:

After you read ‘Love Objects’, what would feature in a sequel? How would you write the future of the Mitchell family?

The Other Side of Beautiful

Life has a way of falling apart sometimes. For Mercy, the solution has been spending 2 years as a recluse in her home. When this house burns down, she is thrown out into the world and flounders to accept the help her ex-husband offers, which can only be temporary anyway.

“This world isn’t easy when your shield shatters. When my character in The Other Side of Beautiful, a woman who hasn’t left her house for two years, watches that house burn down, Mercy Blain has no choice but to be flung into the world.” (Kim Lock discussing her main character, Mercy Blain.)

As this situation is clearly untenable, Mercy comes across a somewhat bizarre alternative. This sees her embark on a physical journey from Adelaide to Darwin, in a beat-up old vehicle with just her dog, Wasabi, as a companion.

For someone who has not left their house for 2 years, this is an amazing challenge, but one that proves to be the physical AND emotional journey she needs.

Mercy’s cautious initial steps mean that she is sparsely equipped, having lost most things in the fire. Her inner struggles also mean that she is often stretched to the limit to move beyond the many barriers she has set up over 2 years. Thus, her journey north is hesitant and full of extreme anxiety.

In Mercy’s steps, we learn about the suffocating effects of panic attacks, and we will her on as she travels north, alongside the movement of grey nomads and other travellers. The characters she meets are totally relatable, as is the Australian countryside they traverse. Those with a  careful blend of friendliness and respect for the privacy of others allow Mercy to feel somewhat comfortable to continue her travels, in spite of early misgivings.

Along the way, certain roadblocks cause anxious situations for her to rise above while forcing her to accept the help and advice of others she meets. We fear her crashing along the way (both physically and literally) – will her solo journey be the end of things, or provide a new beginning? After all, there have been tragic losses in the outback for those unprepared and unwary.

There is a lot to mull over in ‘the Other Side of Beautiful’, including the pressures of social media vs the need to stay in touch. Mercy is trying to overcome past negativity, but needs to stay in communication with the real world she is running from, in order to move forward in life. There could be severe consequences if she doesn’t, but outback travel is not the most supportive in some areas.

Will she make it to ‘the Other Side’?

Note: I loved the references to Australians’ outback travels in RVs and well-appointed vans, but would have preferred Mercy’s vehicle to have been a beat-up old Kombi (but that’s just my personal preference…).

Songbirds

Sometimes, we are blind to things that happen around us. Sometimes, we don’t want to know. Sometimes, it is dangerous to know…

Nisha is a maid for Petra in Cyprus. Petra is a single mother, lucky to have Nisha to care for her daughter while she is at work. In some ways their lives have parallels. In others, they are far apart.

When Nisha disappears one night, Petra begins to realise how little she knows about her maid and how much she needs her presence. Her daughter Aliki pines for Nisha – but she is not the only one.

Where can Petra turn for help to find Nisha? Who might know where she went and why? Who are the people in the local community who might have observed Nisha’s last moves?

At home, Aliki remains distant and sad. Where is Nisha, the one who has basically replaced her distant mother over many years? As a young child, does Aliki have any hints about why Nisha chose to leave – if she actually did?

Christi Lefteri (also author of the Beekeeper of Aleppo) explores many different relationships in Songbirds – in terms of power and control, love and longing, past and future. It is set in her native Cyprus, and much of what she writes in Songbirds is based on conversations with domestic workers there; workers from other lands seeking to better the lives of their families, even at the sacrifice of distance.

Songbirds will leave you feeling sad, frustrated, confused and annoyed. But at its heart, the characters who look after one another and care for individuals will encourage you to look after and appreciate the little ones in life – even if they are as frail and exposed as the songbirds.

Once There Were Wolves

Once there were wolves in Scotland – until they were viewed as too great a threat to farmers and their animals. In fact, in 1577, James VI made it compulsory to hunt wolves three times a year.

Thus hunting them was rewarded, and the last wolf was reportedly killed in 1680 in Killiecrankie (though there are reports that wolves survived in Scotland up until the 18th century). The long-term consequence of this was major destruction of woodland, overrun by the deer population and other herbivores. They were no longer culled naturally by wolves, the apex predator in the forest ecosystem.

Biologist Inti Flynn arrives in Scotland, leading a team of scientists which aims to reintroduce the grey wolf into the remote highlands. The team’s aim is twofold – to increase wolf numbers in the wild and to heal the landscape. Inti also needs to heal her twin sister, Aggie.

Not unexpectedly, the local farmers and villagers are very wary of the scientists’ plans, fearing their animals and families might fall prey to the wolf packs which are to be introduced. They remain blind to the true nature of wolves and their place in nature.

Inti’s passion for her wolves is deep, and due to a rare condition of mirror-touch synaesthesia, she can even sense their feelings, as well those of others she observes. Her childhood experiences with her twin sister, Aggie, provide some extreme examples of this and have left them both broken to different degrees.

With the disappearance of a local man, the ongoing opposition to their rewilding project comes to a head. Who/what will be blamed?

Naturally, Inti fears for her wolves. But who can she turn to? Who can she trust? Will her upbringing enable her to discover the real truth? And can she bring Aggie back to her senses?

Through Inti’s experiences, Charlotte McConaughy writes a sensitive and sensual discovery of the need to accept the role of wild creatures. Some locals are won over, but fear of the unknown echoes through much of the population.

McConaughy provides both poetic and informative descriptions of the wild, while she slowly reveals details about the nature of the people in this tale. In this, there is much to keep you guessing – and much to give you hope…

For more about the reintroduction of wolves to Scotland, start with this article:

Wolf Reintroduction in Scotland

The Paris Library

This is definitely one for book and library lovers – and those who understand the power of reading.

Switching between Paris in the early years of WWII and Montana in the 1980’s, ‘the Paris Library’ (by Janet Skeslien Charles) links the stories of Odile Souchet and Montana teenager, Lily.

Odile is an intense young lady, living in Paris. Her father is keen for her to find a husband, and regularly brings home suitors for Sunday lunch after church. Odile, however, isn’t particularly interested in any of them, and is more concerned with establishing herself in her dream job at the American Library.

When war is declared, the Library staff is determined to maintain their service for the Parisian community, providing books to British and French troops, and constantly work at ways to overcome the obstacles arising from Nazi occupation. Problems arise of course, due to the various backgrounds of library staff, and some reluctantly need to move on and away from their normal ways of functioning as military threats increase.

At times, it seems the library will be closed; something their dedicated subscribers (members such as students, writers, book lovers and soldiers at war) would find so tragic. Thus, the library staff do their best to meet their needs; a band of resistance in perilous times of occupation.

Woven into a tale from the past is the story of Lily, a young teen girl in Montana, as she develops an unlikely friendship with her widowed neighbour. While both are guarded, they begin to warm to one another since they share a love of language and books. Then there are slow reveals of former lives, loves and losses as the tales alternate between 1939 and 1983.

Based on the historical fact of occupied Paris during WWII, ‘the Paris Library’ is written by an author whose interests were piqued when she worked there.  It provides an insight into the actions of brave individuals and the role that the American Library played in trying to normalise life and maintain civility:

With the coming of World War II, the occupation of France by the Nazi regime, and the deepening threats to French Jews, Library director Dorothy Reeder and her staff and volunteers provided heroic service by operating an underground, and potentially dangerous, book-lending service to Jewish members barred from libraries. (Source: the History of the American Library in Paris, https://americanlibraryinparis.org/history/)

The other storyline in Montana will appeal to a young adult audience, as Lily struggles with school, friendships, the loss of her mother and the subsequent change in family relationships in a small country town. How will her growing relationship with her neighbour make a difference?

Both storylines raise questions about love, trust, loyalty and the need to belong. Lovers of historical fiction will enjoy a different insight into the impact of war, both immediate and long-term. Lovers of libraries will enjoy library/literary references, and applaud the tenacity of realistic characters as they continue to provide services in this tragic period in history.

Thus, it is highly recommended for these readers, and a great choice for those wanting something new.

Older reader: A Room Made of Leaves

The challenge of historical fiction – reflecting events of the past, recalling people of the past, and weaving these convincingly into a story. As a favourite genre of many people, it is also one open to critique when it strays too far from the truth perhaps?

In ‘A Room Made of Leaves’, celebrated author Kate Grenville opens up the world of Elizabeth Macarthur. She invites readers to consider a different perspective of life in early colonial Sydney – one not normally addressed by high school history classes – the female perspective.

Historically, John Macarthur is lauded as the pioneer of the wool industry, with his portrait gracing Australian currency over the years. However, his dark side as a scheming, driven personality is what drives this story. In his absence from the colony (fighting Governors and facing a court-martial in England), it seems his wife and sons were the ones driving this pioneering success.

Writing as Elizabeth Macarthur compiling her account of their personal history, Grenville challenges our acceptance of historical records and our assumptions about life for the early settlers. Early on, the reader is warned: ‘do not believe too quickly’, though we quickly become absorbed into this changed view of history.

A clever portrayal of Australian history. One to make you think, question, and consider what history really is. HIStory vs HERstory?

Always… (at last)

It seems it has been a long wait, but finally, we have the last book in Morris Gleitzman’s Once series. ‘Always’ completes the lifelong journey of Felix, the young boy introduced 16 years ago in ‘Once’.

Felix is now in his eighties, living in aged care in Australia. When a young boy is brought to him and left unexpectedly in his care, Felix once again embarks on a journey (with the boy, Wassim) to right wrongs built upon the prejudices and beliefs from history.

Dedicated followers will enjoy many references to characters and phrases used in past books. Some of these voices echo clearly in my mind, having listened to several of the books, particularly with Morris Gleitzman reading them. (Highly recommended audiobooks!)

Endearing, with characters like young Felix, Zelda, and the many strong people determined to fight against the tragedy of the holocaust, this final book in the epic series is gentle in its teaching for young readers. It is also compelling for older readers who are lucky to discover the series when reading alongside young readers – a chance to share and reflect together.

Always stay hopeful. That’s my motto.
You’re probably thinking … what’s he got to be hopeful about? He’s ten years old and look at his life. (Quote from Wassim in ‘Always’, p.3)

You can find a better and deeper review of Always at Kids’ Book Reviews. And there is always the author’s own revelations and musings at Morris Gleiztman/Always.

# Have you read the whole series?

## Did you find any parts of the stories confronting?

### Are there other books of historical fiction you would recommend?

 

Older readers: Anxious People

From the author of ‘A Man called Ove’, translated from Swedish, ‘Anxious People’ is a humorous book of life observations.

Set in a small Swedish town where nothing much happens, the tale opens with a bizarre bank robbery (at a cashless bank) which then turns into a hostage drama at a nearby apartment building. As a small-town police team of father and son seek to resolve the situation (without relying on the heavy guns from Stockholm), Backman sprinkles the story with the quirks and foibles of those caught up in the drama while viewing an apartment open house.

Cleverly woven links between present and past, among the characters and the building’s location, occur throughout. Similarly, clever comments on normal everyday things – like food preferences, domestic needs, and views on family relationships – give cause for a laugh or two along the way.

The bank robber is, of course, not your typical bank robber – more a result of a series of unfortunate events which culminate in a ‘hostage situation’ – again, not typical.

Each of the characters involved has their own version of what happened, and their own anxieties. Insecurities in relationships and work, perplexities about the impact of their past actions, lost loves and lives – all have left challenges to be overcome.

Even what is told from the police perspective is not completely what it seems. Have they handled the case properly? Why haven’t they had demands from the offender? How could they lose the suspect?

Backman makes some interesting observations throughout ‘Anxious People’ but in doing so, he does it gently and with humour. His characters are quirky but real (even though I disliked Zara, but maybe that was the point). An absurd situation in a little town becomes a feel-good book to make us all think while we laugh out loud.

Are you ready for a light-hearted read that also makes you think?

Green Almonds: Letters from Palestine

Two sisters show life in different countries and different cultures in this graphic novel by Anaele and Delphine Hermans – a memoir of Anaele’s 10-month stay in Bethlehem while volunteering for a youth organization/NGO.

Presented as postcards and letters shared between the two sisters, ‘Green Almonds’ highlights the living conditions of populations in war-torn zones of the world. At the same time, it humanises these conditions as they accept them as a ‘normal’ part of life.

Anaele’s initial arrival presented anxious times from the word go, as she negotiated customs at Tel Aviv airport in 2008. Her stories about the months that followed illustrate some of the precarious situations faced by everyday people in these occupied territories. At the same time, descriptions of simple joys in life shared amongst friends show things she enjoyed with her Palestinian friends. Cultural differences aside, there is still a place where: “we sing, we laugh, we talk until late into the night”.

As the correspondence journeys between Bethlehem and Liege, great contrasts are displayed in the lives of the two sisters. Interestingly, the postcards from Delphine mainly chat about shallow day-to-day life events at home in Liege; Anaele’s letters provide greater detail, empathy and passion about her experiences, as she negotiates a world apart from Belgium.

Of course, ‘Green Almonds’ is also a reflection of the harsh world experienced by those caught in this massive ongoing battle. As a graphic novel, it provides some introduction and insight into a dangerous conflict. Perhaps a more detailed follow-up would look deeper into the lives and relationships Anaele experienced in her time there and since her return to Belgium. (It would be an interesting continuation as she has worked to enable international volunteering projects since her return.)

Green Almonds received the Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders) award for the best travel diary highlighting the living conditions of populations in precarious situations when it was published in France in 2011.

Do you read non-fiction graphic novels?

Do they offer a worthwhile presentation of historic or real-world events? (e.g. the March trilogy which focuses on civil rights in the US)

Can such a memoir make you think about world events and conditions?

Future Girl – Asphyxia

What a beautiful book – the story, the illustrations, the things you can learn, the things you can think deeply about!

As an artist, author and activist (who also happens to be Deaf), Asphyxia has created a sumptuous book with a tale to be considered carefully. Her illustrations are just beautiful, as they reveal Piper’s emotions as she journals her personal insights.

Piper has been deaf since 3. Her mother wants her to be seen as normal. In a near-future dystopian society, life is hard enough, but Piper finds school and its demands more exhausting each day. With the ability to ‘tell it from the heart’ (as a Deaf person living in a hearing world), Asphyxia reveals through Piper just how hard it is being Deaf.

‘Future Girl’ is also coloured by the real characters Piper meets, as she struggles to find direction for her life outside of her school experience. There is so much more she learns (and teaches us) from these people.

Marley first helps her fix her bike, and becomes a future love interest. Robbie, his mother (who happens to be Deaf), opens up a new (Deaf) world to her – a new way of being herself. From her, in a world of economic chaos and rationing, she also learns ways to provide for herself (and her mother, Irene) and begins growing her own food.

Gradually, Piper becomes part of a different community, where her talents are applauded. Her voice is found in her art. At the same time, many upheavals in her life create challenges, and she has to decide what is important to her.

Asphyxia’s gentle education of the reader is fascinating.

I was re-introduced to the sign language alphabet which I had played with at school, and found quite exhausting (imagine having to spell everything you want to say!). Her explanation of Auslan through Piper’s gradual introduction to ‘whole-word’ signs was eye-opening. I found the concept of how exhausting it is for a Deaf person using a hearing device and lip-reading thought-provoking too. (It reminded me of Being Jazmine by Cecily Paterson.)

The importance of community and belonging is another element ‘Future Girl’ raises. Just starting out with a local community garden myself, I found this a wonderful and warm attachment to the story. It was also timely in this COVID climate where relationships, separation and restrictions mark our current world. But there is so much more… it is impossible to deliver it all here!

Asphyxia ‘speaks’

This is a book you want to read, hug and re-read carefully. Absorb the ideas, the beautiful illustrations and the inspiration it gives us all. Inspiration to look at the world differently, with hope and with concern for those around us. (Recommended 14+)

 

# Asphyxia gave permission to include some of her stunning artwork – I hope this entices you to pick up a copy soon. There is so much to learn through the story and the personal notes from her at the end.

# A younger series she has written also displays her creative puppetry skills – the Grimstones, a gothic fairytale series introduced here. 

(Apologies for the quality of the photo images taken…)