Monday, April 28, 2014

A Feature of Pictures (and books!) No. 3

Number 3 of my picture book feature and I'm reviewing two very different books, though each has a similar thread.

Title: Jam For Nana.
Author: Deborah Kelly.
Publisher: Random House Australia.
Publish Date: 1st April, 2014.
RRP: $19.99

Whilst this is a sweet book, undoubtably- the words tell a story that is caring yet sorrowful, the pictures leave you feeling warm- it was not at all what I anticipated and it left me wanting more. I had imagined more... the story of a girl setting off on a great adventure for her grandmother, and I didn't really enjoy what I found instead.
Perhaps the reason I didn't overly enjoy Jam For Nana was because it didn't leave me thrilling or imagining anything much in particular, or perhaps there's a different reason. I'm not entirely sure. Whatever it is, though, I wasn't overwhelmed.
The words, though sweet, didn't touch me, and the illustrations, though warm, didn't stand out- there were moments when I thought I might sink in, but it wasn't to be.

Cover Image Credit: Random House Australia.

Cover Image Credit: Allen and Unwin.

Title: The Duck and the Darklings.
Author: Glenda Millard and Stephen Michael King.
Publisher: Allen and Unwin.
Publish Date: 26th March, 2014.
RRP: $24.99

My first attempt to read this halted after no more than two pages: a headache and the words, twisting across the page and unfamiliar, were unreadable, refusing to penetrate my mind.
The second time I opened it I was a little daunted and again the first pages were confronting with so many new, peculiar things all spoken of as if they were completely ordinary, a whole way of living to comprehend- but then I was touched by the beauty of the words. The story.
It lingers with me, a week after finishing, and holding the book now I feel as if this is something so delightfully precious in my grasp: a treasure.

And truly, it is! The world may be confusing, the speech unfamiliar, but before you have time to truly think about it you will, no doubt, aready have felt the promise of this story put it's hands to you and beckon you forward.

This beautiful, tranquil story, written so breathtakingly and illustrated perfectly, is magnificent, truly, and I will not forget it.

Thank you to Random House Australia for the review copy of Jam for Nana.
Thank you to Allen and Unwin for the review copy of The Duck and the Darklings.

Friday, April 25, 2014

I, Coriander by Sally Gardner...

Title- I, Coriander.
Author- Sally Gardner.
Publish date- 2007.
Publisher- Puffin.

Review time...

(A brief) Synopsis:
A twisting, haunting and eternally beautiful story in which a young girl must find out the truth of her parents and the courage to fight when her world is shattered.

What I thought:
I read I, Coriander when I was between the ages of eight and eleven, and it stuck with me, both because of the oddness that was in the story, the unease and fear I felt as I read certain parts, but also because, I think, it perplexed me.
I wasn't sure what I'd make of it, now, and to be truthful I'm still not wholly sure! I find it difficult to place it in a single age group, too, as it doesn't feel all that suitable for MG, but I don't think it's completely YA, either, and that's kept me thinking.

One of my favourite parts about re-reading a book is when I only remmeber fragments, and so it was with this- I vividly remember the crocodile (and being terrified of it as I read late one night) on the cover, and certain parts of the story did come back to me as I read this time, though for the most part it all felt new- even the end wasn't as I understod it back then, though it was particularly memorable to me.

I find it also very hard to describe this book and how I feel about it- the one word that comes to me, straight off, is dark, which is very accurate, but my favourite scenes make me think the opposite, no matter who dire circumstances may have been during them- they're mystical and wonderful and I love them. I wish there had been more of those scenes I so loved.

Rating: Excellent.
In the end I don't think I can do any justice to I, Coriander in a review, apart from urging you to try reading it even if the synopsis (mine or any other) doesn't immediately draw you in. There is so much hidden here it would be impossible (and not at all in the spirit of things) to try and explain any of them.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Ghoulish Song by William Alexander...

Title- Ghoulish Song (Zombay book #2)
Author- William Alexander.
Publish date- February 2014.
Publisher- Constable and Robinson.
RRP: $14.99 AUD.

Review time...

(A brief) Synopsis:
Kaile is given a bone flute by a goblin and, when she plays it to calm herself and her anger at her whole family for being dreadful, it slices her shadow from her, a plucky individual who doesn't care for Kaile too much, and yet, if they're not attached, they may not survive.

What I thought:
Ghoulish Song is the sequel to Goblin Secrets, though I haven't read the first; the synopsis for it didn't really intrigue me, and as far as I could tell there wasn't a follow on of characters, so when I was most interested by Ghoulish Song I decided to read it.

This book is set in a world called Zombay, where things are dark yet can still be merry, where times can be tough but, if you try to hear it, there's still music. There were a lot of amazing things- creatures, mostly- mentioned, but they are so day to day in Zombay, it seems, that they don't really evolve into anything other than an unexplored possibility. So it became that the things I truly wanted to learn of were never covered and all I felt was frustrated at the potential that remained untouched.

That is what Ghoulish Song felt like all too often- like it hadn't reached it's potential.
From both the official synopsis and the cover I had imagined the story would go somewhere very different, and the version told here was a disappointment to me, because it felt very uninspired and, a lot of the time (particularly towards the end) like it was rushing towards the final page.

For all that, I did like some of the things that were explored, including the relationship between Kaile and her shadow, whom she names Shade. Shade gave an interesting perspective on Kaile- when, in the beginning, I had felt her anger and understood it, Shade points out how she's just not willing to take the blame for something she certainly had a hand in, and it gave me that different view, which I appreciated. We heard Kaile reasoning. Shade heard her actual words, which did have the unfortunate tendency to be quite whiney. She did evolve, Kaile, but it took a long while in this small book, and I can only hope she continues to evolve off the page.

Rating: Whatever comes between Poor and Oh nooo...
Overall I was mostly disappointed by Ghoulish Song. I felt quite let down by how it didn't take the steps to search more deeply about the creatures half-mentioned so many times, because those creatures... they sounded momentarily incredible.

Thank you to Murdoch Books for this review copy!

Saturday, April 19, 2014

This Star Won't Go Out by Esther Earl...

Title- This Star Won't Go Out.
Author- Esther Earl, with Lori and Wayne Earl.
Publish date- 29th April, 2014.
Publisher- Penguin Books Australia.
RRP: $19.99


Review time...

(A brief) Synopsis:
This is the story of Esther Earl, a bright young woman who was diagnosed with thyroid cancer when she was twelve and, a woman who strove for others to be happy and was endlessly caring. It includes journal entries, personal writing, and words from family and friends.

What I thought:

I believe the first time I heard about Esther Earl was when John Green made a vlogbrothers video commemorating her life and death; gradually I learnt more about her, watched her videos, grew to have an understanding of the foundation started in her name, and I felt a severe loss. I felt the loss of this incredible young woman and the brightness she bought to life.

Reading This Star Won’t Go Out was many things- difficult, amusing and painful, to name a few- but one of the things I can say I feel now, after having finished it, is happiness. I’m very glad that this book was published, that it felt as if I got to know Esther for a time through her words, and that, even if it had to be posthumously, she had her work published.

This was certainly a perspective altering read, one that made me look at life and the joys, turmoils, of it more clearly, simply. Reading of Esther and her love, seemingly so abundant, her gratitude, it was a very powerful experience and one that certainly made me think.

This book is comprised, mostly, of journal entries and letters by Esther, and updates on her health by her parents, recounts from people who cared for her; there wasn’t so much of Esther’s own work as I had anticipated and I didn’t quite realise how it was, almost, a story of her life- I didn’t anticipate how much it would be about her life, instead thought it would be more highly comprised of snippets of her writing, and I was a little disappointed by that. Indeed, there was many a time I wondered if there would be any of Esther’s fiction, which I had believed there would- turns out there was some, a few excerpts at the back, but I would really have liked to see more of her work in that vein.

This Star Won’t go Out wasn’t what I expected and I couldn’t help but be disappointed by this, though the story I got still held me fast; even though it contained much of Esther’s life written in her own words, it did feel, at times painfully, life a recount of her final years (this due to the health updates, essays from friends) and at other times a tribute, and those were the factors that made me like it less.

Rating- Switching between Hmm... and Excellent.
I’m pleased to have read this- very saddened, but glad, at least, that I was able to learn more, understand at least a little the incredible young woman I had watched the videos  of; in the style of writing, the way it was put together, I sometimes felt irked, but overall… overall I felt more things than I could name.

Thank you to Penguin Books Australia for this review copy!

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

A Conversation on: How I live Now by Meg Rosoff...

Title- How I live Now.
Author- Meg Rosoff.
Publish date- 2004.
Publisher- Penguin AU.

(A brief) Synopsis:
Daisy, a teenager from America, is sent to live with her cousins in the UK. She spends increasingly peaceful days with this new family, then a horrifying war breaks out.

Image Credit: Penguin AU.

Lets converse.
Though this was, by no means, a long novel, I didn't feel as if it was rushed at any one moment, or (alternately) that scenes/occurrences could've happened over a lengthier time. It felt, more than anything else, as if I was having a secret told to me, and eventually I found myself having trouble (a minimum amount of trouble, but still) figuring out if the sense of dread, even the belief that the war I felt so much fear for was happening here and now, and I was the one stranded in it. Then I would remember, all of a sudden, that Daisy and not I was the one facing it...  that was a perplexing experience, to say the least. A little frightening.

How I live Now was spectacular in it's honesty, in the unlikable-likability of it's protagonist and narrator, the way it filled me with a powerful dread, tugged me into the very story itself- a story that, at it's core, terrified me.

Because I felt so connected to the characters, it was as if I was a part of the story, like I was there at Daisy's side, fighting to get home, and so it feels, afterwards, as if I battled a lot in the time I was reading- I faced fears and learnt that it's so much harder to be triumphant than you might imagine. I realised that hope is far more necessary than I previously could've imagined, and you have to face mistakes.

Rating: Big Explosion, MIND BLOWN.
I learnt a lot whilst submerged in How I live Now, and I only hope there will be more lessons to learn when I next return to it's pages.

Monday, April 14, 2014

The House of Cats by Maggie Pearson...

Title- The House of Cats.
Author- Maggie Pearson.
Publish date- 2013.
Publisher- Bloomsbury. Imprint: A&C Black.
RRP: $22.99 (Hardback) AUD.

Review time...

(A brief) Synopsis:
A collection of tales from around Europe (one from each member of the EU) that are as expansive and diverse as you can imagine they might be. Perhaps a little more.

Image Credit: Bloomsbury AU.

What I thought:
The House of Cats is a new favourite when it comes to fairytales, and not just that story which doubles as the title of the book and is one of the many found in this book. I loved the darkness, sorrow and even creepiness that was abundant in these stories, but also the love and joy. Some of them didn't suit me at all, but all intrigued me- how was it they were told in the first place, did they originate somewhere only to be changed by word of mouth to become something quite different in another part of the world?

I really enjoyed checking again and again where each story originated from as I read, and I found each to be incredibly interesting if, as I said, a little creepy. One in particular I wouldn't re-read because it was quite startling and unsettling, but on the other hand, The House of Cats was very peculiar and it became my favourite, though if only it was longer than a few short pages.

The design of this book, particularly the cover, is just beautiful. It will be finding a firm place on my bookshelf in no time!

Rating: Ooh, very good.
This is a favourute and has actually made my longing to read more fairytales (traditional and retellings) a lot greater- there are stories here I look forward to reading again and, perhaps, recognising in different forms.

Thank you to Bloomsbury Australia for this review copy!

Friday, April 11, 2014

A Feature of Pictures (and books!) No. 2

The second on my picture book feature, these are two very different books but they both struck particular chords with me.

Title: Max.
Author: Marc Martin.
Publisher: Penguin Australia. Imprint: Viking.
Publish Date: March 26th, 2014.
RRP: $24.99

Max tells a very sweet story, that of a seagull called Max and a man called Bob who owns a fish and chips shop. The story was both amusing and heartwarming, but it wasn't the written story that I found myself most enraptured by. No, it was the illustrated one.

I felt as if the written story only really covered a small section of things, whereas I could get the same story, and more, from the pictures over each page- there was detail and a certain livliness that the words didn't convey, or so I felt. An added factor, the illustrations just happen to be beautiful and feel like they've come straight from a vintage picture book, and I truly did love this style of drawing- it became the book very well.

So whilst I did enjoy this, I do think I would have been more taken in had it been a silent read, so you only had the pictures and it was up to each individual to tell the story. The words just didn't work as well as that would have.

Image Credit: UQP.

Title: Here in the Garden.
Author: Briony Stewart.
Publisher: UQP.
Publish Date: March 26th, 2014.
RRP: $24.95

Here in the Garden is vying to become one of my new favourite picture books, and I'm sure after a few more reads it'll succeed.

The story is delicate yet powerful and it is heartrending in an almost warm way, because even though it's sad you're still remembering fondly, and I truly loved that.
It did surprise me when I read, before and during my read of the story itself, that the child pictured on the cover was a boy, because I did think it looked more like a short haired girl, and in the story there wasn't anything I saw to suggest otherwise, so specifying a gender, when the story itself did not, felt peculiar.
The illustrations- of the child, the rabbit and the garden are all beautiful, and I just loved the feel they gave the story. Time passing was conveyed, seasons changing was, also, and all done finely.

Altogether I really enjoyed this and would highly recommend, not to mention re-read.

Thank you to Penguin Australia for the review copy of Max!
Thank you to UQP for the review copy of Here in the Garden!

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

"When Did you See her Last?" by Lemony Snicket...

Title- "When Did you See Her Last?" (All the Wrong Questions #2.)
Author- Lemony Snicket.
Publish date- October 2013.
Publisher- Hardie Grant Egmont.
RRP: $16.95 (AUD)

*This review may contain spoilers relating to book #1 in the All the Wrong Questions series*

Review time...

(A Brief) Synopsis:
Though the beginnings of one mystery may have been solved by the young Lemony Snicket, things in Stain'd-by-the-Sea are only getting more puzzling, and if people aren't careful someone might just go missing.
Image Credit: Hardie Grant Egmont.

What I thought:
I am, practically always, sold when it comes to Lamony Snicket, and though I took a while reading the first book in this series, the second was certainly a different story. From the amusing list of questions on the back cover to the beautiful design and colour scheme of the cover and all illustrations throughout, this was an absolute win.
Instantly I was captivated and I caught onto what was happening a lot more quickly, finishing the book in just over one day, compared to the few weeks that I took with the first.

The plot was thrilling (all taking place, if I'm correct, in a single day, though it didn't feel too speedy or unbelievable- the contrary! I felt as if this could certainly happen in an obscure little town on the edge of a dried up sea) and the new characters were most intriguing. Even if they are only shown for a moment, or reoccurring as some are, from the first book, every single character has a distinct taste and attitude and though not all are likable, all are immensely captivating.

There was plenty of mystery to keep my mind at work, both when it comes to figuring out what question is the wrong question, helpfully assisted by Lemony, discovering what happened to the missing girl amidst a trail of falsities, what exactly the villain (whose name I awfully cannot remember or find note of online, which just goes to show how villianously stealthy he is) of the series has planned, not to mention a whole barrel full of refrences to well known (this is not to say I understood all of them, I note) books, the titles for you to work out and thrill over when you understand.
For those piecing together information on Lemony Snicket himself, this is the book to read- it also introduces some other familiar faces from A Series of Unfortunate Events, though they're considerably younger.

Rating: Excellent.
Very enjoyable. I wouldn't have minded a bit more length, but I really appreciated how things were so cleverly worked out and pondered over such a short time. It only goes to show how great Lemony Snicket is at what he does. This is a series I definitely plan to continue.

Thank you to Hardie Grant Egmont for this review copy!

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Wonder by R. J. Palacio...

Title- Wonder.
Author- R. J. Palacio.
Publish date- 2012.
Publisher- Random House. Imprint: The Bodley Head.


Review time...

(A Brief) Synopsis:
A boy is seen differently from others because of how he looks, even though he is just the same on the inside. Told from the perspective of August, the boy, and the people who care about him and live alongside him.

Image Credit: Random House AU.

What I thought:
When I opened this book, it wasn't to read it- just to see if I would actually like it when I did go to read it. There were other books I'd set my sights on... not a great frame of mind to be in when you're looking at a book, I've found.
I didn't think I would like it, either, but my rule is 20 pages (a rule I break often), and by the time I got to twenty... I hadn't even noticed. I was at 50 before I knew it, then 100... by the time I got to 170 I realised I'd be able to finish it in a day.

Wonder took me by surprise because I didn't think I'd be able to stand the voice that was telling the story, yet in the end I absolutely loved it.
In fact, when the story changed perspective (as it does multiple times throughout the book) all I wanted was August's voice back. And the great thing is? I grew to love each voice, each perspective and, so importantly, the originality that each carried. It never sounded as it each voice was written by the same person, and I loved- no. I adored that.

This is so many things all pulled into one- it's the story of a boy who doesn't want to be looked at as different; it's the story of the people around him and people who are the most vital to his life; it's a story containing beginnings, life, love, cruelty, dreams and wishes and desires. It's touching. It's beautiful. It's thought provoking. It's painful. It's moving. It's devastating. It made my mind whirr, and that is one of the best things, I think, a book can do.

There were things I didn't like, of course, but they were few- sometimes the characters, Auggie and the ones around him, just seemed like they were far too young- only 10, when they seemed so much older and had a level of cruelty placed upon them that was far too strong for what I imagine 10 year olds should experience or dole out- but I think, awfully, it may be acurate. Via, on the other hand, seemed far older than 15.
There was a section titled "Texts" where Auggie and a friend used text talk, and I just felt so strongly that he wouldn't half words or use any substitutes, and once there was a scene in which a cruel thing had been said and it was turned into an almost joke, thrown secretly at someone else, which I truly abhored.

I seem to be loving book designs at the moment and Wonder is no different- within and out, it's beautiful! I love, most of all, the white cover unde the blue dustcover, a simplification of the original. It's truly exquisite.

Rating: Almost Big Explosion MIND BLOWN but not quite.
This is the kind of book to share with others and to read over and over again- it's a very well told story, and a very important one, too.

Thank you to my local bookstore for this review copy!