Can a book have too many rhetorical questions? Ask The Wonder

The Wonder by Emma Donoghue sounded like a book perfectly calibrated for a rave review from me.A yellow tick

  • Historical fiction – check
  • Author of Room, which I loved – check
  • Set in Ireland. Bit of a theme for this year – check
  • Enticing book cover – check

Yet it was a challenge to get to the end of this book, let alone properly enjoy it. And the biggest reason why? Total overuse of the rhetorical question. Can I come back to the issue of rhetorical questions in a moment?

A Doctrine for Bitches? 10 propositions to help you decide

There are many things about the world today that I don’t understand – like why feminism makes people so angry and afraid, why anyone would actually vote for Trump, why Australia is currently staging a postal survey on same sex marriage. Laurie Penny‘s new book, Bitch Doctrine, has gone a long way to helping me understand many of these things (although not the same sex marriage survey as nobody can actually make sense of that one).

I’ll be honest: I think Laurie Penny is inspiring. Every time she writes, she astutely calls out the social injustices she sees, explains them logically and rationally and then poses solutions to them. She does this with humour, wisdom and anger, but she also does it hopefully. She delivers all of this, again, with Bitch Doctrine – a series of short essays on topics that range from the US election, to transsexuality, to Mad Max: Fury Road, to rape culture. They’re heavy topics, but Penny makes them interesting and digestible, and rather than collapsing in a heap of left-wing anguish, she highlights ways we can achieve change.

And yet at the start of this book, Penny explains that she called it Bitch Doctrine because when she presents what she thinks are ‘quite logical, reasonable arguments for social change’ she is called a bitch (and worse).

I’ve gathered together a selection of quotes from the book that particularly resonated, and grouped them as 10 propositions that make sense to me.

None of these seems all that provocative, but what do you think?

Totally Glorious: The Glorious Heresies

Several of my favourite reviewers proclaimed it (Kate W, BookerTalk and Jan Hicks, for example). The Bailey’s Women’s Prize for Fiction judging panel announced it pretty vehemently too by awarding it first prize in 2016. Pretty much everyone is agreed that The Glorious Heresies by Lisa McInerney is an outstanding novel. It takes the Irish Tourism version of Ireland and warps it mercilessly into something real and meaningful but also grubby and degenerate.

Aussie author spotlight: Jacinta Halloran

Last week, I did my first post for the Australian Women’s Writer’s Challenge which is aimed at supporting and promoting Australian women – you should check it out when you get a moment. For this auspicious occasion, I was lucky enough to interview Jacinta Halloran. Keep reading and you can discover what we chatted about.

A little while ago, I speculatively turned up to a book event as part of the Woodend Winter’s Arts Festival.  Since we’d arrived in Woodend, I’d been having an internal debate about whether to buy a ticket to this event. To go, I’d have to get up earlier than I’d like (on a holiday weekend no less) and face a cold, foggy morning (being winter and all). Plus, I hadn’t heard of the author. In the end, of course I decided to forgo the extra sleep and I headed into Woodend to listen to Jacinta Halloran. I’m so glad I did.

Jacinta Halloran
Jacinta Halloran

The more Jacinta talked about her books and her writing that morning, the more I warmed to her – she was articulate and thoughtful and with three books under her belt (Dissection, Pilgrimage and The Science of Appearances) she obviously knew what she was talking about. What struck me most about Jacinta was that, as well as being an accomplished author, she is also a GP and still practises part time. What an extraordinary brain she must have, I kept thinking, to do science-y things and also do creative, art-y things.

August: Books I read and a thing that made me laugh

August has gone by in a blur. A cold, rainy, winter-in-Melbourne blur. I’ve been neglecting this little blog – for which I have no real excuse, other than LIFE.

I’ve done lots of reading (there’s always time for reading), but not a lot of reviewing. Here’s a snapshot of what books shaped my August, my verdict on each and then a little thing that made me laugh.

Reworking New Zealand’s history: Where the Rekohu Bone Sings

Where the Rekohu Bone Sings by Tina Makereti is a beautifully told story set that traverses three different time periods in New Zealand and is conveyed through three different narratives. It’s one of the few fictional stories about the fate of the Moriori people (one of the others being David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas) and despite tackling complex themes of identity, colonialism, racism and shame, it’s carried by a lightness of touch that makes it a pleasure to read.

Three different, interwoven stories might sound convoluted, but Tina Makereti works it seamlessly so that each strand adds a powerful layer to the overall narrative.

Andy Griffiths & Terry Denton: Reigning supreme with Aussie kids

We’d been waiting for this moment for months.  And when I say ‘we‘, I don’t just mean ‘them‘, I mean me and him too.

Master Six and Master Nearly-Eight have read all the Storey Treehouse books, several times over. We’ve listened to them as audiobooks, several times over. They’ve written their own books (or started them anyway) that bear such a resemblance to the Griffiths’ pencraft that copyright is, categorically, an issue. In short, we LOVE the Griffiths/ Denton duo.  And last night we were there in the Melbourne Town Hall, thanks to tickets bought months and months ago, to witness the launch of the next sacred installment – The 91-Storey Treehouse.

The book launch was as chaotic as it was charming. It was improvised, and silly. But it had every child in the house on the edge on their seats. Literally.

Six books the library nabbed for me (and why I’m reading them)

I must have gone a bit mad a couple of weeks ago. While I don’t remember it, proof of this flaky episode was a series of library notifications delivered to my inbox last week alerting me that a(nother) book I’d requested was waiting for collection – six in total! I felt a bit overwhelmed after the visit to the library; I could only just carry all the books home.

Here’s a run-down of the six books I’ve now added to my (literally) towering book pile and why they’re there.

‘The people who drew the pictures are very good drawers’, pronounces Master Six

It’s Master Six’s birthday today (with fever-pitched excitement in this household!). Master Seven will turn into Master Eight in a few weeks time. It’s irrefutable; they’re growing up.

Notwithstanding their rapid ageing, as well as stiff competition from the likes of Captain Underpants and the Storey Treehouse series, both boys still love reading picture books. Although, it’s not guaranteed that every picture book will capture their imagination as might’ve been the case even a year ago.  With this in mind, we recently tested the waters with Mrs White and the Red Desert and On the Way to Nana’s House.

Master Six and Master Nearly-Eight give their considered opinions on these two books: their covers, storylines, illustrations, and as well as delivering an ultimate verdict on both books.

12 days, 4 books and a beach

Melbourne is in the depths of winter. It’s a little different to Glasgow winters – where I would look desperately at the day’s forecast and plead that the top temperature rise above 0 degrees – but it can be quite chilly.  Sometimes I have to wear gloves, as well as a scarf and coat. To escape this dreariness, me and my little family recently headed north to Queensland, like the humpback whales, for 12 days of excessive frolicking, lounging, eating and of course, reading.

On this holiday I read 4 totally different books:  Phone, Our Women Our Ways Our World, The Essex Serpent and The Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly. Here’s a short review of each (and some gratuitous beach photos).

Resistance and Remembrance: Us Women, Our Ways, Our World

I had always thought, erroneously it turns out, that protests against Australia Day were a relatively new phenomenon. Yet since 1938 protesters have marched against the 25th of January being an Australian national holiday because it ‘celebrates’ Europeans landing on this continent. Known as the Day of Mourning, this 1930s protest was one of the first major civil rights gatherings in the world.

The genesis of NAIDOC (National Aborigines and Islanders Day Observance Committee) week lies in the Day of Mourning, but unlike this earlier day of commiseration, NAIDOC week now is a series of celebratory events. It’s this approach – one of recognition and remembrance, as well as resistance – that Us Women, Our Ways, Our World takes to investigating the lived experience of Aboriginal women, through fourteen different pieces of writing. It seems fitting to take a closer look at this book during NAIDOC week.

Six Degrees of Separation – from picnicking to murdering

It’s time for #6degrees! Adapting the idea the idea that everyone in the world is separated from everyone else by just six links, Kate W (one of my favourite bloggers) hosts a #6degrees meme for bookish types.

Every month, a book is chosen as a starting point and then it’s up to us readers to link it to six other books to form a kind of chain. It’s all a bit random, as the links between books can be as estoteric as you like – it’s fun to see where things take you.

At the starting block this month is Picnic at Hanging Rock by Joan Lindsay. In the first year of high school, my best friend was obsessed with this book. She would become emotionally unstable, in a way that only a thirteen year old can, if anyone hinted the book wasn’t based on real events.

Pompous and Ponderous yet Pretty Persuasive: When Nietzsche Wept

In the dark days of my youth, I trained to be a lawyer. As far as I’m concerned my brain is naturally inclined to be, and then was further pummelled into being linear, logical and only marginally creative.  For these reasons, when I have to contemplate the universe (by, for instance, trying to understand the relative size of the earth compared to the observable universe or the gravitational force of black holes) or when I have to ponder existential and philosophical conundrums, my brain really hurts. Give me the legal complexities of a snail at the bottom of a ginger beer bottle any day*.

So it was with some anxiety that I began reading When Nietzsche Wept by Irvin D. Yalom, M.D.  In addition to the intellectual title and the sombre bookcover, the author photo on the back of the book suggests a man not to be meddled with. He is clearly VERY SMART. Look at this:

Positioned alongside this imposing photo, the blurb tells us that Irvin D. Yalom M.D. is no less than a Professor Emeritus of Psychiatry at Stanford University.

Consequently, as I turned to chapter one I was fearful for my lawyerly brain.  How much existential grappling would this book demand? Would I survive the plunge into the (for me) unchartered realms of philosophy? Who was Nietzsche anyway?

Happily I can report that my brain and I survived When Nietzsche Wept. Although I didn’t necessarily enjoy this book I am glad I read it.

Death to the teabag! 7 best things from the Melbourne Tea Festival

There are many positives to living in Melbourne.  In particular, I love that this city pretty much has a festival for every niche interest. If you’re a blacksmith you can pop along to Footscray to the Blacksmith Festival.  If you’re vegan and feeling lonely, no problem – head to Carlton for the Big Vegan Market. Or, if you’re feeling a bit frisky there’s the Oz Kink Fest, where you can engage in the Hellfire Resurrection down in South Yarra. For something (possibly) a little more sedate, join the Handknitters’ Guild for the World Knit in Public Day.

For tea enthusiasts, there’s the Melbourne Tea Festival, an annual event where the tea amateurs and tea connoisseurs share their joy for the humble camellia sinensis leaf. I love the Melbourne Tea Festival; it’s been circled in my calendar for months. It didn’t disappoint.

Here are the the seven best things from this year’s event.

Audiobook Nook: The Dalai Lama’s Cat

I’ve developed a tendency to choose audiobooks that have silly titles, like my most recent pick The Dalai Lama’s Cat by David Michie. It’s precisely because it has a silly title that I singled this out one. I’d never heard of David Michie, although he seems quite famous, and I’d never heard of the book either.

The Dalai Lama’s Cat serves as a gentle introduction into Buddhism, as delivered by ‘Snow Lion’, the Dalai Lama’s Cat. If you like the idea of being talked to by a cat about the philosophical underpinnings of happiness, then this book is definitely for you.  If you think this sounds either pompous or ludicrous (or both), you’re right, it is.  But don’t completely write it off.

Her name is Elizabeth Strout: Anything Is Possible

You know that thing where you go your whole life not hearing a name, and then suddenly, you hear it everywhere. ‘Elizabeth Strout‘ did that to me.  I don’t know where I was in 2009 when she won the Pulitzer Prize for Olive Kitteridge, or a couple of years ago when HBO made it into a miniseries.  I think her name may have seeped into my consciousness with last year’s My Name Is Lucy Barton, but not properly.  Now, she is everywhere for me; being interviewed in the Saturday paper, in bookshop window displays and most recently, on my e-reader with Anything Is Possible.

Anything Is Possible is a remarkable book – it’s collection of nine stories but I wouldn’t say it’s a short story collection.

We’re going on a book hunt: Clunes Book Festival in pictures

One weekend a year, Clunes – a small, old gold mining town in regional Victoria, Australia – is host to a book festival. The main street of this international book town is closed off and there are literally thousands of (mostly) second hand books for sale, spread across makeshift marques, stacked in unused shop fronts, shelved in established book shops and crammed into mobile book vans. Some of the book tents smell like moth balls, some are a bit dank, but all of them have that wonderful smell of pre-loved books.

It’s a lovely event, full of old hippies, middle-aged book worms, twenty-something book nerds and even younger booksters. It’s unpretentious, relaxed, rustic bordering on eccentric, and usually a bit cold.

Can you imagine the delight of being surrounded by books, authors, bookworms and cafes for two whole days? In case you can’t, here are my photos to help.  Enjoy – vicariously!

Choose Your Own Adventure: The Girl With All The Gifts

I have a quandary.  I want to tell everybody about the book I just finished, The Girl With All the Gifts. One of the best things about this book was that I had no idea it was a [insert genre] book.  If I’d known it was a [insert genre] book, I probably wouldn’t have picked it up. I want to review this book, but I don’t want to spoil it for anyone who hasn’t heard of it.

Girl sitting on box trying to keep it shut
Pandora by Frederick Stuart Church

On the other hand I’m thinking: lots of people must know about this book because it’s also been made into a film, released only last year. Maybe these folk would like to read a more extensive review to decide if it’s worthwhile reading.

So to meet these competing reader requirements, this is a ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’, where YOU get to decide which review you read.

If you’ve never heard of this book or the film and you think you might read it, for a no-spoilers review… GO TO OPTION A.

If you’ve heard of The Girl With All the Gifts but haven’t read it yet, and don’t know if you should… GO TO OPTION B.

Six reasons to read Come in Spinner

I feel slightly embarrassed that I’ve only read Come in Spinner now and only because of the virtual bookclub hosted by Simon @ Stuck in a book and Karen @ Kaggsy’s Bookish Ramblings (where for one wonderful week bookish-types review books printed in 1951). Honestly, I should have read Come in Spinner, by Dymphna Cusack & Florence James, years ago – this is an amazing book for a number of reasons.

The first reason: It’s enormous.  When I went to collect it from the library I wasn’t expecting a tome.  Think Half-Blood Prince and you’re nearly there. I actually didn’t think I’d get past the first couple of hundred pages, but not even one of these pages is superfluous because…

Bound and gagged in a boot? That’s not cricket!

I defy anyone to read the first chapter of The Rules of Backyard Cricket by Jock Serong and not be completely sucked in:

I’m wedged towards the rear corner, driver’s side, so close I can smell the hot plastics of the tail light… The cable ties are drawn tight around both wrists, cutting into the flesh… The feet, from whom I’ve heard nothing lately, must be in a similar predicament; more cable ties drawn around the ankles… My breath is hissing in and out of my nose, my mouth tightly taped.’

 

And there we find Darren, in the boot of a car, on the Geelong to Melbourne road, with a bullet in his right knee, and without any real sense of why he’s there. We traverse through his childhood, growing up in the working-class western suburbs of Melbourne with his brother and his mum, through his rise and fall as a career cricketer, then  back to where we started: a middle-aged man trapped in the boot of a car, with time running out.

I’m going to get straight to the point.  I LOVED THIS BOOK.

‘It’s important to retain the humanity’: The Song of the Stork

Those who are fans of Charlie Brooker, and the Black Mirror series in particular, will know immediately which episode I’m referring to when I say the one about the ‘roaches’ (‘Men Against Fire‘).   I found this episode deeply troubling, not because it canvasses the potential brutality of the future, but because it evokes the present (the war on ‘terror’) and the immediate past – the holocaust.

Ary soldier holding machine gun
On the hunt in Black Mirror‘s ‘Men Against Fire’

This Black Mirror episode reverberated in my head as I read Stephan Collishaw‘s The Song of the Stork. There seemed many parallels between the book and Men Against Fire, sharing similar imagery (forests, ruined houses) and themes (brutality, empathy, survival).

Collishaw’s novel is set in the Suwalke Forest at the Polish/ Lithuanian border in the 1940s, just as Nazi Germany is rolling back the Russian Army.  As the German soldiers advance into this territory, they bring with them their genocidal assignment. Yael is at the centre of this story – a 15 year old Jewish girl who flukishly escapes the slaughter of her village by seeking sanctuary in the surrounding forest.  The novel traces her survival in the forest, her refuge with the village eccentric, Aleksei, and her collaboration with the Jewish partisans resisting the German advance.

The Song of the Stork is not a light read, but given it’s subject matter, it’s not bleak – and this is an important point of distinction between it and Black Mirror. The war and its atrocities are an evident backdrop but aren’t despairingly overwhelming.  There are splinters of hope, as well as moments of redemption. I spoke with Stephan about how he managed to steer this course, maintaining this balance between grim history and hope.

Violence and Murder (and Feminism): An Isolated Incident

Part of me is so weary of crime novels and TV dramas revolving around the discovery of (another) mutilated body of a woman.  What bugs me is not depicting the reality that women get murdered.  Of course they do, every day, of every week, of every year.  My issue is that I feel uncomfortable, even voyeuristic, watching the investigators, journalists and the rest of cast paw over the details of her life and her death.  Of course, her murder is never condoned and the murderer receives our strongest condemnation.  But beyond the surface-level motive, there is never any exploration of why this happened.  What is it about our culture that creates the space for these events; that makes it unsurprising when another women is violently murdered?

I picked up Emily Maguire’s An Isolated Incident expecting a run-of-the-mill crime thriller (although a very good one given its accolades), and found instead an astonishing novel that expertly delivers a poignant yet gripping read, while exploring the drivers of violence against women. I can’t think of another novel like it.

‘Tea like my nanna used to drink’

I’ve been drinking Tramtracker tea, by McIver’s Tea and Coffee Merchants, every morning for about 5 months now. I just love it; it’s strong and gutsy and gives me the push out of the door I need.

One morning as I stood staring at the wall waiting for my tea to brew, I thought to myself, ‘just how is this tea so good?’.  I resolved at that moment to find out.

The Perfect Excuse for a Cuddle: At the Zoo I See

Master Five just started school in February and without being too melancholy, I realise that the time will come when he’ll stop following me around the house with a pile of picture books asking to sit on my knee and to read together. So I’m consciously trying to take these moments when I can.

In a hygge-inspired snuggle, we recently spent a lovely twenty minutes together reading At the Zoo I See, a beautiful picture book by Joshua Button, a young author descended from the Walmajarri people of the East Kimberley.

Happy African Feminist Who Does Not Hate Men

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie instantly became one of my literary heroes after I read Americanah. I would even go so far as to rank that book as one of my top reads ever.

Somehow though, I don’t think my accolades will make much of an impression on Adichie’s trophy cabinet. Her TEDx talk, We Should All Be Feminists has been watched over 6 million times; Beyonce sampled her talk in the song Flawless; the book We Should All Be Feminists is being distributed to every 16 year old in Sweden, and this month Adichie made it into Fortune Magazine’s World’s 50 Greatest Leaders. We Should All Be Feminists has been followed up by Dear Ijeawale, or A Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions, released just this month. Both books are a fantastic read, and provide a vital contribution to the feminist canon.

When the cover is the best bit: The House at Bishopsgate

I requested a review copy of The House at Bishopsgate by Katie Hickman because it has a beautiful cover and it holds itself out to be a richly-textured, historical novel.  I was promised that it would be ‘completely absorbing and delightful’ and that I would be taken ‘to a magical land’.  Unfortunately for me, and this review, it didn’t deliver any of these things.

Top Ten Things For Every Romance Novel

Let’s admit it.  Even if some of us (er, like me) are a bit ‘bah humbug’ about Valentine’s Day, we all love a good romance. Imagine life without Gilbert and Ann, or Rochester and Jane, or Heathcliffe and Catherine.

To honour St Valentine, Melbourne author Heidi Catherine unveils the key ingredients to the perfect romance novel.

Ten books that need a bit less….

I can imagine how hard it is to write a book, and to write one that people not only choose to read, but might actually even like.

Notwithstanding this, I can be a harsh critic. I’ve read a few books recently that would have been so much better if they’d just had a bit less … y’know … [*sigh*] … or perhaps fewer … [*hmmm*]….

Let me explain it better: here are my top ten books that need less stuff.

Accent anarchy: listening to The Last Painting of Sara de Vos

Although relatively new to them,  I’ve quickly come to love the accessibility of audio books – that I can be walking or driving or hoovering and still be consuming books. I can drown out irritating chat on public transport and still be buried in a novel.  I’ve only listened to a couple, and whilst I’m largely won over, I now realise that listening to a book is very different to reading it, and not necessarily always in a positive way.

There’s been a fair bit of chat about whether listening to a book is ‘cheating’.  The simple answer to that question appears to be no – for typical adults, listening comprehension and reading comprehension is mostly the same thing, says Daniel Willingham, a Professor in Psychology.

The far more interesting question though, I think, is whether by listening to a book I’m experiencing it in the way the author intended.

Fingersmith: Book and movie combo deal!

It was only by accident that I came to hear Sarah Waters discussing her newest book The Night Watch at the Edinburgh Book Festival in 2006.  It was a beautiful Scottish summer’s day; perfect for a day trip from Glasgow. I had planned to just wander around the festival at Charlotte Square Gardens; tickets were £8 per session and I knew my meager Oxfam salary couldn’t support too many purchases.  But then on a whim, I decided to get a ticket to Sarah Waters, an author I’d never heard of.  It changed my literary landscape.

Fighting, feminism and Ford

I’m a feminist.  Every day I notice how women’s lives have been shaped to sustain male privilege.  I get angry when I think about the gender pay gap.  I’m furious about the prevalence of family violence.  The way that women in particular (but men too) are poked and prodded into hating their appearance by global beauty companies makes me livid.  But I am nowhere near as angry as Clementine Ford.

Sharp Objects: it’s no Gone Girl (but maybe that’s a good thing?)

I loved the book Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn; it was one of my top reads for 2014.  I feel a bit embarrassed to say that out loud these days, what with lots of other ‘girl’ books floating about. In my defence, I read it before the hype and before the film and before I realised that some people had good reason to really dislike it (I’m thinking of you, Jan @ What I Think about When I Think About Reading). Although I still stand by it as a book – I found it utterly compelling.

So it was with great relish that I picked up Gillian Flynn’s debut novel, Sharp Objects. It was, however, a disappointment.  In a nutshell, it’s no Gone Girl.

2016’s Top Ten New-To-Me Authors

It’s Top Ten Tuesday and this week it’s Top Ten New-To-Me Authors I Read For The First Time in 2016.

I thought this list would echo my ‘best book of 2016’ but actually it doesn’t completely (I wonder which book Hag-Seed might dislodge?). Plus, the year isn’t totally over yet is it?  I’ve still got at least three weeks of reading time, completely uninterrupted except by Christmas concerts, Christmas shopping, Christmas decorating, Christmas chat, Christmas office parties, Christmas cooking, Christmas travel, Christmas manic excitement (kids), Christmas meltdowns (me).

Anyway without further ado, this year’s top ten new-to-me authors are:

Back in the arms of Atwood with Hag-Seed

Twenty years ago, I considered Margaret Atwood to be a demigod; I reverentially devoured all her books.  If there had been an Atwood holy site, I’d have made the pilgrimage (as I’ve done with Prince Edward Island and Haworth).  Alias Grace, Blind Assassin, The Robber Bride, The Handmaid’s Tale are still up there as some of my all time favourite books.  Then came Oryx and Crake, which Atwood assured us was not science fiction, but rather ‘speculative fiction’.  All the same, I was left unmoved by it.  In fact, I felt decidedly let down by it. So I consciously (and somewhat painfully) turned away from any Atwood books that followed.

For me, Hag-Seed was like coming home. From the opening paragraph I knew I was back in the literary arms of the Atwood I had once known and loved: ‘Felix brushes his teeth.  Then he brushes his other teeth, the false ones, and slides them into his mouth. Despite the layer of pink adhesive he’s applied they don’t fit very well’.  I loved this book because of the wonderful writing and clever storytelling, but also because it showed me that Atwood and I do have a future together after all.

Mullumbimby: another must-read Australian novel

I love it when I pick up a book, for which I hold no expectations and know very little about, and am totally captivated by it. This was how it went with Mullumbimby.  I reckon Mullumbimby by Melissa Lucashenko will feature in my top five books of 2016;  it’s funny, tender, instructive and a page-turner all at once.

Salt Creek: The Movie?

Salt Creek, by Lucy Treloar is a really great book.  It’s set in South Australia in the 1860s and centres on the misfortunes of the Finches, an English family trying to make their living from the inhospitable land around Salt Creek. 97817435331921-198x300At its core Salt Creek is a story about colonial Australia’s place in the Empire, of white people’s uneasy foothold in Australia and the displacement of native Australians through farming, disease and misdirected religious fervour.

The writing is beautiful, evoking the period and the landscape.  The plot begins slowly and we’re gradually drawn into each of the characters’ individual sense of alienation. The story increasingly gathers pace as Papa Finch’s fortunes fall further into decline and the family disintegrates.

Salt Creek is about love, racism, colonial pioneering, ego, familial tension and bitter disappointment. These big themes are teased out beautifully over the course of the novel. For this reason, I think Salt Creek is destined to be a film.  I’ve pondered over who could play the central characters thoughtfully enough to do proper justice to this book, and I’ve come up with the following list:

Fourteen preschoolers, two Indigenous books and a LOT of excitement

Magabala Books recently sent me two children’s books to review – Return of the Dinosaurs and Cheeky Animals. I find it hard to review kids’ books because in the end, it doesn’t really matter whether I like the book!

Then I thought, who better to review these books than Master Five and his pals from kindergarten. So last week I headed into his early learning centre to do a group reading with him and his classmates.

I was actually a bit nervous as I walked through the doors.  What if other kids aren’t as into books as mine? Would they find me dull? Do five-year olds heckle?

Walking the Lights: Quite a lot of walking, and not a lot else

I had high hopes for Walking the Lights by Deborah Andrews. It’s been shortlisted for this year’s The Not the Booker Prize; it’s published by an independent Scottish publishing house that gave us last year’s The Not the Booker Prize winner (Fishnet by Kirsten Innes); it’s set in Glasgow, and its blurb promises that it ‘perfectly evokes 90s Britain and those living on the margins, while others prosper’.  A winning combination, I thought.

George Orwell’s 11 golden rules for making tea

I recently stumbled across George Orwell’s 1946 gem of an essay, A Nice Cup of Tea.  It’s not surprising that as ‘the 20th century’s best chronicler of English culture’*, Orwell had some strong opinions about this quintessentially English institution.

In his short, humorous essay, George Orwell lists 11 inviolable rules one must follow to create the perfect cup of tea.  For the most part, his dogma stands the test of time.  But, there are a couple of points that are less ‘golden’ and, in my view, quite simply wrong.

George and I go head to head on what does, or does not, create the perfect cuppa.

Australia’s asylum shame

A year ago, I moved back to Australia after 10 years in Scotland.  Over these last 12 months, I’ve been relearning what it is to be Australian – not in the cliched sense, but in terms of the nuances of daily life that I’d just clean forgotten about (such aggressive driving, for example) or never even known about (the oddities of school drop offs).

But more than anything, I’ve had to confront and compute my country’s attitudes to its indigenous people and its asylum seekers. I feel like I’m seeing these issues with fresh eyes, and I really don’t like what I see.

The Dry: A scorching Aussie thriller

I’ve just finished reading what I reckon will be one of my top books of the year, The Dry by Jane Harper.  Within minutes of starting this book I knew I was in safe hands, and right to the very end I couldn’t put this book down.  It’s the kind of book that makes you miss your train stop; it’s an engrossing and very satisfying read.

This is why we need women only book prizes…

Hands up those who get sick of explaining why we still need feminism? 664392

It doesn’t seem to matter what statistics say about the gender pay gap, occupational segregation, family violence, women in leadership, poverty, misogyny in mainstream and social media etcetera – some remain unconvinced.

Hands up those who get sick of explaining why we still need women only book prizes?  

The Man Booker and the Not the Booker Prize 2016

Today the Man Booker Prize announced its longlist of 13 books, which you can find here.

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I’ve not read any of the books on this year’s longlist, so can’t offer any comment on their relative merit.  But I did immediately notice the absence of Charlotte Wood’s The Natural Way of Things, which made me sad.

However, I have a means to remedy this! The Guardian’s Not the Booker Prize 2016 gives us all a chance to champion our own favourite book of the year.