Capital Yarns Volumes 1 and 2

Canberra-based short stories for young and old

If you listen to my podcast Lost the Plot, you might remember me speaking to this particular author back in Episode 25 about short stories. More recently, I helped to launch his latest collection of short stories in a live podcast event. While I had read quite a few, and listened to more on his podcast, I thought it was high time that I finished reading both collections and sat down to review them.

2019-01-16 20-718787548..jpg

“Capital Yarns Volume 1” and “Capital Yarns Volume 2” by Sean Costello are two collections of shorts stories based in and around Canberra. Each story is constructed around three objects nominated by friends, family and members of the public which are highlighted in bold text. The stories range in theme, some more playful, some darker, some tackling modern social issues. In the second volume, printed in a slightly different format, the stories are arranged by age group and grow progressively more serious as the book goes on.

A Canberran born and bred, Costello’s love for the city permeates the pages of each book. Clearly a keen people-watcher, Costello brings to life stories of ordinary Canberrans in some well-known and not-so-well-known parts of Australia’s often derided but increasingly cosmopolitan capital city. Costello pokes fun at some of the stereotypes of Canberra including its politicians and its hipsters, but importantly his satire is always aimed at privilege and he never punches down. Costello makes a clear effort to showcase the diversity of Canberrans and some of my favourite stories are decoding the opposite sex and how i met your grandfather in Volume 1 and hey sister and delusions of grandeur in Volume 2.

Like many authors, I think Costello starts to hit his stride a little more in Volume 2 and I felt that the arrangement by age group lent an overall cohesiveness to the book that wasn’t quite there with Volume 1. I also felt that the stories in Volume 2 were a bit stronger overall and were perhaps a little less about issues, places and things were instead more driven by plot and characters.

Two lovely collections of heartfelt stories filled with Canberra pride that you can experience for yourself in written or audio format on Costello’s website.

Capital Yarns

Capital Yarns Volume 2

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Australian Books, Book Reviews, Short Stories, Signed Books

The Little Girl Who Was Too Fond of Matches (La petite fille qui aimait trop les allumettes)

Dark French Canadian novella about an isolated family

Content warning: death, neglect, numerous other things not mentioned in the review

So it was getting close to the end of the year, and my Goodreads 2018 Reading Challenge was stretching out in front of me looking mightily unattainable. I blame this book. To give myself a running chance at reaching my goal of 80 books, I decided to start aiming for shorter books. This one I think I must have picked up in the international literature section of the Lifeline Book Fair. It had a small spine. It would do.

20190114_2224591362604174.jpg

“The Little Girl Who Was Too Fond of Matches” by Gaétan Soucy and translated from the French by Sheila Fischman is a Canadian novella about a very isolated family. The unnamed narrator, one of two siblings, is awoken one morning with the discovery that their father is dead. Suddenly freed from the authoritarian existence he imposed upon them, the narrator decides to venture out to a nearby town to see about purchasing a coffin. However, upon arrival the narrator is faced with the revelation that their lives are not nearly as ordinary as they had thought.

This is a very short, intense book that juxtaposes flowery and archaic language with shocking revelations about the state of this family. Soucy uses the narrator’s extremely idiosyncratic way of speaking to obfuscate what is really going on, and piece by piece unveils the true nature of what has been happening on this isolated property through the narrator’s observations of other people’s reactions. It’s a very clever narrative structure, and an ingenious way to explore how what is horrifying to some can become normalised to others. An example of this is how the siblings treat their father’s body. They are both largely unphased by the death and the circumstances around it, and are surprisingly cavalier about arranging for his burial. The reasons for why they are both so desensitised to, and seemingly unaware of the significance of, his death slowly emerge as the story progresses.

Although this is a rich and layered book, it is not necessarily an easy one to read. I think that Fischman did a good job on the translation, but on a first read, a lot of the narrator’s thoughts and observations, as go over your head. I understand that it is meant to be a sort of anamorphosis, but in terms of readability, it is very dense and it’s easy to miss things. I think I also sometimes am a bit wearied with trauma being used as a plot device. A lot of books do it, sure, but I think I am started to get a bit frustrated with traumatic events being used as a ‘big reveal’. I would not consider this particular book to be misery lit. In fact, I think that it is a very literary noir novella. However, it is very heavy going thematically and becomes incredibly dark for such a short book.

A beautiful, intelligent and disturbing story that was delivered a lot for a $3 novella I picked up at the Lifeline Book Fair.

buy the book from The Book Depository, free delivery

The Little Girl Who Was Too Fond of Matches

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Book Reviews, General Fiction, Novella

Heart’s Blood

Historical fantasy retelling of classic fairy tale

Content warning: family violence, disability

It’s no secret that I adore Juliet Marillier and her beautiful and whimsical historical fantasy novels. I generally try to space them out, but I am getting towards the end of all the books she’s written (so far), so it has been a while since I have picked one up. Anyway, approaching the end of the year, I was in dire need for a comfort read, and I was very eager to give this standalone novel a go.

2019-01-04 21-1125330903..jpg

“Heart’s Blood” by Juliet Marillier is a historical fantasy novel that reimagines the classic story of “Beauty and the Beast“. The story follows a young woman called Caitrin who is on the run from her abusive family home. Trained as a scribe, when she hears of a job vacancy at the mysterious fortress known as Whistling Tor, locals warn her against it and the disfigured chieftain called Anluan. However when Caitrin arrives, she finds that fear of the known is far worse than fear of the unknown and soon settles into the strange rhythm of the household. While she attempts a seemingly insurmountable task that others before her have failed, she discovers that ugliness is often much more than skin deep.

Marillier, as always, gently coaxes into life sensitive and well-considered characters who overcome hardship and find strength and comfort in one-another. Marillier’s book are and continue to be incredibly inclusive and tackle modern issues through a historical lens. Although this is not the first book of hers with a character with a disability, this book is the first book of hers I have read that really explores the issue of family violence. I thought that she handled Caitrin’s experiences, and the toll they took on her self-esteem and identity, very adeptly and drew out the issues of vulnerability and courage for both Caitrin and Anluan very well. I also really liked that Marillier again made a main character with a disability someone who is capable and desirable.

However, this wasn’t my favourite of Marillier’s books. The plot twist about the true nature of the evil at Whistling Tor I saw coming a mile away, and I felt like a large proportion of the book was spent waiting for the ending I knew was on its way. While I did fully respect that Marillier incorporated themes of family violence into her book, I felt that it could have been a little less distant relatives come take advantage and a little more close to home like unfortunately so many domestic violence stories are. I also felt a little that the way that part of the story is resolved got a bit Jane Eyre towards the end with a bit of deus ex machina in the form of a cart of people going by at just the right time.

Regardless, this is a sweet and enjoyable story and a unique retelling of a classic fairy tale. I read this book in no time at all, and look forward to the next Marillier book I tackle.

buy the book from The Book Depository, free delivery

Heart’s Blood: Whistling Tor 1

Leave a comment

Filed under Australian Books, Book Reviews, Fantasy, Historical Fiction

(Adults Only) The Veiled Woman

Literary erotica by classic author

Content warning: sexual themes

A friend of mine has been introducing me to some feminist classics recently and bought me a copy of this book. I of course had heard of the author, probably most memorably through Jewel’s track “Morning Song“, which actually would be quite a nice accompaniment to this book. However, I have never read any of her work before, so again, thank you Kendall for continuing to expand my literary horizons.

20190102_185216-410769321.jpg

“The Veiled Woman” by Anaïs Nin is a small collection of erotic short stories. There are four stories in total and each one features young, accomplished characters who find an opportunity to explore their secret fantasies.

The interesting thing about this book is that although it is without a doubt intended to be erotic, it is incredibly literary. Nin writes with a delicate subtlety, relying on suggestion and inference to quickly build tension. Three of the stories are told from the perspective of women and one from the perspective of a man. The stories are quite playful, some with an unexpected twist or turn. Nin explores lesbian sex (Mandra), anonymous sex (Linda), voyeurism (Marianne) and power play, often placing one (or more) woman in a position of control and highlighting the strength and importance of female sexual desire. The stories were originally written in the 1940s and Nin without a doubt can be credited as a trailblazer for women in this genre. All of the encounters are very much consensual and the women are all very active participants.

It is a bit hard to critique erotica because it is a genre, like horror, that is designed to elicit a particular response. I think something can be well-written, but not necessarily good erotica, or vice versa. Of course, there is plenty of erotica out there that is poorly written and bad erotica (which, interestingly, seems to be awarded almost exclusively to men – though reading and writing erotica is of course very gendered). Although Nin is clearly an exceptional writer, and although these stories are obviously intended to be erotica, Nin lingers on the social detail of the stories and like your average novel, sex seems to be almost more a part of the story rather than the point. I think any erotic story needs to be a balance of the physical and the psychological. Nin’s stories in this collection perhaps teeter a little far on the side of psychological and could have done with a bit more lingering on the physical.

A book that was certainly incredibly risque for its time with exceptional writing, what it perhaps lacks in sexiness it definitely makes up for in compelling characters and scenarios. A very short book that is worth a read just for the historical value.

buy the book from The Book Depository, free delivery

The Veiled Woman

Leave a comment

Filed under Book Reviews, General Fiction, Short Stories

Only

Memoir about growing up as an only child in post-war Europe

The first I heard of this book was when I went to go see the author speak at the National Library of Australia. As someone from a large family, I have always been a bit curious about the dynamics of a family with only one child, and so I bought a myself a copy and got it signed by the author.

20181223_171339979334036.jpg

“Only” by Caroline Baum is a memoir about growing up as an only child with two European parents in England. With Caroline’s successful businessman father an Austrian refugee from the war and her beautiful mother an orphan from tragic circumstances, her elegant yet traumatised parents raise her in an affluent home full of tension and high expectations. As a young adult, the controlled and isolated environment of her childhood becomes stifling and Caroline begins to forge her own life. However, as her relationship with her parents turns increasingly fractious as they age, Caroline finally severs ties with her parents. Resuming contact years later after a tentative olive branch, Caroline soon finds that her relationship with her parents is forever changed.

This is a beautifully written book that weaves together the many themes experienced by  this small but complex family. Baum explores the deep and lasting impact of her parents’ trauma on her family’s unique dynamic, and throughout the book struggles to reconcile with her father’s controlling behaviour against his extreme vulnerability as an older man. Baum is very cognizant of her family’s privilege and her recollections of her extraordinary upbringing are tempered with an awareness that the dinners, schools, clothes and travel were not opportunities available to many people. I also really enjoyed Baum’s recollections of her early days as a journalist, which honestly would have made a great memoir in its own right.

I think the one thing that I felt was missing was a bit more information about Baum’s life in Australia. I think that with any memoir, it’s hard to know what to include and what to exclude. This is a book about being an only child, but I would have liked to have read more about what it is like to be an only child living in another country away from your parents.

A fascinating insight into an elite and insular post-war family, I enjoyed this book and I look forward to reading more of Baum’s work.

buy the book from The Book Depository, free delivery

Only: A singular memoir

2 Comments

Filed under Australian Books, Book Reviews, Non Fiction

Invitation to Poetry

Book of poetry about Romanian and universal life

I received a copy of this book courtesy of the author.

Image result for Mihai brinas invitation to poetry

“Invitation to Poetry” by Mihai Brinas is a collection of free verse poetry. Brinas combines everyday observations with deep introspection in each of his verses.

I really liked some of the concepts in this book and I enjoyed Brinas’ take on the mundane aspects of daily life. I think my favourite poem was the sadness of books which included the lines:

i leave taking with me
the sadness of so many books unread.

I think that while I enjoyed the themes of Brinas’ poetry, I did feel like the language wasn’t always as fluid as I would have liked. A few of the poems included repeating words or particular word choices that were a little grating and I felt like a bit of a comb through would have helped smooth some of these out.

Anyway, this is an easy book of poetry to read and see the world through Brinas’ eyes.

buy the book from The Book Depository, free delivery

Invitation to Poetry

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Book Reviews, Poetry, Uncategorized

Cottons: The Secret of the Wind

It’s no secret that I love rabbits. I was browsing the graphic novel section in a book store the other day and I saw this book and was immediately captivated by the artwork. I love graphic novels, and one of my all time favourite books is Watership Down, so a book featuring bunnies living in their own society had me hook, line and sinker.

20181222_162530-2059749741.jpg

“Cottons: The Secret of the Wind” is a graphic novel written by Jim Pascoe and illustrated by Heidi Arnhold. The first in the series, the story follows a young brown rabbit called Bridgebelle who works in a carrot factory and who cares for her ailing aunty. Bridgebelle’s job is to help convert carrots into cha, the energy that powers the Vale of Industry. Although she dreams of being an artist, using cha to make beautiful objects called thokcha, she is tied to the factory in order to support her aunty. However when her friend Croquet goes missing and the foxes who covet the cha grow more bold and more dangerous, Bridgebelle’s abilities and her tragic past can no longer go ignored.

20181222_1633091422890488.jpg

This review is going to be full of rabbit photos.

This is a beautifully illustrated book with great character design and worldbuilding. Bridgebelle is an enigmatic, lonely young rabbit who is struggling to find her way in an increasingly dangerous world. I particularly liked the character Glee who seems particularly complex, and I enjoyed the worldbuilding and the steampunk vibe of the Vale of Industry. I also really liked Samiji, a brave and fiery young rabbit who joins the sect of rabbits who dedicate their life to windism. For a more detailed insight into the world of Lavender, there is a bit of a fictional overview of the history, society and culture at the back of the book.

20181222_1633491529815695.jpg

I think some of the things that felt a little underdone were the foxes as antagonists and the concept of cha. Cha seems to at once be a power source, a material for making art, a narcotic and a potential weapon. I’m not always into high fantasy with super complex magic systems, but I did feel a little like cha needed a bit more explanation or at least something to pique the interest of the reader and make them curious to read more. There was some of that detail in the section at the back, but I think I would have liked it woven into the story a little more. I also didn’t quite get how the foxes could be so malignant and powerful, yet not be able to simply walk in and take over the factory.

20181222_162804-1344072409.jpg

Ori’s review was not as glowing as mine

A beautifully rendered story that perhaps leaves the reader with more questions than answers, I will be keeping an eye out for the second volume.

buy the book from The Book Depository, free delivery

Cottons: The Secret of the Wind

2 Comments

Filed under Book Reviews, Graphic Novels