The Beat on Ruby’s Street

I received a copy of this eBook courtesy of the publicist.

The Beat on Ruby's Street

“The Beat on Ruby’s Street” by Jenna Zark is a historical young adult novel about Ruby, an eleven year old girl growing up among the Beat Generation in Greenwich Village, New York City in 1958. Living a carefree existence with artist Nell-mom, musician Gary Daddy-o and brother Ray,  everything comes crashing down when “the Man”, in the form of a social worker, comes looking for her. Although she tries to comfort herself with her own words and poetry, when she misses out on seeing Jack Kerouac, Ruby worries that her golden birthday coming up in just a couple of days isn’t going to be so golden.

This is a great little story that is really easy to read. In fact, after being invited to come watch my friend play jazz this afternoon, I thought what better place to spend my afternoon reading a book about the bohemian lifestyle than at a quirky live music venue. Ruby is a strong character with the perfect adolescent mix of overconfidence and uncertainty. Although we see the Beatnik scene through her eyes, this book raises some interesting questions about the children who grew up there and the tension between artistic self-interest and acceptable standards of care. Ruby has far more freedom that many children do today, but she also has a lot of uncertainty about meals, schooling and, sometimes, even the location of her parents. The only thing that I was a little disappointed in was the abrupt ending. However, this book does have a bit of a “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” feel about it and I think is ultimately meant to just be a glimpse into Ruby’s life.

I really enjoyed this book. A lovely and nuanced little snapshot into a vibrant time in history.

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Filed under Book Reviews, eBooks, Historical Fiction, Uncategorized, Young Adult

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone

If you spend any time on the internet at all, you might have noticed that 26 June 2017 was the 20 year anniversary of the publication of one of the most famous books of our time. I don’t reread many books these days, but I thought I would make an exception for this one. I also want to talk about some of the beautiful new editions.

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“Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone” by J K Rowling is the first in a children’s book series that took the world by storm. The story follows Harry Potter, an orphan boy who discovers he is actually a wizard, as he learns about his identity, the secret wizarding world and the magical boarding school of Hogwarts. Harry navigates schoolwork, friendship and his newfound fame as the Boy Who Lived with his new friends Hermione and Ron. Together, the three uncover a plot that could spell disaster for not only themselves and their school, but all the wizarding world.

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I couldn’t tell you how many times I’ve read this story, but it has been a while since the last time. I recently bought the Bloomsbury 20th Anniversary Edition (pictured at the top) which was available both in paperback and hardback in each of the four Hogwarts house colours. I have come to terms with the fact that I am a Hufflepuff so I bought the Hufflepuff hardcover edition with the yellow and black tinted edges. This edition is simply gorgeous and has plenty of great new content about the house, the common room, famous Hufflepuffs and Hogwarts as a whole.

Last year I also bought the illustrated edition (pictured above) so after having a flick through the bonus content in the anniversary edition, I decided that I’d reread the story together with Jim Kay’s beautiful watercolour artworks. They are absolutely stunning, but there weren’t quite as many as I had expected. There are lots of character studies and sweeping scenery (the Hogwarts Express and Hagrid’s Hut really stand out), but I had expected a little bit more magic.

Then, as a reward for completing something really long and boring last year, I bought this great Harry Potter set where the spines all line up together to make a picture of Hogwarts (pictured below). It matches a similar set I have of the Narnia series where the spines make an image of Cair Paravel. Unfortunately, there’s no bonus illustrations or information in this edition but gosh it looks wonderful on my bookshelf.

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Anyway, enough about editions – the story. It’s been 20 years since this book was published, and I really think that J K Rowling has written something timeless. Apart from the fact that she’s still releasing new books and the “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” movie franchise is going gangbusters, there is a whole new generation of kids who are starting to read these books. At the heart of this story is the classic fantasy premise of:

  • orphan boy discovers magical powers
  • orphan boy goes on an adventure to learn how to use them
  • orphan boy recovers magical object
  • orphan boy save the world from evil

You know, the fantasy story that everyone knows and loves. However, by setting her story with one foot in a magical world (heavily inspired by European mythology) and the other in 1990s England (with all its accompanying cultural references), this book has a modern relevance that no ordinary high fantasy novel can achieve.

I first read this book when I was about nine years old after a friend of mine recommended it to me. Even though I was skeptical of a book called “Harry Potter” (my own nickname being Harry), I was absolutely blown away by what I read. I was also completely swept up in the Harry Potter hype which culminated in the release of the seventh and final book in the series in 2007, and which had a small revival last year. Rereading this book as an adult, I have a more critical eye, but I think this is still an ideal book for children. Scattered with equal parts wonder, humour and social commentary, it’s little wonder children devoured, and continue to devour, this book. The rest of the series grows darker and more mature, and this really is a story that grows up with a child as the child reads it.

Reading it now, it’s not perfect but it’s pretty close. Rowling cleverly drops little hints throughout the first book that have relevance not only to the ending of that book, but to the series as a whole. It’s an ideal book for an 11 year old – the same age as Harry himself – to immerse themselves in and picture themselves getting their Hogwarts letter (I’m still waiting for mine), learning that they are special and going to exciting classes to learn spells. Some of the writing is admittedly a bit simplistic – even for a children’s book. However, that simplicity is also what makes some of it incredibly funny, even all these years after I first read it. There are also a couple of inconsistencies which become a bit more apparent as time goes on. One of these is the rule that underage (or expelled) witches and wizards aren’t allowed to do magic at home, a rule that Hermione, Lily Potter and even Hagrid all break at some stage in this book. Harry has to buy a pointed hat for his school uniform, something which I don’t think we ever see him or his peers wear. The number of witches and wizards in Hogwarts (and in the wider wizarding community) is also not really clear. You’re never really sure if there are 140 or 1400 in Hogwarts, or how many live in the UK as a whole.

“Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone” is a much shorter story that the rest of the books in the series, and you do at times feel like some of the detail of how magic works is glossed over a bit. For example, if transfiguration is turning one thing into another, how exactly is bringing chess pieces to life transfiguration? Wouldn’t that be charms? I feel like Rowling takes her time with this aspect of the story more in the later books as magic and spells are more relevant to the plot. However they are nevertheless a bit relevant to this plot and I think she could have fleshed her concepts out a bit further.

Ultimately though, I only have to ask myself a few questions to determine how I feel about this book. Did I enjoy it? Yes. Would I read it to my children? Yes. Will I keep on engaging with new content like the “Fantastic Beasts” film franchise and the Pottermore website? Yes. Yes. Unashamedly yes. 20 years on this book is just as popular as ever. It’s now published in nearly 70 languages including Latin and Welsh. It is a literary phenomenon that spoke to a generation and is already speaking to the next.

There will always be Harry Potter books on my bookshelf.

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Filed under Book Reviews, Children's Books, Fantasy, Pretty Books, Tinted Edges, Young Adult

Wake Me Up

I received a copy of this eBook courtesy of the publicist.

Wake Me Up

“Wake Me Up” is a literary family drama by Justin Bog. Set in Montana, USA in 2004 the story is narrated by Chris, a teenage boy in a coma. As Chris’ body fights to recover from a brutal attack by four young men from his class, his consciousness drifts into the past to observe the events that led up to the hate crime.

I was really impressed by this book. Bog is a beautiful writer with a strong sense of empathy that shines through his characters. The premise is horrific, nuanced and all too realistic. Bog captures the complexity of a family falling to pieces and the damage self-interest can inflict on our closest relationships. Chris is a wry yet relatable narrator – an average kid who shows us both the senselessness of violence as well as the vulnerability of having, or even being suspected of having, an LGBTIQ identity.

This is quite a long book, but it’s an absorbing book, and is definitely about the journey rather than the destination. I wasn’t quite sure about the cover choice, but when I read the story of the painting in the acknowledgements, I actually think it’s perfect.

An engrossing and very relevant story about families, crime and identity.

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Filed under Book Reviews, eBooks, General Fiction, Uncategorized

Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe

I remember first hearing about this story a long time ago watching the Simpsons. I then came across the film, and I remember watching it and thinking, huh. This seems like perhaps it’s a lesbian romance. Turns out I was on the money, so I decided to actually go and read the book. I’m not quite sure where I got my copy of this book from. Somehow it just manifested itself on my bookshelf. There’s no pricetag on it so maybe it was a donation? Either way, it turned out that my bestie and I were reading the same book at the same time, so we thought we’d make it an extravaganza and watch the film together as well.

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“Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe” is a novel by Fannie Flagg that spans from the 1920s to the 1980s in Alabama, USA. Jumping back and forth through time, and told through little vignettes and articles, the novel is a sweeping story of a small town and the people in it through the Depression and World War II. In the 1980s is Evelyn, a woman who is losing her identity, her sense of purpose and even potentially her marriage now her children have moved out of home. When she meets the reminiscing Mrs Threadgoode at the same retirement home as her mother-in-law, Evelyn is revitalised by her stories. In particular is the story of incorrigible tomboy Idgie, how she came to meet the beautiful and kind Ruth and the life they built together at a little cafe.

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Flagg is a natural storyteller and this is the perfect book to pick up and read a couple of the short chapters at a time, then come back to again later. It’s a great balance of diverse and interesting characters against charming little stories. Reading this book, you can’t ignore that it was published in 1987. In some ways it absolutely broke ground, especially with respect to disability, women’s rights, homelessness and legitimising LGBTIQ relationships. I loved the character of Stump and how his community and his family rallied around him to help him thrive after his accident. I loved how accepting everyone was of Idgie’s gender identity and of her relationship with Ruth. I loved how much humanity Flagg injects into this novel, especially using the character of Smokey to explore homelessness, alcoholism and a transient lifestyle. In other ways this book has aged a bit, especially regarding the racial commentary. At time it’s hard to separate Mrs Threadgoode’s well-meaning yet archaic comments about African American people, and Flagg’s own views.

I can’t talk about this book without mentioning my favourite part. If you follow this blog, you know how I feel about books with recipes in the back. This book has SO many recipes in the back. Food is such an important part of the story, both in the present and in the past, and really give the book a sense of place. Having the opportunity to cook some of those recipes, including the titular fried green tomatoes which my bestie nailed, really added to the whole experience.

A fun, lighthearted story with some more serious aspects at time, I enjoyed the book a lot and enjoyed cooking the recipes even more.

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Filed under Book Reviews, Cookbooks, General Fiction, Historical Fiction

The Museum of Modern Love

I received an advanced reading copy of this book courtesy of Harry Hartog Woden and in fact won (and declined) another copy in a contest. This book is the 2017 Stella Prize winner, so already it had very high expectations to be met.

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Taken at the National Gallery of Australia. There is a fantastic exhibition on currently featuring Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists called Defying Empire which, if you are in Canberra, you must go see.

“The Museum of Modern Love” by Heather Rose is a novel based on a real piece of performance art that was held at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. “The Artist is Present” was both a retrospective and performance piece performed by Marina Abramović. As Abramović sits for 75 days, and people line up every day to sit across from the famous artist and look in her eyes, others gather around to watch the performance. Jane Miller, a teacher and new widow who has taken a holiday to escape her grief. Arky Levin, a successful composer whose wife has left him and made him promise not to follow. Healayas Breen, a journalist and friend of Levin’s. Brittika van der Sar, a PhD student from the Netherlands. Then there is Abramović herself and the mysterious narrator who appears to be watching over her. The performance continues, every day, and the audience becomes a community linked together by this once in a lifetime experience.

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This book just didn’t do it for me. Maybe it was reading another book about the highly glamourised art world after reading not one but two recently, including the 2015 Stella Prize winner, but I think that wasn’t quite it. A very large proportion of this book is dedicated to chronicling the life of Marina Abramović, and at times this book felt almost more like a biography than a novel. I understand the author actually herself attended “The Artist is Present”, and I think I would have enjoyed her own experiences more. To me, for the most part, it seemed like it was piggy-backing on someone else’s creation. In this vein, I was frustrated by the almost incessant pop-culture references throughout this book. In a similar way to “The Elegance of the Hedgehog“, (which this book even references at some stage as an example of a great book, so there you go), there was a consistent undertone of cultural snobbery that irked me.

I also found some of the commentary in this book a bit grating. For a lot of the book, whenever somebody sat down in front of Abramović, Rose described a man with an angelic face, or a woman with strong jaw, unless they were anything other than white, in which case it was a “black woman” or an “Asian man” with little to no other description. I just feel like in 2017, if you’re going to point out a person’s ethnicity, you need to point out EVERYONE’s ethnicity. White is not default. Other comments that left me frowning included things like:

  • “What sort of Japanese child read Tennyson? Levin wondered”;
  • “There are visitors from Brooklyn, Bombay, Berlin and Baghdad. Well, perhaps not Baghdad, because that is a war zone of broken buildings, dust, heat and not a bird to be seen”;
  • “It will all be about money and the Chinese. Who wants that?”; and
  • “But Harlem had been making itself over for millions of years. Before white and black, there were Indians, and before Indians there had been mastadons and bison”.

Then there was the character of Levin. I resented every second of air time Levin was given, and I resented how we were supposed to empathise with basically the world’s worst husband. Jane, Healayas, Brittika and even Levin’s daughter were all far more interesting characters and I think should have been emphasised more in this story. Instead we’re forced to watch as Levin sacrifices his family for his own career and then give him a gold star when staring into a woman’s eyes gives him the courage to do the bare minimum required for an active participant in a marriage.

Ultimately, I think there are two kinds of readers: the readers who will enjoy books like “The Museum of Modern Love” and “The Elegance of the Hedgehog”, and those of us who won’t. Maybe this will be the book for you, but it wasn’t for me.

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Filed under Advanced Reading Copies, Australian Books, Book Reviews, General Fiction

Lost the Plot – Episode 15

Also available via iTunes:

https://itunes.apple.com/au/podcast/lost-the-plot-podacast/id1185190716

Future Library
www.facebook.com/Futurelibrary.no…/756937187813455
www.futurelibrary.no/

Lost Rocks
www.apublishedevent.net/projects/lost…lishing-event

Tasmania Mineral

Lost Rocks

ACT Lit Bloggers of the Future
actwritersblog.com/2017/05/19/act-…e-2017-program/

Whispering Gums
whisperinggums.com/

Book Awards
abiawards.com.au/general/the-17th…nners-announced/
www.perpetual.com.au/MilesFranklin/…and-Recipients
www.theguardian.com/stage/2017/may/…literary-awards

William Caxton’s lost pages
www.bbc.com/news/education-39846929

Jane Austen’s Secret Love
www.theaustralian.com.au/arts/review/…9de0b04b64a6

Pride and Prejudice House for Sale
www.buzzfeed.com/laraparker/empty…books#.mmR7Ok09e

Taiwanese Author Commits Suicide
www.buzzfeed.com/kassycho/author-…books#.alAnbdlY9

Support Resources
www.lifeline.org.au/
www.1800respect.org.au/

N K Jemisin in the world’s worst interview
storify.com/nkjemisin/how-not-t…interview-an-author
archive.is/DnQ3H

…except maybe Paul Beatty’s
www.theguardian.com/books/2017/may/…MP=share_btn_fb

Top Borrowed Books in Australia
www.alia.org.au/news/15524/aussie…and-relationships

Street Library Controversy
www.dailytelegraph.com.au/newslocal/ho…068c3975?%3F

The Book of Dust
www.theguardian.com/books/2017/may/…clusive-extract

The Ministry of Utmost Happiness
www.theguardian.com/books/2017/may/…oidApp_Facebook

Islamophobia Teen Romance Novel
mobile.abc.net.au/news/2017-05-31/…-romance/8574990

The Dark Tower
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GjwfqXTebIY

Game of Thrones
www.theguardian.com/books/2017/may/…winds-of-winter

Harry Potter News
www.pottermore.com/news/wizarding-…n-to-pottermore
www.abc.net.au/news/2017-05-12/h…anic&sf78322054=1
www.buzzfeed.com/matthewchampion/…books#.ktAP7zvrq
www.abc.net.au/news/2017-05-20/h…anic&sf80469336=1

Canberra & District Historical Society

Canberra and District Historical Society

Free Comic Book Day

Free Comic Book Day

Meg and Tom Keneally

Meg and Tom Keneally

Jenevieve Chang

Jenevieve Chang

Noted Writers Festival

Noted Festival Launch

Canberra Women Writers Network
www.facebook.com/canberrawomenwriters/

Pulpture
www.blemishbooks.com.au/pulpture/
kbreyd.com/pulpture

Blemish Books - Tinted Edges

Pulpture - Books

Tinted Edges Pulpture

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Filed under Lost the Plot

Aya of Yop City

I reviewed the first in this graphic novel series back in 2015. I thoroughly enjoyed it, and I knew that there were others in the series, but for some reason I had gotten the idea that only the first had been translated into English. I was so surprised when I found a copy of this one in Canty’s graphic novel section and I bought it immediately.

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“Aya of Yop City” is a bandes dessinées by Marguerite Abouet and illustrated by Clément Oubrerie picks up almost immediately where the last one left off. It’s the 1970s in the unprecedented prosperous time of the African nation of the Ivory Coast. While Aya strives to become a doctor, she is roped into helping her friends deal with their dramas. Adjoua has had a baby and the identity of the father isn’t going to be a secret for long, while Bintou has been swept of her feet by a stranger from France who perhaps isn’t quite what he seems.

These graphic novels really are an absolute joy to read. A perfect blend of soapy drama, humour and culture, this series is as entertaining as it is educational. I liked the first one, but I felt like the story consolidated even more in this one. I remember I had some reservations about the artwork in the first one, but even that too has grown on me now. One of the things I was looking forward to the most was the afterword with some little cultural tidbits about life in the Ivory Coast and I wasn’t disappointed. In addition to a glossary, instructions on how to carry your baby on your back in a pagne and how babies and new mothers are welcomed back into the community after the birth was a new recipe for me to try. I actually outsourced the cooking on this one, and my partner made for me the chicken kedjenou which he liked so much he’s asked for it to be put on our rotating menu.

A delightful series that should be on the list for any lover of graphic novels, or anyone who wants to learn more about a different culture.

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Filed under Book Reviews, Graphic Novels