Tag Archives: books

The Last Redhead

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

The Last Redhead

“The Last Redhead” by L. J Mozdy is a science fiction novel set in an alternative world ruled by advertising campaigns and high-speed trains. After her mother dies giving birth to her, the Last Redhead, the only known redhead in the world for 20 years, lives her entire childhood in an orphanage. On her 18th birthday she’s kicked to the curb and picked up by the Spermicidal Maniac who informs her that they are going to have lots of redheaded babies and make lots of money. However, he’s not the only one who wants to find the Last Redhead and make some money off her, regardless of what she wants.

This is quite a surreal story, set in a strange world even more obsessed with beauty and advertising that our own. Mozdy is quite a creative writer with a similar writing style to Tom Robbins. He takes a particular interest in the grotesque minutiae of human existance. He weaves in social commentary, biology and pseudoscience to shed light on a society gone made with the idea of red hair. This is quite a dense book though with a rather rambling story line, so it’s definitely more of a slow burn than a fast-paced book.

An interesting story with clear parallels to our own world, this book takes the myth of redheadedness going extinct to its most extreme.

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Filed under eBooks, Science Fiction

Dragonclaw

Kate Forsyth’s historical novel and fairy tale retelling “Bitter Greens” was one of the first books that I reviewed on this blog. When another of her books was nominated as the next book to be tackled by my feminist fantasy book club, I was really excited to see her take on the genre. Then, even more excitingly, Kate Forsyth came to speak at the National Library of Australia this week. I got several books signed, but I’ll be writing more about the event for the ACT Lit Bloggers of the Future program later on.

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“Dragonclaw” by Kate Forsyth is the first book in her series “The Witches of Eileanen”, as well as being her first published novel. The story begins in a secret valley, where foundling Isabeau has grown up with her guardian, the wood witch Meghan. On her 16th birthday, Isabeau has the opportunity to showcase the skills and power she’s been developing over the years. However, in a world where witchcraft is prohibited and witches themselves persecuted, the initiation is risky. After drawing the attention of enemies, Isabeau finds herself sent on a dangerous quest by herself to the heart of Eileanan, a journey that she is perhaps not yet ready for. Meanwhile, elderly Meghan summons her courage to climb Dragonclaw and seek the advice of the last species untouched by the war on magic. However Meghan is not prepared for the help that their council reluctantly provides.

Winter has well and truly arrived in Canberra, and I was definitely in the mood to snuggle up with a fantasy adventure. In a genre usually dominated by male writers, it was really refreshing to read a fantasy novel where the majority of the characters were women who each wield power in their own way. The story itself is a blend of original ideas and traditional magical concepts which makes this a very easy story to step into. There is so much action in this book and it was a great story to discuss in a book club. There were also plenty of modern and traditional themes to unpick and lots to read into about the characters, their relationships and their particular flaws. Even how you pronounce characters’ names got a big discussion, especially the name Meghan (MEGG-an, MEE-gan, or MAY-gen, like my sister?)

I picked up the 20th anniversary edition of this book (the red one pictured above) for book club, but then I found the original 1997 edition at the most recent Canberra Lifeline Book Fair. Unusually, I preferred the original. I really liked the grey stonework design that matches in each book in the series. There’s a scene in “Dragonclaw” where Meghan is walking along a stone wall, and I think the cover design really captures that aesthetic perfectly.

This is the first book in a series of six, and then there is a further trilogy again set in the same world. I thoroughly enjoyed it and as it’s shaping up to be a long cold winter, I may very well delve into a few more of these before it ends.

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Filed under Australian Books, Book Reviews, Fantasy, Signed Books

Lost the Plot – Episode 16

Also available via iTunes:
https://itunes.apple.com/au/podcast/lost-the-plot-podacast/id1185190716

Noted Artwork
Tinted Edges Artwork
https://theshaunacorner.wordpress.com/2017/05/14/noted-festival-art-day-1-on-may-4th-2017/

ACT Lit Bloggers of the Future
Hugh Mackay
https://whisperinggums.com/2017/06/12/monday-musings-on-australian-literature-act-writers-centre/
https://actwritersblog.com/2017/06/23/author-talk-with-hugh-mackay-selling-the-dream/

Geeks Doing Good
http://blog.patrickrothfuss.com/2017/06/geeks-doing-good-2017/

Colombia’s Lord of the Books
http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/2017/05/bogota-bibliophile-trash-collector-rescues-books-170522084707682.html

Man Booker International Prize
https://www.nytimes.com/2017/06/14/books/a-horse-walks-into-a-bar-wins-man-booker-international-prize.html?_r=0

Miles Franklin Award
http://www.theaustralian.com.au/arts/books/miles-franklin-award-2017-shortlist-announced/news-story/422b5d83c594622450fceb7c0b4857d1

Nobel Prize in Literature
http://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-06-15/did-bob-dylan-plagiarise-his-nobel-acceptance-speech/8620786?sf88788951=1
https://youtu.be/6TlcPRlau2Q

Australian Library Design Awards
https://www.alia.org.au/media-releases/innovative-libraries-delivering-good-design

Roxane Gay and Mia Freedman
http://www.smh.com.au/lifestyle/celebrity/cruel-and-humiliating-bad-feminist-author-roxane-gay-calls-out-treatment-by-mamamia-20170613-gwq7i5.html
https://www.theguardian.com/books/2017/jun/13/roxane-gay-labels-mamamia-cruel-and-humiliating-will-she-fit-into-the-office-lift?CMP=soc_567

Clementine Ford and Avid Reader
https://www.theguardian.com/books/2017/jun/27/how-an-independent-bookstore-took-on-anti-feminist-trolls-and-won?CMP=share_btn_fb

Rare Shakespeare Folio Goes to Queensland
http://mobile.abc.net.au/news/2017-06-06/rare-shakespeare-book-gets-vip-treatment/8594326

Book Auction
https://www.theguardian.com/books/2017/jun/03/historic-irish-library-could-make-more-than-18m-at-auction?CMP=share_btn_fb

Book Crime
http://mobile.abc.net.au/news/2017-06-21/trace-the-unsolved-murder-of-maria-james/8612964

New John Green Book
https://www.buzzfeed.com/farrahpenn/john-green-has-a-new-book-coming-out-and-it-sounds?utm_term=.gu02aVDXg&bffbbooks#.kyPmWr9pN

Hani Abdile
http://www.australiaplus.com/international/in-person/somali-poet-writes-her-way-out-of-detention/8614040?sf89831986=1
http://writingthroughfences.org/sample-page/

New Tolkein Book
http://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-06-01/tolkien-book-beren-and-luthien-published-after-100-years/8582034?sf84354955=1&smid=Page:%20ABC%20News-Facebook_Organic&WT.tsrc=Facebook_Organic

Paddington Bear
https://www.theguardian.com/books/2017/jun/28/paddington-bear-author-michael-bond-dies-aged-91

Dr Seuss Museum
http://www.travelandleisure.com/attractions/first-dr-seuss-museum-springfield

Julia Baird
Julia Baird event

Harry Potter
https://www.theguardian.com/books/1997/jul/08/booksforchildrenandteenagers.danglaister
https://www.nytimes.com/2017/06/28/opinion/harry-potter-rowling-corbyn-muggle.html?nytmobile=0
http://mobile.abc.net.au/news/2017-06-26/harry-potter-the-boy-whose-fandom-lives-on-20-years-later/8644838
http://mobile.abc.net.au/news/2017-06-26/harry-potters-billion-dollar-entertainment-franchise/8627442
https://my.pottermore.com/wizarding-world-book-club
https://www.pottermore.com/news/open-casting-call-for-young-people-announced-for-fantastic-beasts-and-where-to-find-them-sequel
http://hercanberra.com.au/cpnews/palace-electric-hosting-harry-potter-marathon/

Libraries ACT Harry Potter Event
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Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone 20th Anniversary Hogwarts Edition

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Donna Hosie
http://donnahosie.wixsite.com/website

Manx Cat
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Manx_cat

The Leaky Cauldron
http://www.the-leaky-cauldron.org/

JK Rowling’s wonderful website, then and now
http://harrypotter.wikia.com/wiki/J._K._Rowling%27s_official_site
https://www.jkrowling.com/

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Filed under Lost the Plot

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