Tuesday, 29 September 2020

Review: Life, Bound by Marian Matta

Australian author Marian Matta's debut collection of short stories is a well written collection that offers readers an intimate glimpse into the lives of well, other people. In Climb we meet a boy who has scrambled up a tree after violently attacking his abuser. In Babies-in-Their-Eyes we meet Ruby, a woman who eloped with her first love years before and has lived a life constrained by grief after the deaths of all but one of their children. And in between we meet people whose lives are shaped by situations that are not of their making, whether it be by their sexuality, an abusive partner or another factor. 

Matta writes with a lot of empathy for her characters, making each story unique and compelling. For me, there were two stand out moments. The Heart of Harvey's Lane is the first story in the collection and the perfect opener, a story of how a character is enchanted and eventually changed forever by the lonely but beautiful old house that they purchase, a change that eventually influences their love of photography and their personal relationships. The second moment comes just a few stories later. Danny Boy tells the story of a young man dissatisfied with his lot in life and whose lack of confidence impacts on his personal relationships. The real reason for Danny's distress packs a real punch and is told so cleverly--and with such careful empathy--that I never saw a hint of it coming.

Overall, this is an enjoyable collection that will no doubt appeal to fans of Tim Winton and Helen Garner.


Thank you to Midnight Sun Publishing for my reading copy of Life, Bound.

This book was read for the Aussie Author Challenge 2020

Sunday, 27 September 2020

BSC Graphix Update

As fans of the Baby-Sitters Club Graphix novels would know, the eighth book in the series Logan Likes Mary Anne! was released in the United States and Canada a couple of weeks ago, with the Australia release still a month or so away. It is to be the last novel in the series to be adapted by Gale Galligan, who has done an amazing job keeping the series alive after taking over from Raina Telgemeier.  

It looks as though fans will not have long to wait for the next instalment in the series. Gabriela Epstein is taking over as author/illustrator, with the next book to be released in the United States in February 2021. 

The ninth BSC book to be adapted will be Claudia and the New Girl, which I predicted earlier in the year. In the original series, Claudia and the New Girl was book number twelve, however, the Graphix series has a tendency to skip titles completely or to change the order around. I've also notice that unlike the original series, there is a bit of a rigid order--we seem to get a Kristy book, then a Stacey book, a Mary Anne book and then a Claudia book. Following this pattern, I suspect the next book to be released will feature Dawn and will be either The Ghost at Dawn's House or Little Miss Stoneybrook and Dawn. 

Saturday, 26 September 2020

Review: The Plain Janes by Cecil Castellucci & Jim Rugg

The power--and capacity--that art has to heal is given a thorough exploration in The Plain Janes, a brilliant graphic novel by Cecil Castellucci and Jim Rugg. Jane Beckle's life is thrown upside down when she is caught up in a terrorist attack in an inner city café. While waiting for help to arrive, she comes to the aid of a stranger, and later discovers that she still has his sketchbook--which has Art Saves written across the front. And, indeed, Jane fines that discovering art brings her a special kind of peace. Meanwhile, big changes are afoot--her parents move the family out of the city and into the suburbs, where Jane finds herself starting her Sophomore year at a new high school, a few weeks after the academic year begins. Sitting at the reject table in the Cafeteria, she forms an alliance with the other Janes who sit there, Brain Jayne, Theatre Jane and sports buff Polly Jane. Together, the girls come up with a plan to spread art through their otherwise banal neighbourhood. Calling themselves PLAIN (People Loving Art in Neighbourhoods,) they set up various forms of public artwork when no one is looking, and the public is encouraged to interact with them. But not everyone likes what they are doing ...

Originally published as three separate novels by DC in 2007, this one is a whopping 470 pages and, unusually for a graphic novel, it took me three days to read. Fortunately, it was worth every moment. This book has a lot to say about the capacity of art to transform lives. Jane's growth as a young woman who is a victim of a horrible act to someone who is willing to take the ultimate stand to fight for what she believes in, is pleasing to watch. Of course, there are plenty of setbacks along the way--disapproving adults, a not-relationship with the boy she likes, post traumatic stress, and a new and very talented art student at the school who just doesn't understand what Jane is trying to do--which is further compounded by the fact that some of her constructive criticism is spot on. 

This is an enjoyable read. And though it is set in high school and there is a focus on all of the usual adolescent concerns, this will appeal to anyone who believes in the power of art, particularly public art, to transform neighbourhoods and even lives.

Highly recommended. 

Friday, 25 September 2020

Friday Funnies: Cool Calvin


This is one of my favourite Calvin and Hobbes moments. Here Bill Watterson perfectly satirises our notions of who and what is cool, and points out that people who try to conform to the stereotype usually miss out on all the fun. 

Wednesday, 23 September 2020

Review: The Mother Fault by Kate Mildenhall

What would be the result if Margaret Atwood and George Orwell had written a novel together, set it in a not-too-distant future Australia and added a good old fashioned dash of adventure? Something similar to The Mother Fault, I suspect, a chilling new novel from Australian author Kate Mildenhall. Set just a few years from now, it tells the story of Mim, a mother of two in her mid-forties, whose life is turned upside down when she receives a call from The Department, informing her that her husband, a fly in, fly out worker is missing. Or to be more specific, Ben can no longer be tracked through the chip the government bestowed on its citizens. Suddenly, Mim is being questioned and forced to surrender her passport, amid threats that her children are going to be taken away to a BestLife--basically, a government controlled gated community.

Suddenly, Mim realises that she only has one choice. To remove her chip and for her and her children to find her husband.

As well as offering a chilling glimpse into a future Australia ravaged by Climate Change and an initially persuasive and, later, authoritarian regime, where this novel really shines is in its underlying message about the plight of refugees. The author flips the situation around, showing Mim leaving Australia by boat with her two children, literally fearing for her life and desperate to know the fate of her missing husband. But more than that, we see Mim as a human being, damning her husband for his choices and questioning her ability to adequately care for her two children at every turn. 

For me, this was a page turner as I desperately wondered what had happened to Ben, and what would be the fates of Mim, Essie and Sam, and even Nick. I do not have children, and at times I was left wondering if, perhaps, the story would resonate just that little bit more with readers who do, and who would have undoubtably questioned their own ability and choices as a parent. I felt that the world building was a little sparse at times, though the author gave the reader just enough information to let them know what was going on. Ultimately, though, The Mother Fault offers an all-too plausible glimpse of a future Australia.


Thank you to Simon and Schuster Australia for my copy of The Mother Fault.

This book was read for the Aussie Author Challenge 2020. 

Tuesday, 22 September 2020

Review: The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

How do childhood memories affect our adult selves? That is the question at the heart of The Ocean at the End of the Lane, a novel that is about childhood, though not necessarily written for children. The novel opens with the protagonist returning to his childhood home following on from the funeral of his parents. He finds himself inexplicably drawn to the house next door. Settling there for a while with his elderly former neighbour, he begins to recall a long-forgotten adventure that has helped to shape his entire life.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane is a fantasy story, about a boy who unintentionally becomes a gateway for something rather otherworldly to join his world, and who is helped by the older girl next door and her mother and grandmother, who know exactly what needs to be done and how to keep him safe, in spite of the insidious creature who wants to use him. On the flip side, it is also the story of a seven year old boy who is just trying to survive in the face of untrustworthy adults, and his parents who have forgotten what it is like to be a child and just how much bigger and stronger they are. Although the boy's story was nothing like my own childhood (after all, I grew up in a different era, in a different part of the world,) there was a familiarity to some of the injustices he experienced--in particular there is a line in the book where he asks an adult if it makes them feel big to make a little boy cry. (Something that, sadly, we all experience at one time or another.) 

However, where the book really shines is in its example of how, and perhaps why, children are not believed when they are telling the absolutely truth, and how abusers get away with their behaviour. In one part of the book, new boarder Ursula carefully befriends and manipulates the rest of the family, while isolating the protagonist from anyone who can possibly help him. And then his father is basically brainwashed into causing further harm. It is a chilling parallel to what happens to real life victims of many different types of abuse. 

There are also some wonderful moments, the novel highlights the kindness of the women who help him, and the huge sacrifice that Lottie makes in order to keep her friend safe. (And something that she does because she knows that it is right.) It also highlights the joy that children take in little things--the arrival of a new kitten for example, or the little yellow sink in the bedroom that was installed just for the protagonist. 

Overall, this is a well written fantasy novel and a deep exploration of childhood memories, and how they shape us--even if they are easily forgotten.

Highly recommended.