Thursday, 31 August 2017

Review: Spirits of the Ghan by Judy Nunn

For anyone who has read this novel, there is no denying one simple truth. Judy Nunn is genuinely passionate about the things she writes about--Australian history, people and politics--and she isn't afraid to give readers a genuinely strong female lead. Spirits of the Ghan tells about a small moment in Australian history--the construction of the Adelaide-Darwin Railway line--and brings with it a story of spirituality and a tiny dash of romance. Jess Manning is a young woman of mixed Aboriginal and Irish decent who has been hired as a negotiator to work with the local elders to ensure that all sacred sites are protected. Matt Witherton is a surveyor working on the line. Nunn avoids all the usual tropes and brings the pair together in a very different way--through a shared connection with the land and its people.

The story moves between the past and present to tell the story of a past wrong that Jess and Matt have to work together to put right. At times, the story felt rather fanciful and melodramatic, and there are many parts where the story lacks depth (Matt's relationship with Angie is one classic example, as is the turn of events that ends it.) There is no denying that Nunn re-tells Australian history in a way that makes it accessible to a wider audience. I suspect many who would rather pick up a Mills & Boon than a textbook would be pleasantly surprised by Nunn's writing style.

Overall, an easy read.

This book was read as part of the Aussie Author Challenge 2017

Tuesday, 29 August 2017

Review: Neon Pilgrim by Lisa Dempster

At age twenty-eight, Lisa Dempster undertook something that anyone would find daunting--walking the henro michi, an 88 temple pilgrimage through the mountains of Japan. At the time, Lisa was depressed and unemployed. It was also the middle of summer in Japan. Regardless, she makes the pilgrimage and tells her remarkable story in Neon Pilgrim.

This isn't a story of depression, or of the things that led Lisa to Japan. Instead, it's a story of someone who undertook a daunting task, succeeded and had a number of remarkable experiences along the way. Bit by bit, the author tells the story of her walking journey--of the temples, the traditions, and the people that she encounters--from new friends to people who well, seem to have their own issues.

The author speaks with a lot of warmth and a dash of humour. I enjoyed the gentle storytelling and it was easy to picture her journey through Shikoku.

Highly recommended.

Thank you to Ventura Press for my copy of Neon Pilgrim.

This book was read as part of the Aussie Author Challenge 2017

Monday, 28 August 2017

Around Adelaide (Best of Kathryn's Instagram)

A post shared by Kathryn White (@kathrynsinbox) on

Furbies, furbies everywhere! Lately, it seems that wherever I go around Adelaide I encounter some of these cute and colourful stickers. Apparently, they're being made by a local artist who is doing it all for fun. Anyway, I saw these lovely furbies on the side of a flowerpot in Gawler Place, just adjacent to Rundle Mall and City Cross Arcade.

Wednesday, 23 August 2017

Review: Dr First originated by Roger Hargreaves

I enjoyed reading Dr Fourth so much that I just had to go back and read another title in this great mash up series that places the Doctor in his various regenerations inside the Mr Men universe. In Doctor First, a very grumpy doctor travels to his most hated planet--earth--along with his granddaughter Susan. Arriving there in the 1960s (of course!) calamity abounds as Susan disappears and the doctor goes in search of her, find a number of foes along the way, from hippies to pop music and, finally, the most irritating enemy of all, Cybermen.

This one was an enjoyable read that doesn't take itself too seriously. I loved the Doctors method for defeating the Cybermen, and I found that the Mr Men incarnations of both the First Doctor and Susan to be quite apt. (I love the inclusion of Susan's hat.) The 1960s setting is quite appropriate and leads to a bit of humour.

Highly recommended! 

Sunday, 20 August 2017

Literary Quotes

But with the morning cool repentance came.

Saturday, 19 August 2017

Review: Marge and the Great Train Rescue by Isla Fisher

Marge the zany babysitter with rainbow hair and a penchant for fun is back in three new stories that are just the right length for reading out loud. On the menu this time around is a lost tooth, a train ride and a trip to the zoo. But as Jemima Button and her little brother Jake know, when Marge is with them, their adventures will be anything but ordinary. How will Jake recover his lost tooth and ensure that it gets delivered to the tooth fairy? Later the three come to the rescue when the train gets stuck (much to the ire of an uptight conductor,) and some well, unexpected hilarity ensures when the trio visit the zoo.

Marge and the Great Train Rescue was an enjoyable instalment in a now well-established series, one that thrives on fun and imagination. All three stories were light and funny, making them perfect for kids to read on their own. There's also enough to keep adult readers entertained when reading the stories out loud. Eglantine Ceulemans' illustrations add to the light and fun feel of this novel. I understand that this is to be the final book in the series--which makes me wonder if Isla Fisher will be putting her pen down, or if she will continue to write in addition to acting? Time will tell, I guess.

Lots of fun, especially for kids. Recommended. 

Friday, 18 August 2017

Friday Funnies: Garfield Comic

Just wanted to share this Garfield comic, one that hails from the early days of the strip when Garfield was larger and, arguably, behaved more like a cat and less like a human ... 

Thursday, 17 August 2017

Review: Everyday Ethics by Dr Simon Longstaff

How do we live an ethical life in an ever-changing world? In Everyday Ethics Dr Simon Longstaff offers readers a practical guide on how to life a more ethical life. The book covers many, many topics, from Global Warming to Marriage to Making Ethical Purchases to Gender and the Workplace. Gently, Dr Longstaff presents each issue, along with a number of questions for the reader to ponder. 

I found this to be an interesting read--certainly a starting point on understanding the difference between doing what is good and what is right. (And yes, you guessed it, often the two can be a long way from each other.) And obviously, it's a sound reminder on how the decisions that each of us make can help to shape the world--so lets make them good ones.

The author is the Executive Director of the Ethics Centre.


Thank you to Ventura Press for my review copy of Everyday Ethics.

This book was read as part of the Aussie Author Challenge 2017

Wednesday, 16 August 2017

Around Adelaide (Best of Kathryn's Instagram)

I spotted this big nose recently while I was walking through the Central Markets. It's a fun, quirky piece of art ... but I really want to be standing nearby if it should suddenly sneeze!

Tuesday, 15 August 2017

Review: PS I Like You by Kasie West

PS I Like You is a sweet YA read about first loves and discovering that, sometimes, there is more to others than we may realise. Lily is the second kid in a loving, working class family that has a bit of an artistic vibe--her father is a freelance furniture designer, her mother creates jewellery and sells it at markets. Lily herself has an interest in music, plays the guitar and is keen to enter a songwriting contest that is happening in her area. She's not popular at school--especially with the spoiled, BMW driving Cade Jennings--so it is a bit of a surprise when someone discovers that she's been scribbling song lyrics on a desk in her Chemistry class, and starts leaving her notes. Soon, Lily and the unnamed person are exchanging notes back and forth ... but bigger problems ensue when Lily discovers that the author of the notes is none other than Cade.

This was a light and entertaining story that I read in the space of an evening. It's sweet, cute and a little cliched, but the journey is a fun one. Lily's family were a lot of fun to read about, and the poor rich kid trope made for an entertaining contrast. There is really not much else I can say about this one, apart from the fact that it has some truly funny moments (poor Bugs Rabbit,) and anyone who goes into it not expecting Shakespeare will probably have a great time.

A little young and immature at times, but the fun more than makes up for it. Recommended. 

Saturday, 12 August 2017

Guest Review: Woodstock on "A Boy Named Charlie Brown"

Welcome readers. Today I am thrilled to present to you an awesome guest post, written by none other than Woodstock from the brilliant Peanuts comic. (Or, at least the person who emailed it to me assured me that their name was Woodstock.) Anyway, Woodstock has very kindly provided this review of the first ever Peanuts film, A Boy Named Charlie Brown ...

||||| ||| || | ||| |||. ||| |||| || |||| || ||| |||? |||| | ||||| |||| ||| |||||||| ||| |||||||. | ||| ||||| || ||| ||||||| ||||| || ||| ||||| |||| ||||. | ||||| |||||| ||| ||| |||| ||| |||| ||| | ||||| |||||||. |||| ||| | |||||||| ||||| || |||||||||||. ||| ||| || |||. |||||? ||||| ||||| | | ||| |! ||| ||||| ||||||| ||||| |||||||| | |||| |||| ||||||? | |||| ||||, ||| || |||| ||| |||||. | ||||| |||| |||| ||| | || ||||| ||||. || ||||| || | ||| |||| ||||| |||| || ||| |||| || ||||| || |||. | || ||||| ||||| |||||. |||| ||||| |||||| |||||| || ||||| ||||||||||. | |||||||| |||||| |||| |||:

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Thanks Woodstock for a great review!

Friday, 11 August 2017

Friday Funnies: World's Most Lazy Cat

Well, some of us ...

Thursday, 10 August 2017

Review: Does My Head Look Big in This? by Randa Abdel-Fattah

Sometime during the twelve years since Does My Head Look Big in This? was first published Randa Abdel-Fattah's YA novel about religion, high school and adolescence has become something of a modern Australian classic, remaining popular with adolescents alongside the far broader audience of adults who read young adult fiction. And the reason is no surprise--although religion lies at the heart of this novel, it also nails the difficulties faced by teenagers, whether their parents are kind and supporting, like Amal's or whether they are strict like Leila's mother. The central characters in this novel are Muslim, and the characters often find themselves in situations were they are faced with ignorance and many different stereotypes.

Set in Melbourne in 2002 the novel opens with Amal making the decision to be a full-timer. That is, to wear her hijab full time, instead of on special occasions. It is clear from the outset that this decision is hers and hers alone, but it does not come without some opposition--her parents, who feel that perhaps she is making this decision too soon or too hastily, and the principal at her private school, which is, a Christian school. Fortunately, both Amal's parents and the strict Mrs Walsh realise that Amal has chosen to wear the hijab for herself, and agree to support her. Over the next few months, Amal grows older and wiser as she faces a number of difficult situations--bullying from the school resident mean girl, a relationship that can never happen with a boy from her class, and the struggles of her best friend Leila, a young woman who hopes to study law, which is against the wishes of her strict and poorly educated mother, who keeps trying to marry Leila off, because she thinks that it is the proper religious thing to do. (For the record it isn't.) 

This was an enjoyable read. My only criticism is that occasionally, the author appeared to try a little too hard to make Amal come across as friendly and likeable. Other than that, it's a realistic novel about adolescents that I think readers from a variety of backgrounds will be able to relate to and enjoy. 


This book was read as part of the Aussie Author Challenge 2017

Tuesday, 8 August 2017

Review: The Twentieth Man by Tony Jones

The Twentieth Man shines a light on a long forgotten terrorist attack--on 16 September 1972 two bombs were detonated outside at Yugoslav travel agencies. (Read more here.) Written and meticulously researched by ABC journalist Tony Jones (who readers of this blog might know best as host of Q&A,) the novel blends fact with fiction to tell a ripping story of Anna Rosen, a young radio journalist who might just have a very personal connection with the events, and Martin Katich, a reluctant revolutionary. 

Given that the author is a journalist, it should come as no surprise to readers that this book is extremely well researched--the author evokes a very sense of the politics and attitudes of the time, i.e. a change in government, blatant sexism and the possibility that there was more going on behind the scenes at Canberra than what the public knew about. Fictionalised versions of real people make an appearance, including then Prime Minister Billy McMahon, Jones' colleague from the ABC George Negus and, in a surprising bit of comic relief, Paul Hogan. Although suspenseful at times, much of this novel feels very technical--sometimes the storytelling felt a bit lost in favour of getting facts and details absolutely spot on.  

An interesting political thriller set against the backdrop of an almost forgotten event in Australian history. Recommended. 

This book was read as part of the Aussie Author Challenge 2017

Wednesday, 2 August 2017

Literary Quotes

They seemed to come suddenly upon happiness as if they had surprised a butterfly in the winter woods.

Tuesday, 1 August 2017

Review: Ramona Blue by Julie Murphy

Ramona Blue is a rarity, a young adult novel that dares to suggest that sexuality may be more fluid than what most people know or understand. Ramona, nicknamed Ramona Blue because of her blue hair, lives in a trailer with her dad and older sister in a beachside tourist trap in Mississippi. To suggest that the family has not had much luck might be a bit of an understatement. They lost their home in Hurricane Katrina, and were subsequently ripped off by their insurance company, Ramona's mother left them because she didn't want to live in a trailer (and is now an alcoholic who works at a casino,) and Ramona's sister Hattie is pregnant to a guy who may as well be a leech. Still, Ramona loves her Dad and sister and works hard to make life more pleasant for them. The novel opens with Ramona saying a sad good-bye to her girlfriend, who is a tourist that was visiting town for the summer. It's a sad day, but one that is made better by Ramona encountering Freddie, her childhood friend, who has just moved to town permanently with his grandmother and his grandmother's new husband. The pair bond over their childhood friendship, the fact that they are both now in long distance relationships (and both eventually have their hearts broken,) and a love of swimming. And then, something surprising happens. They fall in love. This wouldn't be a big deal, if it weren't for the fact that until then, Ramona had been certain of one thing--that she was attracted to women. As she navigates this new relationship, she knows that she is still attracted to women, but she also knows that she is attracted to at least one man--Freddie. Ramona struggles with telling her family and friends (all of whom have been cool with her sexuality,) and her identity, but she eventually comes to a place of understanding. The novel ends on an optimistic note and I think that the whole thing was very well done.

I enjoyed reading this one, and enjoyed having my views on sexuality challenged. This isn't a novel where bam, suddenly the main character isn't gay anymore, but rather a story where someone discovers that attraction can be a very complex thing. In Ramona's case, being attracted to Freddie and being in an exclusive relationship with him does not invalidate her previous relationships or her identity. 

Ramona Blue is not available in Australia yet, but I was so keen to read this one that I ordered a copy from the US. (This led to the further benefit of me being able to buy a hardcover copy. Hardcovers are few and far between in Australia--due to high manufacturing and transport costs only the biggest and most important releases have a hardcover edition.) I'll be happy to mention a local publisher if or when that information becomes available--I know that Penguin Books Australia has published some of Julie Murphy's novels in the past, but I cannot see anything on their website to suggest that they will be adding Ramona Blue to their list any time soon. 

Anyway, this one is well worth a read if you feel like having your views challenged. Recommended.