Another lovely review for Two Rainbows

I was delighted to read another lovely and perceptive review of Two Rainbows this morning. It’s on The Bottom Shelf blog.

Here’s an extract:

This story is a marriage of text and illustration, each interdependent as they should be in quality picture books.  At first the little girl sees only the rainbow, even though there are other spots of colour around her, as she thinks nostalgically of the colours of the country but as she starts to see more of her environment, so too the colours in the pictures increase although the city remains grey and the country bathed in light. And as her thoughts slowly attune to the city environment she begins to see more objects, different from the farm but perhaps with something to offer as she peers over the blue fence and sees a treehouse with a rope ladder and maybe a friend.

You can read the whole review here. 

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Writers reviewing books–an interview with Linda Newbery, Celia Rees and Adele Geras

Book reviewing is a real art, and one that in the last ten years or so has undergone many changes. In the past, most book reviews were published in print—in newspapers and magazines, as well as, occasionally on radio and TV. But today, as space in newspapers and magazines has shrunk, most book reviews are published online, on specialised sites, online publications, and blogs.

Today I’m interviewing three distinguished UK authors, Linda Newbery, Celia Rees and Adele Geras, who together have created a great new book review blog, called WritersReview. I was asked to be a guest reviewer on the blog recently, was intrigued by the concept, and wanted to know more!

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Left to right: Linda, Celia and Adele

Can you tell me about how and why you started WritersReview?

Linda: Recently I added a blog to my own website. I’d never had a blog before but I liked the idea of using mine for reviews, with maybe a post of two about my own work in progress or backlist titles, and contributions from writer friends. When I mentioned this to Celia, she came up with the better idea of a joint review blog. This appealed at once, as I knew that a joint blog would reach more readers and attract more contributors than I’d achieve on my own. Next time Celia and I met, we talked about how to organise the blog and decided to invite Adele to join us, knowing that she reads widely and enjoys reviewing.

All three of us have published widely for children and young adults but are now writing adult fiction, and our reviewing here is a way of extending our range. Collectively we have a great many contacts, which should make it easy to keep things turning over.

Celia: Linda and I don’t live too far from each other and we meet up every now again for a writerly chat. During one of our talks.  We started talking about reviewing, specifically online reviewing.  We both agreed that good reviewing sites were few and far between and that much of the reviewing was poor and unfair. We were both taken with the possibility of setting up a review site where writers could review other writers. Writers tend to be keen readers and are often experienced reviewers and would offer fairer, more balanced and better informed reviews than many to be found online. Linda went away and came back with some ideas for the review site. She suggested we invite Adele to join us as she’s an avid and omnivorous reader and highly respected reviewer. We would each invite other authors to make guest posts, to add variety, keep the posts current and gradually build the site. Adele and I are both History Girls and are familiar with Blogger, so that was the site we chose to use. Linda did the hard work, designing and setting up the site, sorting out teething problems and posting the first reviews.

Adele: It was really Linda’s brainchild and when she asked me to join in, and mentioned that she was asking no Celia too, I was really delighted. I’ve long felt that there were too few outlets for people’s opinions about books. Newspaper reviews and much that’s online concentrates on the eye catching, the best-selling, the obvious. Linda made her offer seem attractive by telling us we can write about what enthuses us, whatever it might be.

Another of her good ideas was to give us a chance to invite other writers to contribute as well. She did all the heavy lifting, setting up the site and making sure it looks as good as it does.

What is your vision for the site? And how do you think it might develop?

Linda: I’d like it to be wide-ranging and friendly. We, and our guests, can choose anything we like to review – anything, that is, other than children’s books (not because we have anything against them but because there are plenty of other sites that specialise in children’s). I’d like to include biography, nature writing and other non-fiction, possibly poetry – whatever we or our guests want to write about. And the books don’t have to be newly-published – part of the point is for writers to share their own enthusiasms and draw attention to books that have inspired or influenced them, or deserve to be read more widely.

I hope, as we go on, that we’ll build up a list of regular guests and that maybe people will even approach us, wanting to contribute. I hope, too, that readers will comment on our reviews and add their own opinions.

I’d love it if our blog became known and respected and if we saw our reviews quoted in publicity releases!

Adele: I’m hoping it’s the sort of site readers might go to a) to see what we’d enjoyed b) to get ideas about what they might enjoy c) to be able to comment freely about what they saw there.

Celia: From the first, we decided to review books for adults, rather than children’s or YA. That was the only rule. I guess we hope that the site will attract people who are interested in what we have to say about the books we review and to counterbalance some of the ill-informed and occasionally malicious reviews to be found in other places online. I would like to see Writers Review become a site that readers can trust and use as a guide to books that they might want to read.

How do you choose books for review? Are there types or genres of books you particularly want to concentrate on?

Linda: Many of the books won’t be chosen by us, but by our guests. We won’t, on the whole, allocate titles to reviewers, though there may be some exceptions.  I hope contemporary fiction will be well to the fore, but we’ll see how things develop without our intervention.

Celia: Other than the books have to be for adults, we can review what we like, any genre, fiction or non-fiction. The books can be newly published or old favourites. There is no pressure to review current books. Our choices are made on our own preferences, what we might be reading at the time, work we admire, books that we have enjoyed and think other readers might like, too.

Adele: It’s about sharing enthusiasms. Fiction or non-fiction, but books for adults. We are known mainly as children’s or YA writers, but wanted to go outside our perceived boundaries.

What do you think of the current situation for book reviewing today, against the background of the contemporary publishing climate?

Celia: I think that there has been a marked falling away in the standard of reviewing. The broadsheet newspapers remain the gold standard but book review space continues to be squeezed. The plethora of online reviewing sites is patchy at best and can be downright destructive and malicious. Real reviewing appears to be a dying art. Too few reviewers understand that a good review is more than an exhaustive synopsis and a few subjective opinions, or arbitrary judgements based on personal preferences, or trivial concerns like print quality or length. We have all seen shocking examples of books condemned, their star rating brought down for the most irrelevant and trivial of reasons and behind that is always the lurking spectre of sock puppetry. I’m also uneasy about the possible influence of the big publishing houses through the blandishments of their publicity departments, particularly on book bloggers. We might be swimming against a tsunami but I don’t think readers like to feel manipulated (I certainly don’t) and I hope that a site like ours might be trusted and valued by readers and publishers alike.

Adele: I think it’s very patchy. I’m not 100% sure how much reviews contribute to the success of a given book, but am sorrowfully concluding: not very much! How otherwise to account for so many LOW LOW sales for extremely well-reviewed books?

Linda: It seems that publishers have come to value review blogs, with space for print reviews so much in demand, and that online reviewing can be quite influential in passing on word-of-mouth recommendations. In the press, some books are widely reviewed while others get no coverage at all, and might as well be invisible. The ‘blog tour’ for a new book is now quite common, even for high-profile authors. So a blog like ours is likely to be appreciated by authors as well as by publishers.

Authors’ pick special edition reprise: Susanne Gervay

boy in striped pyjamasToday I’m reprising the authors’ pick series with a special post from Susanne Gervay, looking back at her favourite book of 2015.

 

A book that has left its mark on me is a small paperback with a simple blue and white striped cover. ‘The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas’ by John Boyne changed me and it will change you.

It’s  a simple fable like ‘Animal Farm’ that holds deep truths of humanity.  ‘Animal Farm’ exposed Russian communism. ‘The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas’ exposes the Holocaust. Through the friendship of two boys, Bruno and the boy in the striped pyjamas we see the beauty of friendship.  Within the landscape of their relationship, there is the background of the ‘Jewish solution’. The gripping climax to the story is poignant and compelling reading. This book is highly recommended for all ages, from children to adults. When you shut the book, it will remain with you, making you question prejudice, racism and war.

Multi-award-winning author Susanne Gervay’s books for children include the very popular I am Jack series, which has also been adapted into a play. She is co-president of the Society of Women Writers NSW, Regional Advisor for the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, a Room to Read ambassador, and a former Chair of the NSW Writers’ Centre Board.

susanne gervay

 

Authors’ pick special edition: Angela Slatter

wolfwinterOkay, so I know I said that Matthew Thompson’s Authors’ Pick was the final in the series, but I’ve just received this fabulous review by Angela Slatter of her favourite book of 2015, and so here it is, in special edition!

 

“It’s the kind of winter that will remind us we are mortal,” he said. “Mortal and alone.”

One of the books that stuck with me from my 2015 reading pile was Wolf Winter by Cecilia Ekbäck (Hodder and Stoughton). http://www.ceciliaekback.com/

 Set in 1717 in Swedish Lapland Wolf Winter seamlessly blends history, mystery, and speculative elements. Recent settler Maija and her daughters Frederika and Dorotea are left alone on Blackåsen Mountain when Maija’s husband leaves to find work. The women must face a dreadful winter, roaming wolves, and, perhaps most terrifyingly, the other folk who live on Blackåsen.

 Life as outsiders is difficult enough, but when Frederika discovers one of the other settlers, Eriksson, murdered things become more complicated. Not only is Maija stubborn, refusing to let the mystery of Eriksson’s death go unsolved, but Frederika begins to manifest eldritch powers; worse still, Eriksson has returned as a ‘heavy’ ghost and only she can see him. He was not a nice man in life − death hasn’t improved him − and he insists that Frederika solve his murder. It’s the only way she can be free of him, but there’s more than one secret on the mountain and their keepers will do anything to ensure they remain hidden.

 There is a wonderful clarity to Ekbäck’s prose; it is stripped back to its essentials but still lovely. It never feels sparse or lacking or cold, the landscape and its characters come through strongly and always seem real and relatable. She covers the historical detail with a light hand so you never feel as if the writer’s going, “Look at all the research I did! Look at it!”, but rather it’s woven beautifully into the fabric of the tale. Highly recommended.

Angela Slatter is: the author of six short story collections and a debut novel that’s coming out in 2016; a PhD survivor; an occasional award-winner; a lover of coffee; http://www.angelaslatter.com/; @AngelaSlatter.

angela slatter

 

Authors’ pick 24: Matthew Thompson

Ted Hughes Bestiary coverToday’s authors’ pick–and the final one in this series–has been chosen by Matthew Thompson.

A Ted Hughes Bestiary, poems selected by Alice Oswald.

The revelation of Ted Hughes and his exquisitely poised and powerful animal poetry was a long time coming. For decades a clear, open-hearted view appreciation of the crow poems and other work was not possible for me, due to the grip of Sylvia Plath’s fierce and tragic legend.

I did glance at Hughes’ poems now and then but my sight was displaced and distorted by the mythos of sadistic, maddening selfishness – even more so when I learned of how the woman that displaced Plath in Hughes’ affections, AssiaWevill, murdered their daughter and killed herself (and how quadruply weird to consider that Hughes and Plath’s son, Nicholas, eventually hanged himself in Alaska).

Age has taught me to let complexity be, even complexity of torment, instead of pruning it back to ready-understandability or by gripping isolated strands of it in order to haul oneself up to a fake height of mind.

So, a few months ago, decades after first reading Hughes, and while in Melbourne researching the life of a long-term recidivist prisoner for a book I’m writing, I slid from a bookstore shelf the slim hardback of A Ted Hughes Bestiary, Alice Oswald’s selection of Hughes’ animal poems.

Amidst the stark and ruthless crowscapes sat “The Jaguar”, a glimpse of a zoo-held beast seething with itself. I couldn’t help but think of my writing subject, a man who in his younger years could not be tamed, could not be contained, whose will was harder than the bars and walls around him.

…there’s no cage to him

His stride is wildernesses of freedom:

The world rolls under the long thrust of his heel.

Over the cage floor the horizons come.

But the prisoner’s jaguar days are gone.Sentenced again, this time to so long in isolation that even the judge said it would damage his mind, the man now sits spiritually detached from, but physically within spitting distance of, the predatory world of crime and jail. So attuned, he can sense when someone who, unlike battered old him, still hungers for prey: someone whosegrimacing face has not yet been smoothed. A blood-thirsty hunter in a moment that brings to mind the opening of Hughes’ “And Owl”:

Floats, a masked soul listening for death.

Death listening for a soul.

Yet it would be too limiting to keep relating these poems to men, to humans. Their centre is not anthropomorphic and in reading them, in handling them, DH Lawrence’s poem, “Fish”, comes to mind: specifically, its message that other beings inhabit their own universes, have not gods or not the same gods, are sometimes older and more purpose-made than we can comprehend. Lawrence’s narrator marvels at his witnessing of fish:

Loveless, and so lively!
Born before God was love,
Or life knew loving.
Beautifully beforehand with it all.

Joyce Carol Oates uses that line about a time “before God was love” to describe the severe and profound world of boxing, a world for its enthusiasts that remains beautifully before today’s widespread cringing avoidance of harm. The animals are not emotional about their pain or plight. They are clarity of instinct.

And over it all, unblinking in their exactitude, are not just Hughes’ famous crows but his hawk, who in “Hawk Roosting”, flies up to:

…revolve it all slowly –

I kill where I please because it is all mine.

Of course, there is so much more, including tales of animals lower on the food chain, but you’ll have to read them yourself. I have too much work to do.

 

Based in the small NSW town of Dungog, Matthew Thompson is the author of Running with the Blood God and My Colombian Death and a journalist whose recent work has focused on the violent intrigues of the Sulu Archipelago in the southern Philippines. For more information, see www.matthewthompsonwriting.com

Matthew Thompson

Authors’ pick 23: Sharon Rundle

asylum palaverToday’s authors’ pick has been chosen by Sharon Rundle.

Asylum,  Channa Wickremesekera, Published by Palaver.

For the purpose of my research, I’ve been reading a lot of novels by South Asian-Australian authors with ties to Afghanistan, Bhutan, India, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. I’ve read marvellous narratives from established and emerging writers. To choose one novel from this amazing array of fiction, is an enormous challenge. After long and difficult deliberation, I plumped for one that provided a new perspective, was surprisingly enjoyable, beautifully structured and written in a page-turning style.

Sometimes the best way to encourage discussion and provoke deeper thinking is through humour. Ideas that may seem simple on the surface havewider ripples and deeper currents than appear at first. So it is with Asylum by Channa Wickremesekera.

A young prison escapee decides to break into a home and take hostages,after the news that he is on the run with a gun is broadcast through media and police reports. The house he chooses is the home of Afghanis of Muslim faith. The mother wears a niqab, while her sometimes sullen, sometimes giggling young daughter, Aisha,wears a hijab. The mother understands English but prefers to speak in her Dari language.Through her family, she is the main negotiator with their captor. Khalid, the male teenage narrator with typical ‘attitude’, “I’ve seen bigger guns than that in Afghanistan with kids half his size” (p 23), is the perfect choice as the cynical observer. He is also a main player in the drama that unfolds as police surround the house. Negotiators are brought in to help, with mixed and sometimes hilarious results.

What could be a disaster turns into a tragi-comedy as the actions of the police and young man on the run with a gun become farcical when faced with this unexpected turn of events.

The Afghani family face another even deeper dilemma. Should they offer asylum to this person seeking refuge, as they believe they should? Should they lie to the police for the greater good? Which would give lesser offence to God? What to do in such an impossible situation? He is only a scared, tired, hungry, delinquent boy, after all. Khalid has heard it all before, “How you should look after people who take refuge with you, even if they are your worst enemies. Even if they had killed your own mother and father. I always thought that sort of thing happened only a long time ago and if it happened now it was only in the movies. Never thought we will have to practise it.”(p 40).

While the family debate the best plan, mum keeps cooking and feeding them all, including their captor Rusty.

This novel has impact and lingers in the mind long after it’s read. To my mind, ‘Asylum” should be on the HSC reading list. Suitable for both adults and young adults, the deceptively simple style and endearing narrator in “Asylum” allow for serious ideas to be discussed without polarising the audience. Many may be surprised by such a fresh perspective and by what they learn through humour.

 

Channa Wickremesekera is a Sri Lankan-Australian who has published three other novels, “Tracks” (published Sri Lanka, 2015), “Walls (Wasala, Sri Lanka, 2001)” and a novella “In the Same Boat” (Bay Owl Press, 2010).

A fun novel written in a jaunty teen voice—a novel that tries to tip our assumptions on their heads and succeeds.” —Anna Funder, author of Stasiland and All That I Am

“This is a timely novel, written with daring and imagination. It deals with themes that we urgently need to engage with and reflect upon, challenges that cry out for a long-overdue national conversation.” —Arnold Zable, author of Cafe ScheherazadeThe Fig Tree, and Violin Lessons

Asylum Wickremesekera, Channa. Published by Palaver.

ISBN 10: 0994343108 ISBN 13: 9780994343109

 

 

Sharon Rundle has researched novels by South-Asian Australian authors published in Australia for a Doctorate of Creative Arts thesis. She is co-editor of Indo-Australian anthologies of stories published by Picador Pan Macmillan (2009 & 2010 India, Australia & UK), Rupa Publishing in India (2014) and Brass Monkey Books in Australia (2012 & 2014).

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Authors’ pick 21: Yangsze Choo

IMG_0189Today’s Authors’ Pick has been chosen by Yangsze Choo. 

I must confess that I haven’t read much fiction recently. This is because I’m struggling to finish my second novel, a giant doorstop which I keep telling myself is almost done, but continues to expand in alarming ways as I try to squeeze in just one more plot twist. The situation is worsened by my frequent attempts to seek “inspiration” in dark chocolate… I need to go on a diet in more ways than one, which is why my book pick for 2015 is a cookbook.

Madhur Jaffrey is my favourite Indian cookbook writer – over the years, I’ve cooked my way through many of her books, always with good and very authentic results – so when I realized that she had a cookbook called “Vegetarian India”, I rushed off to get it. Our family has been trying to move towards a more vegetarian diet (one of the reasons I’ve so enjoyed Sophie’s food blog featuring her lovely garden) and this book is stuffed with delicious ideas. In fact, when I first got it, I made the roasted cauliflower with Punjabi seasonings that’s featured on the cover three times in one week. Tossing cauliflower with lemon juice, cumin, coriander, ginger, turmeric and olive oil results in a sizzling pan of crusty goodness that’s quickly devoured in our house, even by small children who claim they will never, ever eat cauliflower.

Like Madhur Jaffrey’s other cookbooks, each recipe comes with a little backstory or some helpful tips, and there’s enough variety from rice dishes to hearty vegetarian mains and pulses, to cook an entire dinner banquet, if you’re so inclined. Or you can just do what I’ve been doing and add an extra veggie dish or two on weeknights.

So, if your New Year’s resolution is to eat less meat and more healthily, I highly recommend this book! Happy reading and eating 🙂

Yangsze Choo’s first novel, The Ghost Bride, was published in 2013. She loves to eat and read, and often does both at the same time. She lives in California with her husband and children, and a potential rabbit.

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