What I've been Reading Lately

February 2013.

I've read some great books in the last few months so I will mention some of them here.


Sonya Hartnett's children's novel, The Children of the King (2012) is a delight from start to finish. So many golden lines to read to my students, but not overdone. Hartnett knows when enough is enough. It is not clever for a writer to be able to write good images and then to crowd too many in a paragraph. The trick to great writing is to know what not to include and Hartnett is a master at this. Again Hartnett shows her penchant for strong and interesting verbs, well placed metaphors, details of characterisation and a well crafted and interesting plot. During the Second World War Jeremy and Cecily and an evacuee, May, are sent to live at Heran Hall in the English countryside. The war at the time of 'the princes in the tower' scandal also comes alive. Brilliant.


Samantha-Ellen Bound's children's book What the Raven Saw (2013) is a delightful fable. The bird, Raven lives in a church tower and learns to care for others. He loves the music of the church and has a good relationship with the priest until he tells him what he saw. Beautiful writing and lovely story.


John Green's The Fault in Our Stars (2012).

As a writer of YA fiction I found this inspiring. The characters are achingly genuine. This is an honest look inside the world of teens with cancer: Augustus and Hazel. A difficult subject and yet Green has managed to use humour well. The humour never trivialises; if anything, while lightening a moment, it also brings more poignancy. It has confirmed for me that humour can be used for subjects most would think not suitable for it. If done well (as Green does) humour can be part of a character's personality in a book with a heavy subject and make the story richer.


Louis Nowra's Into that Forest (2012).

Another great story. This is set in Tasmania when Tasmanian Tigers were still living in the forests. Two little girls are lost and are nurtured by tigers. I loved Eva Hornung's Dogboy, and Nowra's book is like a children's version of the 'child suckled by wolves' story. Nowra's story is totally believable and based on fact. It is told in the voice of one of the girls grown old. This particular voice of a person who forgot how to speak English and has learned it again is a feat in itself.


Jackie French, The Girl from Snowy River (2012).

I bought this for my granddaughter because she likes the story 'The Man from Snowy River'. I read French's myself as it is longer than usual to check it wasn't pitched too old for her. I really liked it suitable for upper primary school even though Felicity is much older. Set on Rock Farm in the Snowy River area this is a war story showing how the First World War affected those at home waiting for loved ones to return (or not). There's a horse ride similar to the one in 'The Man from Snowy River', hardships to overcome and a hope of better things in the future.


Penni Russon's Only Ever Always (2011).

A very interesting YA novel dealing with a girl's grief over her uncle. The lives of two characters Claire and Clara (I won't put a spoiler here by explaining too much) connect and collide through a music box and their dreams. Claire in the 'real' world is broken so retreats into a dreamscape. Different points of view are used with skill and as pointers to what is real. Clara is in a dystopian landscape. The story turns a circle when the dream world breaks. There are a lot of innovative elements in this story but ultimately it is a story about grief. And as such could be read as a comparison to The Messenger Bird (2012).


Vikki Wakefield's Friday Brown (2012).

When I read All I ever Wanted (2011) I knew Vikki Wakefield was a new writer to watch. Friday Brown has confirmed Vikki as a bright new talent in Australian YA fiction. Friday Brown has rich, well drawn characters that you won't forget, fresh lively language, well crafted plot (even more developed than All I ever wanted) and a great story. Through the dark shines hope and decency. Friday Brown is a true Aussie hero.


Neil Gaiman The Graveyard Book (2011).

A baby toddles into the local graveyard when his family is being murdered. Later we hear a prophecy that this boy will grow up to kill 'The Order', hence the slaughter of the family. Where have we heard that story before? The boy is named Nobody Owens, is looked after by the dead, and they teach him what they know. He learns history, how to fade and how to escape ghouls. He meets Scarlet a living child like himself. His guardian Silas is also fighting for good. The setting in a graveyard sounds unsuitable for children but it has hope, goodness and celebrates life.


I also enjoyed Wendy Orr's Raven's Mountain (2010).

I had to keep reading to see what would happen a true classical adventure of a child pitted against the Canadian wilderness to save her family. Raven is a wonderful character even when slightly delirious and pushed beyond the limit. The ethereal encounter with bear cubs adds the touch of magic that makes a children's book rich and unforgettable. The raven and its feather are a lovely touch and Raven realises something important by the end.


The adult novel Past the Shallows by Favel Parrett (2011) was memorable.

The story of Miles and Harry written alternatively in their points of view is the story of their brotherhood through thick and thin. Their father has a dreadful secret and it's eating him up. The boys try to keep a low profile. This is fresh and thrilling. The sea is superbly rendered. The reader can tell the author surfs. It reminded me of Tim Winton. One review I read said 'the prose is as powerful as a rip'. I loved Harry and Miles and unlike most adult writers, Favel got the voices of the boys just right.


Nicole Pluss' Scout (2010). This extremely well written historical novel starts with, 'This is not a ship board journal' and it isn't. But it is the story of Katherine (Kit Lovell) on the voyage to Australia. The research is deep and we see details of shipboard life bound for South Australia, until disaster strikes.


I also enjoyed The Convent by Margaret McCarthy (2012)

This is long as most of McCarthy's novels are but as usual you won't notice for the story will whip you away. There are four women in a family all connected in some way to the convent. It is inspired by true stories of the author's family and an engrossing read.


I was moved by Blasphemy the autobiography of Asia Bibi (2012), mother of five, and how she was wrongly accused of blasphemy in Pakistan and is still on death row in prison. Also Greg Mortenson's Stones into Schools (2009) showing how he and the Central Asia Institute have built schools, especially for girls, in the Northern areas of Pakistan, Afghanistan and Azad Kashmir.


Director of World Vision, Tim Costello's book of stories, Hope has been my constant companion for the past few months and today I finished the last story. I hope he writes another book of stories. Hope is full of Costello's experiences and reflections in life, aid work, family, spirituality and wisdom for the age.