Secrets and Small Places – Sensational MG and YA reads

Being a Piscean, secrets and small spaces do not faze me much. I’m one of those little fishes who loves a bit of enigmatic seclusion and the stimulation of guesswork, which is why I absolutely, nuts and crackers enjoyed the following titles. Each possesses a fluidity of story and cast of characters so cleverly crafted, I felt like I was sharing their experience as if it were my own. These books take you in deep, which for me makes them terrifically satisfying and just a little be frightening – in a can’t-get-enough-of-way.

Middle Grade Fiction

The Secrets We Keep and The Secrets We Share by Nova Weetman

Fire – both compelling and repelling. Catastrophic and cleansing. This sums up the sweep of emotions and characters Weetman explores with Clem Timmins. Clem’s secret begins with a flicker but soon ignites into something she struggles to contain upon losing everything after her house burns down – her clothes, her treasures and her mum. Timmins and her pre-pubescent peers totter on the edge of change with remarkable poise and a raw, heart-wrenching genuineness that will bring the sting of tears to your eyes and a smile to your lips. They clutch at various emotional straws, each wanting happy outcomes but in Clem’s case, too frightened of losing even more, thus retreating into secrecy. This is good old honest storytelling, where enigmatic poignancy tempers robust reality.

Continue reading Secrets and Small Places – Sensational MG and YA reads

Review: We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler

9781846689666It would not have surprised me if this had won this year’s Man Booker Prize. My heart was supporting Richard Flanagan’s magnificent The Narrow Road To The Deep North but I had a feeling this was going to get the nod. In the end it didn’t win but it would have been a deserving winner if it had.

This book ticks a number of boxes for me. It is about a dysfunctional family, it is predominantly set in a college and does both with a very clever twist. It is also told in a non-linear fashion by an unreliable narrator (whose unreliability is perfectly understandable). Just like Jeffrey Eugenides did with Middlesex this is also a compelling exploration of nature vs nurture told with an originality that is fascinating, entertaining, tragic and endearing.

The book is told by Rosemary who in her 40s is looking back at her life. While Rosemary is an unreliable narrator she is upfront about it and in recounting her story out-of-order our judgements and sympathies about her are tempered in different lights.

Rosemary’s childhood was far from normal. She and her twin sister Fern were the subject of a social experiment conducted by her father. The experiment seemingly ended when Rosemary turned five and Fern was sent away. This event was the beginning a fracture that slowly tore the family apart. Rosemary and Fern’s old brother Lowell would eventually run away from home, barely staying in contact, and the unspoken blame for both events would erode Rosemary’s relationship with both her parents and make it hard for her to form any new ones through school and into college.

This is a wonderful exploration of families, siblings and growing up and our are ideas about what they are and should be. It is one of those great novels that not only make you think but change the way you think. Full of humour, empathy and sadness it will ultimately reaffirm the power and importance of family, whatever shape or form it comes in.

Buy the book here…

Review – When The Night Comes by Favel Parrett

9780733626586Past The Shallows was an exceptional novel and Favel Parrett has out done herself with her new book. When The Night Comes is a story of growing up, both as a child and as an adult. It is about journeys into the great unknowns. And that anything in life is possible.

The story alternates between two points of view; Isla, a young girl who has moved to Hobart with her mother and younger brother to leave behind their life on the mainland. And Bo, a Danish sailor who crews an Antarctic supply ship, the Nella Dan.

Parrett’s writing is truly mesmerizing. Her words immediately draw you in and you are swept away. Poetical, evocative and truly moving Parrett will not only have you immediately falling for her characters but she will also have you falling in love with a ship.

Favel Parrett has carefully crafted an exquisite novel. Skilfully written, elegantly constructed, beautifully told and an absolute pleasure to read and experience.

Buy the book here…

Review – The Simple Things

Great Aunt Lola is about to die. At least ten year-old Stephen thinks she could because she’s that old, and grumpy. And Stephen, labouring under a self and parent imposed ‘shy label’, is more than a little scared of her. He simply wants to flee, but is stuck in Aunt Lola’s house for the next three weeks until she turns eighty, or dies.

The Simple ThingsThey say the simple things in life are the best, but could friendship with his elderly aunt be that easy and straightforward? Award-winning author Bill Condon convinces me it can.

Condon’s latest ‘tween’ novel, The Simple Things is for bridging the generation gap, what styling gel is for rampant adolescent hair-dos; maybe not 100% essential but essentially 100% worth the effort.

Actually, it was no effort at all to immerse myself into this heart-warming tale about letting go, facing personal doubts and overcoming uncomfortable situations. It’s a story about an only child who does what his parents tell him to do, is scared of climbing trees and doesn’t seem surrounded by an ocean of friends.

Blue, Stephen’s dog back home, is the one he misses most during his enforced exile at Aunt Lola’s place. However, he soon meets Lola’s neighbour and past flame, Norm, and Norm’s granddaughter, Allie. With their help, Stephen is able to confront a few of his short comings. He also embarks on a small sojourn of self-discovery as he learns about the simple things in life – like fishing, cricket, climbing trees and death. All this explicably pulls him closer to Aunt Lola. They form a prickly alliance, each benefitting from the other until finally they are forced to admit a deep and special friendship.

The Simple Things is ‘smiley face perfect’ (re; the wet cement moment page 127). Condon writes with unaffected adroitness, delivering this story with equal measures of gentle humour and poignancy, and just enough secrecy to entice readers to want to find out what really lurks behind Aunt Lola’s tough-guy bravado.

Bill CondonCondon’s characters are bright, sharply drawn individuals with enough depth to make us laugh and cry, minus the melancholy. I found Stephen’s charismatic, larrikin father and sarcasm-welding Allie most endearing along with our hesitant hero’s comical boyish charm.

The Simple Things is one of those easy to read, easy to enjoy books, so I suspect it was not that simple to write. But I for one am grateful Condon persevered as Stephen did with his aunt, for it simplifies the complexities of a young person’s relationship with themselves and their aging relative with composite grace and humour, allowing young male and female readers to value and cherish their own relatives all the better.

See why here.

Allen & Unwin February 2014