Posted by: Marita Thomson | January 28, 2008

2007 Aurealis Awards

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taste_of_lightning.jpgtaste_of_lightning.jpgThe Aurealis Awards have for the last twelve years recognised the achievements of Australian writers of speculative fiction. Awards are given in the categories of science fiction, fantasy and horror, as well as for books published especially for children and young adults. Short stories in each genre are also awarded, and Golden Aurelius awards are presented to the overall best novel and best short story.  

One aim of the awards is to provide an essential reading list of Australian speculative fiction, so here are some highlights to look out for:  taste_of_lightning.jpgtaste_of_lightning.jpgtaste_of_lightning.jpgtaste_of_lightning.jpgtaste_of_lightning.jpgtaste_of_lightning.jpg

Fantasy Novel Shortlist

The Gods of Amyrantha by Jennifer Fallon (The Tide Lords Book Two)

Heart of Gold by Michael Pryor (Second Volume of The Laws of Magic)

Song of the Shiver Barrens by Glenda Larke (The Mirage Makers Book Three)

The Moving Water by Sylvia Kelso (Book 2 of the Rihannar Chronicles)

Heaven’s Net is Wide by Lian Hearn (Tales of the Otori The First Book) Winner  

Young Adult Novel Shortlist

Extrasby Scott Westerfeld

Heart of Gold by Michael Pryor (Second Volume of The Laws of Magic)

Taste of Lightning by Kate Constable

Skyfall by Anthony Eaton Winner Winner

Cybele’s Secret by Juliet Marillier  

Science Fiction Novel Shortlist

Dark Space by Marianne De Pierres

Remote Control by Jack Heath

The Company of the Dead by David Kowalski Winner + Golden Aurealis Winner

Saturn Returns by Sean Williams  

See the full list of winners here.

Posted by: Marita Thomson | January 3, 2008

The Medici Curse

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by Matt Chamings, Faber, 2007 

This book pulls you in right from page one to 15th Century Florence – the Italy of Leonardo and the Medicis. It is a world of high culture, discovery, and violence on the streets. We see the home of the Medici, the leading family of the city, through the eyes of Arnaldo, a rising apprentice artist. But he is also the secret survivor of a rival family, the Pazzi, and hellbent on avenging his dead father.

The next chapter was at first a let down, bringing us back to modern times as an English/Italian family visit Florence enroute to the family home in San Arnaldo. This is the pattern of the book and quite quickly the balance seems right, as the links between the two stories move from tenuous threads to interleaved pages of an old story coming together.

Art, love, religion and a touch of the supernatural all combine to develop this intriguing mystery to a satisfying conclusion. Arnaldo’s revenge is curbed by a combination of blossoming love for Medici’s daughter and a grudging respect for his enemy. Meanwhile in the present, Maria and her father are strangely drawn to a terrible old painting they buy in an old shop in San Arnaldo. What they discover is a much more powerful work beneath the surface. In both world’s events escalate with frightening consequences.

This book will intrigue lovers of history, art or mystery. Whilst reading I was reminded with some satisfaction of a range of other books including Libby Hathorn’s The Painter, Tracy Chevalier’s Girl With a Pearl Earring, Prochownik’s Dream by Alex Miller, Troy by Adele Geras and Catherine Jinks’ Pagan Chronicles, just for starters. But it is the mystery which builds the interest and speeds you to the end of this book.

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Posted by: mgrathcantcatch | November 29, 2007

The Road by Cormac McCarthy

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book coverNow and again a novel comes aong which your read and you know you will never forget.  The Road by Cormac McCarthy is a remarkable, emotional story which is certainly one of those.

Beatifully, at times poetically written it depicts a world which it is difficult to imagine in every sense of the word.

Centred on an intense father/son relationship it tore at my heart and forced me to think about how much I take for granted in life.

Mcarthy’s evocative description of landscape, brilliant control of suspense, spare but haunting dialogue and effortless characterisation and astonishing dystopic vision combine to produce a novel which no serious reader can dismiss.

Posted by: Marita Thomson | November 1, 2007

Journey to the Stone Country

dirtmusic.jpgjourney-to-the-stone-country.jpgjourney-to-the-stone-country.jpgjourney-to-the-stone-country.jpgjourney-to-the-stone-country.jpgby Alex Miller, Allen & Unwin, 2002journey-to-the-stone-country.jpgjourney-to-the-stone-country.jpgjourney-to-the-stone-country.jpgjourney-to-the-stone-country.jpgjourney-to-the-stone-country.jpgjourney-to-the-stone-country.jpgjourney-to-the-stone-country.jpg

journey-to-the-stone-country.jpgHaving been hooked by Alex Miller’s Prochownik’s Dream I was ready to leap into another of his books. Journey to the Stone Country sucked me in from page one as Annabelle walks in the door one evening to a silent house and a cold feeling in her bones that her husband is gone.

But what follows wasn’t what I expected. The story moves to Queensland where Annabelle visits her childhood suburban home and starts on a circuitous journey to the less certain country of her rural beginnings. She meets Bo Rennie, an Aboriginal man from the same rural area, and they travel together to the old home and the country of memory.

Miller weaves the Aboriginal and white stories together with the discovery journey-to-the-stone-country.jpgof abandoned homesteads and mysterious stone artefacts. Annabelle and Bo both find people and ideas from the past confronting their beliefs. As a result their blossoming relationship is challenged and the reader is also challenged to rethink stereotypes and accepted knowledge of black and white Australia.

I think Miller does a great job in representing his characters. Particularly the indigenous characters have a depth and rememberingbabylon.gifrememberingbabylon.gifvariety unusual in non-indigenous works. At the same time there is a mystery to some of these portrayals – Bo’s nephew Arner seems a silent menacing prescence, then patient and understanding – all with hardly a word spoken.

When the abandoned homestead of an aristocratic farming family is discovered Annabelle is transfixed by the detailed preservation of the life once lived there –  it is as if the family have just left. But when she investigates the well stocked library the books crumble at her touch.

Reading Journey to the Stone Country put me in mind of Tim Winton’s Dirt Music, and David Malouf’s Remembering Babylon. But it also reminded me that I haven’t read much Australian fiction written by indigenous writers. Kim Scott’s Benang and Terry Janke’s Butterfly Song are two that have been on my reading list for a while. Then there is this year’s Miles Franklin Award winner Alexis Wright’s Carpentaria.

For an interesting interview with the author which reveals how Miller came to write this book see these Reading Group Notes (PDF).

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Posted by: Marita Thomson | October 16, 2007

Prochownik’s Dream

prochownik.jpgby Alex Miller (Published by Allen & Unwin, Sydney, 2005)

This is the story of an artist, Toni Powlett, living in Melbourne with his wife Teresa and their small daughter. The story begins with Toni posing for his daughter who is doing his portrait in crayon, and it is a reference point he returns to much later in this story. Toni hasn’t been able to paint or draw for four years when the book begins. Not since the death of his immigrant father, Moniek Prochownik, who was an amateur artist, working in a factory by day and painting small domestic subjects by night. “Paint what you love” Moniek said.

Toni finally regains his inspiration when two old friends return to Melbourne. Marina and Robert are also artists and Teresa dislikes and distrusts them. But it is Marina who proves to be the muse for Toni’s renewal.

Miller tells an enthralling and at times painful tale of the ensuing months. Teresa knows she has married an artist and wants to support him. However, the burden of making a living and coping with her own and their daughter’s needs while Toni is increasingly absorbed in his art (and Marina) proves a testing, sometimes devastating task. And presumably one that will go on in one way or another throughout their relationship if Toni pursues his art.

I was distressed to read a review that said that nothing much happens in this book, as I was absorbed in the story. But I guess in a literal sense this is true. So I would recommend this book to those who enjoy a contemplative read, although it certainly has many emotional highs and lows. Whilst the artistic perspective is an interesting one, I don’t think you have to be an artist to recognise the pressure that the competing demands of life place on relationships. The position of the child in this story is particularly evocative, I think, as we see Toni’s love for his daughter and knowledge at times of what he is risking. But must he risk it all the same?

Another character in Prochownik’s Dream says “Don’t confuse art with life, Toni.” It is good advice.

Read an interview with Alex Miller about Prochownik’s Dream at The Book Show on ABC Radio National.

Posted by: Marita Thomson | September 2, 2007

Choosing Books

Probably the best way to choose a book to read is to talk to a like minded reader – someone who really knows what you like to read, or is willing to listen.

Sometimes, and for some people more than others, all you need is access to a good collection – in a library, bookshop or well stocked home library – and some quiet time to browse.

The Internet can be a valuable resource for finding good books, and we hope that some of the recommendations on this blog will help. Go further afield with some of the links in the sidebar, and let us know if you know others we could add.

There are also some great publications that introduce books for the curious reader. We have established a corner bookshelf within our library with a few good volumes that you can browse in when looking for new ideas. Here are the core volumes you will find there:

1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die – This should give us all the motivation to live a long life. Not enough Australian books here, but plenty of excellent books to choose from. Look for those mentioned elsewhere on this site and you will find many. Chronological organisation (from oldest to newest) with three hundred words on each book and many illustrations of authors make for a great book to dip into.
Click here to buy The Ultimate Teen Book Guide – Over 700 great books recommended, with suggestions for similar reads as well. This book crosses over for older readers with plenty of titles  written for adults as well.
The Ultimate Book Guide – 600+ books recommended over a wide range of reading interests. Many of these are well suited to teens.
Right Book Right Time Right Book Right Time by Agnes Nieuwenhuizen – This is a terrific and up to date book (October 2007) with an Australian bias. Those books featured are from around the world – some in translation – and include books for younger readers, young adults and adults. The author recognises the natural overlap and flags books which appeal to a range of ages – adult books that younger readers like, books written for teens that appeal to adults, etc.
Posted by: Marita Thomson | July 30, 2007

Judging a book by its cover

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We had a Year 7 class in the library a week or so ago who were asked to judge some books by their covers – just what you are always told not to do, but it is one way of deciding what to read and it is in the publisher’s best interest to make sure you are not disappointed. Students also read the blurbs and the first paragraph before voting for their favourite of the six books in each genre group.

These are the books which got most votes in each group:

War Stories: The Bombing of Darwin; Angels of Kokoda.

Fantasy: Dragonkeeper; Dragon Rider.

Mystery: Prove Yourself a Hero

Sport Stories: In Too Deep

Graphic novels: King Kong; Hardy Boys.

But just as the proof of the pudding is in the eating, so you need to read a book to justify an opinion. Read one of these suggestions and let us know what the book is really like.

For more information about these books and others go to the Year 7 Page

Posted by: Marita Thomson | July 24, 2007

Word of Mouth

Shelftales has a very select group of active participants so far but already books recommended on the blog have been read by others. The Kite Runner, Perfume, and A Fortunate Life are three I know of for sure. Are there others?

Having a fair drive to school I have taken advantage of Manly Library’s collection of audiobooks to listen to first Perfume and currently The Kite Runner. The latter is read by the author, Khaled Hosseini, and his Afghani/American accent is very appropriate to the story.

This is a remarkable book for a first novel. It has the feel of a memoir – in fact at first I checked back to see if it really was fiction as it reads so authentically. But at the same time it has a lyrical quality which marks it as a literary novel, but a very accessible one. Whilst the Afghan culture, both at home and then in America, is vital to the novel, it is certainly a story which has universal human themes. The protagonist, Amir, tells the story and acknowledges his own flaws from the start. Even then we are shocked by the unfolding climax. It is a story about culture and community, but also about friendship, betrayal and redemption. It shows us the best and worst that people can be and that there is always hope. And it is a compelling read.

Posted by: Marita Thomson | June 18, 2007

Refugee Week 2007 – 17th – 23rd June

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This year’s theme is Voices of Young Refugees. The Refugee Council of Australia has lots of ideas for celebrating this week, but one thing you can do is read about the real experiences of young refugees and  those imaginative stories which have been based on true stories.

Our Year 7s have just read Little Brother by Allan Baillie, a story set in Cambodia during the terrible years of terror in the 1970s. Baillie based the story on a young boy he met at a refugee camp and tells vividly what it must have been like to lose family and home and to have to survive as a young child in such a hostile environment. To read more about the background to this story see the links from Seven Magic.

For more reading suggestions about refugees see this junior reading list on Library Thing, or check the library catalogue.

David Goldie’s interactive documentary Long Journey, Young Lives uses video interviews with children and young people who came to Australia as refugees, and with Australian born children, to try to recreate the experience of having to leave one’s country and the long hard journey which leads to a new one.

For Refugee Week Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders)  has put together pictures and text which recreate the experience of living long term in a camp waiting to be allowed into a new home country – see Virtual Refugee Camp.

To catch up with a family who came to Australia from Vietnam in the seventies see Cuc Lam’s Suitcase, a 4-5 minute video in a series called National Treasures. It tells the story of a couple who came to Australia with just one possession – now displayed in Melbourne’s Immigration Museum.

Finally, teachers might like to investigate The Learning Federation learning object called The Journey of Hong Hai which recreates the journey of Vietnamese refugees escaping by boat in September and November 1978. (Available through CASTnet.)

Posted by: Marita Thomson | June 5, 2007

Jamil’s Shadow

jamil.jpgby Christine Harris

Reviewed by NathanS of Year 7

The main character is Jamil who looks after his father’s cattle farm and meets a dog who he grows to care for. He will not leave Jamil alone. He shares his lunch with the dog and begins to like him.

In the climax of the story one day there is an earthquake and Jamil is injured and gets stuck. The dog, who Jamil calls Shadow, comes and gets help.

I believe this book has a strong meaning about life: to love everyone and not to leave anyone behind or forgotten. I found the book easy to relate to because the experiences in the book are true to life.

Jamil’s Shadow is set in a village in Turkey.

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