Book Watch, The Herald on Sunday, 3 June 2012

Bookwatch 030612

Not Drowning, Reading

By Andrew Relph (Fremantle Press, $30)

A memoir for readers, Not Drowning, Reading is an affecting meditation on a life of reading (or not reading). Relph had a reading disability as a child so there’s a real intensity to this “literary conversation”. I was simultaneously moved and spirited by Relph’s reflections on what books can mean to a child, a teenager, and an adult, in fact what books can bring to a whole life.

The Prince of Soul and the Lighthouse

By Fredrik Brouneus (Steam Press, $30 paperback, $12 ebook)

The first book from brand new New Zealand speculative fiction publisher, Steam Press, The Prince of Soul and the Lighthouse bodes very well for the future of NZ publishing. A very clever, very funny and very enjoyable YA read which had me very envious of the talents of its author, Fredrik Brouneus. Brouneus may be Swedish but his book is definitely Kiwi, and should be on every Kiwi bookshelf. Packed with action, puns, science, philosophy and soul.

Mystery at Riddle Gully

By Jen Banyard (Fremantle Press, $18.99)

Pollo di Nozi – she’s a reporter in training and she’s out for a scoop!  Along with her sheepish sidekick, Shorn Connery (yes, I giggled every time I read it), Pollo’s going to find out what’s happening in Riddle Gully. A smart and funny chapter book for kids, Mystery at Riddle Gully will engage any reader. Banyard uses humour and a touch of the spooky to produce an entertaining read that still tackles some of the serious issues most kids have to deal with.

Love & Money

By Greg McGee (Penguin, $29.99)

McGee’s first novel under his own name (having published two crime novels under the pseudonym Alix Bosco), Love & Money is a true New Zealand satire set in 1987 – a time that seems disturbingly familiar. Our protagonist is Mike, an ex-hippy actor who is almost gratingly inept at modern life. Love & Money combines brittle commentary on our recent financial and political landscape with slapstick comedy and a playfully poignant celebration of family.

Book Review: Ruby Blues by Jessica Rudd

Ruby Blues by Jessica Rudd, Text Publishing, RRP $37, ISBN 9781921758560, Available now.

Ruby Blues cover

Funny. Smart. Exhausting. Ruby Blues starts with a bang (ah-ha, pun) and keeps an incredible momentum. How did Jessica Rudd managed to write a story with this much pace and not go mad? Well, her Dad is an Aussie ex-PM (yes, that Rudd), I guess.

My lovely Henchperson Rachel reviewed Campaign Ruby (the prior “Ruby” book) and found it oddly ambiguous (ridiculous plot, good book), so when I saw this title coming out I couldn’t resist trying this one myself. And, true to good Henchperson form, Rachel’s summing up of Campaign Ruby still applies here: ridiculous plot, good book.

The plot is a total blast from go to whoa, literally hurtling from Canberra to Melbourne to New York, with several love interests, blackmail, political suicide, political resurrection, Twitter, childbirth and an intern character who is so “right now” it actually made me hurt – I got an “oh GOD this book is going to date quickly” headache. I was exhausted but at the same time enthralled and even managed to get to hysterics at one particular amusing description of Ruby’s attempt to wax herself. Though that may have been the exhaustion.

Other than that Ruby spends a lot of time rushing around, working really really really really ridiculously hard (apparently, though we mostly just hear about this rather than actually seeing any evidence) and stuffing a LOT of things up, for her boss, for the PM, for the aforementioned intern character, for her boyfriend, for her family and for herself.

There is the odd telling moment, mostly regarding the role of women in politics (both now and historically) plus PM whose approval rating soars when he stops spouting made up politic-speak and starts being authentic, but it all rather gets lost in the whirlwind.

Jessica Rudd is genuinely funny and I think that’s her strong point, along with an easy writing style that shows intellect and work. But the plot really overwhelms everything else which is something of a shame, as I’d love to see what she could do if she just slowed everything down a bit.

I would, though, highly recommend this for a quick and easy summer read, one which you can pick up, read, and then probably lend around friends. But if you’re looking for a novel that really has something to say about politics, work-life balance or romance, this really isn’t quite it.

To end on an entirely frivolous note, I defy anyone NOT to want chocolate after looking at the cover. Mmmmmm, cake.

Exclusive ‘Down-Under’ create a character competition from Derek Landy!

While writing Mortal Coil, bestselling children’s author, Derek Landy gave his readers around the world the chance to put their powers of imagination to the test and create a character to be written into the book. Of the entries, Derek said ‘it’s been STAGGERING. It’s been MIND-BLOWING. The quality has been immense, the imagination has been startling, and the talent has been undeniable.’

After a great deal of deliberation a winner was chosen and the character of Geoffrey Scrutinous was included in his last new book, Mortal Coil!

Derek is giving his New Zealand and Australian readers another chance to put their imaginations to the test…

Exclusive ‘Down-Under’ create a character competition from Derek Landy!

Derek Landy will be touring New Zealand to promote his exciting new book, Skulduggery Pleasant: The End of the World, in August 2012!

About the author: Derek Landy lives in Dublin, where he complains about having to write a blog (dereklandy.blogspot.com). He is far too modest to talk about the numerous awards he has won, such as The Irish Book of the Decade, or the Red House award in the UK, or any of the others that he humbly displays on his mantelpiece. He finds that sort of thing gauche.

Noni Hazelhurst reads Go the F**k to Sleep (NSFW language)

Beloved Noni Hazelhurst (Aussie Playschool presenter for 20+ years) reads the not-for-little-children picture book by Adam Mansbach).

NSFW language!

From Text Publishing.

Update 14 July: Youtube have currently removed the video! You can still view ithere: http://www.theage.com.au/entertainment/books/noni-hazlehurst-reads-expletiveridden-childrens-book-20110713-1hd2s.html

Updated update: New link to Vimeo video instead. Bah Youtube.

Book Review: A Waltz for Matilda by Jackie French

A Waltz For MatildaA Waltz for Matilda by Jackie French, Angus & Robertson (Harper Collins NZ), RRP $24.99, ISBN 9780732290214, Available now.

Fantastic Young Adult fiction that has absolutely zero to do with vampires, angels, speculative fiction, werewolves, strange creatures that live underground and anything sparkly? Jackie French, you haz it.

A Waltz for Matilda is young adult historical fiction, loosely based around/inspired by the classic Australian song Waltzing Matilda. Twelve year old Matilda’s mother dies and she leaves the city slums to find her swaggie dad – and just as quickly as she finds him, he gets taken from her à la the song:

Up jumped the swagman and sprang into the billabong,
“You’ll never take me alive”, said he

What’s a girl to do? Why, take over the family farm against the wishes of the rich landowner neighbour, with the help of a canny aboriginal woman Auntie Love, and forsaking all skirts and petticoats for pants. Heavens, the impropriety!

But of course Matilda is a determined wee lass, and willing to learn. So she makes it all work. Brilliantly, though, French takes the story beyond a simple “young girl does good” and into something a little more thoughtful and grown up by the end.

A Waltz for Matilda is a rollicking good read, with an enthralling storyline that takes in many aspects of Australian history, both positive and negative, as well as larger themes such as the treatment of women and the native peoples, the difficulties and joys of attempting to tame the Australian landscape, the treatment of Australian soldiers by the British in the Boer War, and more personal stories of love and friendship and forgiveness. Perfect reading for teenage girls and grown-up teenage girls too.

Book Review: The Women in Black by Madeline St John

The Women In Black by Madeleine St John - Cover ImageThe Women in Black by Madeline St John, Text Publishing, RRP $30, ISBN 978-1-921656-79-8, Available now.

The Women in Black is packaged as chick lit – that frivolous genre which is light on literature, and heavy on shoes and bagging a man. But it edges away from chick lit towards something both worthier and more satisfying.

The Women in Black starts off slowly, but quickly becomes absorbing. The plot revolves around  a group of women (in black) working at a department store in Sydney in the late 1950s. One is married, but lacks a child; another is single and almost past her prime; one is a school girl, dreaming of university and the final woman in black is (horrors!) a continental! But Christmas is coming and The Women in Black are working too hard to take too much notice of one another’s problems. Will the new year ring in happiness for them all?

The Women in Black covers all the traditional themes, and then deliciously subverts them. There’s marriage (which is only desirable if the marital relations are up to snuff), and the innate vulgarity of Australians (turns out they can be trained into acceptable human beings.  Who knew?). The Women in Black plays it straight with frocks, the desirably of. Frocks can define you. They can change your life, sometimes. Oooh, pretty.

The book’s real strength lies in the details of fifties domesticity which are scattered throughout. The schoolgirl wears handmade frocks (horrors!), and a house is decorated within an inch of its life. It’s rather wonderful and the main reason I haven’t put The Women in Black on my Things I Can Be Dismissive  Of  list.

The Women in Black was first released in 1993, and the introduction is a touching tale of Madeline St John’s  life  as a penniless writer in a garret. Cigarettes kill her, the introduction leads us to believe, because she was just too damn stylish to give them up.

I’m never quite sure what to make of rereleases. While it’s marvellous that new readers can be introduced to genuine classics which would otherwise only be available at exorbitant prices, do publishers think we don’t notice that rereleases are cheaper for them to produce? And that it’s just plain easier than taking on a new author? Having said that, rereleases are cheaper for the reader too, and it’s coming up to Christmas.

So would I recommend The Women in Black? Yes, but hesitantly. The Women in Black felt light. It was a quick read, and I put it down feeling hungry for more. And it had the mark of true chick lit: The Women in Black is a delicious, indulgent bath-time read, best matched with a glass of wine and some really, really good chocolate.