Monthly Archives: July 2014

Book 19 – Eugene Onegin

“Eugene Onegin” by Alexander Pushkin (originally, 1837, but the version I read is a translation by James E Falen – 1995)

“Eugene Onegin”is a Russian classic. Apparently, it was published in serial form between 1825 and 1832. It is a story written in verse. The story is told by a narrator who seems predisposed to speak kindly of Onegin. Sometimes, the narrator wanders off into a discussion about the world in which Onegin lives. It is fair to say that this gives the poetry a sense of plot, but only just. This book is a classic, highly admired for “the artfulness of its verse narrative as well as for its exploration of life, death, love, ennui, convention and passion”, so far be it from me to be critical.

But it didn’t grab me. Or fill me with poetic wonder. Or even make much sense a lot of the time. To be honest, I kept falling asleep while I was trying to read it. However, it was my brother, Patrick, who lent it to me, many, many months ago now, perhaps even years… and I’m seeing him next week so I thought it was time I got around to reading it. It’s not one I’d recommend.

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Book 18 – Vertigo

“Vertigo” by Amanda Lohrey (2009)

The only reason I read this book is because it is on the new HSC Prescriptions for 2015-2020. I recently ordered a copy of every new book on the list to create a book box in the staff room so that we could all explore the possibilities… I did this because I noticed that all of the teachers in my team have made choices for the first year of the new Prescriptions that are texts they know well or have taught before. It occurred to me that I have a responsibility to encourage them to move outside of their comfort zone. So far, the books have been sitting looking lonely in their box. It seemed best to lead by example…

“Vertigo” is a novella and, as such, was a quick and (deceptively) easy read. In fact, I read it in one sitting, yesterday afternoon and into the early evening. I read the last few pages quietly sobbing, and as I placed the book gently into my lap at its end, my husband (who was sitting by my side, reading his own book – yes, my life is THAT perfect) sighed contentedly and said, “Ah, good, that was a good book, then.”

Indeed, a book that makes me cry is almost certain to be ‘a good book’ in my eyes (and  his). But this book is much more than a good book. It is a beautiful fable that is gentle, lilting and poetic. A graceful story of love and loss and courage and making the best of the life you live. It is the story of Luke and Anna, who choose to make a sea change and move to an unpopular and unforgiving place. The relationship they have with the house they buy is powerful, reminiscent of the living beast that is the house in Tim Winton’s “Cloudstreet”. The similarities, in fact, between Lohrey and Winton’s styles are quite strong.

This book is on the Prescriptions list for Module A: Experience Through Language in Elective 2: Distinctively Visual. And it is, indeed a very visual book, both in its magically descriptive style, and with the use of quite haunting photographs throughout. I can TOTALLY see myself teaching this novella. I can imagine myself in a classroom, exploring the beauty of the story and the text’s composition with a class. The only problem I have is that my favourite text to stay on the list is also in this Module – the film “Run, Lola, Run” – so a choice will need to be made when the time comes. I will almost certainly need to take some of my own advice and move outside my comfort zone.

Even though the only reason I read this book is because of my job, I encourage every person reading this blog to read this book. It is the most beautiful piece of writing I have encountered in a very long time.

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Book 17 – AfterZoe

“AfterZoe” by Amanda Hickie (2013)

For the second time recently, I found myself reading a book written by someone I know. Admittedly, it’s a very long time since I saw Amanda… but she is a good friend of my cousin’s and I would be lying if I said that reading this book was no different to reading any other book. There is no doubt that, given my choice to blog about my reading, there is a sense of responsibility when reading a book by someone I know, even by degrees of separation, that does not exist when reading a book written by a stranger.

“AfterZoe” was passed on to me by my uncle Dion (who has not yet read it), who had been given it by my brother, Patrick (who has read it), who had picked it up from his workplace, where Amanda’s husband also works. See what I mean… so many extra layers of responsibility as a self-appointed critic, when so few degrees of separation exist between you and the author.

So, Amanda, if you’re reading this…

I did enjoy this book and I have never read a book quite like it. The book starts with Zoe’s death and the narrative is an exploration of a heaven/hell afterlife that was intriguing and filled with likeable characters who kept calling me back. So, on the one hand, I would describe this novel as one I couldn’t put down.

But at the same time, the old adage of suspending your disbelief in fiction was stretched beyond a reasonable point at many places throughout the story. I persevered. I was sure there was a ‘bam’ moment that would tie all the loose ends and contradictions together on its way. But it didn’t come and, for me, both the treatment of Zoe’s son, Liam, and the ending of the book, were frustrating and unrealistic and let the novel down in many ways.

Unfortunately, this was a book that left me with far more questions than answers. However, there is a real skill for character development obvious throughout. This book was self-published, and I understand that Amanda has a deal with a publisher for her second book. I am excited to see the result of a book that will receive the benefit of some professional editing and polish.

On a side note, the book has a sticker on it that says “take me home, I am a BookCrossing book.” The idea is that having got my hands on the book, I am supposed to go and sign up to the BookCrossing website and say how I came to be in possession of the book. Then, I’m supposed to leave the book somewhere public for someone else to find and read. They, too, should log on and sign up and that way the book’s journey can be tracked. I have agonised over this ever since Dion passed the book to me. I suppose I’ll end up doing it, but somehow it just doesn’t appeal to me as a concept… I’d love to know what others think…

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Book 16 – Black Friday

“Black Friday” by Robert Muchamore (2014)

Blogging about the Cherub series feels kind of silly after all this time. This is the 15th book Muchamore has written about the Cherub gang. I love, love, loved it. If you haven’t read Book 1, The Recruit… just do it. If you have, and you’re working your way through the series… good… keep going.

In Black Friday, Book 3 in Series 2, James Adams, our hero from Series 1, returns and that makes this my favourite book so far. Somehow, the spin-off series just didn’t have the same grab as the 12 books in Series 1, but with James back it was like reading about an old friend.

I can’t see any point in going into detail about the plot. Spies. Adventure. Near-death experiences, etc.

Read these books.

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Book 15 – The Icebound Land

“The Icebound Land – Rangers Apprentice Book 3” by John Flanagan (2005)

It has been quite a while since I read book 2 in this series and much longer ago that I read book 1. I have previously referred to this series as Fantasy Lite, and that is exactly what it is. I have never found any pleasure in the fantasy genre, but this series was recommended to me a long time ago as something my reluctant-reader students might enjoy. At the time, it was suggested along with another series, Deltora Quest, which I had read and enjoyed.

Let’s face it, there’s nothing complex about this series. It is written for young readers and it is a simple, formulaic narrative that keeps you engaged with action and adventure. In this book, the hero and ranger’s apprentice of the title, Will, has been captured, along with his companion Evanlyn (who is really Cassandra, the Araluen King’s daughter in disguise), and they seem destined to a life of slavery in the northern land of Skandia. At the same time, Will’s mentor, Halt, finds a way to have himself banished so that he might be free from the war Araluen is engaged in, so that he can go in search of Will.

This is definitely a great series for the 9-12 age group. I recommend it to students, parents of children this age, and people looking for a good book to buy as a gift. Most of the books in the series, which spans 12 books now, plus 3 so far in the spin-off or sequel series, Brotherband, have won awards. These are well-written, if simple tales. Just what the doctor ordered during this winter ‘break’ full of marking and unit design.

Next up is the newest book in the Asamov series (the follow-up series to the Cherub books). If I haven’t read it by next Monday there’s a certain year 7 student who will be very cross indeed as he is waiting to borrow it…

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Book 14 – The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf

“The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf” by Ambelin Kwaymullina (2012)

Almost all of the books I read are recommendations… this one, three times over. First, the bookshop owner in Huskisson, on the NSW south coast, who likes to keep me abreast of the popular sellers in her gorgeous little shop whenever I visit (Boo Books, on the main street). Second, by my book recommending hero, Helen Sykes, at the ETA branch meeting in term 2. And finally, Jane Sherlock, at the Oxford University Press Education Conference, who described it as a dystopian fiction with a difference… and how right she was.

To start, I have to say that I think dystopian fiction is well and truly ‘flavour of the month’. In fact, it is so ‘on-trend’ that I think it is at risk of becoming a turn off for young adult readers. Personally, I wouldn’t dream of stocking my book room with anything that ‘all the kids are reading’ and right now, most of the kids are reading dystopian fiction (unless they’re reading John Green).

However, and it’s a big however, “The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf” is a book that I think would be a great asset in any book room. The novel starts off in such a unique way that I was left quite off-balance. In fact, after 3 or 4 pages I stopped reading and checked online that I hadn’t accidentally started reading the sequel. Kwaymullina has plonked her reader smack, bang, in the middle of the story and once you understand why you really appreciate the cleverness of the discontinuous narrative. Yes, it is a post-apocalyptic society in which the ‘other’ is unacceptable and control is everything. Yes, our heroine, Ashala, has a special gift and has to fight for her freedom. But comparisons to other stories with these themes would not be doing this book justice.

Kwaymullina is from the Palyku people of the Pilbara region in Western Australia, and this story offers a distinctly modern, powerfully effective sense of the dreamtime and humanity’s connection with the land. Ashala and all of her fellow ‘Illegals’ each have a connection with an animal. Ashala, as the title implies, with wolves. But she has a strong connection with the land as well, and has found refuge in the Firstwood, where she and her tribe have a pact with the saurs that allows them to live in peace. But they threaten the Balance (of society) and so they are being hunted by the Citizens. Well, one Citizen in particular…

Frustratingly, this is very obviously the first book in a series. Always a bit off-putting when I’m considering books for the book room. But in its favour, this is a very different book, and one that the students, at least at my school, are not already devouring, which makes it appealing. Further, it offers an opportunity to explore indigenous aspects in a meaningful and contextual way within a novel study. Book Two is published – The Disappearance of Amber Crow – and I am certainly keen to read it.

I thoroughly recommend this book.

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