Monday, 31 December 2012

Review: Just a Girl


Just a Girl
Just a Girl by Jane Caro

My rating: 3 of 5 stars



Looking at my AWW list, I have at least five other books (beyond this one) that I want to review before I finally wrap up and say goodbye to the challenge for 2012 (and get stuck into the 2013 challenge). But I'm going to start at the end with the book I finished this afternoon: Jane Caro's book about Princess Elizabeth, Just a Girl.

Disclaimer number 1: While I really like Jane Caro's public stance on a lot of things, I got into a twitter tiff with her earlier in December, and there were things in the book that reminded me of other attitudes of hers I have issues with. Except where I mention these issues, I've tried very hard to keep my discomfort with the author away from my review of the book.

Disclaimer number 2: I read a fair amount of Historical Fiction, and am pretty much over Princess and Queen Elizabeth I.

It strikes me as a bold move to write ones first novel about a woman so often written about as Princess Elizabeth Tudor. I'll say at the outset that I think this book was better than Alison Weir's travesty of a novel, but not as good as Philippa Gregory's "The Virgin Queen". I haven't yet read Jean Plaidy's Tudor books, so I can't give a comparison there. As I said above, I'm kind of over Elizabeth. She gets written about so often, both in non-fiction and fictional treatments. She has plays and films and I keep reading them (watching them), but to be honest, if this one hadn't been by Jane Caro (who we saw at this year's Write Around the Murray) and if I hadn't needed a quick-ish read to finish off the AWW 2012 challenge, I might not have picked this one up for a lot longer.

It's an interesting structure, all this thinking on the night before Elizabeth's Coronation as Queen. Except for the one element that Caro made up, I know my Elizabeth well enough that nothing is all that new. It just seemed to me that none of the characters lived in the way that they do in Gregory's books - neither Thomas Seymour nor Philip of Spain really seemed all that threatening or skeevey, whereas in Gregory they're that little bit oily. Elizabeth's insecurity next to Jane Grey was an interesting element, and yet Jane was a complete shadow, as was Robin Dudley, sadly. Overall, I wanted it to be better than I felt it was.

One thing kept throwing me out of the story: each time one of Caro's characters - particularly Elizabeth herself - preached religious tolerance. I found it sad that Caro's characters could manage what she has not been able to herself (she's fond of insulting the mere concept of being a person of faith, or certainly it seemed that way at Write Around the Murray and on Twitter,) particularly when I think her depiction of Elizabeth's tolerance was a little broader than it was in reality.

As with another recent read, if Goodreads had half stars, I'd be making use of them here. It would be 3 1/5 stars if it could be, but I just couldn't bring myself to up the level to four.



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I did it!

40 books by Australian Women Writers, and 80 books in total!

Goodreads.com is having a bit of an NYE fit at the moment, but I've finished 80 books, even if I did have picture books as the last two. *cough*cheating*cough*

I've got to come back and finish various reviews, and write a wrap-up and stats list but that might happen tomorrow or next weekend.  (Sadly, on Wednesday I go back to work, leaving less time for these things).

Saturday, 29 December 2012

Australian Women Writers Challenge 2013

So - my plan for the Australian Women's Writers Challenge 2013 is thus:

I have signed up for the Franklin level (read ten, review at least six) with a focus on intentional diversity including Indigenous writers.  I've picked out ten goal books

1. The Boundary, by Nicole Watson - I bought it a while ago and haven't yet read it..  Must.  Unaipon Winner, Crime/Mystery
2. Miles Off Course, by Sulari Gentill. Historial, Crime/Mystery
3. Exile, by Rebecca Lim, YA/Paranormal
4. Black Glass, by Meg Mundell. Dystopia
5.  El Dorado, by Dorothy Porter.  Crime, Queer, Verse novel
6.  Unpolished Gem, by Alice Pung.  Biography,
7.  Whitening Race, edited by Aileen Moreton-Robinson. Essays
8.  Manhattan Dreaming, by Anita Heiss.  Chick/Choc-Lit
9.  The Glory Garage, by Nadia Jamal and Tagreb Chandab.  Non-fiction, Religious, Cultural.
10.  This is Shyness, by Leanne Hall.  YA/Paranormal

8/10 by non-white Australian women
3/10 by Indigenous Australian women
4/10 by Asian Australian women
1/10 by Queer-identified Australian women


(Dammit - please tell me about non-white identified queer Australian women other than Vivienne Cleven.  Triple threats are awesome.)

All but three of these are already in my possession.

I sincerely hope that I'll read more books by Australian women than just these, but as per my plan to be as intentionally diverse as possible (and the fact that I've really fallen behind in a few series by white British women and white men this year), I'm only going with a challenge of ten books.  I'd rather not be sitting here at the end of next year trying desperately to finish my last few books.

Speaking of which...  better get back to it.



Thursday, 27 December 2012

A Reading Meme

via my dear friend Melwil.

What are you reading now?
Trying as hard as I can to finish off both my Goodreads Challenge (80 books) and Australian Women Writers Challenge (40 books) by New Year's Eve.  I'm in the middle of Maria Pallotta-Chiarolli's "Love You Two", which I'm finding difficult because the narrator is basically a selfish little brat, and on the other hand, Clare Wright's "Beyond the Ladies Lounge", a history of Australia's female publicans.

What did you just finish reading?
Kasey Edwards' 'Thirty-something and the clock is ticking", about fertility issues and baby-having.  Depressing and unrelentingly straight-focussed, I'm planning to do a double review of it with "The Birth Wars" which I read some time ago.  Meanwhile, yesterday I finished Susan Higginbotham's "Her Highness: the Traitor", an averageish historical focussing on the mother and mother-in-law of Lady Jane Grey, Lady Frances Grey and Lady Jane Dudley.

What do you expect to read next?
Unless I pick up one of the many half-read books I'm in the middle of, I'm thinking that next I'll embark on Robyne Young's short story collection "The Only Constant", and possibly Jane Caro's "Only a Girl", to follow up on the Higginbotham.

Tuesday, 18 December 2012

And because I hadn't linked it here earlier...

My Storify for Anita's day at the Wodonga Library...


Review: The Tomorrow Book


The Tomorrow Book
The Tomorrow Book by Jackie French

My rating: 5 of 5 stars



I read this the week before Sue DeGennaro came to visit the library. She illustrated this book for Jackie French, one of Australia's best known and most prolific writers of practically everything. (She does picture books, books about gardening and raising chicken, the Australian version of the Horrible Histories.) With this one, she's written a beautiful book about knowledge, the love of reading, and the possibilities in tomorrow.

And the illustrations - oh! The illustrations! Beautiful, delicate paper collage, pen and ink drawings, and the words layered over it in typescript.

The story is beautiful, about a prince who is convinced by the children of his community that something - many things - need to be done about our environment. There's a note at the end to say that all the illustrations have been made from recycled materials, and only paper found within the confines of her house.

I have to admit that the authors and illustrators notes feel a bit preachy. But it's a gorgeous book anyway.



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Anita Heiss visits Wodonga

I may possibly have mentioned that Anita Heiss(!) came to our library at the end of November.  Getting her here as part of the National Year of Reading was one of my big ticket items of the past 18 months, and a couple of weeks ago, on a scorchingly hot day, she arrived.

And now, she's blogged about it!  She writes about five libraries she's visited recently - in alphabetical order.  So scroll down to the end for her lovely words about Wodonga Library.

Anita Heiss - I'm grateful for library love

And my Storify from the day...


Monday, 17 December 2012

Review: Today We Have No Plans


Today We Have No Plans
Today We Have No Plans by Jane Godwin

My rating: 4 of 5 stars



I'm rapidly becoming an eager fan of Jane Godwin and Anna Walker. Author and Illustrator of "All Through the Year" have teamed up again for this gorgeous journey through an ordinary (but busy) week, and celebrating the days where there are no plans.

Although it's all very true to life, I'll admit to a jolt when it is Sunday that "has no plans". My Sunday mornings, at least, have plans just as regularly as the rest of the week.

But those precious days without plans are wonderful, and Godwin and Walker have absolutely captured that woundrous quality.

This book is not yet quite as much a favourite as "All Through the Year", but I definitely enjoyed it.



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Friday, 14 December 2012

Review: All Through The Year


All Through The Year
All Through The Year by Jane Godwin

My rating: 5 of 5 stars



I opened this book to the spread on July and almost didn't notice it at first. July was about winter, about sledding and about snow.

And then I got it.

It was July, and it was winter. And I needed to own this book.

There are very few books that take us through the Southern Hemisphere months and seasons instead of the Northern Hemisphere - and here's where my American self begins to have issues. But I live here and children here need to have books that reflect their surroundings, just like they need to see representations of themselves.

On top of that, the illustrations are stunningly beautiful. And I love the family that is created in this book: reminds me of Alison Lester's "Are We There Yet?"

This is totally, absolutely, unmoveably on the "want to own" list.



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Monday, 3 December 2012

Last ditch efforts

Oh, boy - how did it get to be December already?

The good thing is, I'm (mostly) on track to successfully complete two challenges - assuming that I read a lot during the Christmas-New Year break.  Which, by the way, I'm planning to do.  Unfortunately I have to accept that two other challenges simply will not be met this year (and I'm beginning to re-think how I attempt to maximise diversity in my reading next year, but that's for another post later this month.)

Anyway.  The state of the challenges is as follows:

Goodreads 2012 challenge: 69 books read of 80 goal
Australian Women Writers Challenge: 33 books read/25 reviewed of 40 read/30 reviewed goal.

50booksPOC: a rather miserable 13 books read of 50 goal.
Queerlit50: 15 (possibly 16) books read of 50 goal.

It was rather ambitious of me, in a year where my number of books read was 80, to also hope to read 50 books by queer authors and 50 by authors who are not white.  Especially as this year I have found only one queer, non-white Australian female author (Vivienne Cleven) and have so far read only one of her books.  There's still a month, right?

In that month, to complete the two challenges that are mostly on track, I need to complete a minimum of eleven books total, seven of which must be by Australian women.  The review goal won't be a problem as I have reviews outstanding from books already read, but it does mean I need to also complete at least five reviews by New Year's Eve.

In my currently reading Goodreads list there are eight books.  Four are by Australian women.  I have to finish Anita Diamant's The Red Tent by this Thursday so it can go back to book club headquarters, but other than that it shouldn't be difficult at all to have all the other ten books completed be by Australian women, just as long as I put aside the white men (David Weber and Mark Bowden) and don't get distracted by them.  (I do find it somewhat ironic that I'd kind of like to finish "War of Honor" just because it would mean that David Weber, rather than Stephanie Laurens, would be my most read author of the year, although admittedly Laurens is currently in a tie between Weber, Suzanne Collins, Gabrielle Wang and Radclyffe for most-read author.)

Goodreads to the contrary, I have also started Anita Heiss' memoir Am I Black Enough For You? although I can't get back to that one until I recharge my Kobo.  Or go home and read my newly signed tree-book copy.

But anyway - I now know what I'm up against.  Eleven books.  At least seven by Australian women.  And five reviews.  By 11.59pm on December 31.*

*I was also hoping to have read the Bible all the way through by that time/datestamp, but that's seriously unlikely to happen.  See this post on the Discernment blog, since which I have read very little.


Friday, 30 November 2012

Review: Again!


Again!
Again! by Emily Gravett

My rating: 5 of 5 stars



This is an adorable book. Cedric the dragon loves his bedtime story. He loves it so much that when the story ends, he says "Again?".

The illustrations are simply beautiful, and there is so much to look at on each page. The "story" that is read to Cedric is its own element of the story, but doesn't need to be read aloud for the book to make sense. Really, after the first page of set up, the only reading of words involved is the word "again".

Add to this amazing illustrations (there's always more to see in them) and a laugh-out-loud ending, and this is one of those books I'm telling everyone about. (I've shared it with Mrs Mac and she'll do a YouTube Storytime with it in the new year, I hope!)





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Thursday, 8 November 2012

MyBloPoMo: "...I think I'm going to move to Australia"

I promise this is not a politics post.  It is, in fact, a book post.  It really is.

In the twitterstorm between the close of the polls and the call of the US Presidential election last night, at least 37 people (according to Buzzfeed) declared that if Obama won they were moving to Australia.

Some of them (like Kristen Neel) were really bizarrely confused.  But for others... I honestly think it was less about actually wanting to move to Australia (with our socialised health care, anti-gun laws, female athiest Prime Minister, and awesomesauce lesbian Finance Minister whose partner just had their new baby) and more about a classic American picture book:

I loved this book as a kid.  I still love it now.  My mom just bought herself railroad pyjamas in honor of this book.  The point about this book is that when one is having a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day, one wants to "move to Australia." As an American kid growing up in Australia, I always found it fascinating.  And slightly bemusing.  And yet, as a lover of this book, sometimes when I was having a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day, I would say so, and finish with "and I think I'm going to move to New Zealand."  Because clearly, I was already in Australia.

To hear a reading of the book - with the pictures - watch the video below.  I would have posted a reading from the brilliant and classic US TV show Reading Rainbow if I'd found one, but even so, something about Michael Jeffress' accent in this reading just works for me.



My point is.

Yes, those 37 American Republican tweeters on buzzfeed may be dumb.  But some of them may just be fans of this wonderful book.  And if they do decide to move here, boy will they get a shock!

Friday, 2 November 2012

MyBloPoMo: Tech Support to the World

It's NaNoWriMo time (follow link for information) but this year I just don't have the time to participate.  I have too many other things that I need to be concentrating on instead of working with entirely new idea, etc.

But, because my alternate plan will not cause problems (I hope) with those other tasks, I'll be trying to post to one of my blogs each day.  I might also keep an eye on the total wordcount, and see if I get anywhere near 50,000 for the month, but I won't be necessarily aiming for it.
 

I followed the #internetlibrarian hashtag on Twitter last week: it was a conference happening in Monteray, California.  I found a lot of stuff from that conference interesting and other stuff from it really quite frustrating.  But the one that has resonated for me was a comment about librarians now being "tech support to the world".

It's true, we are - but I'm not convinced that (as another tweeter from the conference said) if we're not prepared to be tech support to the world we're in the wrong job.  And we're certainly not all *trained* to be tech support to the world, or even just to our users.  Nor do our sponsoring bodies necessarily understand or embrace the whole "TSttW" concept to the point of helping us be trained as such.

A few examples: 
  • Of our staff we have one dedicated IT person, whose understanding of libraries is because he's had to gain it on the job, rather than because he loves what libraries do.  There are two more of us who I would consider relatively techy, but it's not even at hobbyist level: more just what you learn by being either internet-fannish for the last fifteen years (me) or being part of Gen Y (the other staff member).  Two of our staff are not techy at all.  I have learned to run new backroom resources (Wiki additions, switching from iGoogle to Symbaloo when iGoogle's demise was announced) by them because they are the lowest common denominator when it comes to understanding tech.  Until I learned to do this, I was getting frustrated by people not using the "perfectly good" Wiki I'd set up.  My point being - can we expect our staff to be tech support to the world when we can't even be tech support to ourselves?
  • We have two playstations here in the library.  They are well used, but we do get kids come in to play on them that have never played before, and then they expect us to help them out.  Resultant problems: Most of us don't know how to play most of the games.  (For example, I have two of them at home, but on the Wii, I have no idea how the PS3 works.)  Playing the games isn't seen as actual "work" (we did have a go on a particularly quiet day between Christmas and New Year, but we don't open at that time of year anymore), and most of the staff have no real interest in learning.  (I don't particularly want to learn how to play the beat-em-up games or the car/dirt-bike racing games, for example.)  If we're "TSttW" we should be able to show the five year old how to navigate the Toy Story game, but... what employer will support the time out for a full staff to familiarise themselves with the ins and outs of seventeen PS3 games?
  • As part of Seniors Celebration, we were all geared up to offer "Master Your Gadget" sessions, wherein participants would let us know what gadget they wanted to master, and we would find a volunteer to assist them.  Unfortunately, our prospective gadget masterers far outnumbered our volunteers, and they weren't always very good at telling us exactly what they wanted us to teach them.  Or at turning up when they'd been booked in.  All of which lead to us not necessarily having anyone on hand who knew anything about the object in question.  In that instance we tried to be TSttW but overreached ourselves.
I'm not saying it's not a good concept, and I'm certainly not saying it's impossible, but it is difficult, and I think more difficult than some of the blithe twitter comments during #internetlibrarian made it seem.

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

From the Reference Desk

I do love when people come to me with questions I can answer. We ate a small public library, with an equally limited non-fiction section. The collection focuses on cook books, to be honest. But once in a while there's a reference question I can answer.

Today it was about the Tudors - "before Henry VIII". Given that there is only one Tudor monarch before Henry VIII, you might think this was easy. It wasn't. Nevertheless I sent the questioner home with some helpful - and accurate - information, and am pleased to have done so. It may not be a great collection, but I can find what's needed anyway

Sunday, 26 August 2012

Review: Port Arthur: A Story of Strength and Courage


Port Arthur: A Story of Strength and Courage
Port Arthur: A Story of Strength and Courage by Margaret Scott

My rating: 5 of 5 stars



This is a remarkable book.

I know I visited Port Arthur in 1992, and I think I also went there in 1994. Both of these visits were prior to 1996, when the events of this book take place. I remember coming home from a driving lesson with my father on the 28th of April 1996 to find my mother crying, telling us about what had happened.

Margaret Scott is an icon of Australian television, comedy, and literature. When my mother saw this book, she said "I think Margaret Scott was my lecturer in Children's Literature." As someone who watched Margaret Scott on Good News Week, that was an amazing revelation - I am so incredibly JEALOUS of my mother!

But anyway: this book is written by a legend, about an event that will forever be part of my memory - and she does it so very well. As a local to the peninsula, she writes about the community surrounding Port Arthur in a way that only a local could. She writes about the events of that terrible day with an urgency and effect that grabbed at me, so many years afterwards. She gave me a vision of how horrible it must have been: that day, and then in the times thereafter.

What I found particularly interesting to contemplate was Scott's comments on the ways in which history has always been artificialised at Port Arthur, and the ways in which some people wanted to either sweep the events of April 28, 1996 under the carpet, or equally artificialise them. It was a way of thinking about history, memorials, and how we mark and remark upon events that I think will really sit with me in the weeks and months to come.

It's another Australian book that I'm grateful to have read - glad to have read - and that I know I will think back to in the future.





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Tuesday, 21 August 2012

Review: Above All, Honor by Radclyffe


Above All, Honor
Above All, Honor by Radclyffe

My rating: 4 of 5 stars



Maybe it's something about books with "Honor" in the title (see also the series by David Weber that I'm slowly working my way through) but having found the first three books in this series and read through them at a clip in the past few days, I'll certainly be buying the rest, and the Justice Series, and probably the First Responders series as well. I'll have to ration the buying out as rewards, but I definitely want to read more of these.




Wednesday, 8 August 2012

Review: Mercy


Mercy
Mercy by Rebecca Lim

My rating: 4 of 5 stars



The back of the book tells us that Mercy is a fallen angel, and there are hints here and there within the text, especially if you know your angelology (yes, it's a word, I had cause to look it up some years ago when I found myself reluctantly dragged into a discussion on the TV show "Supernatural", which I don't watch). But by the end of the book, I don't believe it's been said outright that we're dealing with angels here. And I wonder how many people would realise that we were if the blurb didn't tell us so. It's not a criticism, mind you. Just a note.

I really enjoyed this book. Although I'd seen it in the stores I probably wouldn't have thought to pay much attention to it if Rebecca Lim (the author) hadn't been a speaker at a seminar on Public library services to YA that I went to. I was so impressed by her, and by what she said about this series, that I started buying the books soon thereafter. It took until January to find a copy of the first in the series (Mercy) and then until now to get to picking it up and reading it. But it was well worth the wait, and now I know that I'm going to want to stay on top of this series in the future. In addition, can you imagine how gleeful I am that I have three more books in the series to read *right now*?

In an interview I found, Lim described Mercy as "a YA mystery/crime novel – but with angels and Latin, choral music, school bullies and a whisper of romance thrown in." Which is basically exactly what it is. (And yay for YA books where choral music - albeit Mahler - is part of the plot.)

Things I loved: the way Mercy talked about Carmen: the sometimes disconnected/sometimes fluid connection between the two selves. I hope that if Ryan continues to appear through the series (I really want him to: I much prefer him to Luc. Although of course he may *be* Luc, which I don't like so much. After all, my angelology tells me who Luc really is... :-) ) that we find out what happened with Carmen; I'll be disappointed to leave her story here, as much as I really love Mercy.

Things I found interesting: the fact that I spent most of the book trying to work out whether it was set in the USA or Australia (the author is Chinese-Singaporean-Australian). I still can't tell. I was fifty pages from the end when I found one Australianism (mention of an Anglican church) which was followed on the next page by an Americanism ("First Presbyterian Church" - the few Continuing Presbyterian churches in Australia do not number themselves.) The issue is exacerbated by the fact that the town in the book has the exact same name as the town in the TV show "Bunheads", which is in California.



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Saturday, 28 July 2012

Review: Nzingha: Warrior Queen of Matamba, Angola, Africa, 1595


Nzingha: Warrior Queen of Matamba, Angola, Africa, 1595
Nzingha: Warrior Queen of Matamba, Angola, Africa, 1595 by Patricia C. McKissack

My rating: 4 of 5 stars



The thing is, I'd avoided this book because I didn't think the author was black. My thing with the Royal Diaries series is that I will only read them if the author is of the ethnicity of the Royal Princess in question. But then I discovered that Patricia McKissack was African American, and so I was okay to read this book.

There is such strength of character that comes through this book. A beauty in her awesomeness (and strength, and if I repeat strength a lot, it's because that word needs to be part of any mention of this story...) I didn't know about Nzingha before this, but I will know to look for her in African history from now on.

The extra pages of information after the story itself are important. The explanation of how much is known and how much is NOT known is always important in the Royal Diaries books, but this one really was fabulous. I have so much respect for the writers of these books, as there is so much research that needs to be done.



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Review: The FitzOsbornes At War


The FitzOsbornes At War
The FitzOsbornes At War by Michelle Cooper

My rating: 5 of 5 stars



When I finished this book, I hugged it because I couldn't hug the characters themselves. And then five days later, when the news came through that the Australian Girl Guides were changing the wording of the promise, I wondered what Henry would think of it.

Dear, dear Henry. And Sophie! And Veronica! And Julia!

This whole series has been brilliant.

I mean, okay. This book is totally in my area of love, and the characters are so brilliant, and I have to say, if they'd just sent Henry to the Chalet School as they should have done, she'd still be alive because they'd never have allowed her to join the WRENS at that point. I almost want to try that out, in fact. (But that'd be admitting to writing fic, wouldn't it?)


I gave my mother "A Brief History of Montmary" a week ago, and she's now demanding the next two books. Which is at it ought to be.

I adored "FitzOsbournes at War", I mean, I really adored it. Part of it is that when I look at the list of references I've read most of them, and other parts of it is that I know this era quite well. And yet it's also that Cooper brought us along, even thought I knew someone was going to die, but made me cry when it was Harry. Made me get to the end of the book and hug the book, because I couldn't hug the characters. Made me adore these people, made me want them to get back their fictitious island, made me hate the Nazi use of Spain even more than I already did, made me want victory for Montmaray while knowing that it didn't even exist.

It was awesome. It needs to be read. I will re-read, over and over again. And I will probably even write fic. No finer accolade exists. Michelle Cooper, you are awesome.



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Review: A Decline in Prophets, by Sulari Gentill

A Decline in Prophets (Rowland Sinclair #02)A Decline in Prophets by Sulari Gentill
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

What can I say?

I ADORED THIS. (And the ALLCAPS are entirely legitimate.)

Disclaimer: I hosted Sulari Gentill at the library where I work in the week before I started reading this. I was blown away by Sulari, and I think she is awesome. I think her book is awesome, I think her characters are awesome.

Between the on-board mystery, the two-stage on-boardness, by the way..., the lashings of history, the increasing fabulousness of Wilfred (and I know you're probably reading this, Sulari, but yes, I'm appreciating Wilfred more every time he shows up). I love Kate *more*, and Ernie, and oh Edna

But the inclusion of historical figures in this series is stunning. It's so seamless, in that if I didn't know people were real, I'd neither know nor care. They just ARE. And I am so very looking forward to books three and four in this series.

And Sulari, if we can convince you to come back for another visit to our library, we'd love love love to see you again! Book launch, perhaps?

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Review: Frantic


Frantic
Frantic by Katherine Howell

My rating: 4 of 5 stars



Number two (after Kathryn Fox) in the Random Aussie Crime fiction I didn't know existed and have been missing.

You don't realise, at first, that the new detective introduced by KAtherine Howell is in fact Ella Marconi. You'd think it was, in fact, the paramedic, Sophie. But the continuing character is Marconi, and having reached the end of this book, I'm really, really looking forward to reading more about Ella.

In concert with beginning the stories of Anya Crichton through the books of Kathryn Fox, I feel like I've suddenly delved into the fabulousness of two Australian crime writers. I'm certainly looking forward to reading more of Katherine Howell's books (I've looked for "Panic" already and it's apparently not available on eBook, which annoys me, even though it means I'll keep on discovering new authors instead of getting stuck immediately into books by Fox and Howell, which was the exact same danger I saw when I was introduced to Stephanie Laurens (the complete overtaking of my reading by a single author. I've worked hard so far to keep from letting Laurens take over.)

I still haven't said much at this point about "Frantic", the book. Certainly, as I reached the end of the book, the title was entirely accurate. I was reading in a cafe and couldn't leave until I'd finished the book. There were some stunning, heart-grabbing moments that just made me feel ill. In a good way. In a "this is an awesome book" kind of way.

Howell is totally on my "must follow up" list.



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Review: Bareback


Bareback
Bareback by D. Jackson Leigh

My rating: 4 of 5 stars



I'm reviewing this because Cheyenne Blue asked me for a review, and the thing is, she's entirely right: it's a pony book plus a lesbian romance. And I really do want to read more of Leigh's work. Because in a way it's basically like reading Bill/Clarissa, or Rita Mae Brown Sister Jane books the way I wish they were. And I think that's the thing with this: this book was Sister Jane the way I wish those books were, and for that, I love and adore it.



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Review: A Life of Unlearning – a journey to find the truth’


A Life of Unlearning – a journey to find the truth’
A Life of Unlearning – a journey to find the truth’ by Anthony Venn-Brown

My rating: 3 of 5 stars



Writing this review a long time (about a month) after I finished reading the actual book, although on the other hand, I'm also writing this review after a week at the UCA Assembly, where we discussed various issues relating to what ended up being called "same-gender relationships/marriage". I kind of don't want to discuss the ins and outs of that debate in this review, but I will say this: I really am glad that I've finally read Venn-Brown's book.

I remember when this book was first released. Venn-Brown's situation had garnered a little press, the book got a hell of a lot more. It was a thing - naturally: a clergy-person from a conservative Christian group not only coming out, but coming RIGHT out. But reading this book in light of the UCA Assembly coming up, that kind of wasn't what I was focusing on.

I found Venn-Brown's dismissal of mainline (to borrow a term from the US Christian bloggers) denominations hurtful (as a member of one and adherant of another, technically), although I entirely understand that's where he comes from. (Doesn't make it less annoying, to be honest.) I found his lack of knowledge of mainline denominations throughout the book infuriating, but again, that's because of his subject position and mine. Which are significantly different.

I could have done with a trigger warning in the early stages of this book (damn specific triggers) and I know that doesn't form part of the standard marketing etc: I really do find it difficult. I acknowledge the honesty of Venn-Brown's writing, as much as it hurt me in myriad ways. I appreciate the perspective of a gay male, and particularly a gay male Christian who is willing to write about these things. I still think, however, that the "letter to all denominations" at the end shows an ignorance of the position of the Uniting Church, which although it is far from where I believe we ought to be as a church, is still far beyond where Venn-Brown seems to think any church is at all.

It was a valuable read, and I'm glad to have finally finished it.



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Sunday, 22 July 2012

Review: Butterfly Song


Butterfly Song
Butterfly Song by Terri Janke

My rating: 5 of 5 stars



Stunning. The descriptive passages are deft and evocative of a part of Australia that few of us know much about.

The setting is provoking (law school before Mabo - as a post Mabo law student, I find the setting marvellous) and the themes brilliant. This is totally going on my 101 list, because what is in this book - from the examples of how Indigenous people are treated over and over (such as her experience in the court room) to the pre-Mabo experience, which is so very important for a post Mabo generation (I was in year 8 when Mabo was decided. Because I'm not Indigenous, the pre-Mabo reality never really impacted on me, but this book managed to make me immerse myself in that reality, and that is an experience that I needed.

The depth and specificity of the TSI culture through this book sang through, to what I know of that culture through TV and the odd actual accquaintance. The stupidity of Australian society rang true. The whole book speaks of utter and complete truth. I will be recommending this book to absolutely everyone, because they need to read it. They need to live Tarena's life, if only for the time while they are reading the book. I needed to know this. And so does the rest of this country.



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Monday, 9 July 2012

Review: Puberty Blues


Puberty Blues
Puberty Blues by Kathy Lette

My rating: 3 of 5 stars



Deservedly or otherwise, Puberty Blues is a classic of Australian writing. In some cases it's known because it's notorious - for its portrayal of sex, of gender relationships in a particular place and time, for lifting the lid on gender inequalities and gendered behaviours in the southern beachside suburbs of Sydney in the 1970s.

It's the sort of book that many of my peers read in high school, much closer to the age of the protagonists Debbie and Sue than I am. However, I'm really glad that I didn't read it when I was a teenager, as it would probably have scared me even more about high school, peer pressure, and the travails of adolescence than I already was. Reading it now, I'm still horrified by everything the girls go through; horrified by their acceptance of what the boys put them through, horrified by the boys actions and opinions. Thankful that it bears no resemblance to my own adolescence whatsoever.

I did find myself confused by the point of view at times. I found Debbie and Sue difficult to distinguish, and there were certain switches from first person to third and back again that confounded me.

A further point in relation to the particular edition I read. It's the first British edition, so I don't actually know how I got it at the Pan Macmillan firesale (where I got it for 50c). It has two forewords written by Germaine Greer and Kylie Minogue, who are basically chosen for being fellow Aussies who are well known in Britain (as is one of the co-authors, Kathy Lette).



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Review: Without Consent


Without Consent
Without Consent by Kathryn Fox

My rating: 4 of 5 stars



I was introduced to Kathryn Fox by a library user who wanted to find out about the newest book but couldn't remember Fox's name. Once we'd solved that puzzle, I took a look at the books, and realised that there was a significant similarity between Fox's story and an ABC miniseries from many years ago. I'm not even certain what to look for if I wanted to find the miniseries.

But Fox is a ridiculously popular author, and I couldn't get at "Malicious Intent", the first book in the series. And after a few intense books in a row, I wanted something more genre and straight forward, and in trying out Kathryn Fox, I think I've found a new favourite. I've loved Fairstein and Reichs and O'Connell in my time, and Fox is entirely in their vein.

In reading "Without Consent" I've really loved Anya Crichton - she's a great character. I'm looking forward to more of her stories as I can read more books by Fox.

As for this book in particular: It seemed to me a difficult topic carefully covered. The final sequence was as dramatic as one could wish for, but not entirely unrealistic. In short, I really did enjoy it at least as much as the mid-high level Fairstein's and Reichs'. (No one yet has met Kate Wilhelm for pure awesomeness.)



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Wednesday, 4 July 2012

Pseudo-Review: Following Christ in Invaded Space by Chris Budden

Following Christ in Invaded Space: Doing Theology on Aboriginal LandFollowing Christ in Invaded Space: Doing Theology on Aboriginal Land by Chris Budden
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

For my reflections on this book, see the post at my discernment blog.

The points that weren't made in that post:

  • Chris is a friend and mentor of mine
  • While he was writing this book, he and I were working together on another, related project
  • In reaction to this book, I decided that I needed to pick up Dorothy McRae-McMahon's Everyday Passions A Conversation on Living to get a queer, feminist perspective from another member of the same denomination as Chris. (And me.)
If I get the chance at Assembly (and if Chris is there) I'm going to go talk to him about all these things.

Also, it's taken ages to get this to post.

Review: One Small Island


One Small Island
One Small Island by Alison Lester

My rating: 5 of 5 stars



A gorgeous, gorgeous non-fiction picture book, all about Macquarie Island, south of Australia. Alison Lester is known for her stunning picture books, and this is yet another one. However there's something far more adult about this one than others. Not adult in a maturity sense, but the feeling that the book is written for a broader audience, with an attempt to bring adults into its environmental message as well as children.

I also have "Sophie Scott Goes South" to read - another book from Lester's trip to Antarctica as part of her Arts Fellowship - and that one is much more traditional Lester.

"One Small Island", however, has scattered through it maps, journal entries from early explorers and sealers, facsimile copies of pictures from various Macquarie Island Yearbooks, and other scrapbook-style minutiae. These pages alternate with beautiful double page spread paintings of the island and its habitat. The endpapers deserve special mention, because they, too, are vital to the information being shared in this book.

It's a lovely, lovely book, and it's on my "want to own" list, probably along with "Sophie Scott Goes South", but you'll find out about that once I've read and reviewed it.





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Friday, 22 June 2012

Review: Skin Painting


Skin Painting
Skin Painting by Elizabeth Hodgson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars



I've borrowed this book a couple of times from the library, but this time I finished it. And I'm glad I did. I didn't realise until I'd gotten through the first few poems that it was a verse novel/memoir.

Hodgson's experience of Christianity made it a difficult read for me. It always is difficult and humbling and horrifying and appalling to me to be reminded how Godawful the so-called Christian treatment of indigenous peoples here or elsewhere. It was not unlike "Every Secret Thing" in that way; although the definite Catholicism there was a distancing factor in that book, in a way that the presumable Protestant-ness of Skink Painting just didn't have.

I loved the way Hodgson dealt with the lover of her guardian; the way it was concealed for the first poem and revealed in the second. I like these sorts of things.

The final poem was the best and is my favourite, the power behind the repeated "I will not", the certainty of her position in the world and her unwillingness to let anyone or anything threaten that... I wish I had that - and I would love to be able to get that from that poem.



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Monday, 21 May 2012

Review: Three Gates To Paradise: Articles & Reflections


Three Gates To Paradise: Articles & Reflections
Three Gates To Paradise: Articles & Reflections by Clare Boyd-Macrae

My rating: 5 of 5 stars



Knowing the author's husband - considering him a friend - made this an exceedingly odd read. A good one, never doubt that, but an odd one, nonetheless.

It's a book of Boyd-Macrae's columns from The Age, many of which I remember reading at the time. If I don't remember reading them, I remember hearing about the events from other points of view.

The writing is beautiful. I thought I owned my own copy of this book, it seems that I don't and I'm kicking myself for it. I want to put this book beside Madeline L'Engle's The Rock That Is Higher: Story as Truth to use it in meditation and prayer, to quote bits of it in sermons that I'm yet to preach.

This is a book of beauty. Of calm, solemn faith; of family life, of the heat of India and the cool of a Melbourne winter. Of contemplation, of conviction, of certainty and doubt. Of the warmth of a hearth and the chill of a football ground.

I am so glad to have read this, and feel privileged. I feel bereft without my own copy to read and re-read: to contemplate and to soak into my soul. To listen, to argue with, and to ponder.

This is a book that makes the world better. This is a treasure.


Monday, 14 May 2012

Review: A Few Right Thinking Men


A Few Right Thinking Men
A Few Right Thinking Men by Sulari Gentill

My rating: 5 of 5 stars



About six months ago, I saw this book on sale, and I almost bought it but didn't. That was a massive mistake. Because, having finally read it via the library... I *love* this book. I adore Rowley and Edna, and I'm so very glad to know that there are at least two more books to come.

As an historical novel, this was brilliant. I own a book about the New Guard and the times (it's called "Defending the National Tuckshop" - isn't that an awesome title?) and the only reason I'm not delving straight into that one right now is that it's written by someone who doesn't fit a challenge criteria (ie, straight white male)). My GF watched Underbelly: Razor last year, and loved it and got really into it. She'll love this book. I loved this book. Gentill is visiting my library later this year, and I'm so looking forward to it.

There is such a good build up of atmosphere; the characters are brilliant - and by the end, even Wilfred is approaching loveable. (Ernie and Kate were loveable from the beginning.)

For a book with a sense of place and sense of time, I don't think you can get past this one. I am so very much looking forward to the next in the Rowland Sinclair series.




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Review: Bitin' Back


Bitin' Back
Bitin' Back by Vivienne Cleven

My rating: 5 of 5 stars



Vivienne Cleven is a triple threat for this years challenges. She's an indigenous Queer Australian woman, which means that I can count her book against three challenges. Plus, she's an awesome writer.

I did find "Bitin' Back" a bit difficult to get through. I raced through the first fifty pages, captured by the dialogue and the life and the in-your-face-ness, but then I got bogged down by the difference between Mavis' attitude towards Nevil's presumed homosexuality and my own attitude. It wasn't until I began reading Marie Munkara's Every Secret Thing that I found the way to read Mavis Dooley. I think it's because I personalise things so very much; I kept internalising Mavis' issues and placing her opinions on myself. There was something in Munkara's book that reminded me to read Mavis as her own person without imposing her ideas on me.

I needed that distance from Nevil and Trevor and Mavis in order to be able to read this. The language, the art of writing in this book is absolutely first class. The topic was too close and that's what caused the issues in reading it, but the book itself is amazingly awesome, and I'm so very, very glad that I found my way through.



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Review: Every Secret Thing


Every Secret Thing
Every Secret Thing by Marie Munkara

My rating: 5 of 5 stars



This wasn't the book I was expecting it to be, but that was because of my personal experience of North East Arnhem Land. And as I thought about it, perhaps all the love for Bapa Sheppy is like the "love" that the Bush Mob had for Fr Macredie in Every Secret Thing. (I don't think it was, but having read this book, I can't discount the possibility.)

Because it wasn't what I expected, I struggled a little initially with the book. But it's written in such an awesome way, this layer of humor covering (and yet revealing) the bitter hurt caused to the Bush mob by the Mission mob. The Mission mob are just so very *stupid*, and yet that's so completely believable. The dumb-ass things said and thought by the priests and the brothers and sisters, the ghastly awful attitude of the Bishop - I hate that it's realistic; I hate that people have behaved so very badly in the name of God; but they did and it is.

Marie Munkara's narrative style is just stunning. Her use of humor and bitterness and laughter and truthtelling grabbed me from the very beginning, and got me through every single moment of "I wish, I wish, I wish..."

I'm sure this was rec'd as a YA book, but I'm not certain that it actually is YA now that I've read it. In a lot of ways it's entirely suitable, and yet there's all that's implied in terms of abuse of the indigenous boys - and women - by the missionary Brothers. But if we're talking YA, then this is stuff kids know. And sure, they'll giggle if they read this at school, but reading about the truth of the Missions, the stupidity and outright horror of what white people did, what Christians did, the harm we caused and the utter nuttiness of whitefella pseudo-superiority in matters of faith and lifestyle...

This needs to be read. The words need to be heard and lived and accepted. And this book is a brilliant piece of that message.



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Friday, 11 May 2012

The reference collection - again

I'm back to working on weeding the reference collection, and I feel stymied.  There are so many books that just aren't the sort of thing anyone is going to borrow (most of them are so heavy you'd never get them home to start with) and I wonder about the sense in transferring them to the regular collection.  They've never been even looked at while in reference (one of the reasons we want to weed Ref down to the barest of bare minimums).

Other books on the Reference shelves just seem to duplicate what is in the rest of the collection, particularly in the gardening and general "about animals" areas.  We already have books on these topics - and we don't have the shelf space for more.

Does anyone use books of quotations anymore?  Or the Who's Who?  (I looked in it once but really only to see that Justice Michael Kirby's partner Johan really was listed.)  And do we really need a Latin-English dictionary in a public library?

I'm tempted to change up my entire way of working on this task.  Instead of looking at it as "weeding" the reference collection, I'm going to have a go at *building* what I think is a suitable reference collection, and then dealing with what's left. 

Maquarie Dictionary and Thesaurus
Melway, Sydway, Gregorys and VicRoads
A couple of basic health books...

I think that's my task for the next two hour shift...

Thursday, 10 May 2012

Review: The FitzOsbornes in Exile


The FitzOsbornes in Exile
The FitzOsbornes in Exile by Michelle Cooper

My rating: 5 of 5 stars



I'm a book behind with this series. My twitter feed has been full of people reviewing the third book (and loving it) so I know that I've got something good still to come.

I adored the first book (although my Goodreads review might not seem like it, I did give it five stars), and I equally adored the second book. I also got a laugh out of the fact that while reading it, I was wondering whether Cooper had used particular sources, and when I got to the end, yes, she had. :-) There is so much to love in this book: Henry, who is just plain awesome, Simon the mostly stalwart, Veronica the Magnificent, especially when speaking to the Foreign Secretary's Office, and later in her final big scene... I can't wait to see how Colonel Stanley-Ross' character develops in the next book, and I have to admit that if he wasn't already married and ridiculously too old for Sophie, I'd be shipping the two of them right now.

Which brings me to Sophie. The wonderful, strategic, clever, and far too good for the fluffiness of d├ębutante society Sophie. The line I quoted in a status update about feeling like a one-person League of Nations is marvellous, and I can just imagine her, in Geneva, meeting Edith Campbell Berry and the two of them getting along like a house on fire.

I hope I find a reasonably priced copy of FitzOsbournes at War sooner rather than later, because it's a while until the British edition is released, and I don't like the cover of that one nearly as much as the Australian version.



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Wednesday, 9 May 2012

On unexpected complementarity

Over on the Other Blog, I have draft post that starts off about Marcel Dorney's play Fractions, veers into Leslie Cannold's The Book of Rachel, which was my theological book club read at the time, and wanders from there into the Indigo Girls' version of the ALW musical Jesus Christ Superstar.  All those wanderings may be the reason that post is still in draft.

In the last few days, I've finished reading (but not yet written my reviews of) Marie Munkara's Every Secret Thing and Vivenne Cleven's Bitin' Back.  I started the Cleven a month or two ago, powered through it for about half the book, and then got stuck.  Somehow I couldn't get back into it, couldn't find the way to read it productively rather than counter-productively, until I'd read Munkara's absolutely stunningly beautiful and heartbreaking Every Secret Thing.  That was when I worked out how to approach Bitin' Back, and I finished it the same day.

When Cannold's Book of Rachel was our book club read, I couldn't get into it, even though I'd been wanting badly to read it ever since it was published.  I skimmed through it, and found a lot to like and enough to discuss at book club, but I hadn't really read it.  May's book club book is Three Gates to Paradise, a collection of Clare Boyd-Macrae's pieces written for the Saturday Age.  It's an odd read for me, because I know Clare's husband quite well, although I don't really know Clare herself.  But I'm absolutely loving and adoring the book - rediscovering columns I remember reading back in the day, remembering where I was at the time, and getting a great deal out of Boyd-Macrae's quiet but firm approach to her faith.  I'm really glad I already owned a copy of the book, because I can see it's going to be important to me in the years to come.

But what Three Gates to Paradise is also doing for me is allowing me to get back into The Book of Rachel.  Where Cannold's Miriame tears at my heart, Boyd-Macrae's thoughts on the holy family of the First Christmas, keep the Mary that I know in view - not, mind you a saccharine stereotype of a Roman Catholic Mary, but not Cannold's bitter Miriame, either.  The two books are playing with and against each other in beautiful ways that make it easier for me to read the one I was finding difficult.  Just as happened with Munkara and Cleven.  They're all wonderful books, it's just that I've needed the leavening of one in order to fully appreciate the other.

This, I suppose, is why I can't just read one book at a time.  If I did, think how many I'd never finish at all!

Friday, 4 May 2012

Review: The Hunger Games Trilogy, by Suzanne Collins

I read this trilogy in eight days flat.

After many months of hearing everyone around me talking about The Hunger Games, books and movie #1, I

I consider myself luckier than those who had to wait between books, although I will say that I could have been entirely happy without any sequels to The Hunger Games the book at all.  It had a good, sudden ending, with a certain amount of resolution and yet some uncertainty nevertheless.

Katniss is awesome, but undeniably flawed.  Far from perfect, her flaws make what could be a Mary-Sue-like sacrifice for Prim engaging rather than wearing.  Peeta is adorable all the way through until he's not, and by the time that happens, I already loved him anyway.  By midway through the second book I would say that I was Team Peeta if pressed; by midway through the third, I was a despairing Team Peeta-ite.

I've heard from a lot of people that they don't like the second and third books because of the politics, but I loved them.  I wanted more and more and more of the world building, not less.  I

And then there was that epilogue.  It's even more pointless and annoying than the Harry Potter epilogue and that's saying something.  I love the way Mockingjay proper ends - real or not real?  Real, says Katniss - and it didn't need any of what came after.

And I had a discussion with a colleague today about the ending of Mockingjay and the decision Katniss makes at that point.  We were diametrically opposed: I approved the ending and what led to it, in terms of authorial choice: colleague disagreed.  (In case you can't tell I'm trying to avoid spoilers.)  The thing is, over all, I enjoyed the trilogy a lot more than I expected to, given the widespread popularity of it.  They're certainly engaging, gripping books; I was so VERY glad that I had each subsequent book to keep going with as I finished the previous.  Is this the way someone feels these days reading the Tomorrow series?  While I had to wait the year or more between each book?  (A similar thing happened with West Wing, where US viewers had to wait a summer between "What Kind of Day Has it Been?" and "In the Shadow of Two Gunmen", while Australian viewers only had to wait a week.  It's not a perfect analogy.)

Anyway.  I enjoyed it more than I expected.  I have a lot of affection for many of the characters.  And I think that I do adore Katniss. Flaws and all.  As you do.

Queer Australian Women Writers

As readers can see from my sidebar, I have a few different challenges that I've set myself this year.  One is to read books by Australian Women, another by queer (LGBT) writers, and a third for books by writers who are not white.  If I read a book by a queer Australian woman who isn't white, I get to count it for all three challenges.

So, I'm trying to compile a list of authors who tick the AWW box and at least one other.  I'd love to hear more suggestions, as well as corrections if I've mis-identified anyone.

Queer Australian other-than-white women writers
1.  Vivien Cleven

Queer white Australian women writers

  1. Lindy Cameron
  2. Rachel Cook
  3. Sophie Cunningham
  4. Portia de Rossi
  5. Kelly Gardiner
  6. Fiona McGregor
  7. Clare McNab
  8. Sue-Ann Post
  9. Sarah Walker
(So far I haven't managed to find any Lindy Cameron or Clare McNab available from local libraries.  Must keep working on that.)

So, intrepid readers of this blog: any additions?

Friday, 20 April 2012

The modern reference shelf

Today at work I began the super-dusty task of weeding our Reference collection.  In total our Reference takes up two bays and on a quick whip-around the staff today, none of us have used it to answer a library user's question more than about five times in the past two years.

In terms of providing a version of the library's non-fiction resources in miniature our Reference Collection does very well.  In terms of being user-focused, well-maintained, practical and/or an effective use of resources -- not so much.

My supervisors (both current and previous) and I have for some time now been planning to downsize Reference quite considerably.  Everything from 700 on can be assessed for being shifted to the regular collection, and there are other items that need to be discarded: for instance the 1999 "Computer and Internet Dictionary" that did not have a definition of "social media" and which noted that "use of Broadband-ISDN is not popular". 

We're also considering shifting the majority of any other reference material that we decide to retain as "not for loan" into the regular collection but prominantly marked as not for loan (in particular the large collection of car manuals, which I would really love to have with all the other car books).  After all, our patrons don't generally understand what the little R means on the spine label, if they even see it.  And it will also be a good reason to shift all the law books to 362 to live together, instead of having them in three different places. 

In my first library job I was very definitely trained in the concept of making cataloguing and layout decisions with the users in mind.  We knew that the high school students we were working with wouldn't be willing to go to two different shelves in order to find whatever information they were looking for.  In general we tend to assume that public library users aren't quite as impatient as teenagers, but I was struck by something I read in an article today while I was doing some research/literature review* for my upcoming Marketing assignment.  I can't (unfortunately) give a reference for this, but while I thought I'd saved a couple of articles to my Evernote it doesn't seem to have gone through.  Anyway, the concept was that library users - in particular public library users - really just want their answers and want them now: they don't want to learn how to use the catalogue (or other methods) to find the answers.

Which on the one hand is unfortunate and on the other, annoying.  It's unfortunate because I have a tendency to assume that users want to know *how* to find the answer more than the answer itself.  I started in information literacy and I'll continue in information literacy mentally for a while longer yet, I guess.  It's annoying because we'd be able to help so many more people, more quickly, if some people would learn to do their own reference work.

Anyway.  This post started off being about weeding the Reference collection.  It's veered rather off that topic, but I'll get back to where I started eventually.  Perhaps in another post?

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

Review: Hotspur


Hotspur
Hotspur by Rita Mae Brown

My rating: 4 of 5 stars



I loved this.

It's not the first in this series, but I totally fell in love with the whole thing: the crazy-privileged fox-hunters, the certainty within the text that American fox-hunting is very different from English fox-hunting, getting all the thoughts of the animals... All of a sudden it's not so odd that Rita Mae Brown credits her cat with co-authoring her mysteries.

It harked back to one of the guilty pleasures of my late teens - Francine Pascal's "Caitlin" series. I don't think Francine Pascal actually wrote them, as she often had ghostwriters, like other ridiculously prolific authors of the time. In any event, the Caitlin books were about a ridiculously rich Virginia heiress who adored horses. I don't recall there being any fox-hunting involved (although there may have been) but I loved them, for all their ridiculousness.

I loved this book for the same reason: the horses, the bizarre Englishness of this patch of the USA that I have had little to do with, and the fabulousness of Sister Jane.

Ah, Sister Jane. It seems a pity that she is so straight, and so very widowed. This is a series written by one of the great queer writers, and certainly in this book the queerness of Ralph Assumptio is very matter of fact and generally accepted by all the other characters. But Sister Jane could have been an awesome, AWESOME dyke heroine, but she's not. And I'm sad about that.

It's not going to keep me from reading every other book in this series that I can get my hands on. Because this is total mind candy. And as I said, I loved it.



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Thursday, 15 March 2012

And for this I need a Masters degree?

The library where I work (aka "my library", even though I don't own it) was recently the grateful recipient of a Living Libraries grant, which allowed us to make some neccessary refurbishments, renovations and improvements to the building.

A few weeks ago, the Minister for Local Government, plus entourage, came to officially open the new facilities, and thus for two weeks beforehand we were engaged in a great deal of lifting, moving, taking shelves apart, and putting shelves together again.

It was very physical work, and not at all demanding of the sort of skills that are part of the Masters degree in Information Studies than I'm currently working on, one subject at a time, while working full time.  I remember, in fact, when I began working in libraries - after a very office-based profession for the previous four years - noting that librarianship was very definitely NOT a sedentary occupation.  But I'm not sure that I ever really expected it to be quite as unrelentingly physical as all that hammering shelves together (and taking them apart), and shifting books around.  At the end of the day before the opening I went home, arms, legs and back all aching from the work I'd been doing.

I was struck by a line in the textbook I had to get for my marketing class this semester - which only just arrived today - to the idea of having a marketing 'unit' within the library consisting of representatives from the various areas of the library.  We don't have enough people for that sort of thing, and yet our staff are always being reminded by the other library branches within our regional library organisation that we are the only branch with more than a single staff member on duty at any one time.  It's one of the oddities: being bigger than everyone else you deal with, but smaller than all the example libraries talked about in the research.

When you look at what a library staff member does in an average day, I guess I can see why people don't tend to think that we necessarily need a degree.  I mean, who needs a degree to put shelves together, or to refill the paper towel dispenser, or to change the toilet paper from the wrong way around in the dispenser to the right way (something I seem to be doing every day at the moment)?  And so many days are like that in a public library.

I know I'll have the days when I feel like I'm using the skills of my degree (once I've finished it).  I know my degree is giving me skills that will serve me well in the future.  I already have days when I know that I'm using the skills I've been given, that I've developed in my four years so far in libraries.

But when I'm bashing at shelves with a mallet, or putting together display sets with a universal set of Allan keys, I don't think that I can be entirely blamed for asking the question: "And for this I need a Masters degree?"

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Review: A Woman's War: The Exceptional Life Of Wilma Oram Young, AM


A Woman's War: The Exceptional Life Of Wilma Oram Young, Am
A Woman's War: The Exceptional Life Of Wilma Oram Young, AM by Barbara Angell

My rating: 2 of 5 stars



I accidentally left "Bad Faith" at work for the three-day weekend, and so hot on the heels of that review comes this one.

This review is probably the more scathing one. Sorry 'bout that.

This book is about a woman who is awesome. Who achieved an amazing amount in her life, and possibly the most amazing thing was that she survived the Japanese Prisoner of War camps along with her fellow army nurses. I don't want this review to take away from that at all.

This book is about a remarkable old biddy. However. She would hate me, and I doubt I'd be all that enamoured of her as a result. So there's that from the beginning. She's just far too much like my grandmother. (Odd that Keating's 1993 election win is mentioned negatively, and yet no mention is made of Howard's 1996/7 win. Suspect bias on the part of the author, but have not yet determined in which direction this suspected bias lies.)

Anyway. The first two sections of the book are fine. The first describes Wilma Orem (Young)'s childhood and training as a nurse; the second her time as an Army nurse and then as a prisoner of war; the third her life following her return to Australia after the war.

The second section is the most impressive and thought-provoking; in particular the gruesome yet matter of fact descriptions of war, violence and torture.

However the whole is negatively impacted by Angell's unimpressive writing; while the drama of the second section carries the reader along, in the first and third, the pedestrian nature of the writing makes the reading experience drag. The third section is particularly tedious: every ANZAC Day and Remembrance Day, every reunion with her fellow-prisoners is described as 'particularly special'. I would have expected more from a writer with Angell's apparent credentials as a screenwriter and teacher of writing, but there was just so little energy once the prisoner-of-war section was over.

In sum: the story is important, and I value it. The presentation lets the story down, as does the confusion relating to the politicisation of Orem Young's later years (ie, why the mention of the Labor win but not the Liberal? Was that because the author wanted to emphasise or minimise the difference (or lack thereof) of Veterans policy between the governments of the two parties. As I said, I'm unsure.)

This past January I went to the Australian War Memorial's special exhibition on nurses in war. I also saw (briefly) some of the work done by the nurses in the PoW camps. What these women survived was amazing. I only wish that the book I just read had been more worthy of what they themselves went through.

(Betty Jeffrey's "White Coolies" is going on my To-Read shelf despite my automatic flinch at its title.)





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Tuesday, 13 March 2012

Review: Bad Faith: A Story of Family and Fatherland. Carmen Callil


Bad Faith: A Story of Family and Fatherland. Carmen Callil
Bad Faith: A Story of Family and Fatherland. Carmen Callil by Carmen Callil

My rating: 2 of 5 stars



An interesting read. In a "may you live in interesting times" kind of way.

Last year we went to see the movie "La Rafle", about the Vel d'Hiv' "round up" of French Jews during the Second World War. I bought this book a couple of years ago (because of the title, and because it's about the German occupation of France during WWII, and WWII is one of those things I always want to be learning more about), but only picked it up this year. I will also admit that it got more sustained attention from me because it is by a female author who identifies as Australian.

Things I learned from this book:
- a lot more about the legalities and practicalities of Vichy France (and the fact that the town of Vichy is still trying - and failing - to live down the fact that its name is forever associated with the technically ongoing identity of the French nation during WWII)
- between my previous read ("Fatal Silence"), this one, and the one I just borrowed from the library today ("Hunting Evil") I am in a really anti-Roman Catholic-Curia-during-WWII stage of existence
- not surprisingly, France under German occupation is a little more complex than 'Allo 'Allo. I certainly hadn't previously realised that the Germans essentially re-took control of the whole of France in 1942 prior to reading this book.
- theodicy (the problem of evil) forms a lot of my thought processes at the moment. Not just because of my reading (recent sermons are also an influence)
- the ugliness of the "cultural cringe" of Australians who left here in the 60s and have never really returned is not limited to celebrities such as Germaine Greer, Robert Hughes, and Clive James.
- I *really* don't like generalisations about Tasmanians, even though I don't think I'd like the Jones family one little bit.

Downsides to the book:
- Callil generalises wildly about Australia. I object to this from someone who hasn't lived here since 1960.
- In a lot of ways its not enough about Anne. It's not even all that much about Anne's relationship with her father, or in fact about *family* at all. Which makes the title of the book rather misleading. I actually wish that the book had NOT been given the framing mechanism of Anne Darquier, because as interesting as it occasionally was, it meant that I wanted to know more of Anne's life, more of Anne's thoughts, than I had any chance to be given. I wish Callil had admitted from the beginning that this was a book almost entirely about Louis Darquier with only tangential references to his wife and daughter. If that had been the case, she might not have been so disparaging of Australia in general, into the bargain.

I really am trying not to be too mean about this book. After all, I learnt a lot from it, and I did finish it. I'm also trying not to react just to the clangers about Australia, but the problem was, they were in the first few chapters, and rang so false that they coloured my entire impression of the book.

Ultimately, I'm glad I only paid $5 for this book. It will probably stay in my collection, but more because it's about WWII than because I have any real intention of re-reading it in the future.




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Friday, 9 March 2012

IWD/The Stella Prize at Wodonga Library

Last night we had a fabulous time discussing the topic "Is women's writing different from men's" as part of ongoing discussions leading up to the establishment of the Stella Prize for women's writing in Australia.

The conversation was tweeted live by Karen Hempel, and can be viewed on Storify.

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

What is "chick lit" anyway?

Jane Green, Kerry Greenwood, Maggie Alderson, Jackie Collins, Sophie Kinsella, Jessica Rudd, Marian Keyes, Georgette Heyer, Cathy Kelly...

That's just a selection of authors mentioned by commenters to Natalia Jastrzab's Chick Lit post on MamaMia.com.au yesterday.  I don't know that I'd put Greenwood, Collins or Heyer in the "chick lit" category, anyway, although I'm sure they have certain claims to the genre title.  (Personally, I'd put Greenwood in crime, Collins in romance and Heyer in either romance or crime depending on which she was writing.)

My own post from Saturday, "A quick post on genre titles" has garnered some conversation.  It was actually a post written rapidly on my telephone while we were out shopping, and as I thought about what it is we call the sort of books Anita Heiss writes.  You see, I've always said that Anita Heiss writes the only "chick lit" I've ever really enjoyed, and certainly the authors that were named in the Mamamia post are not authors I tend to read (although Jess Rudd's two books are TOTALLY on my to-read list.  On the other hand, I overdosed on Marian Keyes back when I was avoiding my honors thesis and now refuse to touch her work with a very large bargepole).

So, how do I define 'chick lit'?

The thing is, I'm not sure I define it at all.  When I look at my Goodreads shelves, I have the following 'sub' shelves relating directly to fiction:
  • Australian
  • Children's
  • Crime
  • Fantasy
  • Girlsown
  • Historical
  • Middle Grades
  • Religious
  • Sci-fi
  • Sexualities
  • Short stories
  • Steampunk
  • Young Adult
The only other purely fiction-related shelf I have is 'trashy trashy romance'.  ('Graphic novel' is mostly fiction, but some non-fiction.)  So "chick lit" hasn't been a category that I've personally wanted to use in classifying my reading.  (For the record, and all of the above are non-exclusive categories, YA "wins" with 86 titles, while Historical is at 81.  Australian and Children's also beat 'Trashy Trashy Romance'.  Total on the 'Fiction' shelf is 229, and mostly books don't get any of these labels until I've read them.)

I took a tour of the library shelves today in an attempt to sort out how I define chick lit. Elizabeth Berg - no. Alexandra Potter - probably. Sandra Brown - no. Jodi Picoult - no. Judy Nunn, Di Morrissey, Fiona McGregor - no, no and no. As for the yesses... Linda Francis Lee, Christine Jones, the usual suspects of Alderson, Green, Kinsella and Keyes, of course... Fiona Walker, I suppose.  When I think about it, for me it's all about the cover. There's a post on Dianne Blacklock's blog that shows the progression of cover designs for one of her books. It transitions nicely from pure chick lit to something that for me, isn't chick lit. Chick lit is brash colours, big print, and slightly cartoon-like pictures of women rather than photographs. Not-chick-lit is photographs, soft colours, and the sort of covers I now expect to see on a Jodi Picoult novel.  Now obviously this doesn't entirely work: if it did, I'd put Janet Evanovich in Chick Lit rather than Crime.  I don't particularly like the description of "women's fiction", (no one ever talks about "men's fiction"), but I tend to view chick lit as a subset of what might be termed 'women's fiction', along with romance, Mills and Boon (which is another whole subset of its own in my mind) and family saga.

And then I got to thinking about the point that there's no such thing as 'men's fiction' - and there isn't.  There's Thriller and Mystery and Western and Sci-Fi - and it made me wonder whether the problem of 'chick lit' and romance is more along the lines of the difference between Governor and Governess; between the image you get in your head of a male secretary (Sir Humphrey Appleby, permenant secretary) and a female secretary (Peggy Olson of Mad Men).  No matter what you call it, somehow the feminine version of the word will never sound as right or as powerful as the masculine version. We really are very well conditioned by society.

So maybe something like Juliet Madison's suggestion of "life lit" is what we need (except that the characters in these books never seem to lead lives that I recognise - they all have way more money than me for a start!).  Does "life lit" cover Rebecca Shaw as well as Jessica Rudd and Anita Heiss? 

I think I've only just begun my thinking processes about this genre labels thing.  When I have the time at work (which won't be until AFTER this week's International Women's Day/Stella Prize panel extravaganza that is now only - eek! - two days away), I think I'll go through some shelves and mentally assign genres to *everything*, and see how that pans out.

I think I just created a blog series.  Ooops?

Saturday, 3 March 2012

A quick post on genre titles

In thinking about women's representation in the literary world - and the commercial world - we really badly need a better genre title than "chick lit". ("Commercial Women's Fiction" as Anita Heiss' work was described at Write Around the Murray last year, just doesn't quite cut it.)

Thoughts?

ETA: So now there's a post about this on mamamia.com.au - well, not on the name of chick lit but whether one should feel ashamed of reading it.  Which, on the one hand I understand - I've written about my enjoyment of romance fiction, but not about the fact that my girlfriend has a tendency to tease me about every romance I read.  On the other, I've read girl's school stories on the Melbourne trams, without hiding the book cover.  I have little sympathy for the publication of "adult" covers for John Marsden's' "Tomorrow" series and the "Harry Potter" books.  I have a high tolerance for public comment on my reading tastes.