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?