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 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 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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