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! 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.