Saturday, December 31, 2011

Notable Reads 2011

Looking at this list now I can see just how remiss I have been in writing reviews.  I've only reviewed a few of them.  The books featuring on this list are not in any particular order and are books that I have found myself thinking about afterwards.  To me this is the mark of good writing.  I'm also happy to see that my reading has been very eclectic.  So hopefully in 2012 my list will be even longer and I'll have more time to write reviews.

The windup girl, Paolo Bacigalupi

The somnambulist: a novel, Jonathan Barnes

Ender's game, Orson Scott Card

The passage, Justin Cronin

The gargoyle, Andrew Davidson

Promises to keep: a novel, Jane Green

Justice Hall, Laurie R King

Perdido street station, China Mieville

Boneshaker, Cherie Priest

Hyperion, Dan Simmons

Giants of the frost, Kim Wilkins

The elegance of the Hedgehog, Muriel Barbery

Friday, December 30, 2011

Writing, Achievements and What's Ahead.

I haven't written a post about writing in years.  This is because other than this blog I haven't been writing.  However, for some reason a few weeks ago I returned to a novel that I started in 2005.  Having a chat to one of my son's speech therapists at a christmas do, I happened to mention this.  She pointed out that this was probably due to the fact that after a year of writing academic essays for my course, my brain was suddenly freed up to begin focussing on the creative.  As soon as she said it I realised that 'of course!' feeling that she was correct.

So happily I have returned to some characters from this novel.  Almost like resuming old friendships.  In 2005 I had written almost 30'000 words.  Yep.  That much.  Then I came to a DEAD END.  It was very frustrating, but as I re-read what I had written I suddenly had a thought.  An an end came to me.  Just like that.  Now you must remember that I am still yet to write it.  I'm not going to say anything else about this book, because I'm a big believer in not talking, but rather writing it.  This was after I discovered the fifteen commandments about mystery writing, that I posted many years ago, that really can be said for any kind of writing.  Ever since reading these commandments I've followed them and I find them helpful.

At the moment I am storyboarding my novel.  Tedious but I think it needs to be done.  I need to formulate it into some kind of plan and then I need to write it off the storyboards that will show the ending.  Does anyone else write this way?  I have never done so before, but I think it will work for me. 

The only negative thing about being inspired to write this novel again?  Not being able to blog as frequently as I wish.

So, in light of it being a New Year (almost), I want to reminisce on 2011 and what I hope to do in 2012.

  • Knocked off a year of my Graduate Diploma in Secondary Teaching.
  • Began the renovation/extension of our home.
  • My amazing son began to truly talk.  I can now have a conversation with him.
  • My daughter is another year older and a delight.
  • In my eyes my husband is still amazing after all these years.
So let me just take a moment to voice my appreciation and give thanks for everything I have.


I hate to say resolutions, but I suppose really that's what this is.
  • We will be focussing on our extension/renovation this year.
  • I will finish my novel.
  • I will try to blog more.
  • My son begins four year old kinder and will continue his therapy.  I hope he will continue to go from strength to strength.
  • As I am taking a break from study this year, I will have my daughter with me full time.  We will be attending many playgroups.  And parks.  And the library.
  • Dare I say it?  Okaaaay then.  I will exercise more this year.......
What about you?  What have you done this year that you would like to share?  What do you hope to be doing next year? 

Happy New Year everyone.

Follow my book blog friday

How does this work? First you leave your name here on this post, then you create a post on your own blog that links back to this post (easiest way is to just grab the code under the #FF picture and put it in your post) and then you visit as many blogs as you can and tell them "hi" in their comments (on the post that has the #FF image). You follow them, they follow you. Win. Win. Just make sure to follow back if someone follows you! Now to make this #FF interesting we do a FEATURE blogger.

Question of the Week: The New Year is here -- and everyone wants to know your New Years Blogging Resolution! What are you going to try to revise, revamp and redo for 2012 on your blog?

My New Year's Blogging resolution would be try to blog more often. I've been very ad hoc with how often I blog particularly with book reviewing. I would like to become more systematic with it.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Literary Blog Hop

Welcome to the Literary Blog Hop hosted by The Blue Bookcase!

This monthly blog hop is open to blogs that primarily feature book reviews of literary fiction, classic literature, and general literary discussion.

Here's our question this week:

What work of literature would you recommend to someone who doesn't like literature?

Our answer comes from Christine-Chioma, who reviewed for The Blue Bookcase in early 2010. Now she's back! Her answer:

Yes, I did make up this question; mainly because whenever I hear people say they don’t like literature I immediately think of about ten different pieces of literature that I’m certain they’d enjoy. There’s obviously a great variety of people and tastes, likewise there is a large variety in works of literature. Depending on the literature-hating person, one of the first book I’d recommend would be The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath. However, that would not be a good suggestion for some of my other friends and so in their cases I’d suggest The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien. But the creative non-fiction element of that book might annoy some so clearly I would not suggest it to everyone. However, Peace Like A River by Leif Enger is the one book that I universally want to suggest whenever I hear that dreaded “I don’t like to read literature” or worse, “I only read books by Janet Evanovich”.

One of complaints I hear most about literature is that it requires “too much thinking”. Although smart and well-written, Peace Like a River is a book that does not take too much mental energy to read. The plot is captivating enough that despite serious topics and moral dilemmas, it is not overwhelming or heavy. In fact, the book is even funny at times due to its dynamic and multi-faceted characters who are easy to fall in love with (especially Swede!) Peace Like a River is a great introduction to literature because it’s the right balance of plot and character development. It’s a beautifully crafted novel that flows natural through themes that almost all can identify with: family,morals, love, individuality, tragedy, and fear.

What about you? What book would you unequivocally recommend to literature-shy friends? Why?

It all depends on who the person is.  In the past I've given gifts to some friends who I think will enjoy more literary type books.  One suggestion is The Eyre affair by Jasper Fforde.  I think this is a fun way to read literature and if they haven't read some of the classics featured in this, then they can follow up by doing so.

I think Anne of Green Gables by L M Montgomery is a good choice.
For something Australian Peter Carey's A true history of the Kelly gang is a good read.

Or The Slap by Christos Tsoilkas that looks to be shaping up as a contemporary classic.

My final choice - and there are so many more - would be Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier.  The beauty of this is if your recipient enjoys it, there are so many more Du Maurier titles to succumb to.

what I've been reading lately...The city and the city by China Mieville

I have terrible eyesight and I often feel as though my peripheral vision plays tricks on me. I think perhaps that this is why I was really able to visualise Mieville's book, The city and the city.

When a murdered woman is found in the city of Beszel, somewhere at the edge of Europe, it looks to be a routine case for Inspector Tyador Borlú of the Extreme Crime Squad. To investigate, Borlú must travel from the decaying Beszel to its equal, rival, and intimate neighbor, the vibrant city of Ul Qoma. But this is a border crossing like no other, a journey as psychic as it is physical, a seeing of the unseen. With Ul Qoman detective Qussim Dhatt, Borlú is enmeshed in a sordid underworld of nationalists intent on destroying their neighboring city, and unificationists who dream of dissolving the two into one. As the detectives uncover the dead woman’s secrets, they begin to suspect a truth that could cost them more than their lives. What stands against them are murderous powers in Beszel and in Ul Qoma: and, most terrifying of all, that which lies between these two cities.
Taken from book descriptions.

Basically two cities, Beszel and Ul Qoma overlap each other and it is illegal, or you are in breach if you see the other city. So even though you do see you must immediately unsee. Not only must you unsee, but you must also unhear too. So if you hear a tramcar going by in the other city, you are in breach of doing so. How would they police that? I hear you ask. Well Breach - who are the entity that do the policing - are a force unto themselves, mystical and magical.

An elderly woman was walking slowly away from me in a shambling sway. She turned her head and looked at me. I was struck by her motion, and I met her eyes. I wondered if she wanted to tell me something. In my glance I took in her clothes, her way of walking, of holding herself, and looking. With a hard start, I realised that she was not on Gunter Strasz at all, and that I should not have seen her. Immediately and flustered I looked away, and she did the same, with the same speed.

I would describe this book as a police procedural whodunnit crossed with urban fantasy. China Mieville indeed pulls it off. He is extremely talented and I love reading his work. He's said before that he wants to transcend genres and write in as many of them as possible.  This book is written in the first person through the eyes of Inspector Borlu investigating the case that leads him to an archeological site where he finds a major conspiracy between the two cities.  Uncovering the conspiracy also means uncovering the murderer.  The grittiness of the murder mystery is juxtaposed with the more fantastical or mystical elements.  If you are a mystery reader, it's quite wonderful to read something so familiar that is yet unfamiliar.

Other books that I have read of his and enjoyed have been Perdido Street station and King rat. At the moment I'm lucky enough to be on the shorter end of my Mieville TBR list, and I'm sort of hugging this knowledge to myself and eking out each novel. He's just one of those writers that needs to be savoured.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Feature and Follow Friday

If you are new to the #FF fun, Feature & Follow Friday is a blog hop that expands your blog following by a joint effort between bloggers. Feature & Follow Friday is now hosted by TWO hosts, Rachel of Parajunkee and Alison of Alison Can Read. Each host will have their own Feature Blog and this way it'll allow us to show off more new blogs!

Question of the Week: When you've read a book, what do you do with it? (Keep it, give it away, donate it, sell it, swap it..?)

If it is a library book then obviously I return it, ditto borrowed books from friends and family. As I'm a Librarian I've spent most of my life doing this. However, over the last few years, circumstances have changed and I've been at home and we're also embarking on a major house renovation. I've told our architect about my (dream) wall of books, and he's happily obliged. So, even though it's still yet to be built - hopefully sometime next year - I've been slowly building up my own library of books. So all my recent purchases have been for me to keep.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Is the novel dead?

Now that I have your attention via my post title, I'm asking this question more with a view on what is taught in English classrooms in high schools. Is there anyone here who believes that schools should only teach novels and plays? I'm going to assume that as many of you reading this may be book bloggers, that I'm talking to the converted. That is, you may have had great enjoyment in your English classes and this is good, because I want to ask what did you study in school? Was it only print text novels? Did you study plays - I have a feeling the majority of people would say yes with a particular emphasis on Shakespeare. How about movies? Television? Did anyone study computer games, or websites?

This post is about the idea of playing games in an English classroom and using it as a tool for teaching. Or viewing it as another text. My preference of game would be something that is in the Adventure genre. So this doesn't mean shoot em up games or role playing games, but rather interactive fiction. The idea is that you have a protagonist in the game and the user navigates the interface and propels the character through the game by means of dialogue with other characters and this then makes the narrative of the game move along. Sometimes these games are described as point-and-click. There are many examples of this genre that can be found at, if anyone is interested in checking out some titles.

In a post I did a few months ago I talked about a teacher, Tim Rylands who has done just this, using games in a primary school setting. The game he chose was Myst. There's a link to his website and also some footage of his classes in action. What I love best about Tim Rylands teaching is how engaged his students are and the work they are producing.

The above site Adventure gamers has a forum and I proposed this question of what fellow gamers thought of playing them in classrooms. I was surprised at some of the negativity that some of these gamers showed. They didn't think that it was 'serious' enough to be studied and what exactly would students learn from them. What do you think? Of course there were many replies from gamers who had had the privilege of studying a game in class and said it had been a good experience. One comment said that sometimes teachers bring their own agenda into classrooms and force students to learn what the teacher is into. He cited rock music as an example of what he had to learn. I think that's a fair comment, and perhaps that is what I'm doing?

Anyway, this post is getting far too long and I've got heaps more I want to say on the subject. However, for now, if you have an opinion I would love to hear about it.

Friday, December 09, 2011

Follow my book blog friday

Q: Keeping with the Spirit of Giving this season, what book do you think EVERYONE should read and if you could, you would buy it for all of your family and friends?

A: I think everyone should read J K Rowling's Harry Potter series. Starting with the first book of course!

Friday, December 02, 2011

Follow my book blog friday

Well I'm going to start checking out more book blogs and I thought this would be a great way of doing it.

Oh and in answering the 'guestion', my biggest pet peeve is when the author's 'voice' doesn't do it for me. This could be because it just sound whining or a bit wishy washy to my mental ears. :)

Book Beginnings

Mapp and Lucia by E F Benson

Though it was nearly a year since her husband's death, Emmeline Lucas (universally known to her friends as Lucia) still wore the deepest and most uncompromising mourning.

I'd never heard of E F Benson but liked the back blurb of this book. The beginning seems unsurprising to me in light of it being a classic. And the fact that Lucia is wearing mourning straightaway situates you back in history.

Thursday, December 01, 2011

Theme Thursdays - place description

Mapp and Lucia by E F Benson
They arrived at Tilling in the middle of the afternoon, entering it from the long level road that ran across the reclaimed marsh-land to the west. Blue was the sky overhead, complete with larks and small white clouds; the town lay basking in the hot June sunshine and its narrow streets abounded in red brick houses with tiled roofs, that shouted Queen Anne and George I in Lucia's enraptured ears, and made Georgie's fingers itch for his sketching tools.

"Dear Georgie, perfectly enchanting!" exclaimed Lucia. "I declare I feel at home already. Look, there's another lovely house. We must just drive to the end of this street, and then we'll inquire where Mallards is. The people, too, I like their looks. Faces full of interest. It's as if they expected us".

The car had stopped to allow a dray to turn into the High street from a steep cobbled way leading to the top of the hill. On the pavement at the corner was standing quite a group of Tillingites.

Theme Thursday

Well here's another meme that I plan on following. It's called Theme Thursday and it's hosted by Reading between the pages.

Theme Thursdays is a fun weekly event that will be open from one thursday to the next. Anyone can participate in it. The rules are simple:

A theme will be posted each week (on Thursday’s)
Select a conversation/snippet/sentence from the current book you are reading
Mention the author and the title of the book along with your post
It is important that the theme is conveyed in the sentence (you don’t necessarily need to have the word)
Ex: If the theme is KISS; your sentence can have “They kissed so gently” or “Their lips touched each other” or “The smooch was so passionate”
This will give us a wonderful opportunity to explore and understand different writing styles and descriptive approaches adopted by authors.

Book beginnings

Well 2012 is fast approaching and I'm thinking on embarking on a couple of reading challenges for next year. One challenge or meme that I've found is Book Beginnings hosted by A few more pages.
So on (hopefully most) Fridays I will post the first couple of lines of my current read and then follow up with first impressions and whether or not the book lived up to them. So happy blogging.

Friday, November 25, 2011

True crime or cozy crime?

Has an author's private life ever influenced your reasons for reading or not reading their books?

My answer to this question is yes. When I was in my early twenties I was reading my way through the Thomas Pitt mysteries written by Anne Perry.
The Pitt series fall in the genre category of historical detective mystery, written during the Victorian period. I'd probably read a good six, seven maybe even closer to eight or ten titles when I discovered who she was.

Born Juliet Marion Hulme, she had committed a violent murder as a teenager in New Zealand. Suddenly Perry's mysteries didn't seem so cozy anymore. I think I may have tried to read another mystery of her's, but I couldn't get the bad taste out of my mouth.

The whole sorry saga is the story behind Peter Jackson's 1994 film Heavenly creatures. Kate Winslet portrays a teenage Hulme.
Hulme and her good friend Pauline Parker colluded to murder Parker's mother so that the teenage girl's wouldn't be separated after Parker's parents divorced. They conspired to lead Parker's mother down a remote pathway in a public park, and there planned to hit her with a brick within a stocking. Naively both girls thought one hit would do it, but it took many more hits before Parker's mother's brutal end. I don't know about you, but I really couldn't read another printed word by Perry after knowing this.

A new book has been written by Peter Graham, called So brilliantly clever, that tells the gory story.
I've only just now read a review of the book in my newspaper's literary section, and have not read it. And to tell you the truth I don't know if I want to read it. Anyway, if you like true crime, and I prefer my crime to be cozy, then you may want to check the story out. Or you may even want to check out some of Perry's works....

Sunday, November 20, 2011


Just a quick post to say that I have started a new blog devoted towards my son's diagnosis of autism. So if you're at all interested, you will find some of our stories regarding ASD, that I promise will only be positive content, and resources for parents and teachers.

This means that my Scribeswindow blog can be more book and writing oriented. Well that's the plan...... These things always blur as they do in life.

Happy reading.

Monday, November 07, 2011

What I've been reading lately...The Slap by Christos Tsiolkas

Really? I mean really? Does anyone out there know people like these characters? I certainly don't. And if you do, please comment below and tell me about them.

I found my paperback copy of The slap at my son's daycare bookclub. It's a copy that's been released along with the televised version on the ABC. My copy also includes a plethora of media quotes reviewing the book. A couple that caught my attention:

It's often said that the best politicians are those who can instinctively divine the zeitgeist of their country's centre. For the ones who can't, I would place The slap as mandatory bedside table reading. It's a perfect social document of what Australia is today. More importantly, it's also one hell of a read. The Australian

Again. Really? I wouldn't describe the events in this book as depicting an accurate social picture of Australia.

And this:

We are presented with a cast of characters whose situation reflects the affluent, insecure, globalised Australia of the early twenty-first century. Times Literary Supplement.

A blistering portrait of domestic life. Sun-Herald.

The description I liked best is from magazine Men's Style:

A gripping suburban fable.

It is from this premise that I have decided to view this book. I think that the people Tsiolkas writes about are more caricatures than anything else. And I think it is a fable, a cautionary tale almost, depicting a 'what if' about Australia's or really Melbourne's so called nanny-state.

Now if you haven't read the book there are spoilers ahead, so if what I've written so far entices you - and it is a fabulous book! - then please go and find this novel read it, and come back. I would love to hear your opinion.

The characters, even though unreal to me, did resonate. I think this is because of my age and the fact that I have young children? Not to say that it wouldn't resonate with others also. Rosie is the character I think about most. The fact that she still breast feeds her "just turned four" son sends shudders through me. I'm sorry, but that's just wrong. And before anyone spouts (no pun intended!) that breast feeding can end at any time, we live in a society where nutritious food is abundant. Some countries don't have that luxury, so of course breast feeding for as long as possible would be paramount. That's my opinion.

Hugo pulled away from Rosie's teat. 'No one is allowed to touch my body without my permission.' His voice was shrill and confident. Hector wondered where he'd learnt those words. From Rosie? At childcare? Were there community announcements on the frigging television?

This book brings together every tenet you believe in parenting. It is through Rosie's character that you question your own ideals on raising children. Do you smack them? Do you give them junk food? Do you set boundaries for them? Are you a good parent? Indeed it is through Rosie's insecurities as a parent that propels most of the conflict along. It makes you wonder if we as a society are giving too much merit and authority to institutions.

When is it appropriate to intervene when children are fighting? Or when children need disciplining? Is it so wrong that some parents are of the view that giving kids carte blanche to sort things out is the best way for them to play and learn? Is it so wrong to want to protect children and risk being described as a 'helicopter mum'? There will always be differing parenting styles.

The book of course is about a child that is slapped. What also resonated with me was the brilliant description of this scene. Tsiolkas is indeed a master.

He saw his cousin's raised arm, it spliced the air, and then he saw the open palm descend and strike the boy. The slap seemed to echo. It cracked the twilight.

Now I want you to say that last line out loud. This is what I find myself doing. Especially, for some reason, when I'm doing the dishes. Lovely sentence.

Tsiolkas also examines the idea of family and friendship in the book. Sometimes I think this book is only described as a social comment about parenting, but I think that at its real heart is the notion of 'blood is thicker than water'. He uses the friendship of the three girls, Aisha, Rosie and Anouk and juxtaposes it with the family relationship of cousins Hector and Harry, and of course the rest of the family. This is especially evident when at the courthouse, Rosie's reaction to Harry's uncle Manolis being there with Harry.

She went up to Hector's father and when she spoke her voice did not tremble but there was no missing her fury. You shouldn't be here. Aren't you ashamed? You shouldn't be here. Her spittle landed on his shirt.

At the time when I read this I thought to myself, what did she expect? That's his uncle. Of course he's going to be there. Later in the book the character Manolis echoes this sentiment, asking himself would he not be there for his brother's child? This seems to be what Tsoilkas is getting at. That family is what's important, and sometimes people convince themselves that friendship can be family too. The novel asks the question, can this be so?

There's a lot of ugliness in this book. That's why I asked the initial question of are there really people out there who exist in this way? I truly don't know of any. But taken away from this face value and seen as more of a fable of Australian society, I think Tsiolkas has written a fantastic book. I read this book just before bedtime, and every time wished I hadn't. I found it hard to put down, and when I did, sleep eluded me because I couldn't stop thinking about what I had read.

Even writing a post for this book has taken me weeks because I had to get my head around what I wanted to say, and I still feel like I've missed out on things. Don't miss out on this book. I've watched three episodes of the television series so far, and there are some changes, and I'm really glad that I went with the old adage of reading the book first before watching the story on screen.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Buffy, Buffy, Buffy, Buffy.

Oh. I mean, Sarah, Sarah, Sarah, Sarah. You know, I actually do like your new show Ringer, but why oh why did you have to start the first episode with gothic statues, reminiscent of your OTHER show? And then, to end up in a fight. Where you lost? It felt traitorous. Let me just repeat though, I do like your new show.
But I want to lament the passing of your other character Buffy the vampire slayer. What a privilege to be able to play a feminist, kick-ass character such as Joss Whedon's creation, Buffy. For those of you who may not know this, Joss Whedon, amazing writer extraodinaire had a vision. It was of the "little blonde girl who goes into a dark alley and gets killed in every horror movie" and subverting it. He wanted to create a hero, and thus, Buffy was born, a feminist hero that goes down those dark alleys and kills the monster, giving power to women everywhere. Well, at least that's what I like to think.

So, for anyone out there listening, or reading, this is my idea. I think we need to franchise the Buffy character and make movies - controlled by Joss Whedon. Unfortunately he doesn't have the rights to the character. As we now have other slayers, the movies can be narratives about their journeys. Feminists everywhere!

And before I close, I do want to say that I really like the new show Ringer, but I just wish that Sarah would consider Buffy again. That's my two cents.

Friday, October 14, 2011

What I've been reading lately...Parnassus on wheels by Christopher Morley

"Lord!" he said, "when you sell a man a book you don't sell him just twelve ounces of paper and ink and glue-you sell him a whole new life. Love and friendship and humour and ships at sea by night-there's all heaven and earth in a book, a real book I mean.

And so it goes. If you love books, then this novel, or novella, is for you. Written in 1917, I'd never heard of it, until I read somebody talking about The haunted bookshop by Morely over at Book and Reader. Apparently Parnassus on wheels is sort of a prelude. The thread that described The haunted bookshop, someone wrote of it as having 'drowsy alcoves' and I was hooked! So I looked it up on Library Thing. (BTW, if you haven't come across these sites before they are fabulous for a bibliophile!). A couple of weeks ago I picked up a copy at my library, and realised I'd discovered a gem, and I am still yet to read The haunted bookshop! So that has me excited all over again.

The story is about spinster Helen McGill, aged 39 (not so old these days!), living with her famous author brother on a farm, where out of the blue travelling bookseller Roger Mifflin turns up and sells her Parnassus, a complicated wagon bookstore. Helen gives readers a lovely practical voice, and talks about how her brother is always off having adventures and writing his stories, and so she decided that she wanted an adventure too!

A kind of anger came over me to think that I'd been living on that farm for nearly fifteen years-yes, sir, ever since I was twenty-five-and hardly ever been away except for that trip to Boston once a year to go shopping with cousin Edie.
The feminist in me whooped for joy when Helen takes off, leaving her brother Andrew to fend for himself - well kind of, she still makes sure other women around the area help out - to give a go at selling books. What I also liked is that Helen McGill is such an unlikely heroine, described as a 'home-keeping soul'. An adventure she certainly has, I'm not going to give too much away as I really want to say, do yourself a favour and read it for yourself.

Parnassus on wheels is a charming book, and the tone reminded me of Dodie Smith's I capture the castle and a little of L M Montgomery's Anne of Green gables series. Read it as an ode to the bookshops of yesteryear, a dying breed. There's a powerful message in this book, that words and reading are important. Wonderful.

"The world is full of great writers about literature," he said, "but they're all selfish and aristocratic. Addison, Lamb, Hazlitt, Emerson, Lowell-take anyone you choose-they all conceive the love of books as a rare and perfect mystery for the few-a thing of the secluded study where they can sit alone at night with a candle, and a cigar, and a glass of port on the table and a spaniel on the hearth-rug. What I say is, who has ever gone out into the high roads and hedges to bring literature to the plain man? To bring it home to his business and bosom, as somebody says? The farther into the country you go, the fewer and worse books you find. I've spent several years joggling around with this citadel of crime, and by the bones of Ben Ezra I don't think I ever found a really good book (except the Bible) at a farmhouse yet, unless I put it there myself. The mandarins of culture-what do they do to teach the common folk to read? It's no good writing down lists of books for farmers and compiling five-foot shelves; you've got to go out and visit the people yourself-take the books to them, talk to the teachers and bully the editors of country newspapers and farm magazines and tell the children stories-and then little by little you begin to get good books circulating in the veins of the nation"

Friday, October 07, 2011

House update

You know that episode of Fawlty Towers, where Basil gets in the Irish builder who consequently removes the door into the dining room? Last week we had our own Irish concreters, not builders, come through to give us a quote. One was young - well about our age - and the other older. The Younger was besotted by our Jack Russell and had him describing his dog, just like ours, back home in Ireland. The older told us that his wife had just left him and thus needed a hug from me to compensate!

Before I go any further with the concreting quote, let me just update you on what's happening (or not happening) with our renovation/extension. My husband has succeeded in getting himself appointed with a Builder/Owner status. This is good, because we got some quotes from builders that just had us saying, thanks but no thanks. Our next option that we looked at is us managing the build ourselves. Or my husband doing it. I have faith in him that he will do a fantastic job. In fact, I think that if we go in this direction, by the end of it, he will look up - and all around him - and say, I built this.

So for the last few months, we've had all sorts of tradies come through our door. Structural engineers, electricians, carpenters, and now the concreters. Our quotes are slowly coming in, and yes it's going to be an expensive adventure, but we think we should manage it.

So back to the concreters. After obliging The Older with a quick hug, they proceeded outside where my husband showed them the site and access etc. Traipsing back inside, I once again had to give The Older a hug, and as they left, the Older told my husband that he'd have a 'ball-park figure' for him the next day. Once the front door closed we looked at each other and burst out laughing, and my husband did a very good impression from the Fawlty Towers episode.

Anyway, this leads me to the last update, that I've decided to take next year off from studying. The main reason is timing and secondary money. Currently the two children do two days of daycare whilst I go to classes. The daycare fees are killing us. If we didn't have to pay for an extension there wouldn't be a problem.

If I continued next year, it would mean that I would graduate with a view of working as a teacher in 2013. My son starts prep that same year, and I think it would be better to be more flexible as we go through transition into school. As he is on the spectrum, this could prove to be very important, and if I commit to a new job, then I don't think I'll have that flexibility. However, by taking 2012 off from studying, I can take my youngest out of daycare, and then in 2013, resume that final year that will then allow me to be around more in case I'm needed. It also means that my youngest can then take over my son's daycare hours and it won't make too much difference to the hip pocket.

So, like all parents, it's a big juggling act, but I think that this will be the best way to go.

Thursday, October 06, 2011

Dear Christine,

the girl with the pretty smiling face. I wish that you were here so I could shake you, only to somehow make you see what everyone else around you sees. And then I wish that I could give you a hug. Of reassurance. That perhaps you needed? Recently it was RUOK week, and maybe someone didn't ask you this?

I wish that you were able to hear what your friends have to say about you? The one's that you have left behind. Would you have decided to go if you knew what it is we all see about you, that you yourself couldn't? I don't think we'll ever know the answers.

But know this. I always thought of you as an accomplished woman. You seemed to have it together at such a young age when the rest of us were still in party mode. I know you've had your heart broken, but you still walked about with a smile on your face. I know you did appreciate life, or at least you seemed to. I know you liked to sing. I know that you were valued.

Today I know these things, and today I remember them. I wish I could have done more.

Your friend.

Saturday, October 01, 2011

Conservative catholic or modern secular?

There is an article in my newspaper, Do we really want a leader trapped in a bygone era? (01/10/2011) that is an edited extract from new book Tony Abbott: a man's man by Susan Mitchell.

It is important to remind ourselves that Tony Abbott is a 53-year-old former trainee Catholic priest, a former right-wing student activist, a former Liberal Party staffer, and an MP parachuted by John Howard into a safe Liberal seat. From an early age, he was mentored and trained by older men to become the man he is today - a product of a bygone era. Most of his ideas have been formed by men in all-male institutions or mostly male environments.

Can we believe in his political separation between church and state when Abbott boasted that eight Catholics in the Howard cabinet had overturned the Northern Territory's euthanasia law, buried gay marriage, stopped the ACT heroin safe injecting-rooms trial, and tried to reduce abortion numbers through pregnancy-support counselling that was openly anti-abortion?

When asked about the problem of businesses paying women an average 16 per cent less than they pay men in the same job, Abbott admitted that he was unaware that there was still a problem. When asked how he would get more women into politics, he said he did not have a solution.

Even though he is married with three daughters, he freely admits he has been mostly absent from the housework and child-rearing. Is it any wonder that he has no understanding of what Australian women, more than 50 per cent of the population, expect or need from a potential prime minister of their country?

The social and historic changes of the 1960s and 1970s have become firmly fixed in the social fabric of the nation - particularly those changes that affect the lives of women. What Abbott never understood, and still fails to understand today, is that a belief in a woman's right to make choices about her own body, and the belief that everyone has the right to equality despite their gender and sexuality, are not merely ''fashionable'' causes.

These rights are enshrined in legislation, and have been since the 1970s. They will not change, like the length of women's skirts do. To dismiss them alienates him from the women, and many men, who fought so hard in the past and are still fighting to achieve equality and fairness in and out of the workplace.

Women no longer accept that they are not entitled to the same opportunities as men, just as gays are refusing to be treated as second-class citizens, the elderly are agitating for the right to voluntary euthanasia, the young are demanding the development of stem-cell research, and eminent scientists throughout the world are certain that governments have to accept the reality of climate change and take immediate action to reduce carbon pollution or face the tragic consequences.

Abbott, a man of drive, cunning, ambition, and incorrigible determination, is now in a position where he could be leading our country come an election. But what if all his values and beliefs are more suited to the leadership of a conservative, Catholic institution than a modern, secular democracy? What if his attitudes to women are outdated and out of step with what they believe to be true about themselves and their own lives? What if the Australian people want a leader who embraces the future and is not trapped in the past?
The Saturday Age, 01/10/2011

I have long been concerned that Tony Abbott may one day become our Prime Minister. However, even though I personally agree with Susan Mitchell over the statements in this extract, what struck a chord with me was the question regarding a conservative Catholic religion and a modern secular democracy.

Recently I blogged about looking for a primary school for my son. I want to send my children to a local primary school, and we have the choice of either a Catholic or two government primary schools. Ultimately we have decided to enrol him (and later my daughter), in our local government primary school. However, I didn't find this was an easy choice, in fact it almost felt like going against the grain. Allow me to explain.

I have been raised a Catholic. Thirteen years of catholic (all girls) education, a grandmother who is very pious and took it upon herself to teach me the catechism and my husband also had a similar education to mine (although his was all boys) and was an altar boy in his teenage years. Both of us have turned away from the Catholic church, even though, eleven years ago, we were married in one. In fact it's the same church that I received the sacraments (communion and confirmation) and that my husband had served as an altar boy. I don't regret that at all, I have very fond memories of this beautiful bluestone church and it can even be described as a part of me. My son and daughter have been christened at this same church.

This is why, when choosing a school I found it hard to choose something other than catholic. This is why, when reading today Mitchell's words about today's society being modern secular I think my husband and I represent this new society. I had to ask myself, what sort of education do I want my children to have? I certainly don't want it to be dogmatic, one that includes missals and bibles. I want them to question what is around them. I want them to experience things and later on add value to society. I'm not saying that if you're Catholic you can't do all these things, but for me, the church just seems removed. I'm not getting anything out of it. To go to church would be a chore.

But I don't think I'm any less spiritual because of it.

Weighing up both schools, the government primary just seemed to offer more. During our meeting with the school principal, she said that the children at the school seem to be very socially aware, fair-minded, and I liked this. The school seemed to represent a modern secular society, and maybe this is why we chose it, because it meant finally taking that deep breath and actually admitting that this is what our family is. I was brought up as a conservative catholic, but as an adult, I am anything but.

Friday, September 30, 2011

What I've been reading lately....Soulless by Gail Carriger

I think I have a thing for heroines who wield parasols as weapons. This is why I love Amelia Peabody so much and now Alexia Tarabotti, the newest heroine, without a soul, created by author Gail Carriger.

Carriger's book Soulless came to my attention through the literary section of my newspaper. The article talked about Steampunk, and this was the first time I'd ever heard of the term. After some researching, the steampunk genre seemed fascinating so I ended up devising a steampunk reading list. Fast forward to now, and I thought I'd post about this book, as it was such a fun, lighthearted romp, and I can't wait to read the next two books in the series.

I wasn't one of those people who jumped on the vampire and werewolf bandwagon (a la Stephanie Meyer's Twilight series). For some reason Meyer's books didn't appeal to me, and I'm not sure why, as I'm a massive Buffy fan. Maybe after Buffy, there's just no eclipsing it? Anyway, when I initially read that the novel included vampires and werewolves, I hesitated. Then one day, there it was, a paperback copy sitting on the bookshop's shelf, at a good price. Upon perusing, I read, Gail Carriger writes to cope with being raised in obscurity by an expatriate Brit and an incurable curmudgeon. She escaped small town life for Europe and inadvertently acquired an education. She now resides in the Colonies with a harem of Armenian lovers and tea imported from London. I found this author description compelling so I bought the book.

For those who don't know, the Steampunk genre seeks to subvert real history and fictionalise an alternative often set during the Victorian era. The premise of Soulless is that spinster Alexia Tarabotti accidentally kills a vampire and Lord Maccon (a werewolf) is sent by Queen Victoria to investigate. Add to this Victorian social mores, a family that reminded me of the Bennett's and a healthy dose of romance and you have a good backdrop for a story. Alexia is also a strong heroine, and I liked the characters in the book. It's also good if you like corsets and bustles.

Alexia was embarrassed to find that she was reduced to shamefully sneaking out of her own home. It simply would not do to tell her mama she was paying a late-night call on a vampire hive.

Read it if you enjoy Elizabeth Peter's Amelia Peabody series and you want something with a light comedic touch or if all you've been reading lately are those heavy numbers and you need something different.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

M M Kaye

I was in year ten at high school (fifteen years old) when we were set an assignment to do book reports. This sort of thing is always my cup of tea and I remember I happily presented on Mary Stewart's Merlin trilogy. Another girl in my class had read M M Kaye's Death in Berlin, and that was the beginning of the beginning.

If you haven't heard of M M Kaye or read any of her books, she wrote six detective novels reminiscent of Agatha Christie, Mary Stewart's mystery novels, Patricia Wentworth and Dorothy L Sayers.

Further to this is what I feel to be a bit of an affinity with M M Kaye, owing to the fact that she was born in India. Although I have lived my entire life in Australia, my background is Sri Lankan, or namely what is called a Burgher. What this (Dutch) term means, is that we Burgher's have Dutch/Portuguese/English ancestry in our blood, due to the fact that Sri Lanka was colonised by said countries. I've also married an Anglo Indian, and upon meeting his grandparents, on a trip many years ago to India, I felt as though I was sitting on some kind of tea plantation back in Colonial times sipping my afternoon tea with a spread of sandwiches etc in front of me. Yep, that's exactly how it was, you would hardly even think we were even in India. But I'm digressing.

I read Death in Berlin first. This was followed by The far pavilions.
To an impressionable young teenager, Kaye's heroes were certainly worthy of falling in love with. As the years went by I'd devoured everything that she had written only to want more. Unfortunately M M Kaye passed away in 2004, so that is not to be.

Every now and then I like to dip back into her detective novels, even though I know whodunit. Her three historical romance novels are probably more in the vein of Diana Gabaldon's Outlander series. So if you're after someone who writes with that Golden Age touch, M M Kaye comes highly recommended by this Blogger.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

What I've been reading lately... Dark Matter

Ooooh I love a good ghost story. And Michelle Paver's Dark Matter doesn't disappoint. I first read about this book in a review in the literary section of my newspaper. It's 1937, and five men set out to research a remote part of the Arctic called Gruhuken. Written in a diary format by explorer Jack, we read about his enthusiasm to be actually doing something that doesn't involve the looming second world war. Cast as the group's Wireless Operator, Jack describes the freezing cold, having to exit the warmth of their hut for polar temperatures and having each day become darker and darker as the inevitable polar night creeps upon them promising months of winter darkness.

Twilight. Behind the bird cliffs, the red glow of dawn, but to the west it was night: the cold glimmer of stars. The black bones of the mountains jutted through the snow. On the shore, the whale ribs glinted with frost, and the rocks sloping down to the sea were white and smooth. The water was dark purple, vivid and strange. Because of the cliffs, we couldn't see much. We saw the sky turn bloody and inflamed as the sun struggled to rise. We saw a sliver of fire. An abortive dawn. The sun sank back, defeated. Gone.

I mostly read this book at night just before bed. Deliciously fine if you're going to turn off your lamp and snuggle down to sleep, knowing that you're safe and sound, not so much if you need to visit the bathroom in an all-sleeping household.

Jack's journal tells us about a menacing presence that appears on the Arctic beach, malevolent, sorrowful and dangerous. My only gripe with this book was the language didn't evoke 1937 to me. The vernacular seemed much more contemporary. But this didn't steal anything away from the book itself.

Sadly (or maybe luckily depending how you look at it) I picked this book up for five bucks at the bookshop that replaced the one that shut down at my local shopping centre. Apparently all books sold there are now going to cost five dollars. So I'm not really going to complain too much if I'm able to pick up great stories for that price. If you like ghost stories definitely one to read.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

The morning marathon

I don't know about you, but I am absolutely exhausted by the time I have my kids dressed in the morning. Once their shoes are finally on I feel as though I've been through some marathon type race, and then I have to contemplate actually going out. Where to find the energy?

It all begins over the demands of what breakfast cereal they want. Followed by brushing teeth. I make them take turns as the thought of trying to brush both their teeth together in the bathroom (something my husband does regularly) is just too much for me to bear. Then it's the choosing of clothes and actually getting them to put it on. My daughter has hair brushing next, luckily my son wears his hair very short.
Then it's time to leave for the(insert chosen preference here) park, library, playgroup, zoo etc. I've taken to having morning tea at home. I repeatedly say to myself, wait until you've had your coffee and then you'll be ready. So, it's only then, once the caffeine has hit do I venture anywhere.

Once at a playgroup we attended, one mother confided to me that very morning she'd had a huge face-off showdown with her school aged daughter who wanted to wear a particular pair of shoes to school. Mum had won, so by the time she got to playgroup with her younger son, she was a frazzled wreck. It's not worth it, she said. I should have just given in.

But let me now just commend my two little angels in how they have managed to be ready for me to attend my 8am classes this semester. Luckily for me the daycare does breakfast, so that's taken a huge load off our morning. I awaken at 6am, get myself and my bag ready then proceed to wake them, plonking them both on the couch in front of ABC2. I let them slowly wake up and get their clothes ready. By the time I return to have them brush their teeth, they're both fully awake and excited to begin their day. Dressing seems to be fairly seamless and then it's out the door. I was so worried about how they were going to handle these early mornings, but they've both been fantastic.
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