If Blood Should Stain the Wattle

y648This doesn’t happen nearly as often as I would like, but I can honestly say that I loved this book! I’ve only ever really thought of Jackie French in terms of children’s and young adult fiction so was pleasantly surprised to see her grown up offering – If Blood Should Stain the Wattle.

Now it is probably the Australian in me, but I especially loved how Jackie uses famous Australian poetry and folklore that brought a ‘familiar’ spark to the story for me.

If Blood Should Stain the Wattle is full of wonderful, well established characters that have appeared in Jackie French’s earlier ‘Matilda’ series. I haven’t read any of these books yet but this didn’t detract from my enjoyment of this one; instead it made me want to experience them all.

There are fabulous strong female characters who are making their mark in Gibber’s Creek, finding love and setting their sights on conquering the world. Okay, maybe just Australia. Then we have the odd spiritual moment where they converse with ghosts and even manage to peek through time itself. But this is the seventies so the story wouldn’t be complete if there wasn’t a hippy commune on the edge of Gibber’s Creek and a ‘cult leader’ who is receiving messages from aliens. Did I mention that this is also the story of the Whitlam government coming to power?

Stop, come back! Don’t be put off by the inclusion of politicians and their shenanigans within the pages. Jackie French has cleverly woven the information into short excerpts from newspaper reports, and by having characters Jed Kelly and Matilda campaigning to support a Labor government. No boring political twaddle in sight; instead we get to experience first hand what it was like when the Whitlam Government came to power in early 1970s Australia and the subsequent historic dismissal of Gough Whitlam by then Governor-General Sir John Kerr.
This book really does have something for everyone and it won’t disappoint.

The Matilda series began as a trilogy, became a quartet. It was meant to be a history of our nation told from one country town, and the viewpoints of those who had no political voice in 1892, when the series begins: women, indigenous people, Chinese, Afghans.
But, by book four, I realised that history didn’t stop just because I was born, and that the series will continue as long as I live.” (Jackie French)

The quartet Jackie French is referring to is now a sextet – and who knows how many more there may be. So if you want to start at the very beginning the titles in order are:

  1. A Waltz for Matilda
  2. The Girl From Snowy River
  3. The Road to Gundagai
  4. To Love a Sunburnt Country
  5. The Ghost by the Billabong
  6. If Blood Should Stain the Wattle

Cover of A waltz for MatildaCover of the girl from Snowy Riverimage_proxy[3]Cover of To love a sunburnt countryCover of The ghost by the billabongCover of If Blood should stain the wattle

If Blood Should Stain the Wattle
by Jackie French
Published by HarperCollins New Zealand
ISBN: 9781460753118

Lucy Dillon – All I Ever Wanted

Cover of All I ever wantedCaitlin and Eva have something and nothing in common. They’ve both lost their husbands. While Eva is the poised, business-like widow of a celebrity actor, Caitlin is a free spirit who dropped out of university to have a child, and is seperated from Eva’s brother, Patrick.

When Patrick volunteers Eva’s pristine, designer house for fortnightly visits between Patrick and his children Joel and Nancy, Eva is forced out of her comfort zone of grief and into facing her future without Mick, her famous husband.

Nancy, only four, is carrying a secret. Unable to speak since the separation, Nancy thinks it was her wish that made her father go away…

All I Ever Wanted tells the story of how this family is broken apart, then brought together by a common goal: to get Nancy to speak again,

Lucy Dillon writes with an eye for physical detail and emotional nuance, she skillfully relates the feeling of a parent unable to help their child, the frustration of a couple unable to communicate and the pain of Eva’s childllessness. She notes the personality traits that make us unique, and the ways in which we understand and misunderstand one another.

I was swept up in the often moving journey of her characters. A little gushy towards the end (I’m not normally a romance reader) this is a powerfully written book.

All I ever wanted
by Lucy Dillon
Published by Hachette New Zealand
ISBN: 9781444796049

YA reviews: Clover moon, Don’t even think about it, and Think twice

Want the skinny on books? Check out what the Cashmere High School Read and Review Team have to say.

Clover Moon by Jacqueline Wilson

Cover of Clover moonYet another (amazing) book about a broken family. This sad story about a young girl who lives in rags is definitely a must-read for Jacqueline Wilson fans. I loved the connection with Hetty Feather! The beginning of the story is all rather upsetting, with almost no chance of getting any better. But at the end things turn out just fine! Clover is a sweet girl who loves to look after children, she doesn’t tend to get along well with kids her age however Clover is brighter than most of them! She uses her intelligence to find her place at The Girls’ Institute and finally a more permanent home.  I would love another book about Clover to see what she gets up to!

Don’t Even Think About it & Think Twice by Sarah Mlynowski

Cover of Don't even think about itI absolutely love this two-part series about telepathy! Jam-packed with an amazing plot and heaps and heaps of love triangles. Before reading this book, I warn you that the ending contains a massive plot twist; that requires a little knowledge about chemical elements. Some of my favourite things about these books, besides the unique use of telepathy, was probably the range of personalities. Each character was different and all of them went on different journeys, experiencing their ESP (telepathy) in different ways.

Both reviews by Genevieve (Y9)

Read more reviews by high school students

The Atomic Weight of Love

Book cover of The Atomic Weight of Love by Elizabeth J ChurchThe Atomic Weight of Love is the debut novel of Elizabeth J. Church and I hope we see a lot more books from her. This book is an ideal Christmas present. It appeals to a wide audience and will make a great holiday read and is not without a little racy love interest.

Meridian has won a place at the University of Chicago where she studies ornithology working towards a graduate degree and eventual doctorate. Just as her wings are opening and she starts to glimpse new horizons she falls in love with a college professor two decades older than herself and her wings are clipped.

It is written in a memoir style following Meridian as a woman growing up in the 1940s through the fifties and sixties into the seventies and the emergence of women’s liberation. You will find yourself reflecting at times how so much has changed yet still remains the same.

Meri marries Alden and follows him to Los Alamos where she attempts to fit into the group of ex-academic wives she meets there. It is the era when a wife is expected to follow their husband and make the best of it. She struggles to be a good wife while salvaging something of her studies by continuing to study Crows, having left her graduate study dreams behind her.

The novel’s dual strands, the place of women with the emergence of the women’s liberation movement, and the atomic bomb with its resulting anti-war Vietnam and Korean war movements, almost splits it characters by gender over its two themes.

Some of the characters could do with more development – they feel a little clichéd. It seems women have little to say on war in this novel and men little say on the home front. Even for the times this feels a little stretched. She skims over the women who Meridian meets in Los Alamos except her best friend Belle, a strong woman who urges her not to minimise herself yet when it comes to the crunch still tells her to stay in her marriage and try to make it work.

That being said bird studies draw amusing parallels between human and bird society. Each section of the novel starts with an ornithological reference “A Parliament of Owls”, “A Deceit of Lapwings, “A Murder of Crows”. When Meridian meets Clay, a young hippie ex-marine about two decades younger than her, it seems they are about to repeat past mistakes. Her husband seems not to understand her sacrifice while her lover urges her to soar again.

Read the novel to find out if she does.

It is an enjoyable debut novel with a poetical style and reminds me of The Guernsey Potato Peel Literary Society, The Light between Oceans and The Shipping news. If you like nature and have a slightly scientific bent you will enjoy it and even learn a little physics on the way.

The Atomic Weight of Love
by Elizabeth J. Church
Published by HarperCollins New Zealand
ISBN: 9780008209292

YA reviews: All the bright places, The catalyst and The originals

Want the skinny on books? Check out what the Cashmere High School Read and Review Team have to say.

Cover of All the bright placesAll the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven

“Sometimes when we’re in the darkest places, we find the brightest light.”

Extremely moving, will make you feel joy, sadness and inspired all at once! All The Bright Places is an amazing book, it keeps you on your toes and is impossible to put down! I totally recommend it for teenagers!

– Genevieve (Y9)

Cover of The catalystThe Catalyst by Helena Coggan

It has been eighteen years since the world they knew was ripped apart around them, eighteen years since the ‘Veil’ between their world and the beyond shattered. Human were split into the magically Gifted and the non magic Ashkind.

Rose Elmsworth is fifteen year old Gifted working with her father at the Department, an organisation that holds power in the crumbling war-torn society. In Rose’s world monsters reside within men and women, and there is no one you can truly trust, not even yourself.

The Catalyst establishes a unique dystopian world that is the perfect setting for this dark fantasy story and leads perfectly into the second book in the series (The Reaction). It was an enjoyable read with interesting and intriguing characters.

I would rate The Catalyst 4 out of 5.

– Cassie

Cover of The originalsThe Originals by Cat Patrick

Elizabeth Best is a name, not a person. Elizabeth is the name used, and split, by 3 sister-clones: Lizzy, Ella and Betsy. Their mother is a scientist and cloned 3 “test subjects”. She intends to kill the two clones that aren’t ‘perfect’ but instead she gets too attached to the girls and runs away with them. She makes the girls live a third of a life until, one day, the girls have had enough.

I’ve read this book twice and the second time, even though I knew what was going to happen, I felt myself sitting there holding my breath! This book is amazing and you would be silly not to read it.

I rate it 4 out of 5.

– Eibhlin

Cool stuff from the selectors: Cars, recipes, and science

9781613252024Exotic Barn Finds: Lamborghini, Ferrari, Porsche, Aston Martin and More by Matthew Stone.

It seems everywhere you turn, on TV, at your library or favorite bookstore, Internet forums, and even social media, people are discovering and documenting the resurrection of old cars stored in barns, garages, and forgotten resting places.

Really?  I must be out of the loop –  but if you enjoy the idea of a rusted 1925 Bugatti Type 22 Bresia, found at the bottom of a lake that sold for $360,000 (US) even before any restoration was started – then this is the book for you.

Lab Girl9780349006192 by Hope Jahren

We don’t always equate being a scientist with being a great writer, however Hope Jahren manages to combine both skills to produce a book that has become a surprise bestseller. Lab Girl is a book about work and about love.

In Lab Girl, we see anew the complicated power of the natural world, and the power that can come from facing with bravery and conviction the challenge of discovering who you are.

Life Without a Recipe9780393249095 by Diana Abu-Jaber

I remember reading The Language of Baklava and feeling it was a nonfiction book written like a novel, and not being a big nonfiction reader this was perfect for me, and a few added recipes made it even better.  I am hoping for big things from Diana Abu-Jaber’s new book which promises:

struggles with cross-cultural values and how they shaped her coming of age and her culinary life, tracing her three marriages, her literary ambitions, and her midlife decision to become a parent.

Men writing about love

/Cover of The Course of LoveFirst some facts:

  • There is only one male Mills and Boon writer – and he writes under his wife’s name
  • and four grudgingly recognised female writers of Westerns (and they are accused of bending that particular genre in more ways than one).

In-between these gender outliers, it’s a bit of a free for all. Nevertheless, despite the fact that all men will have loved, far fewer men write romantic fiction, or books about love.

And I’m not including here books where there’s a sprinkling of lurve on top of a mountain of general bad behaviour and savagery. I’m talking about contemporary authors who truly attempt to reveal what they understand about love. Authors who lay themselves bare, who wrestle with love, whose hearts have (in all probability) been broken. Those men.

Cover of BullfightingAnd they do exist, but let’s just get the following man writers out of the way: Tony Parsons (with books like Man and Boy), David Nicholls (One Day and Us) and Nicholas Sparks (anything romantic that has recently been filmed, like Message in a Bottle). They are all popular, they all write well, but they feel to me like observers, one step distant from real involvement. They tell stories about men and women in love, but they don’t dig that deep.

My “Men who write about love” do it in a way that is very revealing to women, in books that will make you look differently at male bravado, and with characters who are almost certainly based on their own experiences. Authors like this:

This is a terribly Non-PC blog, I know. After all, why even bother distinguishing the gender of writers? Why not include gay writers and those who are transgender? But it gets worse, because  what I think I am really trying to say here is that men write better books about love than women do.

Prove me wrong.

Modern modem romance

Cover of Modern romanceModern Romance by US comedian Aziz Ansari (of Parks and Recreation fame) is just another in a growing list of books I have started reading expecting one thing, but which turned out to be something else entirely (looking at you, High-rise).

What I had expected was a comedic look at modern courtship, man-woman relationships in the internet age etc. Having previously watched a bit of Ansari’s stand-up via YouTube, I knew this was a topic that he touches on a lot, so I expected to read a more or less extended stand-up routine. One man’s humorous philosophy on the opposite sex, feminism, relationship blunders and so on. Something similar to what Chris Rock was writing 10 years ago.

Um, yes. But also…no.

In fact, Modern Romance, is solidly non-fiction. Ansari, himself caught up in the changing courtship habits of a dating populace now fixated with mobile devices, became intrigued with what seemed a very flawed and frustrating process –

I got fascinated by the questions of how and why so many people have become so perplexed by the challenge of doing something that people have always done quite efficiently: finding romance. I started asking people I knew if there was a book that would help me understand the many challenges of looking for love in the digital age.

He didn’t find exactly the book he was looking for SO HE WROTE IT.

He wrote the book with help (Eric Klinenberg, Professor of Sociology at New York University is co-author), and after undertaking quite a bit of research with the help of online dating websites like OKCupid, as well as interviews, and focus groups. Most comedians don’t quote focus groups in their books, unless by “focus group” you mean “crazy cab drivers I’ve conversed with”. Nor do they have thorough indices and footnotes for the many research papers they cite.

So rather than being a written comedy routine with the occasional fact thrown in, Modern Romance is a book about the effect of technology on modern dating mores, (but with swearing and jokes). What Ben Goldacre did for Bad Science, Aziz Ansari has done for the sociology of modern dating.

But does it work? On the whole, yes. For someone who wasn’t intending to learn anything particularly much from Modern Romance (I am not on “the market”), it does a good job of entertaining and informing. I’ve learned that less choice can actually be a good thing, that the search for perfection in a mate is a fool’s errand, and though I’ve never used the dating app Tinder, I now understand better what it does and why it’s so popular. I’ve also been given a window into differing dating “cultures” via interviews with singles in Tokyo, Paris, and Buenos Aires.

And this isn’t really related to anything but I really wanted to include this quote about a Tokyo barman with an apparently quite active love-life who Ansari describes thusly –

Like most fedora wearers, he had a lot of inexplicable confidence.

This book has a lot of wisdom to offer, on a great many things, it seems.

So what are the takeaways from Modern Romance, other than ramen recommendations from Tokyo (Ansari is something of a “foodie” and the book is liberally littered with references to delicious meals), and the characteristics of hat-wearers?

  • Don’t get so caught up in the multitude of options that you forget to actually pay attention to and invest time in the person you’re with.
  • Make introductions online but don’t date online. Dating is a real world activity.
  • Treat potential partners like real people, not a bubble on a screen.

If you’re a bit sensitive to swear words then Modern Romance probably isn’t the read for you but thankfully Ansari and Klinenberg have included a bibliography of titles they consulted when writing their book, so one of the below may be of interest instead.

Cover of It's complicated: the social lives of networked teens Cover of Love @ First Click The Ultimate Guide to Online Dating Cover of The art of choosing Cover of Everything I ever needed to know about economics I learned from online dating cover of Sex at Dawn cover of Alone together Cover of Data, a love story Cover of Going solo the extraordinary rise and surprising appeal of living alone

Any thoughts on how modern technology is affecting our approach to courtship? Is it okay to ask someone out on a date via text message?

Chick Lit and the armchair traveller

Chick Lit is not as popular as it once was, at least publishers seem to think so. Chick Lit is light, quick, generally uplifting, at times thought provoking, romantic and quirky.  Armchair travel seems to quite easily rub up against chick lit – plenty of romance, exotic locations, quirky interesting characters and plenty of action. Try out some of these titles:

Head Over heelHead over Heel Chris Harrison

On a trip to Dublin, Chris falls head over heels in love with Daniela, an Italian girl with eyes the colour of Guinness, and follows her to her small home town of Andrano on the coast of Puglia. Among olive groves and cobblestone lanes, Chris takes us on a moving, insightful and often hilarious journey into the heart of Southern Italy.  Can this relationship with Southern Italy possibly survive or will the sweet life turn sour?

My Paris DreamMy Paris dream : life, love and fashion in the great city by the Seine Kate Betts

On a leap of faith Betts moves to Paris to throw herself into Parisian culture, master French and a find a job that would give her a reason to stay. After a series jobs, she begins a magnificent apprenticeship at Women’s Wear Daily and is initiated into the high fashion world. Betts gives us a view of what it is to be a  young woman, finding yourself, falling in love, and exploring this dazzling world all at once.

Cover of 50 year silenceA fifty-year silence : love, war and a ruined house in France Miranda Richmond Mouillot

After escaping the Nazi occupation, Miranda Richmond Mouillot’s grandparents, Anna and Armand, bought an old stone house in the south of France. Five years later, Anna packed her bags and walked out on Armand and the two never saw or spoke to each other again. This is the account of Miranda’s journey as she immerses herself in letters and archival materials, slowly teasing out what happened to her Grandparents.  Along the way she finds herself learning to survive, and to thrive in making a home in the village …and falling in love.

Sideways on a ScooterSideways on a scooter : life and love in India Miranda Kennedy

When twentysomething reporter Miranda Kennedy leaves her New York job and travels to India with no employment prospects, she longs to immerse herself in the turmoil and excitement of a rapidly developing country. She Lives in Delhi for more than five years, experiences friendships, love affairs, and alters her own attitudes about everything.

Ho Not to Travel the WorldHow not to travel the world : adventures of a disaster-prone backpacker Lauren Juliff

When Lauren left to go travelling, she thought she would instantly become a glamorous backpacker. But after being mugged, scammed, caught up in a tsunami and experiencing a very unhappy ending during a massage, she realised that learning how NOT to travel the world was the most enlightening experience she could have hoped for. It was just as she was about to give up on travel when she stumbled across a handsome New Zealander with a love of challenges…

The whirlThe whirl : men, music & misadventures Jane Cornwell

Travelling the world in search of love, great music and good stories, Cornwall collects relationship ‘experiences’ the way the rest of us do souvenir tea towels or postcards.

A fearless and funny search for love, connection and a man who can dance salsa with her (and not ask for money afterwards), this is a truly sexy travel memoir of music, men and mistakes for the adventurer in all of us.

Love in the elephant TendLove in the elephant tent : how running away with the circus brought me home Kathleen Cremonesi

On a whim, this former administrative assistant with wanderlust took a job as a dancer in an Italian circus and, working her way up, became an ostrich-riding, shark-taming showgirl. Kathleen bonds with the exotic animals that could strike and kill at any moment, but instead bring her a peace she has never known. And when she stumbles into the arms of Stefano, the sexy elephant keeper, she finds a man who understands her wild spirit.

The birdwatcher’s guide to love

Cover of A Guide to the Birds of East AfricaIt took a couple of months for my husband to reveal his hobbies to me when first we met. He slapped Amateur Radio on the table pretty early on (I think he knew I would never really understand what it was all about. He was right.) He then drip fed his love of Opera – still I hung in there. But I think even he knew that Birdwatching might be a shove too far, so we were well into the relationship before I finally went on a birding outing. But it is only recently that I’ve noticed bird watching fiction books flying off the shelves.

A Guide to the Birds of East Africa by Nicholas Drayson was our Book Group read of the month just recently. It sounds as if it will be a field guide and almost looks like one, but in fact it is a charming story about winning the love of a woman in a bird watching competition. It is like Alexander McCall Smith but set in Kenya. The main character – Mr Malek – is an Indian gentleman with a comb-over. It is his absolute integrity that takes us for a wander through a quite sanitized Kenya. It’s all rather darling.

Cover of H is for HawkH is for Hawk, on the other hand, although about birds – well, hawks in particular, is a true story about the author (Helen Macdonald) and her need to train a wild hawk to assuage the pain she felt on the death of her beloved father. It is not sweet and cute; it is hard and true and very revealing. It is on the extremities of bird watching; I can’t see Helen ever joining a Sunday walking birding group for a bit of twitching.

Other recent reads with birds as a theme include Bellman and Black by Diane Setterfield where crows and the superstitions around them play an important role in the structure and ominousness of this novel set in Victorian times. The Birdwatcher by William McInnes is a poignant read about twitchers and secrets and changing your life. And Snapper by Brian Kimberling is a romp of a read with a beautiful cover: “Snapper is a book about birdwatching, a woman who won’t stay true, and a pick-up truck that won’t start”. Finally, before you get too cosy, you must read the brilliant, chilling novella by Daphne du Maurier The Birds – later made into a horror film by Alfred Hitchcock.

Cover of SnapperTurned out I would grow to love birding: the pre-dawn start with the sounds and smells of the bush at Ndumo Game Reserve slowly coming to life. I loved the coffee pit stop, the walking, the camaraderie. On my first major outing, everyone wanted to find one particular bird: a Pel’s Fishing Owl. What chance did I have? I knew nothing about birds and had yet to be gifted my own binoculars. Hours into the walk, I felt the call of nature and snuck furtively away from the group into bushy scrubland and managed – inadvertently, to flush out the Pel’s Fishing Owl – which flew in a graceful arc over the Pongola River for all to see.

I recommend birding men as potential partners. They are observant, patient, good listeners who love nature, plus they know when to shut up. And when you flush out the bird of the day (for all the wrong reasons), they remain proud of you – and buy you your own binoculars!