Book Review: A Child of Books by Oliver Jeffers and Sam Winston

‘I am a child of books. I come from a world of stores. And upon my imagination, I float.’

– Oliver Jeffers and Sam Winston, A Child of Books

9781406358315-a-child-of-books-by-oliver-jeffers-and-sam-winston

REVIEW

This review is a special one for me; I don’t usually review picture books but this one is an exception… I have been waiting months for this book to come out and I am lost for words… almost! I don’t think I have been so moved by a book in a very long time. I have always loved Oliver Jeffers’ books but this one is extraordinary. I keep tearing up… it has literally spoken to my soul. My not-so-inner-child is extremely happy right now!

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Let’s start at the very beginning! The cover evokes a sense of adventure, that something special is about to begin. There is a little girl – the Child of Books – sitting on top of a book with a key hole on the front of it. The book’s shadow – very cleverly – is compiled of the first lines of some very famous children’s stories. When you remove the jacket (which as a side note you should always do to see if there is a beautiful design underneath), the reader is treated to a red, cloth bound book with gold lettering… exactly like the one the little girl is sitting on! Those two things on their own is enough to make me swoon… and then you open the cover and the story begins…

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A Child of Books is an exploration of imagination and the magic of books. It is a love story written to inspire children (of all ages) to find their own narrative and create their own story. We meet the young girl, who floats upon her imagination. She sails towards a boy whom she encourages to sail across a sea of words with her – through the words of children’s literature – to ‘travel over mountains of make-believe’, ‘discover treasure in the darkness’, ‘lose [themselves] in forests of fairy tales’ and ‘sleep in clouds of song’. The girl is a creation, grown from many voices. She knows the way through the world of imagination and offers a hand to the boy, who represents a child not yet bitten by the book bug.

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Oliver Jeffers has been one of my favourite children’s storytellers since I came across Lost and Found many years ago. His stories are profound yet subtle and always delightful. They have dealt with some quite serious themes yet always told with tenderness and care. His stories are beautiful and poignant. A Child of Books is told in Jeffers’ trademark style however when combined with the typographic landscapes – by the brilliant Sam Winston – it becomes something else. Winston’s illustrations and use of typography are exciting and fun. His landscapes are built from excerpts of stories and lullabies and together with the story, they pay homage to the history of children’s literature and the power of imagination. ‘For this is our world, we’ve made from stories…’ and for me, this is a place of wonder and pure joy. A Child of Books is quite possibly my favourite picture book… ever. I cannot encourage you enough to find a copy, sit in a quiet corner and enjoy what I think is something very, very special.

AUTHOR: Oliver Jeffers and Sam Winston

ISBN: 9781406358315

PUBLISHER: Walker Books Australia

RRP: $27.99

PUB DATE: 1 September 2016

 

Thank you to Walker Books Australia for sending me a reading copy in exchange for an honest review!

 

Book Review: The Loose Ends List by Carrie Firestone

“So why are we leaving?…’Because I have things on my Loose Ends list, silly, and time is ticking. And I suppose I’m a little afraid to die. It brings me comfort knowing I ca go on my own terms.”

Carrie Firestone, The Loose Ends List

SYNOPSIS

Maddie O’Neill Levine wants to spend the summer before college tying up loose ends with her best friends – kissing boys and soaking up the last of the summer sun. Then her beloved grandmother drops a bombshell; she has been diagnosed with cancer. To spend quality time with her family, Maddie’s grandmother takes the whole family on a round-the-word cruise – but at the end of it, Gram might not return home.

Here is a story about love, loss and the power of forgiveness.

9781444929362 The Loose Ends List by Carrie Firestone

REVIEW

This is a really difficult book for me to review not because of the themes but because I liked and disliked it in equal parts. The Loose Ends List by Carrie Firestone is a beautiful story tackling a really controversial and sensitive topic however her main character is mostly self-absorbed, distasteful and frustrating. This book is the first one in the young adult section I have seen or read that deals with voluntary euthanasia or death-with-dignity – a surprising topic for teen readers!

Maddie Levine is a privileged, white, socialite teenager planning a ‘loose ends list’ (similar to a bucket list) of things she wants to complete before she goes off to college. Unfortunately, her grandmother announces she has terminal cancer and wants to take the whole family on an secret eight-week death-with-dignity cruise over the summer to celebrate her life and end it on her terms. The cruise consists of multiple locations all over the world. Along with her family – a cast of quirky characters – Maddie must overcome her fear of death and sickness to farewell her grandmother in style.

Maddie is an incredibly annoying character. She is pretty and popular, she doesn’t drink (unlike her ’sloppy’ friends) and is overly careful and safe. She is fearful of sickness and death and views the other patients on the cruise with wariness. She is completely self-absorbed and really selfish. “I’m Queen Bee because they say I strut around like a snobby teenager. I guess between that and scrunch face, I should get the hint.” Except she doesn’t! She is more concerned with falling in love and losing her virginity; her grandmother Astrid wants her to learn to live, and apparently living consists of having sex, smoking weed, getting a tattoo and learning to accept death. At one stage Maddie comments on the size of her uncle’s ‘package’ – is this really necessary?

In complete contrast to this, Firestone’s treatment of the patients and their stories, experiences and illnesses are beautiful. She is empathetic, sympathetic, and respectful of their choices. I love that this story is all about celebrating life. There is a really lovely line that says, “one woman explained it as wanting to find as much meaning in the act of dying as she did in the act of living.” There are some seriously sweet moments and some very sad ones that had me tearing up on public transport, over and over again. Thanks to an unlimited money supply, there are no expenses spared when it comes to giving the patients and their families as many opportunities to celebrate and enjoy what time they have left as possible. I don’t understand how an author can write such a stunning story with such an unlikeable main character. I don’t believe she redeems herself either… however by the end of the book I was so annoyed with her that I may have missed her turning point… if there was one!

Overall, I think The Loose Ends List is definitely worth reading. Other readers may not find the protagonist quite as annoying as I did… I guess we just have very different ways of looking at things! I think it is quite a brave topic to write about and I really believe she treated it with the respect it needed! This book comes with a don’t-read-on-public-transport warning… tears are definitely inevitable!

 

AUTHOR: Carrie Firestone

ISBN: 9781444929362

PUBLISHER: Hachette

RRP: $16.99

PUB DATE: June 16

 

Thank you to Hachette for sending me a reading copy in exchange for an honest review!

Book Review: The Road to Winter by Mark Smith

“Angowrie is deserted now, all the shops cleaned out and most of the houses stripped of anything useful. Before the virus, when the town was still a town, we thought our isolation would save us.

– Mark Smith, The Road to Winter

SYNOPSIS

Since a deadly virus and the violence that followed wiped out his parents and most of his community, Finn has lived alone on the rugged coast with only his loyal dog Rowdy for company.

He has stayed alive for two winters—hunting and fishing and trading food, and keeping out of sight of the Wilders, an armed and dangerous gang that controls the north, led by a ruthless man named Ramage.

But Finn’s isolation is shattered when a girl runs onto the beach. Rose is a Siley—an asylum seeker—and she has escaped from Ramage, who had enslaved her and her younger sister, Kas. Rose is desperate, sick, and needs Finn’s help. Kas is still missing somewhere out in the bush. And Ramage wants the girls back—at any cost.

9781925355123 The Road to Winter by Mark Smith

REVIEW

When a book lands on your desk with a claim likening it to one of your favourite childhood series, your expectations soar. It is a dangerous thing to do! The Tomorrow series by John Marden was my first introduction to the post-apocalyptic world and to dystopian fiction. The post-apocalyptic genre is a well-trodden path and while Smith hasn’t tried to reinvent the wheel with The Road to Winter, he has written a story that readers will really love.

Finn and his loyal companion Rowdy have survived on their own for two winters since the virus and the subsequent violence killed both his parents and the rest of the population. Finn has been living off the stores his father collected before his death and his survival skills have kept him alive this long. He keeps a mostly solitary existence – lonely yet content – however this is interrupted one day when Finn meets Rose, a Siley running from the violent and malevolent Ramage, leader of the Wilders. Rose is in no state to search for her sister Kas whom she was separated from  days before, so Finn decides to trust Rose and help her find her sister. For the first time, Finn doesn’t have his own safety to consider and in helping Rose, Finn ends up with a target on his back too. Will they find Kas before Ramage and his men do?

The main protagonist Finn is a good kid. He spends his time rabbit hunting and surfing – his only escape – and appreciates the beauty of the world around him. He has excellent survival skills and seems to understand the land he lives on. He is kind and generous and doesn’t appear to be poisoned by his situation nor have any evil inside him. He is curious about Rose and genuinely interested in who she is and where she comes from. Rose is a Siley – an asylum seeker who was sold to a family who couldn’t have children of their own. The reader gets the feeling that Siley’s are treated like slaves, beneath those who they’re owned by. Although Rose claims the family treated her and Kas fairly well, it is clear that others don’t share the same views. Ramage and the other Wilders are menaces and when the themes of the book deal with rape and human rights, you get a pretty good idea of their character. Smith shows sympathy and concern for those who are marginalised – in this case asylum seekers and females in general – and I really like that. Because of these issues, it also makes it a hard book to recommend. I would suggest this book straddles the upper young adult market and adult fiction. The first of three books, The Road to Winter is a story about survival, honour and friendship –  great read!

 

AUTHOR: Mark Smith

ISBN: 9781925355123

PUBLISHER: Text Publishing

RRP: $19.99

PUB DATE: 27 June 2016

 

Thank you to Text Publishing for sending me a reading copy in exchange for an honest review!

Book Review: Speaking Out by Tara Moss

“I like good strong words that mean something…” 
– Louisa May Alcott, Little Women

SYNOPSIS.

An accessible, timely and practical handbook for women on speaking out safely and confidently from no.1 non-fiction bestseller Tara Moss. Worldwide, less than one out of every four people we hear from or about in the media is female, and men outnumber women in parliament by more than three to one. If half of humanity’s experiences, perspectives and possible solutions to world problems are under-represented, or entirely unheard, all of us lose out.

Tara Moss has spent 20 years in the public sphere and has had to face down nerves, critics and backlash to emerge as a leader in speaking out. In this handbook she offers advice on preparation, speaking out and negotiating public spaces. With a special focus on public speaking, writing, social media and online safety, she offers tips on how to research, form arguments, find support and handle criticism. This is a guide for women young and old that not only helps them find their voice, but argues passionately for why it matters. 

9781460751336 Speaking Out by Tara Moss

REVIEW

Tara Moss is a woman extraordinaire. She is an author, journalist, TV presenter and human rights advocate. In 2014, her first non-fiction book – The Fictional Woman – was published and it was one of my favourite books that year. It was an insightful, passionate and intelligent exploration of what it means to be a woman. Moss detailed the issues faced by the modern woman including power imbalances, inequalities and under-representation. She discussed the politics of motherhood, body image and the portrayal of women in the media, advertising, entertainment and politics. In her new book Speaking Out, Moss offers a how-to guide to finding your voice and using it!

We are surrounded by words all day, every day. Words that hold incredible power no matter what form they come in. Speaking Out is a handbook made up of Moss’ hard-won practical advice. She encourages women to find their voice in a male-saturated world; with only one in four voices heard in the public sphere being female, we are severely under-represented!  The digital age has created many exciting ways to speak however it has also provided a space for people to respond and it isn’t always in the most positive of ways. I think we underestimate the longevity of what we write and the impact it can have.

Speaking Out is a valuable tool for females of all ages (and males too) to learn how to use their voice. It has advice for improving writing, mastering public speaking, surviving criticism, dealing with vicarious trauma, creating a safe online space and self-care! The information is current, relevant and important and presented in Moss’ approachable and accessible manner. It is a must read and a valuable resource that should make its way onto every bookshelf!

 

Here is the link to my review of The Fictional Womanhttp://wp.me/p4G9hc-32

 

AUTHOR: Tara Moss

ISBN: 9781460751336

PUBLISHER: Harper Collins Publishers Australia

RRP: $22.99

PUB DATE: 23 May 2016

 

Thank you to Harper Collins for sending me a reading copy in exchange for an honest review!

Book Review: The House Between Tides by Sarah Maine

“So there it was: Muirlan Strand. And there was the island, as her grandmother had described it, on the edge of the world, and there, standing tall on a ridge, she had seen the house itself, the painter’s eyrie. Silhouetted against the complex hues of the western sky.”

Sarah Maine, The House Between Tides

SYNOPSIS

A captivating story of a crumbling estate in the wilds of Scotland, its century-old secret and an enduring mystery.

Following the deaths of her last living relatives, Hetty Deveraux leaves her strained marriage behind in London and journeys to Scotland to inspect her inheritance: her ancestral home, now in ruins. As Hetty dives headfirst into the repairs, she discovers a shocking secret protected by the house for a hundred years.

With only whispered rumours circulating among the local villagers and a handful of leads to guide her, Hetty finds the power of the past is still affecting her present in startling ways.

9781760291402 The House Between Tides by Sarah Maine

REVIEW

I don’t know what it is about remote Scottish places that seem so damn alluring and intriguing! The House Between Tides by Sarah Maine evokes an air of mystery with the cover before you’ve had a chance to open up to the first page! I will have to travel there one day… but for now I will have to be content with reading about these places instead! I was excited to read this book from the moment I pulled it out of the letter box!

In 2010, Hetty Devreaux inherits a crumbling mansion atop Muirland Island, a wild and remote part of the Scottish coast. Hetty hopes the edge-of-the-world location will be a fresh start for her, away from her stifling city life. The house once belonged to a distant relative; Theodore Blake is a reclusive artist from the late 1800’s who moved himself and his bride Beatrice to the island in 1910. Beatrice also finds the island a restorative place, away from the restrictive behaviours and expectations of their social circle in the city. The discovery of human remains below the floor in the old house dating from Theodore and Beatrice’s time leads Hetty on an investigation of her family’s past and brings her closer to a century-old drama. The House Between Tides is the tale of two women living a hundred years apart yet both fighting for independence and respect.

The House Between Tides is a really beautifully crafted novel. Maine’s descriptions are vivid and evocative; the island, its landscape and the weather are a force unto themselves. Even the house has a personality of its own! What appeals to me the most is the gothic nature of the story: the downfall of the Blake family, the glory of the natural surroundings and the fact that the characters are at its whim. I love the way the romance and mystery are tied up together – one cannot be discussed without revealing the other – and the way the women play such an important role, although they’re not without their struggles. The old mansion is an imposing figure on the island and represents the power struggles going on within and around it. The inequalities between landowner and tenant, husband and wife and friends are explored in depth and it is a really fascinating cast of characters. They each have a role to play and Maine’s ability to bring them to life is a joy to read. I loved Beatrice; she is a strong-willed and independent woman who loves deeply, and respects both people and nature in equal measure. She was highlight for me! To finish, The House Between Tides is another must read to add to your reading pile!

 

AUTHOR: Sarah Maine

ISBN: 9781760291402

PUBLISHER: Allen and Unwin

RRP: $29.99

PUB DATE: 22 June 2016

 

Thank you to Allen and Unwin for sending me a reading copy in exchange for an honest review!

 

Blog Post: Melbourne Writers Festival 2016

“I read a book one day and my whole life was changed.”
― Orhan Pamuk

This week I have enjoyed being a part of the Melbourne Writers Festival. I have attended three events and have thoroughly enjoyed them all. I am embarrassed to admit that while I occasionally attend bookish events, this is my first writer’s festival. I wish I could have attended more events!

My first event at the Melbourne Writers Festival 2016!

My first event at the Melbourne Writers Festival 2016!

My first event was seeing Melina Marchetta at the Doncaster Library talking about her new book Speak the Truth, Shame the Devil. Melina is one of my top 5 authors and I was ridiculously excited to meet her for the first time. Her new book sounds amazing and it was a joy to hear her talk about past characters. There is no doubting Melina’s passion for writing and the stories she creates. I could have sat there all night… she is amazing!

On the Jellicoe Road - Signed!

On the Jellicoe Road – Signed!

My second event was called ‘Why I Read’ with Magda Szubanski and Damon Young (an Australian philosopher). It was a fascinating talk, pinpointing key moments in their reading histories. They discussed the books that have inspired and influenced them as people and as professionals. The usual suspects were there – like Enid Blyton – and many other authors and books I had never heard of or read. They spoke of the power of children’s books and what readers find so attractive. Adventure books are always a favourite and Young suggested this is because they allow the characters to experiment and explore without authority and judgement. They are full of goodness, something that can stay with a reader for life.

Why I Read - Magda Szubanski and Damon Young

Why I Read – Magda Szubanski and Damon Young

Magda spoke of the difficulties she had reading during adolescence when she was facing difficult personal experiences. The reasons were something I think can apply to a reader of any age; it has been quoted many times that one reads to know they’re not alone. However, if a reader cannot see themselves or their experiences in a book they may lose interest. Of course, this doesn’t apply to all readers however I think we can all agree that at some point, we have gone searching for something in our books for comfort. I know I do it – often!

Damon was there to promote his new book The Art of Reading and the last question asked of him was ‘what makes a perfect reader’? Damon suggested that a perfect reader doesn’t exist but rather a good one does. He suggested that a good reader is one who is curious and courageous. He suggested that courage is knowing when to stop reading or step back from a book. I completely agree with this; there have been times when I have picked up a book and persevered to the end and disliked it, when perhaps I should have put it down and picked it up again when I was in a different frame of mind. There can be many reasons to put down a book and maybe we should be a little less afraid to do so! Magda added to Damon’s answer by suggesting a good reader is like a good listener – they have the ability to see what the writer is trying to say without imposing their views over the top.

It got me thinking… am I a good reader? I consider myself to be a good reader. I have read a smattering of classics, I adore Australian literature and constantly indulge in children’s books. I consider myself to be an open-minded reader; despite having clear ideas of what I like and don’t like, I am happy to be persuaded to try something outside my comfort zone. I find great pleasure in many different genres and am not ashamed/ will not be shamed by my choices. I read to learn and I read to escape but most importantly, I read for myself and my pleasure alone. I can be a little judgemental, however I try and reserve my judgement until after I have read the title in question so at least it is informed judgement… this is definitely something I will be working on! Just because I don’t like something doesn’t mean it won’t be perfect for someone else!

From left to right: Marisa Pintado, Susan Hawthorne, Urvashi Butalia and Alice Grundy

From left to right: Marisa Pintado, Susan Hawthorne, Urvashi Butalia and Alice Grundy

The third event was discussing bibliodiversity- what is this, you ask? Bibliodiversity is publishing that is diverse and inclusive of all cultural and racial backgrounds. It involves publishing and curating stories from the ground up, ensuring that every voice – no matter their religion, sexuality, race, culture or disability – has a chance to share their story. There was a definite skew towards feminist publishing and giving women a voice however Indian feminist publisher Urvashi Butalia spoke of the importance of publishing in different languages, not just English, the language of power. It was fascinating to listen to the challenges and responsibilities of these publishers when ensuring the stories are told without offence, prejudice or stereotyping. This is obviously an incredibly hard thing to do!

Listening to these women speak made me quite sad; I work in an international publishing house and I find it really disappointing that the smaller publishing houses, the ones with most to lose, are the ones taking the biggest risks to bring readers the most diverse stories. I am definitely guilty of reading what is right in front of me – usually what I am seeing on Instagram – and not seeking stories outside of the mainstream. This is also something I will personally be working on.

Overall, my Melbourne Writers Festival experience was a great one as I got to meet one of my all-time favourite authors and also gained a little perspective on the industry I love, and the activity I enjoy more than anything, reading!!

Blog Post: My Rainbow Bookshelf in Stop Motion

“A bookshelf is as particular to its owner as are his or her clothes; a personality is stamped on a library just as a shoe is shaped by the foot.”
– Alan Bennett

A couple of Sundays back my partner and I completely overhauled my big bookcase to change it from being alphabetically sorted to rainbow! The best part? She filmed it and has put together this fantastic stop motion film! It was our first attempt and I am thrilled at how it has turned out! It was a very slow process – taking a photo of every movement – but the end result makes it all worth it! I couldn’t have done it without her… Thank you A!

I hope you enjoy it!

– Katherine

Book Review: Six Tudor Queens: Katherine of Aragon by Alison Weir

“It is as well that the Princess Dowager is a woman. Nature wronged her in not making her a man. But for her sex, she would have surpassed all the heroes of history.”

Thomas Cromwell

SYNOPSIS

A Spanish princess. Raised to be modest, obedient and devout. Destined to be an English Queen. Six weeks from home across treacherous seas, everything is different: the language, the food, the weather. And for her there is no comfort in any of it. At sixteen years-old, Catalina is alone among strangers. She misses her mother. She mourns her lost brother. She cannot trust even those assigned to her protection. Katherine of Aragon, the first of Henry’s Queens.

Acclaimed, bestselling historian Alison Weir has based her enthralling account of Henry VIII’s first wife on extensive research and new theories. She reveals a strong, spirited woman determined to fight for her rights and the rightful place of her daughter. A woman who believed that to be the wife of a King was her destiny.

9781472227485 Six Tudor Queens Katherine of Aragon by Alison Weir

REVIEW

Alison Weir is a UK author and historian whose love of history began at fourteen years of age. I have always loved history and therefore historical fiction and like Weir, I have always found the Tudor family to be particularly interesting! I mean, Henry did have six wives, three of whom were named Katherine! Although most of his wives met with an unfortunate end – divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded, survived – they each have a story to be told. The Tudor history, in particular that of Henry the Eighth, has been told over and over again and makes you wonder what is left to be told… however Weir’s focus on the wives seems to be a new view point and considering how well she has told Katherine of Aragon’s story, I have no doubt the rest will be great!

At sixteen-years-old, Catalina spends six weeks at sea, sailing away from the only life she has known. The Spanish princess is to be married to Arthur, Henry’s older brother. However, he dies shortly after their marriage and Catalina, now Katherine, awaits word of her future. After several years in limbo, her marriage to Henry is finally approved. However, after many years of marriage and seven pregnancies, Katherine and Henry manage only one heir for the kingdom, Mary. Henry’s anger and impatience wins and he starts pursuing Anne Boleyn. He seeks to divorce Katherine, allowing him to take a new queen. However, there are many obstacles in his path, including the Catholic church. The saga draws out over many years and eventually Katherine dies, from sickness, ‘old age’ and a broken heart.

It is a joy to learn the history of Katherine of Aragon from her own perspective. A point of difference with this book is learning the story of Katherine through her eyes, instead of Henry and/or Anne. Their story is well known with Katherine merely a side story. I find her to be a truly interesting character. Weir portrays her as a deeply religious and immovable in her morals, judgements and beliefs and more importantly, in her love for Henry. Her story is a heartbreaking one; Sent to a foreign country, pushed from one marriage to another and always at the whim and mercy of others. She was treated poorly by King Henry and her own entourage and eventually by her own Henry. She died a poor and lonely old lady, separated from her daughter as a form of punishment for believing in her husband and marriage!

Weir’s knowledge in exhaustive and while I thoroughly enjoyed the story, my only criticism is that it was far too long. It is a complex and interesting history however it could have been condensed a little more than it was! Weir’s storytelling is engaging and easy to read; she balances fact and fiction, making the history accessible and interesting. It is a joy to see Katherine of Aragon the heroine of her own story!

 

AUTHOR: Alison Weir

ISBN: 9781472227485

PUBLISHER: Hachette

RRP: $29.99

PUB DATE: 10 May 2016

 

Thank you to Hachette for sending me a reading copy in exchange for an honest review!

 

Book Review: Maestra by L.S Hilton

“If you asked me how it began, I could truthfully say that the first time, it was an accident…”

– L.S Hilton, Maestra

SYNOPSIS

By day Judith Rashleigh is a put-upon assistant at a London auction house.

By night she’s a hostess in one of the capital’s unsavoury bars. Desperate to make something of herself, Judith knows she has to play the game. She’s learned to dress, speak and act in the interests of men. She’s learned to be a good girl. But after uncovering a dark secret at the heart of the art world, Judith is fired and her dreams of a better life are torn apart. So she turns to a long-neglected friend. A friend that kept her chin up and back straight through every past slight. A friend that a good girl like her shouldn’t have: Rage.

9781785760839 Maestra by LS Hilton

REVIEW

Well… I’m not sure I know where to begin! I requested a copy of Maestra by L.S. Hilton from Allen and Unwin on the recommendation of a work colleague. She didn’t say much about it, only that she thought it could be the next big thing. At the time, she seemed quite vague in her description of the book and now I see why! I was expecting just the usual type of thriller as it is quite a popular genre right now. However, what appears to set this one apart from the rest is the rather explicit sex scenes – think Gone Girl meets Fifty Shades of Grey. Now, I don’t like either of these books so it was an interesting story for me to read…

Judith Rashleigh is a seemingly quite young lady who works as a junior art expert in a London auction house. However, she leads a double life, playing hostess in a seedy bar after hours. Judith is a woman who knows what she wants, learning to walk and talk among the rich and famous. When she discovers a conspiracy within the auction house involving a rather famous painting, she loses her job and then decides to play mistress to one of her clients from the bar. When that takes a deadly turn, Judith finds herself in a dangerous position and chooses to play the game through to the end. Maestra is a book of art, sex and lies and being the first in a trilogy, I will be very interested to see where it goes from here!

After I finished the book, I went hunting for some reviews to see what others thought. Like most controversial books, the opinions are divided and strong. I have a feeling I sit somewhere in between. Hilton’s sociopathic heroine is a little more like a homicidal opportunist; she lacks the complex plotting shown by characters in other popular thrillers. Judith isn’t a likable character however she is certainly interesting. She is shallow, selfish and behaves very badly; she allows herself to be treated as an object in a wealthy man’s world. Now, this very backwards treatment of women may be purposely done… Judith’s art heroine is Artemisia Gentileschi who painted the piece ‘Judith Slaying Holofernes’ which was completed after a long-winded rape case in the 1600’s. It is said that Artemisia painted graphic depictions of violence as a cathartic and symbolic attempt to deal with the pain of what happened to her. The painting names above above depicts a powerful woman extracting revenge on a male. Judith’s behaviour – a mirror of the misogynistic wealthy white male – becomes violent as her rage over her prior treatment comes bubbling to the surface.

Judith’s character appears to have been comprised of the seven deadly sins; pride, envy, gluttony, lust, anger, greed and sloth all feature as she travels from one elite tourist attraction to the next, shopping, fornicating and killing people as she goes. As for the sex, it is graphic – and at times crude – however that’s what gets people talking! I found that the sex scenes – and killings – became quite repetitive towards the end with a sense that they had to occur. For me, the best parts of the story were the ones exploring and discussing art and its history. It is these sections where Hilton comes across most confident in her writing. I found it to be engaging and well researched and I really loved the comparisons between the art and what was happening in the story. I could have read a whole other book with just these parts.

Overall, it’s not a bad read. I found the writing to be engaging, even if when the content became repetitive and the tone of the book remained consistent. Maestra isn’t quite what I like to read however I can definitely see the appeal and I know there will be readers for whom this will suit to a tee!

 

AUTHOR: L.S Hilton

ISBN: 9781785760839

PUBLISHER: Allen and Unwin

RRP: $29.99

PUB DATE: March 2016

 

Thank you to Allen and Unwin for sending me a reading copy in exchange for an honest review!

Book Review: The Moonlight Dreamers by Siobhan Curham

“Yes: I am a dreamer. For a dreamer is one who can only find his way by moonlight, and his punishment is that he sees the dawn before the rest of the world.”

Oscar Wilde

SYNOPSIS

An unforgettable story of friendship, self-belief and love. Amber, Maali, Sky and Rose are not like everyone else and they don’t want to be. Becoming friends gives them the courage to be themselves.

An inspirational, heart-warming book about four girls trying to find their place in the world. Siobhan Curham celebrates very different but like-minded friends in this captivating novel. Amber craves excitement and adventure. Instead, she’s being bullied at school for having two dads, and life at home isn’t much better. Inspired by Oscar Wilde, Amber realizes that among the millions of people in London, there must be others who feel the same as she does; other dreamers – moonlight dreamers. After chance encounters with Maali, Sky and Rose, Amber soon recruits the three girls to the Moonlight Dreamers. It’s high time they started pursuing their dreams, and how better than with the support of friends?

9781406365825 The Moonlight Dreamers by Siobhan Curham

REVIEW

The Moonlight Dreamers by Siobhan Curham is the sweetest book I have read this year. It is an ode to friendship, sisterhood and finding an environment where inspiration, creativity and dreams are a possibility. It is a story filled with positive messages encouraging self-expression and resisting the pressures to conform. It reminds me a lot of one of my favourite childhood reads The Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants by Ann Brashares where female characters are empowered, respected, challenged and celebrated!

It all begins with Amber, lover of all things vintage and Oscar Wilde. She lives on Brick Lane with her two dads and cannot tolerate the small-minded bullying of the ‘OMG Girls’ at school. Unafraid to be different, Amber is sure that there are other girls out there like her, and decides to seek them out. Inspired by the quote above, Amber slips potential girls a card with her details and her idea for a secret club, The Moonlight Dreamers. Two girls reply, and a third by default. After an awkward start, the four girls find a safe place to dream, nurture and celebrate their differences. Amber, Maali, Sky and Rose come from a diverse social and cultural background yet they each bring something to the club that is treasured and enjoyed. Each of the girls share their dream: Amber is desperate to visit Paris and find Oscar Wilde’s grave; Maali is a budding photographer who wishes she had the confidence to talk to boys; Sky is a poet who seeks the confidence to perform at a Poetry Slam and Rose wants to bake cakes, something her model-mother is strictly against. They must each confront the issues in their lives, issues that leave them vulnerable to ridicule and embarrassment.

I absolutely adore this book. As I started reading, I feared that Curham had written a story that would become preachy and too in your face. Instead, she appears to have perfected the balance between empowering her characters without becoming over the top. She is sensitive to the issues facing women and girls today: body image, bullying, friendship, safety and social media. Curham encourages her characters to be self-empowering and emphasises the importance of finding the confidence to make your dreams come true, and not on the end result. Despite its young appearance, this book isn’t necessarily for the younger readers. Some of the issues faced by the characters could be quite confronting for certain readers, and the language used as well. Curham warns of the dangers of acting on impulse, particularly as an act of rebellion and the potential price of internet fame and online bullying. She highlights the permanence and publicness of social media and the horrifying impact it can have when it all goes wrong. The warning is clear but not once does it say to avoid these things, just be smart about the choices you make.

Overall, this is a stunning read. I couldn’t wipe the smile off my face when I finished it although I was quite sad when it came to an end. It is a really clever story that celebrates the awesomeness of women and girls. Any story that encourages dreaming, no matter how big or small, is a winner to me!

 

AUTHOR: Siobhan Curham

ISBN: 9781406365825

PUBLISHER: Walker Books Australia

RRP: $16.99

PUB DATE: July 2016

 

Thank you to Walker Books for sending me a reading copy in exchange for an honest review!