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BOOK LOVE: Jasper Jones by Craig Silvey

Late on a hot summer night in the tail end of 1965, Charlie Bucktin, a precocious and bookish boy of thirteen, is startled by an urgent knock on the window of his sleep-out. His visitor is Jasper Jones, an outcast in the regional mining town of Corrigan. Rebellious, mixed-race and solitary, Jasper is a distant figure of danger and intrigue for Charlie. So when Jasper begs for his help, Charlie eagerly steals into the night by his side, terribly afraid but desperate to impress.

Jasper takes him through town and to his secret glade in the bush, and it’s here that Charlie bears witness to Jasper’s horrible discovery. With his secret like a brick in his belly, Charlie is pushed and pulled by a town closing in on itself in fear and suspicion as he locks horns with his tempestuous mother; falls nervously in love and battles to keep a lid on his zealous best friend, Jeffrey Lu. 
And in vainly attempting to restore the parts that have been shaken loose, Charlie learns to discern the truth from the myth, and why white lies creep like a curse. In the simmering summer where everything changes, Charlie learns why the truth of things is so hard to know, and even harder to hold in his heart.

I read Jasper Jones last year, and it instantly became one of my all-time favourite books. It has everything. The central dilemma is brilliant and the characters spring immediately to life – Jeffrey Lu and his family’s stoic endurance of terrible (superbly understated) prejudice have remained incredibly vivid to me twelve months down the line. Furthermore, the dialogue and description are so incisive that I want to take one page at a time and try to break down exactly how Silvey does it. His writing runs like water – racing and eddying and bubbling and dancing, while Silvey masterfully manipulates its flow and charts its course. If you haven’t read Jasper Jones, and you only have time to read one book for the rest of the year, I strongly suggest that you make it this one.

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An evening with Jodi Picoult and Samantha van Leer

It’s safe to say I am a HUGE Jodi Picoult fan. Her writing style appears effortless, but that is the trick of a master: to move a plot at entertaining speed while still capturing those compelling intricacies found in small moments. What’s more, her subject choices are always gritty and compelling, and her characters complex and real. So it was a real thrill to be in the audience last night when Jodi and her daughter Samantha visited Perth to talk about their new book.

Between the Lines was conceived by Samantha, who had the idea of a fairytale character with a life beyond the book’s pages, and a lonesome teenage girl who wishes this prince was real. Both Jodi and Samantha read excerpts from the book, and talked about what a great time they had writing it together – spending eight hours a day working on it line by line, speaking the story out loud to one another, and aiming for a certain number of pages a session.

In the Q&A afterwards, Jodi named Second Glance as the favourite of her books (because she had a great time researching it, and felt she nailed its complexity). Samantha spoke of her disconcertion as she watched readers devour their book in a few days, after she and Jodi had spent three years working on it. (I remember a similar feeling when Come Back to Me came out – I couldn’t believe people could move on so fast when I’d been absorbed in the story for such a long time!) And Jodi gave her verdict on writer’s block as a writer having too much time on their hands. Just write, she urged. You can edit a bad page but you can’t edit a blank page.

I love this photo! It looks like I just ran in with a cheesy grin while Jodi and Samantha were having their picture taken.

Afterwards it was well worth waiting in the very long line to get my battered old copy of My Sister’s Keeper signed by Jodi, and my brand-new copy of Between the Lines signed by Samantha. Most of all, it was a real buzz to be able to say to Jodi directly, in the few brief moments I was in front of her, that she has been a true inspiration to me. Reading a Picoult book always re-energises me, and makes me aim higher in my own work.

NB: The first book I read by Jodi Picoult was, like many others, My Sister’s Keeper. It was fascinating to find out what she thought of the film, particularly the different ending. I found a blog link where Jodi answers a similar question, and you can read it here: http://filmvsbook.blogspot.com.au/2012/03/jodi-picoult-on-my-sisters-keeper.html

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BOOK LOVE: The Self-Completing Tree by Dorothy Livesay

I started my week of US and Canadian ‘Book Loves’ with a collection of poetry, so I’ll bookend it with another one: my favourite poetry collection by Dorothy Livesay. This was originally given to me as a University text to study, but I’ve returned to it under my own steam countless times since. It was first published in 1986, over twenty-five years ago, but its themes are timeless, and Livesay’s writing is seamless. There is a definite focus on female concerns, but the poems go much further. There are  commentaries on places and people Livesay knew or observed, and on events that caught her eye. In her Foreword she describes her thinking as being dominated by poverty, racism, and war, but this is not a downbeat collection – perhaps because of what Livesay describes as her overarcing theme: ‘Whether a leap is possible, a miracle of changed feeling, changed thinking’. She also says she hopes that this is the collection she will be remembered by. I can see why, and this is one book I’ll never part with.

Here are the last few lines from ‘Invisible Sun’, which begins with a quote from Thomas Browne, that ‘Life is a pure flame, and we live by an invisible sun within us‘:

Oh, my hands have sung, have swung from the
sun’s centre
To be the veins of warmth within a room:
To burn with the work done and the night to
come —
Rounded in sleep, to shape an invisible sun.

 

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BOOK LOVE: Absolute Trust in the Goodness of the Earth by Alice Walker

The forces of nature and the strength of the human spirit inspire the poems in Absolute Trust in the Goodness of the Earth. Alice Walker opens us to feeling and understanding, with poems that cover a broad spectrum of emotions. With profound artistry, Walker searches for, discovers, and declares the fundamental beauty of existence, as she explores what it means to experience life fully, to learn from it, and to grow both as an individual and as part of a greater spiritual community. (www.randomhouse.com)

My love for Alice Walker’s writing began back in 1995 when I wrote about The Colour Purple as part of my dissertation. It remains one of my favourite books of all time. I came across this 2004 publication more recently. I was in the library, supposedly working on my own book, but instead I spent the morning devouring these poems.

I loved the whole book, but would particularly recommend: ‘Coming Back from Seeing Your People’; ‘What Will Save Us’; ‘Thanksgiving’; ‘(Yours and Mine) Is Obsolete’; and ‘You Too Can Look, Smell, Dress, Act This Way’.

I’m in awe of the way Alice Walker can convey panoramic landscapes of emotion within just a few words. She shines an unerring light on the subtle corners of living, revealing that what we consider unimportant might be far more significant than it first appears. Most of all, I love the fact that despite her unflinching consideration of pain and suffering, I always walk away from her writing feeling uplifted.

NB: To read an extract from this book, click here.

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Restful holidays and an unexpected cameo!

Nicky the dolphin at Monkey Mia

Sunset at Monkey Mia

I’ve just returned from a short holiday on the Western Australian coast with my family, where we camped at one of my favourite spots, Monkey Mia. Many people know Monkey Mia for the family of dolphins who come into shore – at 8 am there is usually a crowd of tourists standing ankle-deep in water, marvelling at these friendly cetaceans. However, apart from this daily gathering, it is a quiet place in winter. The water is unbelievably tranquil, as clear as polished glass, and the temperatures are still pleasant. From the water, all you can see is the long stretch of the Peron peninsula, where the sand gradually changes from pale yellow to a vivid ochre. It makes for a perfect, restful break.

This one-of-a-kind place has found its way into part of my upcoming novel, along with Nicky, the matriarch of the shore-visiting dolphins, who makes a very brief cameo appearance. How does Nicky fit into a psychological suspense novel that spans five continents and twenty years? All will be revealed in December, when Shallow Breath is published in Australia!

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BOOK LOVE: The Light Between Oceans By M.L. Stedman

This is a story of right and wrong, and how sometimes they look the same …
1926. Tom Sherbourne is a young lighthouse keeper on a remote island off Western Australia. The only inhabitants of Janus Rock, he and his wife Isabel live a quiet life, cocooned from the rest of the world. 

One April morning a boat washes ashore carrying a dead man and a crying infant – and the path of the couple’s lives hits an unthinkable crossroads.

Only years later do they discover the devastating consequences of the decision they made that day – as the baby’s real story unfolds …

What a sensational debut by ML Stedman! Even the strapline is one of the best I’ve read: This is the story of right and wrong, and how they sometimes look the same. I loved so much about this book. The central dilemma is absorbing, and I found myself alternately rooting for (and sometimes angry with) each of the characters as they struggle to find resolution. Throughout the story, the descriptions are mesmerising. My favourite lines are 96 pages in: ‘In a place before words, in some other language of creature to creature, with the softening of her muscles, the relaxing of her neck, the baby signalled her trust. Having come so close to the hands of death, life now infused with life like water meets water.’ I did find the beginning a little bit slow, but it’s well worth persevering. ML Stedman manipulates her narrative like a master, and I’m looking forward to finding out what she does next.

NB: This book has been optioned for a film too, and I hope it gets made. It would be great to see a story based in Western Australia on the big screen.

 

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Where oh where has my reading time gone?

Not since April, when I found two brilliant books in the same month – Jasper Jones (Craig Silvey) and After the Fall (Kylie Ladd) – have I read a novel from start to finish. It’s incredibly frustrating, because I love curling up on the sofa for a regular dose of escapism, but my problem is not going away any time soon, because my two-year-old has decided she doesn’t need a nap. My lunchtime to do list has now largely moved to the evening, and all those books I’m desperate to read are piling up on my shelves.

I don’t want to start anything that’s important to me until I get a good run at it. Therefore, I’ve been getting some rather random and ill-chosen things out of the library, literary heavyweights that I start at about half past ten at night, and struggle through approximately three lines before my eyelids betray me. However, while I attempt to fix this problem and rediscover my reading time, I have been doing plenty more reading of another kind. If it’s by Mick Inkpen, Eric Hill, Lucy Cousins or Julia Donaldson, chances are not only that I’ve read it, but that I can recite it to you verbatim. And the squeals of excitement and enthusiasm they engender in my daughter make these books rather special. I’ve been asked before what books we read together, so here, in honour of my new toddler-imposed reading regime – are some of our favourites right now:

The Snail and the Whale by Julia Donaldson and Axel Schiffer. The ending makes me well up every time.

Watch Out Little Wombat by Charles Fuge. We particularly love shouting SPLAT and CROC-O-DILE!

The Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle. Everybody’s favourite – but one of mine because I love hearing my daughter name the foods, and the cute way she says ‘pickle’ and ‘alami’ for ‘salami’, and the satisfaction on her face when she gets them all right.

Duck in the Truck by Jez Alborough. Despite it’s questionable moral ending when Duck leaves all his helpful mates completely in the s**t, my little one loves it and has great fun getting things ‘stuck in the muck’ in the back garden.

Snore by Michael Rosen and Jonathan Langley. My little girl loves to imitate the snores and animal noises.

Tiger by Nick Butterworth. The illustrations are gorgeous and make me want another kitten!

The Great Pet Sale by Mick Inkpen. We also love Kipper and Wibbley Pig, but this book is brilliant, and the quick-tongued rat makes us both laugh.

If You’re Happy and You Know It by Jane Cabrera. The illustrations are lovely and there are lots of great simple actions for little ones to sing and dance to.

Shhh Little Mouse by Pamela Allen. We do lots of finger to mouth and whispering until the cat wakes up and it all breaks loose.

Follow the Kite by Anna Nilsen and Mark Burgess. A really unusual book with a kite that you can lace through the pages as it blows up and down in the wind.

I’d love to hear your favourites too?

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BOOK LOVE: The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton

A lost child…a terrible secret…a mysterious inheritance…

I enjoyed this, although not as much as The Shifting Fog, which was by far my favourite read of 2009. Kate Morton is a master of original and evocative descriptions of people and places, not to mention time shifts, and the book moves easily between different decades. Considering how many threads she was tying together she did a great job of keeping me focused. I love the fairy tales running through the book too, which really bring the story to life. Would definitely recommend this one.