Confetti and Cakes and Cats, Oh My!

The Adventures of Miss Petitfour
Anne Michaels, illustrated by Emma Block
Bloomsbury
December 2015
Hardback
$19.99

miss_petifourDigressions are things that should occur once things have begun. Don’t you think? One couldn’t possibly begin with a digression when there is nowt yet to digress from.
Of course, I could have begun and then gone off on a digression but I’ve always been a little contrary. I do love a good digression. It is in life’s digressions that one finds the adventure, the pith, the meaning. Does this have anything to do with the story at hand? No, not a whit. Continue reading

A Better Life Imagined in his Eyes

The Belly of the Atlantic
Fatou Diome, trans. Lulu Norman and Ros Schwartz
Serpent's Tail
2006

the_belly_of_the_atlanticFatou Diome’s The Belly of the Atlantic is a passionate story about the dream of migration and its harsh reality.  Told from the point of view of Strasbourg resident Salie, the novel nonetheless focuses mostly on her brother Madické.  Madické lives on  the Senegalese island Niodior and dreams of being headhunted to join a big European soccer team.  This dream is shared by many of his friends, persisting despite the warnings of Salie and the teacher Ndétare that neither the road to nor the life in Europe is as good as they believe. Continue reading

Space Zombies!

Illuminae
The Illuminae Files_01
Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff
Allen & Unwin
October 2015
$19.95

Illuminae_smIlluminae is a visual wonder piece of science fiction narration. It straddles the undefined landscape between novel and graphic novel in a way that is almost cinematic in its execution. Rather than a story told in a series of words, what we have are words presented as in a dossier; “found” documents (e.g., chat room logs, mission reports, narrated surveillance footage) that show the bloody unfolding of one corporation’s ruthless attack on another. We’ve stumbled upon someone’s dirty little (well-documented) secret, the kind of dirty secret that the most cynical of us assume that all corporations must have, and we can only hold our breathe as the carnage accelerates, and ask, “Will they get away with it?”

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Formation, Transformation

Tom Houghton
Todd Alexander
Simon and Schuster
October 2015, RRP$32.99

tom-houghtonGrowing up is hard, for everyone, no matter the circumstances. At least that’s the impression I have taken away, and taken comfort in, from the many creative expressions which delve into the experience of growing up and coming of age. This theme is also at the centre of Todd Alexander’s novel Tom Houghton. Continue reading

Justice for All

Ancillary Justice
Imperial Radch
Ann Leckie
Orbit Books
Oct 2013

ancilI started reading science fiction with a copy of ‘Ringworld’ by Larry Niven that my brother owned. I went on to read the classics: Asimov, Clarke, Silverberg. When I attended the science fiction/Fantasy fan club meeting at university, I argued strongly on the side of SF in the debates ‘What is better, SF or fantasy?’ Clearly, it’s science fiction! Duh. Why is this even a thing? Though this was that days before Harry Potter and Mieville; I might have to concede defeat on those fronts.

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You’ll be Given Love

The Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly
Sun-Mi Hwang, trans. Chi-Young Kim
Oneworld

the_hen_who_dreamed_she_could_flyThe Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly is a beloved story in South Korea*, appearing for the first time in English after its initial release in 2000. It follows the chicken Sprout, who has lived her life inside a battery farm and dreams of one day hatching an egg of her very own. She is given up for dead and thrown out. This is when Sprout finally gets the opportunity to fulfil her dream.

Targetted at both adult and child readers, at least in English translation, The Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly is a simple tale with a complex message.  The writing is enchanting, evoking the seasonal changes and the dangers of living in the wilds.  The story is concisely told, with drama and adventure in measured doses.

With easy comparisons to Charlotte’s Web and similar such tales, The Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly is a gentle and enjoyable read.

*According to the author information anyway. Since I don’t speak Korean, know any South Koreans, and have never been to South Korea, I cannot verify this first-hand.

An Unrelenting Beauty of Words

The Bitterwood Bible and Other Recountings
Angela Slatter
Tartarus Press
2014

the_bitterwood_bibleOccasionally, when we are all very good, the story-gods are kind to us, and they send a writer whose voice and vision are so deeply felt, so confident and so intricately imagined, that the whole of their work is a wonderment from end to end. I experienced that electric wonder-shock to the senses on first reading Kelly Link’s Magic for Beginners (for example), or Susanna Clarke’s The Ladies of Grace Adieu and Other Stories (which I read before reading Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell for reasons that made sense at the time, but are now forgotten). And now, I find myself experiencing the feeling of wonder-shock anew. The author is Angela Slatter and the work, The Bitterwood Bible and Other Recountings. This collection of interwoven short-stories really is that good. I think even if I had only been allowed one page of this short story collection to use as the basis for my whole review, I’d still be recommending Angela Slatter unreservedly. The prose jumps off the page the way prose does when the person responsible is a master at their craft. Sometimes, you don’t need more than a sentence or two. Sometimes, you can just tell. But as it was, I had the luxury to be drawn in, and to step my way through all the tales within. And what tales they are.

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Blind Revenge on the Blameless Victim

First They Killed my Father
Loung Ung
Non-fiction
HarperCollins
2000

first_they_killed_my_fatherI didn’t much like being in Cambodia the first time I went there in early 2014.  Led by the most unbearable tour guide imaginable* in a small group made up mostly of middle-aged Australian couples with whom the only thing I had in common was a nationality, I experienced what in retrospect was most likely culture shock. And for a time I wondered if it was because of the effects of the Khmer Rouge genocide on the country. Such a savage and profound event leaves scars on people who endure it, and on the nation itself.

Nonetheless, even though my mother gave me First They Killed My Father to read before we left on this trip, I resisted it.  I didn’t want to read misery porn, which any biography about the Khmer Rouge must surely be.  It took these last few years for me to finally work up to reading it.  Along with a little assistance from a Dateline special and Sue Perkins travelling along the Mekong. Continue reading

The Fall of Arthur

THE FALL OF ARTHURfallarth
J. R. R. and Christopher Tolkien
HarperCollins, May 2013

Guinevere will always remain the Yoko Ono of Arthurian romance. For men of a certain bent, she summons to mind the new wife or girlfriend of their old friend, who now threatens to intrude upon the Round Table of their male camaraderie. What if she doesn’t just stay at home and darn his socks? What if she wants us to see her as a person, not just our friend’s possession? Already, she’s changed him. Remember the good old days when he slapped you on the back and denounced all women as whores?

Tolkien’s The Fall of Arthur continues the ungenerous tradition of presenting Guinevere as a figure of treacherousness, not just discord. On those occasions where she rises from the role of disputed possession, she becomes a manipulative temptress towing men to their deaths. From her first entrance, we hear of her remorselessness, Continue reading

Deceived, Distressed by the Truth They’ve Been Withholding

Nothing to Envy Book Cover Nothing to Envy
Barbara Demick
Non-fiction
Fourth Estate
2010

nothing_to_envyNothing to Envy is Barbara Demick’s rightly praised history of North Korea in the early to late 1990s, as experienced by North Koreans.  Demick spent years interviewing North Korean defectors living in China and South Korea to compile the book.  Through their stories, Demick follows the crises in the isolated state that started developing with the collapse of the Soviet Union.  Many political commentators assumed this would lead to the collapse of North Korea as well.  As of time of writing, this has clearly not yet happened.

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Exultation and Poetry in the Mundane

The Landing
Susan Johnson
Allen & Unwin
Sep 2015 RRP $29.99

the_landingThe tanned, bare legs at the lip of a body of water, skirt hiked up, on the cover of Susan Johnson’s The Landing say one thing, and that is SUMMER FICTION. Get ready, summer is nigh and with it summer reading, i.e., that special genre of book best enjoyed beachside with a floppy hat whilst the kids are busy but well cared for elsewhere.

The Landing commences with a Jane Austen-esque question: if Jonathan—recently single due to his wife leaving him for her, shock, female colleague*—is in possession of a good fortune, must he also be in want of a new wife? Jonathan intends out to find out, knowing full well that life alone is not for him. But he was also blindsided and left utterly confused by his wife Sarah’s departure. The rug has been pulled, and the minutia of Jonathan’s life is now suffused with this question.

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There’s No Time Like the Past

The Time Travel Handbook
James Wyllie, Johnny 'Lord' Acton, David Goldblatt
Profile Books
Nov 2015, RRP $29.99

time_travel_handbookThe conceit of The Time Travel Handbook 18 journeys from the eruption of Vesuvius to the Woodstock Festival is brilliant in its simplicity—it is a guide for time travellers, telling them what to expect on their trip to one of 18 historical destinations offered by the travel company.

The trips vary widely, from the peasants’ revolt of 1381 to the Rumble in the Jungle of 1974; from birth of the French Revolution to the loving mayhem of Woodstock. The Handbook gives a minutely researched account of what happened, who you might meet, what you might see, hear and eat, bringing it alive to help you make the best of your trip back in time.

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      Russell Brand’s Trickster Tales – THE PIED PIPER OF HAMELIN Russell Brand, illustrated by Chris Riddell Published 9th November 2014, Canongate (ISBN: 9781782114567) Coming off the 2015 UK general election last week, it is no difficult task to read The Pied Piper of Hamelin–the first of Russell Brand’s Trickster Tales–and connect all … Continue reading