For a long time I shared the majority of my reading in the form of book reviews on my review site, Aussiereviews. In recent years, busy with study, then work, as well as my writing life, I’ve posted there less and less, but I always love hearing what others have read, and sharing my own recommendations, so I am starting 2021 with the plan of sharing brief thoughts on what I read this year. So, here’s what I read in January:
For Children (and adults too – adults can and should read kids’ books too – they’re the best)
Zoe, Max and the Bicycle Bus, by Steven Herrick (UQP, 2020). Steven Herrick is one of the verse novelists who inspired me to want to write verse novels of my own, so it always exciting to pick up his latest offering. As well as loving poetry, Herrick also loves cycling, so perhaps it is no surprise to see bikes feature strongly here. this multi-voice story features the kids (and teacher) of class 5D, as they find a new way of getting to school – and around the obstacles in their way.
- Hating Alison Ashley, by Robin Klein (Penguin, 1984). This book came out when I was in high school and, though I have heard it spoken of, and read about it many times, I must confess that I hadn’t read it myself. Given that I love the work of Robin Klein, I’m not sure why I hadn’t, but anyway, I have now filled this gap in my reading, and am glad I did. It’s certainly a story that stands the test of time. Erica, the protagonists, is not at all impressed by the new girl – Alison Ashley. She has it all, including everything Erica wants for herself – she’s smart, pretty and, worst of all, rich. But somehow they seem to spend more and more time together and when the year six camp sees them rooming together Erica thinks things can’t get any worse. Erica’s voice is wonderful, and her flaws – and strengths – make her both endearing and funny.
- Around the Globe with Gramps, by Carolyn Eldridge-Alfonzetti, illustrated by Teresa Lawrence (Celapene Press, 2018). Yes, another verse novel. This one is quite short (50 pages), and explores the bond between Lucy, about to start high school, and her grandfather. Lucy is worried that their game of ‘travelling’ together without leaving home is too babyish, but when Gramps falls ill, she reassesses. Incidentally, the illustrator of this also illustrated by very first trade book, Doggy Duo.
- Eddy Popcorn’s Guide to Parent Training , by Dee White, illustrated by Benjamin Johnston (Scholastic, 2020). Eddy Popcorn isn’t just grounded – he’s grounded on the school holidays, and when his birthday is coming up. He’s disgusted. So he channels that disgust in a creative way – by writing a guide to parent training. A humours read for primary aged readers.
- Pablo Neruda: Poet of the People, by Monica Brown, illustrated by Julie Paschkis (Henry Holt, 2011). This picture book biography of the people’s poet surprised me. It was sitting in my to be read pile, and had been for a while, and I’d forgotten why I bought it. But when I read it, I remembered – one of my Poetry Friday friends (I’m sorry I don’t remember who) had reviewed the book so enthusiastically that I had to have it. But then the book arrived and was shelved because, as so often happens, the gap between wanting a book and owning the book can make one forgetful of why it was important. Anyway, I have read it now, and I adore it – the text is beautifully woven, as befits writing about a poet, and the sumptuous illustrations are woven with words from Neruda’s poems.
For Young Adults
- Love, Ghosts and Nose Hair, by Steven Herrick (UQP, 1996). My second verse novel for the year, and also the second by Herrick. What a treat. I’ve read this one before – several times – but it continues to please. With topics including first love, teen hormones and the grief of an absent parent, it’s no surprise that this book is both poignant and funny. Hard to believe it was first published 15 years ago, but not hard to believe it is still in print.
- Another Night in Mullet Town, by Steven Herrick (UQP, 2016). My third Herrick book of the year, and another reread, for a database project I’m working on with the Australian Centre for Children’s Literature (more on this soon). Joan is navigating high school, first love, and the breakdown of his parents’ marriage. His best mate Manx is there at his side, though he has problems of his own. As with most of Herrick’s work, this is humorous as well as touching.
- Fighting Ruben Wolfe, by Markus Zusak (Omnibus Books, 2000). Zusak is one of Australia’s finest authors and this, one of his earliest books, is a demonstration of his talent for crafting gritty, real characters who you want to follow. Ruben Wolfe (and his brother Cam, who is the first person narrator) are part of a loving, but troubled family, and get drawn into a fight club as a chance to earn some money and prove themselves. 20 years after it was first published, this is still a really readable, contemporary read.
- And Yet…, by Dennis Haskell (WA Poets Publishing, 2020). Dennis taught me in my first year of University and the main thing I remember is being amazed by his insight into the literature we were studying. Down the track, I discovered Dennis’ poetry, and, for Christmas, treated myself with this collection. I’m so glad I did. I especially connected to the poems exploring grief and loss, amazing me anew with his insights – making the grief relatable whilst simultaneously personal. I also had a wry smile at Writers Festival and was warmed by tributes to his new love, Annamaria. If you love poetry, you’ll love this, and if you think you don’t like poetry, then this collection, at once accessible and masterful, may surprise you.
- Blood and Old Belief, by Paul Hetherington (Pandanus Press, 2009). A verse novel for adults, and older teens, exploring the lives of a farmer (Jack), his Italian-born wife, Cecilia and their teenage daughter Katherine, as they struggle with drought, displacement and the gradual fracturing of their family bond. I read this, in ebook form, in a single sitting, and, though it is sad, enjoyed seeing how the three voices of the characters were interwoven with third person narrative, less common in my previous verse novel reading.
- Fish Song, by Caitlin Maling (Fremantle Press, 2019). I read this excellent collection when I first bought it last year, but somehow it ended up in my to-be-read pile, and I am glad it did, as good poetry deserves to be read and reread. Maling is a West Australian poet and I especially like her ability to build a sense of place through a blend of description, action and speech.
- Somebody Give This Heart a Pen, by Sophia Thakur (Walker UK, 2019). This debut written collection by a UK spoken-word poet is suitable for teens and adults, and explores complex topics. I especially connected with poems about writing, and being willing to write, as well as those about grief.
- Clean Slate, by Zoe Foster Blake (Audible, 2020). This one was a free download from Audible, and not what I’d normally choose for myself – which is why I listened to it. It’s good to try new things, and at less than three hours listening time, this was a quick read, telling the story of a marriage in trouble after the narrator, Cam, realises his wife has been having an affair. Contemporary fiction, with enough twists and turns to keep it moving, and an interesting look at marriage and family.
- Their Lost Daughters, by Joy Ellis (Joffe Books, 2017 and also on Audible). Another free title from Audible (they offer a free title each month, and I have found this a good way to read different genres). This is the second in a detective series, featuring detectives Jackman & Evans, but, as with other similar series, stands alone. The case they are working , ostensibly searching for two missing girls, becomes really unsettling, but is well woven. I mainly listen to audio books when driving, but this one absorbed me enough that I had to keep listening when at home.
- The Slap. Christos Tsiolkas (Allen & Unwin, 2008). I really like Tsiolkas’ work, but hadn’t read this before. This is one of the rare times when I allowed myself to watch the screen version (in this case, a TV mini series) without having read the book it was based on. I loved the series, but then didn’t get around to reading the book, until now. i picked up a copy in an opshop last year, and it has been on my TBR pile since then. The premise – the repercussions of of a man slapping a child who is not his own – is seemingly simple, but the ripples and the history behind the slap and the relationships of those present, make this a complex story across different age groups and families. At 483 pages it’s longish but I got through in just a few days, because I wanted to keep reading.
- Second Skin, by Christian White (Audible Original, 2020). This novella filled a drive to and from the city, and, as another free download, was not my usual type of read, but I enjoyed it. The story of a family tragedy, and possible reincarnation, with twists and turns.
- Indestractible, by Nir Eyal (Audible, 2019). Another free download from Audible and a fairly quick listen. This offers insight into why we allow ourselves to be distracted – by social media, by non urgent task, and by the increasing range of tech at our disposable – and offers strategies for overcoming distraction habits. There was lots of useful insights here, and I liked that there was research behind it – even (ironically) being distracted by the urge to follow up some of the cited research. Am I less distractable on completion? Perhaps. It has certainly made my conscious of my habits.
- Bill Bailey’s Remarkable Guide to Happiness, by Bill Bailey (Quercus, 2020). This one was a Christmas gift from my wise big sister, Mary, who felt it was just the kind of book we needed in these times. And she was right. Bill Bailey is a comedian and a clever person, and the book is not a ‘how to be happy’ books, but perhaps a reminder that happiness is never permanent, and can be found in moments. It also led to me writing a poem about happiness, which I posted here on my blog on Poetry Friday. And any book that inspires me to write is a keeper.
- Love is Not Enough, by Mark Manson (Audible Original, 2020). Yet another free download, only on audio in fact, and the work of the author of widely acclaimed The Subtle Art. When I started listening and realised the focus here was on people with relationship problems – dating, commitment and so on – I nearly stopped listening, as I thought it might no be for me. But I like Mike Manson’s work, and the format of this book, based around edited audio interviews with five diverse and open people, made it quite an interesting listen.
So there you have it – 19 books read in January, a total aided by the amount of time I spent in my car, listening to Audiobooks. February has started with a snap lockdown which will mean less time in the car, at least for the next five days, but more time at home, so perhaps I can keep up lots of reading.