Book Review | This Is Shyness by Leanne Hall

This is Shyness Paige's PagesTITLE: This is Shyness
SERIES: This is Shyness #1
AUTHOR
: Leanne Hall
PUBLISHER
: Text
RELEASE DATE
: August 2, 2010
GENRE
: Young Adult, Magical Realism
PAGE COUNT
: 272


In the magical realist town of Shyness where the sun never rises, strangers Wolfboy and Wildgirl share a dangerous night of self-discovery and unexpected kinship.  While Shyness is a vivid and interesting setting for this YA adventure story, I struggled to connect to the characters or the sense of stakes.

Wolfboy is a Shyness local.  Wildgirl is on a mission to forget.  When their eyes meet across the room at the Diabetic Hotel, they join forces and decide to see where the night takes them.  As their backstories gradually unravel, their bond deepens, and the adventure heats up. Continue reading

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#IWD2017 Double Review | The Fictional Woman / Speaking Out: A 21st-Century Handbook for Women and Girls by Tara Moss

Using her wealth of experience as an international model, bestselling crime novelist, human rights activist, and mother, Tara Moss equips readers to confront gender inequality in every aspect of society.  If The Fictional Woman is the ultimate “beginner’s guide” to gender inequality, then Speaking Out is your “travelling companion”.  Through immersive research and intimate wisdom, this dynamic duo will educate and empower.  

I listened to The Fictional Woman and Speaking Out as audio books, and now have a HUGE crush on Tara Moss’s voice.  As a strong and confident speaker, her warmth and wisdom bursts through her rich tone.  Hearing the author read her own work is intimate, and sometimes unearthed my own pain.  Although I plan to buy all my female friends and family members these books for Christmas, I know I’ll be returning to the audio versions.

break3 Continue reading

Book Review | Gaysia: Adventures in the Queer East by Benjamin Law

gaysia-review-paiges-pageTITLE: Gaysia: Adventures in the Queer East
AUTHOR: Benjamin Law
PUBLISHER: Black Inc.
RELEASE DATE: January 1, 2012
GENRE: Nonfiction, LGBTQI+, Own Voices
PAGE COUNT: 288


Who better to talk about LGBTQI+ life in Asia than Benjamin Law?  Openly gay and born in Australia to Chinese immigrant parents, he approaches Gaysia with concern and respect… not to mention the perfect dose of comedy.  

Gaysia is a journalistic adventure into the LGBTQI+ nerve centre of Asia, from “clothing optional” gay resorts in Bali, to the homes of Chinese gays and lesbians who fake heternormative marriages to keep their identities secret.  Law opened my eyes to a diverse range of socio-political landscapes, all posing unique challenges to the LGBTQI+ community.

Continue reading

Graphic Novel Review | Hidden by Mirranda Burton

hidden-by-mirranda-burton-book-review-paiges-pagesTITLE: Hidden
AUTHOR & ARTIST: Mirranda Burton
PUBLISHER: Black Pepper Publishing
RELEASE DATE: 2011
GENRE: Adult Graphic Novel, Short Memoir
PAGE COUNT: 96


Hidden is a powerful introduction to disability narratives.  As the first book I’ve read representing adult intellectual disability, it lays the foundation for me to engage with the topic with better understanding and compassion.  Importantly, it opened my eyes to the key issues surrounding adult intellectual disability. Continue reading

Book Review | Elizabeth and Zenobia by Jessica Miller

elizabeth-and-zenobia-book-review-paiges-pagesTITLE: Elizabeth and Zenobia
AUTHOR: Jessia Miller
PUBLISHER: Text Publishing
RELEASE DATE: August 29, 2016
GENRE: Junior Fiction, Fantasy
PAGE COUNT: 232


Elizabeth and Zenobia is Aussie author, Jessica Miller’s wickedly clever debut.  Although it nods to familiar fantasy tropes, it forges its own unique vision.

Elizabeth and her imaginary friend Zenobia are moving to Witheringe Green, her father’s childhood home.  But there is much more to this old house than meets the eye.  When family secrets lead to even stranger mysteries, Elizabeth must face her fears and save her family from otherworldly danger.

Elizabeth is our first person narrator.  Unlike the fearless Zenobia, she is scared of almost everything, including but not limited to Continue reading

Book Review | Springtime: A Ghost Story by Michelle de Kretser

Springtime a Ghost Story Paige's PagesTITLE: Springtime: A Ghost Story
AUTHOR: Michelle de Kretser
PUBLISHER: Allen & Unwin
RELEASE DATE: October 22, 2014
GENRE: Short Fiction, Adult Fiction
PAGE COUNT: 92


Despite its name, Springtime: A Ghost Story is not actually a ghost story.  This book thoughtfully explores a young Australian woman’s “ghosts” to show how the past is not easily left behind when trying to forge a new future.   

Frances and her partner, Charlie, have chips on their shoulders.  They both want a life separate from the ways of their parents, but now share many of their parents’ idiosyncrasies.  When Frances spies a ghostly woman in her neighbour’s garden, it puts her relationships and past into a new perspective. Continue reading

Review | The Last Magician by Janette Turner Hospital

The Last Magician is a wild trip through the tangled layers of a corrupt society.  This confronting novel by Australian-born author, Janette Turner Hospital, examines the interconnected pasts of five Sydneysiders.  All of them have pain they want to forget and a lost friend they hope to find.  

617560A childhood tragedy connects Charlie, Catherine, Robbie, and Cat.  They each have different ways of dealing with the trauma – amnesia, silence, and obsession.

Model student turned prostitute, Lucy, is our first person narrator.  A generation younger than the other characters, she is an outsider to the novel’s main events.  However, her unique vantage point as an invisible member of Sydney’s lowest class makes her the best eyes through which to view the story.  Lucy and her lover, Robbie’s son Gabriel, are desperate to uncover the truth of their friends’ pasts.

Humankind cannot bear very much lack of meaning.  If we have to experience horror, there has to be a point.  There has to be.  In fact, it is not the horror itself that torments us so much as the need to understand.  We have to get to the heart of the labyrinth where the minotaur lurks.  We want to know that the labyrinth is mappable, that there is a minotaur, there there is at least something at the core of things which is responsible for all this dread, and we want to reassure ourselves that if we trail Ariadne’s thread behind us we can find a way out again – page 332

Truth and meaning are the prevailing themes.  The exact nature of the childhood trauma and the chronology of events are cloaked in mystery for much of the novel.  The actual premise took until part two to come into full focus.  Many details are ambiguous, leaving the reader to connect the intricate threads on their own.  Lucy is a fitting narrator since she – like us readers – must gradually gather information to form an interpretation.  The variety of points of view and quantity of introspection make this a layered and complex narrative.

The passing on of secrets, I think, is like the passing of time in the rainforest, strangler figs on dead hosts putting forth their new shoots, the smell of decay and the smell of yeast always there – page 383

Screen Shot 2016-04-04 at 2.23.36 pmTurner Hospital’s writing is one of a kind.  Despite being exceptionally beautiful, her abstract and heady style requires enormous mental effort to read.  That said, if you have the brain power to muscle your way through her web of words, her metaphors and images will haunt you forever – not least of all because confronting accounts of rape, murder, drugs, and sexual obsession pepper this painful story.  The density and polished quality gave me the impressive this book should have taken a lifetime to write.

The Last Magician unpicks the seams of human psyche and examines it from every angle, before stitching it carefully back together.  I have no experience as a reader I can compare to reading this book.  

Photo credits: http://www.goodreads.com / http://www.middlemiss.org

Review | The Pause by John Larkin

The Pause won the 2015 Griffith University Young Adult Book Prize after its release earlier this year.  I got to meet author, John Larkin, at the 2015 Queensland Literary Awards.  Larkin’s intimate and confronting acceptance speech explained how he wrote this book to give young adults a language to discuss depression and other mental illnesses – something he saw a desperate need for during his own mental breakdown and hospitalisation.  

But I didn’t give it a chance because the agony was too much, my nerve endings had ruptured, my sense of logic and scale had vanished.  It was too much because I had no reference point.  I called it quits on an impulse when all I had to do was ride it out until it had passed.  And pass it would … I thought I would be stuck with this agony forever.  But I had the wrong mixture of chemicals whirring around in my brain … My mind was broken.  And when your mind breaks you need help.  External help.  Because the thing you rely on most to get you through the screaming darkness is the very thing that’s broken.  And that’s where and why it all falls apart – page 40


The Pause 
is told from the perspective of 17-year-old Declan.  When he attempts suicide, the narrative splits into two alternate realities Sliding Doors style: in the first, he dies and is stuck in purgatory; in the second, he pauses and eventually recovers from his depression with medical and psychiatric help.

Statistics published on Mindframe Australia’s website show that in 2013, suicide accounted for a total of 2,522 deaths in Australia.  That is 6.9 deaths by suicide in Australia each day.  

9780857981707John Larkin uses this book to help break the stigmatisation around mental illness.  He considers this to be especially important for young men who are less likely to be confident with communicating their difficult feelings.  Without discrimination, The Pause shows the recovery process and demystifies the causes of suicidal thoughts.  The result is a story that gives validation and hope to people who don’t know how to process or articulate their experiences.  A lot of emphasis is placed on the importance of lasting connections with caring family members and friends.  Declan has to learn to ask these people for the help he needs, rather than making the fatal mistake of thinking he’s a burden to the loved ones who would give the world to help him.

This book was written for people who aren’t big readers.  Its cast of characters and plot cover easy-to-recognise cliches, successfully making the story palatable and entertaining.  Young adult readers will love its Australian setting and constant authentic references to topics every Aussie kid will know by heart.  It reminds of an Australian equivalent of Stephen Chbosky’s The Perks of Being a Wallflower.  Perks – both the book and the movie – is a massive hit with the same demographic as The Pause, and deals with many of the same ideas, although without John Larkin’s clarity and focus.

I think that The Pause is essential reading.  It delivers an unforgettable message and gives  young adults, especially young men, the words to talk about their experiences of depression.  My copy is now battered and dogeared at my favourite pages- nothing is more moving than reading a passage that expresses, validates, and puts into context something you thought only you felt.  These aha! moments can save lives.  I am grateful that John Larkin survived his own experience of depression to give us this incredibly important book.  

Review | A Single Stone by Meg McKinlay

Released only May this year, A Single Stone won the 2015 Griffith University Children’s Book Award.  I got to meet its gorgeous author, Meg McKinley, at the QLD Literary Awards ceremony.  (You can read all about it!)  

asinglestone_hiresA Single Stone tells the story of Jena, leader of the line.  For generations, her tiny village has been cut off from the outside world, and survives by harvesting heat-giving mica from the mountain.  However, this honoured task can only be performed by young girls small enough to fit inside the mountain’s claustrophobic tunnels.  One small discovery makes Jena question everything she knows about herself, her family, and the world of her village.

The story was so gripping that I gobbled it up in a few days.  I loved the fast, cleverly structured plot.  Jena’s world is gradually puzzled together, slowly unveiling the depth of McKinlay’s imagination.  The expert pacing kept me hooked to learn more right up until the final pages.

McKinlay’s writing is lyrical and measured.  I loved the constant sensory descriptions of tunnelling into the mountain.  Jena’s intuitive relationship with the mountain is beautiful to read.  I can so clearly see her world through her eyes and get lost in its detail.

When she was through, she paused, waiting for the next girl.  They were deep now, in the heart of the mountain.  Around her, the earth pressed so tightly it was hard to tell where her body ended and the stone began.

– page 5

Even as an adult, A Single Stone is a riveting and rewarding read.  It’s loaded with challenging themes.  However, the story develops these ideas and progresses carefully through them to deliver a layered and stimulating plot.  It combines a uniquely gritty and rich atmosphere with empathetic characters and a great plot to resonate with readers much older than its target early-teen audience.  McKinlay’s perfectionism as a writer results in a haunting work of literature.  

Meeting Meg McKinlay at the Queensland Literary Awards 2015

At this year’s Queensland Literary Awards at the State Library of Queensland, I had the pleasure of meeting children’s author, Meg McKinlay.  Meg’s latest novel, A Single Stone, won the Griffith University Children’s Book Award.  During her acceptance speech, I was thinking to myself how amazing it would be to go up to her and say hi.  But then what after “hi”?  I was feeling nervous already.  

After the ceremony, I raced out, bought a copy of A Single Stone, and then began the mincing dawdle of someone who prefers to wait awkwardly nearby a celebrity rather than interrupt them.

Screen Shot 2015-10-11 at 11.06.11 pmWhen Meg noticed me star-strickeningly clutching her book, she offered to sign it for me.  I needn’t have been nervous.  We ended up sitting down to chat about our mutual love of The Silver Chair from The Chronicles of Narnia, a book that resonates deeply for us both.

It was amazing to have such a natural, down-to-earth conversation with an author that I admire.  I felt humbled.  Meg McKinlay was so open to share about herself and expressed sincere interest in my passion to be a children’s author.  She wrote a kind note to me inside A Single Stone which I will treasure.

I can’t wait to read A Single Stone.  You can expect a review when I do.  What an amazing experience!

If you haven’t already, don’t forget to check out the other Queensland Literary Award winners.  You can even read the short story finalists of the State Library of Queensland’s 2015 Young Writers Award.  My earlier post has all the links you need to check them out.

Important Links:

Meg McKinlay

Queensland Literary Awards