Monday, 19 February 2018

Shout Out to The Girls: A Celebration of Awesome Australian Women

Shout Out to The Girls: A Celebration of Awesome Australian Women (Penguin Random House). HB RRP $29.99   ISBN 9780143789420

Reviewed by Dianne Bates

If, as Australians, we want role models for our girls to become amazing women, and our boys to respect and honour women, it is incumbent upon us to share the kinds of stories found in this recently published book.

Fifteen women employed by the publisher have written biographies of 50 incredible Australian women, some (like Mary MacKillop, Nancy Wake and Ita Buttrose) who are nationally known, and others (Sia, Aheda Zanetti and Alice Anderson) who are lesser known.  An early, fully-qualified mechanic, Anderson (1897 – 1926), for example, was founder of the Women’s Automobile Club, and opened her own business, Kew Garage, where she employed an all-female staff of mechanics and apprentices.

The women featured in this book are by no means all Anglo (such as motivationalist Turia Pitt, comedian and disability activist Stella Young, artist Nora Heyson); there are, for example, a number of aboriginal women, such as film-maker Rachel Perkins, Sudanese-born mechanical engineer, author and activist Yassmin Abdel-Magied, third generation Chinese Kylie Kwong and author Melina Marchetta of Italian heritage, and many others. Tribute is even paid to transgender Jordan Raskopoulos, an internationally acclaimed comedian.

The chosen women’s sphere of influence is wide-ranging, embracing for instance, fields such as human rights, politics, car racing, social work, film and theatre production and much more. Quite a few women are advocates (including for women’s health, aboriginal rights, brain cancer, the environment, the arts).

Thanks to this book, for the first time this aged feminist reviewer came upon the stories of Felicity Wishart, Ella Havelka, Dharmic Mistry and Daisy Pearce. One of the featured women has won four Academy Awards (Catherine Martin), has led Australia (Julia Gillard), been honoured as Australian of the Year (burns surgeon Fiona Wood), represented Australia internationally (Paralympian skier Jess Gallaher). There’s even young Jade Hemeister (2001 --) who’s explored the Artic!

Each of the one-page biographies is colourfully illustrated by 34 talented women artists, giving art students a great reference for a variety of portraiture.

The women in Shout Out for the Girls must surely show both sexes that women can and do succeed in whatever industry they decide to enter. Highly recommended.

Wednesday, 20 December 2017

Curly Tales: short stories with a twist

Bill Condon (text), Dave Atze (illus.),  Curly Tales: short stories with a twist,  Big Sky Publishing, 1 Sept 2017,  100pp.,  $12.99 (pbk),  ISBN: 9781925520590

Curly Tales includes fourteen very short stories for children eight years plus, ranging in length from a few pages to around twelve pages. Each story features an animal as its central protagonist, and concludes with a twist on a well-known proverb. For example, a story about a famous tv personality who happens to be a pig, and who fatefully changes his life based on the advice of the artist Van Geek, concludes with ‘Beware of Geeks bearing gifts’. The proper proverbs are included at the end of the book, along with an explanation of their meaning.
The characters in the stories are creatures great and small – worms, elephants, gorillas, fleas and more. They find themselves in some crazy situations, often because of their wish to escape the confines of their usual life: Gertrude the worm gets to fly, Wally the wolf plays dress ups and Fifi discovers what is so great about being a flea. Some of the stories don’t end well for the protagonists – they meet their ends eaten by a lion, flushed down a bath plug or set in concrete. For others the outcome is far better, and often they learn valuable life lessons.
Simple line drawings feature regularly, bringing the stories to life with a lot of humour and action. The print is large and broken up by occasional changes of font as well as a front page for each story, so reluctant readers will find it easy to move forward through the text.  The stories themselves often veer into unexpected territory, featuring funny characters and situations that will raise a giggle. It’s a shame that the gender balance is so uneven – nine stories feature male characters, whilst only three have a female at their centre, although these are clever, adventurous females. The remaining two stories feature a wife/husband couple, and the females at least are a masterful chef and a trapeze artist. Overall these are fun stories and would be a great way to introduce the idea of proverbs.
Reviewed by Rachel Le Rossignol

Friday, 15 December 2017

Letters from the Dead

Letters from the Dead by Dawn Meredith (Dingbat Publishing) PB RRP $18.50
ISBN 9781977720702

Reviewed by Kylie Buckley

Delia Fox is a nineteen year old university student who discovers she has a unique gift. During a horrific accident at the café where she works, she learns that she can read the last memories of the recently departed just by touching them.

Unfortunately for Delia this gift is a double-edged sword. It makes her feel empowered and she considers it ‘a privilege to be the recipient of a soul’s last memories’. However, most people are infuriated that she interferes with the dead. One of the very few people who appreciate Delia’s special gift is a police inspector, Jonah Rainbird, who seeks her assistance to solve complex cases. Delia happily begins working with Jonah but encounters more resistance than she bargained for. Her family, her boyfriend, Jonah’s colleagues and others, show their disapproval in a variety of hurtful and disturbing ways. Yet despite the negativity from most people in her life, Delia feels it is her duty to fight for the dead and let them be heard. But at what cost?

The story is written in the first person, told through Delia’s eyes. As Delia loved getting lost in Shakespeare’s sonnets, each chapter opens with a Shakespeare quote for readers to contemplate. This 400+ page fictional novel is targeted towards adults who love drama and suspense. It has themes of death, crime, corruption, revenge and love. Letters from the Dead is a page-turner definitely worth a read!

Wednesday, 13 December 2017

Ms Runway and Australia’s next top merino

Ms Runway and Australia’s next top merino by Matt Porter (Celapene Press) PB RRP $16.95 ISBN: 9781925572124 (paperback), ISBN: 9781925572131 (ebook; epub), ISBN: 9781925572148 (ebook; kindle)

Reviewed by Dianne Bates

Ms Southern, principal of Outback Creek school (school emblem a giant earthworm), is concerned about the fall in student numbers. But another problem facing the school’s sixth graders is that they keep getting crazy relief teachers. Their last teacher, Mr Crikey, headed outback to study the occurrence of double-yolkers in emu eggs but … drumroll! … enter the fabulously beautiful, globe-trotting Ms Jennifer Runway, Host of Australia’s Next Top Model. Immediately Runway sets the students a task – to work out ways of attracting more students to Outback Creek.

The result is Outback Creek’s Next Top Model; a modelling competition where the winner will star in a social media campaign to attract new students to the school.

The students of sixth grade are a stereotypical bunch from the bright boy (Nathan), the dumb kind (Pete), the bully (Radley, who is smitten with the new teacher), and the token tom-boy (Holly). Then there’s Radley’s off-sider Weasel and would-be model Brittany, who, together with the school assistant, Mrs Forbes, fronts up for the audition along with a now sartorial Radley. But what’s the fourth entrant? Here comes Pete Peterson with his pet sheep, Delta Goodram! Of course, there’s hot debate about whether a sheep can enter a top model competition, but sure, why not?

Throughout the book there is plenty of amusing banter among the students. Particularly funny (and witty) is an episode where brainy Nathan matches wits with his less-smart teacher about answers to questions asked of contestants about what to take to a deserted island. (Why not a speedboat to escape?) In fact, the author’s use of dialogue is the strongest aspect of this fast-paced, energetic and engaging novel.

It’s refreshing to find a book for children that has no literary pretentions but is sure to appeal to and be enjoyed by the average reader aged 8 to 11 years. This is the fifth book in the Crazy Relief Teachers series which surely indicates that the series has been popular. Perhaps there will be more to come?

Monday, 11 December 2017

Jemma Short Stories

Jemma Short Stories by Stefan Nicholson (San Publishers) PB RRP $19 ISBN 978-0-9804604-4-5

Reviewed by Stacey Gladman

Stefan Nicholsons Jemma - Short Stories contains four short stories in sequence from the first short story Jemmas Blues. Subsequent stories are Jemma and the Red Seal, Jemmas White Horse and Jemma and the Golden Eagle.

The four stories each reveal more about the central characters in the Palette family, with the lead protagonist, daughter Jemma, sister Deidre and Mum and Dad. Dad is a writer and his creative writing and influence Jemmas life and goals for the future.

In 'Jemmas Blues' - and my favourite of the four stories, Jemma and her sister are arguing about the boy next door who Jemma has a crush on. Dad uses the opportunity to tell a story about two unlikely people who happen to find love.

Each of the four stories, while being based in a lighthearted family setting, offers a life lesson for the reader woven into the background. As you read through the four stories the familys character quirks become more apparent.

Jemma: Short Stories would suit young readers in early teen years as the writing style is at times intricate, and I feel the themes and lessons would suit that age group.

Saturday, 9 December 2017

Excerpt from Freefalling

by Maura Pierlot

(YA fiction, unpublished)

Carter walks down the aisle, nodding to everyone, in a friendly, gotcha kind of way, his peacock-blue eyes casting a spell upon contact. There’s too much to take in as my eyes dart from one fine feature to the next. His straight, well-proportioned nose, full lips and strong jaw coexist harmoniously on his enviable face; his broad shoulders complement his tall and lanky frame; and his tousled, sun-streaked locks give new respect to blonds worldwide. Eden is salivating; she keeps wiping the sides of her mouth like she can’t stop the drool from escaping. Talia smiles, having just spotted the same thing. She holds out a tissue for Eden, like a bib, but Eden’s too busy slobbering to notice.

It’s Carter’s walk that reels me in: he moves without ego, effort or entitlement, seemingly oblivious to Mother Nature’s many blessings. Nervous energy takes over. My hands have a life of their own, like I’m having a fit, so I quickly sit on them. My heart is racing, my chest feels tight, and there’s a weird tingling in my arm. I think I’m having a stroke – I remember these signs from a medical show Mum made me watch over the summer – but I quickly work out that my bum is cutting off circulation to my hands. Target locked: Carter’s eyes meet mine and his mouth is taken over by a wide grin, revealing killer dimples. Could this guy be any cuter?

Thursday, 7 December 2017

Jemma, Short Stories

Jemma, Short Stories by Stefan Nicholson (SAN publishers), PB RRP $19 ISBN 9780980460445

Reviewed by Pauline Hosking

In his publicity blurb the author writes that this book is primarily aimed at YA readers and anyone above the age of twelve. Young readers are interested in stories about people their own age or a few years older. Even though this book is titled Jemma, who is the youngest daughter in the Palette family, the main character in all the stories is Dad, a middle-aged writer of fiction.

Early in the second story we learn that Mum is in hospital with some undiagnosed problem. The story then focuses on Jemma meeting an old sea captain who sets her a riddle. The riddle’s answer will explain how humans should spend their lives. The story is thus high-jacked by adults, with the riddle being solved by Mum. (Her illness had been caused by the family dog’s new herbicidal shampoo).  

The third story is a variation on Six Characters in Search of an Author, with the imaginary Palette family talking to the author.

The fourth story, which has the most potential for 8-12 year olds, concerns the theft of a golden eagle. Jemma plays more of a role here, but at the climax of the story, instead of being actively involved in saving the eagle, she and her friends retreat to eat pizza and wait patiently for news.

This book would probably work best for an adult audience.