Tuesday, 20 February 2018

Review: Breath by Tim Winton

I cannot quite remember why I didn't buy or read a copy of Breath when it was released in 2008, despite the fact that I've been a Tim Winton fan since the late 90s, wrote a part of my honour thesis on Dirt Music, though I can recall that 2008 was a year of many great changes for me, so maybe it just slipped off my radar. I wouldn't read another Winton novel until Eyrie was released in 2013. (Speaking of, I never did review Eyrie on the blog ...) Anyway, I bought a paperback copy a few years back, and put it down after a few pages. Having just enjoyed That Eye, The Sky and knowing that Winton has another novel due out soon, I decided to give this book another go.

What I got was a slow moving but enjoyable coming-of-age novel that is spoiled somewhat by a depraved plot twist somewhere toward the end. And maybe my stupidity is showing right here, but I honestly think this coming-of-age story could have worked just as well, if not better, without it. Okay, I get that it actively demonstrates the link between fear and adrenaline, which is what drives the characters through their adventures as they take greater and greater risks in the surf, but it also pushes the boundaries of what I am comfortable with reading about, and what I am not. Over the years, Winton has taken me to so many different places and forced me to feel empathy for so many different people, but this twist left me with a huge question mark over my head. Either it is a really shitty thing to do to a reader, or I am not nearly as smart or as literate as I previously thought.

Anyway, most of the novel tells the story of Bruce Pike, a kid growing up in Western Australia in the 1970s who, along with his friend Loonie, is befriended by Sando, a semi-retired pro surfer who wants to mentor both boys. As the years go on, Bruce, or Pikelet as he becomes known, slowly begins to realise that although he is good at his sport, he'll never be quite as good as the other two, or willing to take the risks that Sando and Loonie do. This, along with a betrayal, leads the fifteen year old Pikelet to have an affair with Eva, Sando's bitter wife, and then, well, something happens that proves that this child is well out of his depth. Or that he's you know, a fish out of water. (Sorry.) 

And, of course, Pikelet doesn't grow up to have a great life--it's as if the pain of living, and consequently, breathing is more painful than dying. It's a depressing thought.

Fans of Winton's early novels may be amused to know that Queenie Cookson makes an appearance as Pikelet's girlfriend. 

The writing is good, the last part of the book unsettling.

This book was read as part of the Aussie Author Challenge 2018

Monday, 19 February 2018

Review: The Baby-Sitters Club's Special Christmas (BSC TV Series Episode 5)

Stacey's diabetes may have been overlooked in Stacey's Big Break, but in this episode, it takes a starring role when Stacey decides to go off her diet. Meanwhile, Kirsty is busy earning money to help pay for her Christmas gift, despite the fact that her mother is married to a millionaire. (Seems suspiciously like slave labour to me.) The other baby-sitters are busy working on a Christmas party that is to be held in the children's wing of the local hospital for all the sick kids. Inevitably, the episode ends with Stacey in hospital, and with Kristy giving her new and expensive baseball glove to a boy in the hospital who is so poor that his parents couldn't afford to give him any presents this year.

This episode was schmultzy, overlong and rather annoying but I guess that is what happens when you watch Christmas specials at the end of January ... 

Note: This is the first episode of the series that I cannot remember watching at all when I was a kid. I'm wondering if maybe it wasn't released here?

Sunday, 18 February 2018

Marge Simpson & Prejudice

Just sharing this clip, because it so perfectly and so simply illustrates the nature of prejudice.

Saturday, 17 February 2018

Review: Take Three Girls by Cath Crowley, Simone Howell & Fiona Wood

Three seemingly very different girls at an exclusive private school are targeted by a website in this novel about bullying, feminism and, ultimately, friendship. Clem, Kate and Ady are about as different as you can get, one girl is unpopular but sporty, another is a music buff there on a scholarship and one is a privileged part of the in-crowd. Working together as part of a seemingly tacky school Wellness programme the three realise that they have more in common than what they initially thought--and that together, they are able to conspire to take down the toxic website that targeted them.

This book had a lot of potential and it works well in places--for example, the authors very cleverly show that the seemingly useless Wellness programme did actually work, even if it wasn't quite in the way that the school intended. The authors also have a lot to say about the nature of female friendship, sibling rivalry and predatory behaviour. Sadly, one thing lets this novel down. 


Clem's twin sister Iris is shown to be a broken kid, one who bullies and causes others pain because she is hurting herself. This is done quite well. What isn't done quite so well, particularly in a book which has so many sound moral lessons, is giving clues on how to save a kid like Iris. Or what to do if you are a kid like Iris. While kids like that need to be accountable for their actions, they also need one other important thing if we want to prevent them from going any further. Empathy. And there is no (or at least little,) empathy in this novel for Iris who remains a broken kid at the end of the narrative. I felt as though the message was that there was no hope for a kid like her, which made me angry and then sad. This is a shame as I said, so many other things in this novel work well and are quite entertaining. It's great seeing the three girls grow and learn to stick up for themselves.

This book was read as part of the Aussie Author Challege 2018

Friday, 16 February 2018

Friday Funnies: Valentine's Day


Wednesday, 14 February 2018

Review: Between Us by Clare Atkins

Powerful and heartbreaking are the two words that came to mind the moment that I sat down to write this review. From the moment that I heard of this book--about two very different teenagers in Darwin--I knew that I had to read it, and I was not disappointed. I was sad at times, and sadly not surprised, but the story also moved me to the point where I was still thinking about it well after I closed the covers.

Ana, known as KIN016 to the staff at Wickham Point Detention Centre, is both excited and frightened to be starting school in Australia. Ana is an Asylum Seeker who arrived in Australia by boat, along with her mother, her baby brother and her mother's boyfriend. Since then, life in detention has been tough. They've been moved around a lot, and her mother's boyfriend is stuck in the detention centre in Nauru, while Ana's pregnant mother is expecting their baby any day. Meanwhile, Kenny, a guard at the centre who was born in Vietnam tells Ana that his son Jono will look out for her. Kenny soon regrets his decision when Jono and Ana become closer than what anyone would have expected them to...

This was an interesting take on some of the real issues that surround immigration detention in Australia. Through Jono, we see the freedoms that kids in Australia have and take for granted. Through Kenny we see the conflict between humanity and bureaucracy, as well as the suspicion of the people who are in detention--are they genuine refugees or not? Kenny's own story of arriving in Australia is very different--his sister arrived here in an era when refugees were welcomed, and he came out a few years later, having been sponsored by his sister. It's partly his own experiences that help to ignite his suspicions, along with his fraught relationship with Jono. Kenny's suspicions eventually have devastating consequences.

As for Jono himself, he's a broken kid whose life is turned around for the better through his friendship with Ana? But is the friendship equal? Does Ana's life improve because of her friendship with Ana. Read her final chapters, and compare them with Jono's chapters at the start of the novel and maybe you'll get an idea.

Although heartbreaking, this was an enjoyable and realistic read about the very human side to what is quite a difficult issue in Australia. On a side note, it was also pleasing to read a novel set in Darwin, as these can be few and far between. 

Highly recommended.

This book was read as part of the Aussie Author Challenge 2018

Sunday, 11 February 2018

Review: Chitty Chitty Bang Bang by Ian Fleming

After there was James Bond came ... Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Ian Fleming's only novel for children and was published in the months following the author's death. While not as famous as the movie or stage play that it influence, this delightful novel is a rollicking read about an unusual family and a very special car--one that can fly, swim and might just help the Potts family to stop a nasty gang of criminals ...

It truly is a shame that Fleming did not live long enough to see this novel in print, or to continue to write for children--he has a terrific writing style, similar to Roald Dahl in parts (in fact, Dahl would later help to adapt the book to film,) but with a unique flair of its own. My copy has the original illustrations, which are quite fitting for the book. It's also a lot of fun with cliffhanger chapters, unusual plot twists and a very likeable family in the driver's seat.

Overall, well done.

Highly recommended.