Unfinished business – Morris Gleitzman’s ‘Soon’

soon coverI am a sucker for a series. Once I’ve started reading a novel or a series, I find it very hard to stop. I feel compelled to reach the end even if I don’t particularly enjoy it, or if it’s completely disturbing. Some part of me wants to know what happens and feels obligated to the author. When I saw that Morris Gleitzman had released a fifth book in his ‘Once’ series (aka The Felix and Zelda series), I felt that same compulsion to pick it up and read it.

Set just after the official end of World War II, Soon sees Felix struggling with the ongoing effects of the war and the ruins of social order and relationships, the devastation of the ongoing violence and chaos. In a world where any kind of morality is forgotten when faced with a loaf of bread, Felix shows relentless selflessness as he furthers his training as a doctor and continues to care for Gabriek. However, he begins to question what is right and wrong when charged with the protection of human life.

I was convinced before reading that I was too old for the series – I had begun to read it in primary school – but as I read Soon, I found myself feeling captivated by the story rather than compelled by my long commitment to the series. Reading the author’s note at the back of the novel, I was able to appreciate the author’s efforts to create novels that can be read in isolation, out of order, and that provide complete stories by themselves. Maybe it’s Gleitzman’s attempts to remove the interdependence and cliffhanger endings that often occur in series in order to keep the reader interested that makes his novels so enjoyable. once series covers

I noticed and appreciated different elements of this novel than I would have done if I had read it at the age I was when I read Once, the original book. For the first time in the series, the possibility of romance was apparent, and I realised that Felix had grown as I had (though he has passed through time at a much different rate than his readers). Soon is unexpectedly beautiful in its balance of hope and despair. Its very real and honest characters, faced with tragic circumstances, inhabit yet another well-crafted story from Gleitzman. I would recommend it to any fan of the series, anyone interested in WWII, and readers aged 11-18 looking for a great way to spend a summer afternoon.

About a girl (and a boy)…

Traditionally, I don’t read romance books. This could be due to reading too many of those boy-meets-girl-in-clichéd-American-middle-school stories when I was ten. Then there are the substandard writing and overworked plot lines so often associated with the genre. However, I recently glimpsed a book named You’re The Kind Of Girl I Write Songs About (Daniel Herborn, HarperCollins) in my school library. The title and blurb intrigued me, so I decided to disregard my rule and give it a chance…

You’re The Kind of Girl I Write Songs About follows the story of two teenagers who share a passion for rock music. There’s Mandy, who’s taking a gap year and whose plans for the future are as yet undecided, and there’s Tim, a budding singer/songwriter who has suffered a traumatic family situation and is repeating year 12. The pair meet at a gig at which Tim is playing, and are instantly attracted to one another. At first, neither party is confident enough to approach the other, but gradually a relationship forms between the pair. The book tracks the progression of their lives and dreams, their friendships and family relationships, but most importantly their romance.

I was a little unsure of the book at first, but soon enough came to truly love it. The you're the kind of girlromance was well-written, and didn’t succumb to the common clichés often used by authors of the genre. The book is written in first person from the perspectives of both Mandy and Tim, and Herborn uses this concept very well. I felt that the characters’ differing personalities were handled skilfully, with contrasting character voices mirroring each protagonist’s thoughts and mannerisms perfectly. These multiple perspectives are to the book’s advantage, giving the reader a more balanced and almost omnipresent view of the tale.

The book’s originality, too, is very refreshing. Modern young adult fiction is often based on the same narrative, which has been rehashed more times than anyone would care to count. To read something that diverges from this concept is an enjoyable (and welcome) change! Perhaps my only gripe with the book is that the dialogue feels quite forced on a few occasions. Otherwise, it is excellently written.

I particularly enjoyed the book’s many music references. Unsurprisingly, there is no shortage of these – the book’s title, after all, mentions music, and the two protagonists’ lives virtually revolve around it. As a passionate music fan myself, I especially appreciated this. Both characters are shown listening to bands like Vampire Weekend, The Go Betweens, Joy Division, The Smiths, Elliott Smith and The xx, and they are also often depicted wearing t-shirts displaying artists ranging from David Bowie to The Clash.

One of the elements of the plot is a mixtape, involving songs such as ‘About A Girl’ by Nirvana (my favourite of their songs, from which this post takes its name), and ‘You’re No Rock’n’ Roll Fun’ by Sleater-Kinney. Tim, at one point, even attends a Flaming Lips gig! The book also accurately shows some of the most essential experiences of any music fan: flipping through the music magazine section at the local newsagent, watching hours of rage and so on. While the reader needs a near-encyclopaedic knowledge of alternative music for the book to entirely make sense on first read, the plot line is enough to keep less fanatic readers interested, and it will hopefully introduce them to plenty of artists they wouldn’t have listened to otherwise!

In my opinion, You’re The Kind of Girl I Write Songs About is one of the best young adult novels around at the moment, and is most definitely worth a read!

Festive Five gift book list #1

The silly season is creeping up on us again – and what better gift for the loved ones on your list than a wonderful, well-chosen book!

Over the next few weeks we will be perusing our collection in-store, and posting some of our top picks here to help you choose. New releases, old favorites, food for thought and fuel for laughter, there’s something for everyone!

Here is our first list of five, to get you started:

1. For Foodies:
Inspire your aspring chef with NOPI by Yotam Ottolenghi and Ramuel Scully

NOPI, by Yotam Ottolenghi and Ramuel Scully

“In collaboration with NOPI’s head chef Ramuel Scully, Yotam’s journey from the Middle East to the Far East is one of big and bold flavours, with surprising twists along the way.”
Suggested by Kate

2. For the young and young-at-heart:
Enchant their imaginations with Finding Winnie, by Lindsay Mattick and Sophie Blackall – a true story filled with wonder!

Finding Winnie, by Lindsay Mattick and Sophie Blackall

Truth is every bit as delightful as fiction in this fascinating, adventurous and sweet story of the real-life bear who inspired A.A. Milne to create Winnie-the-Pooh. Warmly told by the great-great grandaughter of the war veterinarian who adopted ‘Winnie’, and beautifully illustrated by Sophie Blackall.
Suggested by Robin

3. For the creatives in your life:
9780500500521Get their stitchin’ fingers itchin’ with The Craft Companion, by Ramona Barry and Rebecca Jobson

Craft has transcended the domestic and is now thriving in every creative sphere – food, fashion, fine art, architecture and more! The craft revival shows an increasing appreciation of community and DIY approaches to life. From embroidery and felting to collage and macrame, The Craft Companion features over 30 new and old crafting techniques. Each chapter looks at the evolution of a craft, contemporary artists working with the medium, as well as tools and techniques to get you started – plus a project you can do at home.
Suggested by Kate and Robin

4. For the wanderlusty:
Dazzle their senses with Lonely Planet’s Beautiful World
Untitled

The breath-taking photography in Beautiful World will take you to the planet’s most magnificent places. Thought-provoking insights into these incredible scenes will leave you in awe and with itchy feet.
Suggested by Kate

5. For the story lover:
An extraordinary re-imagining of King David’s rise to power and fall from grace in Geraldine Brooks’ The Secret Chord

Part legend, part history, all drama and richly drawn detail; with stunning originality, acclaimed author Geraldine Brooks offers us a compelling portrait of a morally complex hero from this strange and wonderful age.
Suggested by Ben


And now we’ll stick our noses back into the fabulous range of books in-store to put together our second Festive Five gift book list! Happy reading until then!

 

Stay Gold, Ponyboy.

I’ve been meaning to read The Outsiders for ages. It sat on my list of books to read for months, written messily in black biro, sandwiched between Jack Kerouac’s On The Road and Kim Gordon’s memoirs. But a few weeks ago, I found my dad’s paperback edition from the ’80s in the family bookshelf, and I finally got around to reading it! If you’re not familiar with the book, you can read more about it here.

One of the first things that struck me about the book was the way it was written: in first person, from the perspective of 14-year-old Ponyboy Curtis. Ponyboy is a part of the ‘Greasers’, the less privileged of two teenage gangs which inhabit his hometown. (The other gang are known as the ‘Socs’, and think of themselves as better than the Greasers simply because they have more money. In reality, they’re not that different.) The voice that the author, S.E. Hinton, uses is not technically good, withthe outsiders slang and (intentional) bad grammar rife throughout the book. Nor is the way that she introduces the characters – ‘telling’ instead of ‘showing’, which goes completely against what any English student is taught. However, the technicalities don’t really matter with The Outsiders. The voice is completely how I would imagine a teenager like Ponyboy to speak/think/write, and I thought it was perfect for the book. The Outsiders is a great example of learning the rules, and then promptly breaking them, in the best possible way!

Another thing I soon realised was why The Outsiders has become an esteemed staple of young adult literature since its publication in 1967. Perhaps one of the biggest factors in its success is that Hinton herself was fifteen when she began writing the book, truly making it a book written by a teenager for teenagers. Hinton probably took inspiration from her life for parts of the book, making it all the more authentic. Her age and experiences also help the plausibility of the characters.

Another factor in The Outsiders‘ success is its relatability. Whilst the story is not overly relatable to 21st-century teenagers, the characters are a different story. Ponyboy is intelligent and loyal; a teenager gradually undergoing the transformation from child to adult; someone who sees the injustice of life, and dreams of a world where such misfortune doesn’t exist; an adolescent who has lost, and strives to win; a person learning to look beneath the labels and prejudices of society. His oldest brother, Darry, is portrayed as a sullen character who has been forced to grow up, yet as someone who has a good heart underneath all the frost he has created to be seen as ‘tough’; their other brother, Sodapop, is seen as less studious than Ponyboy, yet understanding and kind. The members of the Greasers – Ponyboy’s surrogate family – range from a timid, sensitive young boy to a tougher, older criminal, and everything in between. The reader is likely to identify with a character created within the pages of the novel, giving it even more appeal. And though, as mentioned above, the narrative itself is not particularly relatable, the ideals portrayed by the text are. The book is a story of belonging, finding your identity, coming of age. Every adolescent, no matter what the year, can identify with those.

Another thing that intrigues me about The Outsiders is the controversy that has shrouded it since its release. Even by today’s standards, the book’s portrayal of themes such as underage drinking, violence, crime and death is uncommonly unabashed, especially for young adult fiction. There’s considerable usage of low-level profanities as well, and none of the characters stem from nuclear families – such themes would have been uncommon in teenage literature at the time of the book’s publication. All the characters smoke, too, which  is a topic commonly shied away from in this era, though not necessarily controversial in 1967. The book is even banned in a number of schools across the USA because of the topics Hinton writes about. However, many high-school students study the book and its messages across the world, which helps it to reach a larger audience than it perhaps would have otherwise.

Before reading the book, I had high expectations of The Outsiders. These were well exceeded! I really enjoyed it. If you haven’t read the book, I would highly recommend getting hold of a copy and taking a look.

Who are you? (Who, who, who, who…)

As you may or may not know, I’m a huge rock music fan. So as you can assume, I really love reading books about my favourite bands. Today, I thought I’d review the latest one I’ve read – the memoirs of the guitarist and songwriter (plus synthesiser/keyboardist and occasional singer) for The Who, Pete Townshend! Called Who I Am, the title is a clever nod to The Who’s 1978 song ‘Who Are You?’, and the book only goes upwards from there…

Though I can now quite safely call myself a huge Who fan, I knew next to nothing about Pete Townshend when I read his autobiography. The book is a nice hardcover, and at 507 who i am pete townshendpages, it is not a quick read. But a wonderful read it is! The book begins with Townshend recounting the first time he destroyed a guitar; an act which would which would soon be forever rooted in The Who’s stage act. The book then moves into the actual chapters, which are split into three ‘acts’. The first spans from when he was born to 1969, the second 1970 to 1980, and the third 1981 to 2012. Townshend covers just about everything you’ve ever wanted to know about Who — or about himself, for that matter. You’ll learn that he has been partially deaf in his left ear ever since band mate Keith Moon infamously let off explosives on the Smothers Brothers’ Comedy Hour in 1967, and you’ll read about the origins and creations of The Who’s two rock operas, Tommy (1969) and Quadrophenia (1973), plus the never-released Lifehouse, which would turn into 1971’s Who’s Next. Townshend writes about how The Who came about, and his following of Indian spiritual master Meher Baba. He talks about working for publishing house Faber and Faber, and recounts the literary side of his extensive career. And that’s only a few things that he covers; if you’ve wanted to know anything about Townshend, he’s probably written about it here. Townshend is a fantastic writer, too; he is wonderfully poetic and you can tell that he has had an interest in writing for a long time.

Who I Am is a great read! Recommended not just for all Who fans — but for all fans of rock, too.

Trigger Warning

comics-neil-gaiman-trigger-warningIt took me a lot longer than I thought to read Neil Gaiman’s latest collection of short stories, Trigger Warning, published in February this year. And I have to confess that I still haven’t read the whole thing cover-to-cover, for no reason other than that I am too scared. But that is just a mark of Neil Gaiman’s skill.

Trigger Warning is a collection of ‘short fictions and disturbances’but for the most part it is thought-provoking or macabre rather than disturbing. Though it’s hard not to flinch at times.

I was surprised to find that one of the most enjoyable parts was the introduction to the collection, in which Gaiman explains his inspiration and the context for each of his works. He developed the title for the collection from the concept of trigger warnings on the internet, which have begun to be used in other contexts as well. Should we then consider ourselves warned or prepared for whatever personal responses we may have to the text? I found his exploration of this idea very interesting, but also found myself shying away from certain stories that he introduced with connotations of horror, (‘My Last Landlady’ and ‘Click-Clack the Rattlebag’) taking that to be a kind of trigger warning. The reader is able to learn a lot about the author as a person if they take the time to read the words before the real collection begins, and dispel some of the mystery and ambiguity that tend to surround short stories, which often are removed from a clear context. But this can be what makes them so engaging.

Gaiman is adept in writing short fictions. He balances well the reader’s interest and the subtleties of the messages he conveys. I have always enjoyed Neil Gaiman’s fantasy novels, but this collection goes beyond fantasy to explore a range of different genres and styles, ranging from questionnaires to stories based around tweets (which were quite good, despite their unusual origins) to an episode of Doctor Who, which I have always avoided and never liked, but had to admit was well-written. No two works are alike. In this way, it offers something for every reader, if you have the patience and courage to find it. I do hope that one day I will be able to read those two remaining stories, because if the rest of the collection is anything to go by, Gaiman’s storytelling will be superb.

The Weeping Woman

I was lucky enough to be able to read a proof copy of a book released in April called The Guy, The Girl, The Artist and His Ex (Gabrielle Williams, Allen & Unwin) recently. And I must say I really enjoyed it!

In 1986, a Picasso called ‘The Weeping Woman’ was stolen from the National Gallery of Victoria by a group of people who called themselves the Australian Cultural Terrorists. The ACT held the government to ransom with it, demanding more funding for young artists. But the painting was soon returned, no more funding ensued and the ACT were never discovered. (You can read more here.) The Guy, The Girl, The Artist and His Ex is based around the story of ‘The Weeping Woman”s theft, and speculates on how its disappearance could have affected the lives of four young Melburnians.

24500090Guy (the guy) is a serious party animal who isn’t doing particularly well at school. When his parents go away one weekend, he promises them that he won’t host a party. He is talked into having a party, however, and meets a girl. But on the way back from dropping this girl he has met home, he sees something that changes his life forever . . .

Rafi (the girl) is a girl with a past. She and her mother moved to Melbourne from South America soon after Rafi’s three-year-old brother drowned. Her mother became obsessed with the legend of La Llorona (or ‘The Weeping Woman’ in English – a coincidence . . .), a beautiful woman who drowns small children. Rafi is supposed to be babysitting the baby who lives next door, but she wants to go to a party. Instead, her mother ends up looking after the child, and her La Llorona obsession goes to a whole new level . . .

Luke (the artist) is a Cultural Terrorist. He and his friends Dipper (who is a guard at the Gallery) and Real (who is an art dealer – but nobody really knows who he is . . .) have orchestrated pretty much the entire thing. But soon enough, the cops realise that Dipper may have been involved in the theft of ‘The Weeping Woman’, and so begins the unraveling of what was supposed to be the art theft of at least the decade . . .

Penny (the ex) was once an über-cool rock chick; she was once with Luke. Then Luke got her pregnant. And soon after she gave birth to her little boy, she ditched Luke. (And quite rightfully so, because Luke treated her like rubbish.) One day, Penny decides to go out with a ‘friend’ to see a band, and leaves her son in the care of the girl next door. But when Penny gets back, her boy is gone . . .

I really enjoyed The Guy, The Girl, The Artist and His Ex! The book is styled as a series of vignettes, and though a lot happened, a lot didn’t happen, too. And I have always loved books like that. I would recommend it to an age-bracket of 13/14+. One of the best books I’ve read all year!

Introducing Ben and Jess

They’ve now been at Mostly Books for several months, so it’s about time we introduced them properly. Meet Jess and Ben, our newest booksellers.

Jess

Ever since she started working in her first bookstore at age 17, Jess has always loved selling, reading and talking about books. She particularly likes reading fantasy, science, history and gardening books, but often finds herself falling in love with nearly every other book that comes into the store too! Most of all, she loves the thrill of being able to make someone’s day by tracking down and finding a book that they’ve been searching for but haven’t been able to find anywhere else.

Ben

Ben writes and reads frequently. He has been selling books at Mostly Books since one of the months in 2014. When he is not in the shop he is probably working on a play, review, essay, short story, or tweet (@BenMBrooker). As of this writing, Ben is reading books by Eric Schlosser, Geoffrey Robertson, Margaret Atwood, and Albert Camus.

Meet Margaret Young

Margaret Young with her daughters Marnie Watts and Cath McGee in the Eastern Courier Messenger.
Margaret Young with her daughters Marnie Watts and Cath McGee in the Eastern Courier Messenger.

We’re delighted to announce that local author Margaret Young will be visiting Mostly Books on Wednesday 6 May from 6:00 pm.

Anna McGahan as Olive Haynes in 'Anzac Girls'.
Anna McGahan as Olive Haynes in ‘Anzac Girls’.

Margaret’s mother, Olive Haynes, was an Australian nurse in World War One. Her story is featured in the ABC TV series Anzac Girls.

Margaret received her mother’s diaries and letters from her father following Olive’s death in 1978. She compiled and edited them for publication in 1991, choosing the title ‘We Are Here, Too‘ to highlight Olive’s frustration that public attention was always on ‘our boys’, while ‘our girls’ were all but ignored.

Since editing and publishing her mother’s letters, Margaret has continued to advocate for greater recognition of our WWI nurses’ dedication and bravery. She republished ‘We Are Here, Too‘ last year to coincide with the release of Anzac Girls.

Join us for a cuppa (or a glass of wine) and hear first hand the inspiring stories of these two women.

This event is free, but RSVP is essential. Please email or phone (8373 5190) Mostly Books, or fill in the form below, by Tuesday April 28 at the latest.

Feel free to join our event on Facebook as well.

A Tale of Two Siblings (and their mother)

Another book I have read and reviewed recently is called Apple and Rain (Sarah Crossan). It’s a bit of a typical tweenange fiction book, and the storyline was relatively unoriginal. But regardless, it was still quite a good book.

Apple (short for Apollinia) has lived with her overprotective grandmother for eleven of theApple-and-Rain-Sarah-Crossan thirteen years of her life. She yearns for the mother who disappeared one Christmas Eve over a decade prior. One day, Apple is pulled out of school only to find her mother has returned. She disregards the pleas of her grandmother (and her father), packs her bags, and goes to live with her mother. But Apple soon discovers she is not her mother’s only child. She finds that she has a younger half-sibling (Rain) who is also living with Apple’s mother. Rain is convinced that her doll, Jenny, is a living child, and clearly suffers from a mental illness of some kind.

Apple is still convinced her mother is ‘the coolest person she’s ever met’, despite the fact that she expects Apple to look after her flat and babysit Rain whilst she looks for acting jobs for unpredictable amounts of time. But when her mother disappears one evening (in pursuit of one of these “acting jobs”), Apple realises that perhaps her mother isn’t quite who she thought she was.

I enjoyed Apple and Rain, but found it quite clichéd. The storyline is very similar to a lot of other books I have read, and the “twists and turns” were fairly predictable. However, I still very much liked the book. Recommended to an age bracket of 11-14.