The Guy, the Girl, the Artist and His Ex

Recently, I attended Somerset Celebration of Literature at Somerset College on the Gold Coast. I was fortunate enough to attend one of Gabrielle Williams’ sessions. I have been a huge fan of Gabrielle’s for some time, Beatle Meets Destiny being one of my favourite books.

During the session, Gabrielle spoke about her book The Guy, the Girl, the Artist and His Ex and it reminded me of how much I loved the book, and so I decided to reread it.

I love books that are a blend of truth and fiction. When authors take an event that has happened and weave it into a story, I find it endlessly fascinating. For days after I find myself googling different elements of the story to learn more. The Guy, the Girl, the Artist and His Ex is based on the infamous theft of Picasso’s ‘Weeping Woman’ from the NGV (National Gallery of Victoria) by a group called Australian Cultural Terrorists.

“On 2 August 1986, a group calling itself the Australian Cultural Terrorists stole one of the world’s most iconic paintings – Picasso’s Weeping Woman – off the walls of the National Gallery of Victoria and held it to ransom, demanding an increase in government funding for artists in Victoria. The painting was the subject of an international manhunt involving Interpol, Scotland Yard and the Australian Federal Police.

The Australian Cultural Terrorists were never found.”

It is almost inconceivable to imagine this theft occurring, and that the theft was so simply orchestrated. While googling the incident, I found an article in The Sydney Morning Herald by chief conservator Thomas Dixson (https://www.smh.com.au/entertainment/art-and-design/thomas-dixon-first-person-weeping-woman-20160623-gpqixc.html).

“Art gallery security in 1986 was primitive by today’s standards. I had been on staff at two major art galleries in the US and can attest that NGV facilities and procedures were pretty much on par with the art world of the time.

This meant that at 5 pm attendants locked up the gallery and did a perfunctory walk-through and beat a hasty exit leaving a skeleton staff overnight.

Lacking CCTV and motion detectors, the four-storey building was secured by two attendants’ hourly patrols with hand torches. A thief could simply conceal themselves until after closing and wait for a patrol to pass. They then had an hour or so until another patrol. Come morning they could mingle with other visitors and leave unnoticed. It wouldn’t take genius, just bravado.”

Gabrielle spins a story with four principal characters – Guy (The Guy), Rafi (The Girl), Luke (The Artist) and Penny (The Ex) and with a tremendous supporting cast tells their stories which she then weaves together to become one story. The book is told in third person alternating chapters. In the beginning, you don’t quite understand how all these characters stories are connected, but Gabrielle does a great job of intersecting their lives in surprising ways.

What I particularly like about books that revolve around an event that actually happened is the excerpts from newspaper articles and letters to the editor to tell me what the vibe was at the time concerning the incident. At the time the people of Victoria were wavering between being outraged at the theft or perplexed and bemused that the ‘kindergarten-like’ painting has been stole and cracking jokes or suggesting the Gallery is better off without it in its collection.

                “Thank heavens

Thank heavens that monstrosity has been taken off the walls of our gallery.

ELLEN PORTER, Balwyn”

 

                “Tired old jokes

                Picasso was original, unlike the tired old jokes about children being able to                  do better.

ERIC HANOVER, Northcote”

 

The novel ties together four characters who don’t know each other, a curse, a party, love at first sight and an art heist. Quite a combination but Gabrielle Williams is a master storyteller, and she ties together all these elements effortlessly. The Guy, the Girl, the Artist and His Ex is a superbly crafted novel. Gabrielle Williams is an intelligent, discerning and compassionate writer and this her second YA novel is an engaging, quirky page-turner.

 

 

 

 

Amelia Westlake – satire or romp?

Amelia Westlake is an easy read with an anti-establishment message.  It wasn’t a great read, but it wasn’t a terrible read. On the whole, it was a witty and engaging read from an Ampersand Prize-winning author.

Amelia Westlake is an enjoyable read, and I do think that Erin Gough managed to highlight several issues that are important to young people. There was a definite feminist vibe to the book, which I believe young adults will warm to.

The book revolves around two main characters. There is Will (short for Wilhemina). Will is snarky, anti-social and politically evolved (apparently) and a talented artist. Yes, she could fit a stereotype. Harriet is an over-achiever, she’s a school prefect and star tennis player. Yes, another stereotype.

After school one day while Will is in detention and Harriet is sucking up to a teacher the two girls engage in a heated discussion and come up with a cartoon depicting their sleazy sports coach. The girls decide they should deliver it to the student newspaper to be published. The only trouble is the school newspaper editor (a friend of Will’s) won’t publish anything without a name attached to it. The girls come up with the pseudonym of Amelia Westlake. After the success of the cartoon, Will & Harriet decide to hook up and cause havoc in Amelia Westlake’s name.

The book continues along in this manner, where the girls continue to expose social injustices that are occurring in their elitist private school. The trouble is that the book feels contrived and a little like a sitcom at times. Nothing is ever entirely believable. At times, the characters feel like caricatures, particularly Will and her friend the school editor, Nat.

I did enjoy the comedy and the witty dialogue, and there were times that I laughed out loud.

“She’s a joiner. Joiners are the worst. She’s unbelievably repressed. She has a grating enthusiasm. She says meaningless things like, ‘Everything happens for a reason’ and, ‘There’s no “I” in team!”

I found Harriet incredibly endearing and grew to quite like her. Though, I am not entirely sure that private school students are as naïve and innocent as Erin Gough’s character of Harriet.  I also enjoyed the sense of solidarity and power that was shown by the students towards the end of the book and thought that it was more realistic than most of what occurred in the book.

The book is somewhat unrealistic, contrived and melodramatic, but it is a funny read, and I do believe that most young adult readers will enjoy the writing, its characters and the witty plot. Its biggest problem is that it tries too hard to be an edgy satire rather than the engaging romp, it is actually is.

“Still making a fair amount of noise, I run after her, which is tricky, what with her being an elite sportsperson and me being an elite couch potato.”

“I’m comfortable with isolation, unlike some people I know who sweat at the temples if Snapchat is taking too many seconds to load.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Renegades – Marisa Myer

Renegades isn’t a book I would typically read. Actually, it is a book that I would generally avoid like crazy. I am not at all interested in superheroes. The only superhero movie I have seen is Suicide Squad, which I only went to see because of it being more about villains than superheroes. I thought that Suicide Squad was okay. I think I would have enjoyed it more if it wasn’t for the ridiculous Cara Delevingne character, the Enchantress. Anyway, enough of that. I am not a superheroes fan, but since becoming a CBCA judge, I have decided to continue to push the boundaries of what I read, so I decided to read Renegades. It was another book that I received in my YA Chronicles subscription.

Renegades is quite a good book. I now understand the hype surrounding the author, Marisa Myer; she knows how to write a good story. This is quite a large book at 556 pages but rarely did I find myself bored or wishing Myer would just get on with it. Instead, I discovered that Myer wrote in such a way that the story unfolded in my mind, almost like a movie.

The story is set around the Renegades and the Anarchists. Supposedly the Renegades are the good guys, and the Anarchists are the bad guys, but these lines are always blurred. Like most of society, there is good and bad in every group. No group is ever perfect, including superheroes.

In the world of Renegades and Anarchists, there are prodigies. Prodigies are born with superpowers, and this is where Myer takes a more creative turn. Rather than your run –of- the- mill superheroes that can fly, have super strength, faster-than-light speed and so on, Myer’s superheroes are pretty cool. There’s a prodigy who can transform herself into thousands of butterflies. A character whose blood becomes a weapon. A girl who can make bombs with her hands. The names of the characters are also great – The Detonator, Nightmare, Phobia. Though, they may be names of the villains. Some of the superhero names are a little predictable – like superheroes themselves.

The story revolves around Nova, a prodigy who has ties to the Anarchists and has reason to hate the Renegades. Nova has grown up with the Anarchists but her identity has been hidden, and she is able to move about in society without fear of being recognised as an Anarchist, though her loyalties lie with the Anarchists. She becomes intertwined with Adrian, a Renegade, who believes that justice will prevail. Adrian is what we call a “do-gooder”, he believes that the world needs superheroes and that civil liberties and heroes will always prevail. Nova isn’t interested in justice. She wants revenge and a world where society doesn’t feel that they “need” superheroes.

Myer has created a book that superhero devotees will enjoy and for those of us who just enjoy a well written entertaining book. There is a twist ending, and you do find yourself wondering what will happen next in the series. Will I read the next book? Maybe? I am curious to learn more about Nova and the Anarchists. I am also wondering if the Renegades plan for prodigies will come to fruition.

Judging a book by its cover

Recently I bought two books, and I bought these books purely on their covers. I did not read the blurbs or the reviews. I am a book cover junkie, I love a great book cover, and I personally think there are a lot of book cover junkies out there.

Working as a teacher-librarian, I hate it when a great book comes into the library but it has the worst cover, or it has a cover that I know will be off-putting to my students.  We live in a world where most of what we do is visual. Children and teenagers, in particular, are constantly bombarded with visual information. Books need to reflect this changing world. Yes, what is inside the book is ultimately the most important, but a cover can make or break a book. I know for a fact that some fantastic books have been overlooked by my students purely because they can’t relate to the cover or they don’t want to be seen reading a book because of its cover. We live in a judgmental world, and we may wish we didn’t, but we do.

The book cover is the first page of your book. It needs to grab the reader. In a sea of books, the cover is what a reader is drawn to first and then they will turn it over and read the blurb. If you walk into a bookstore, unless you are looking for a specific book, it is the cover that will make you pick up the book.

In my first year as a judge, I read a book that was great, but look at that cover! What is going on there? When it came in the mail with the other books that I had to read, I immediately picked it up and rolled my eyes and thought I am going to hate this book, but I didn’t, and the cover makes the book look like a light-weight read, and it isn’t. Tara Eglington has written a book about friendship that most of us can relate to and she wrote about friendship in all its messy and intricate glory but does the cover show that?? Teenage boys and girls would appreciate this book, but I am not sure it reached the audience it should have with this cover. We did make it a notable, but all the judges agreed that the cover didn’t reflect the book.

goddess

Whether we like it or not, boys are more likely to be turned off by a girly cover. Books have arrived in the library that I know the boys will love, but the cover is pink or has a girl on the front, and I know it is going to take a hard sell from me to get the boys to borrow it. Sometimes I win the battle, but often I don’t, and it is frustrating because I know it is the boys who have lost the most by not reading the book.

Every boy I give this book to has loved it, but not one boy I know has picked this book up themselves and taken it home to read. The cover is just too girly. I wish we didn’t live in a world where boys felt intimidated to read a book with a girly cover, but we do. This is a great book, and it is a great cover, but it isn’t a cover that boys can relate to, and so they don’t read this excellent book which I know most boys would love. And by putting this cover on the front of a book, you have entirely alienated one half of your reading audience.

smooch

Boys will read a book with a female protagonist, but boys are reluctant to pick up a book that looks too girly. Boys like their protagonists to be sharp, witty and kick-ass, and so they will enjoy a book with great female characters. Even though this book has a girl on the cover, she looks tough and straight-forward, and the colours used on the cover reflect her no-nonsense attitude. This is a book that isn’t alienating boys!

frankie

Earlier in the year, we received The Shop at Hoopers Bend to be judged in the Older Reader category. We decided it needed to be moved to Younger Readers. The Shop at Hoopers Bend is a beautiful book, and I am pleased to see that it was short-listed in the Younger Reader category, but back to the cover! Yes, if you look closely, it reflects the magical quality of the book, not magic as in wizards and unicorns but magic as in everyday magic of coincidence, serendipity, love and friendship. To me, the cover is old-fashioned and boring. The Shop at Hoopers Bend is a beautiful and enthralling book that I am sure boys and girls would both love, but this cover isn’t doing it any favours. The cover isn’t terrible; it just needs a few tweaks to make it look more modern.

hoopers

I could go on and on and on, but I won’t. I am looking forward to reading the two books I bought recently, and I hope that they are as great as their covers. Yes, I have read books that have great covers but are terrible reads, but that’s another blog post! If you are curious, the two books that I bought are The Belles and Amelia Westlake.

ameliabelles

 

 

The Cruel Prince

I am not a huge fan of fantasy. It isn’t my go-to genre. Many years ago I wouldn’t read fantasy, but I have progressed from that point, and I now am able to appreciate a well-written fantasy book. I decided to read The Cruel Prince because it was one of the books that arrived in my YA Chronicles subscription. My expectations weren’t high, and I am pleased to say that The Cruel Prince was a wickedly good read.

The Cruel Prince is the first book in a new series from YA author, Holly Black and it is beautifully written. Black writes with high intensity and vibrancy that you almost feel like you are a part of this treacherous, unscrupulous world.

The start of the book is confronting, but it indeed introduces you to the world of Faerie where bloodlust, revenge and cruelty are commonplace.

Jude is a human; she has been living in the world of Faeries since she was seven years old along with her twin sister Taryn and her half-faerie sister Vivi. Jude and her sisters live with Vivi’s father, Madoc. Jude has grown up in the world of Faerie Gentry, but even though she has had the protection of Madoc, she has never felt safe or as though she belongs. Though, after a decade of living in the world, she feels that it is her home and genuinely wants to find her place amongst the Faeries and to feel like she belongs and is accepted.

Faerie world is filled with magic and beauty but Jude, being the human outcast knows the ugly side of Faerie. She has been tormented by those who live in this world since she arrived. Most particularly she has been cruelly bullied by the other children of Faerie. Jude’s bullying by the Faeries is challenging to read, but it allows the reader to understand Jude’s motivations and why she makes the decisions that she does. Jude wants to become a member of the High Court, mainly for the power that it will bestow upon her.

Black has given us a world that is deliciously dark, wicked and violent. This is not a light read. Think Game of Thrones for Faeries!  Like Game of Thrones, there are some jaw-dropping moments when you wonder how far Black will take the violence and bloodlust; she definitely does not hold back. Black is a master at layering. Nothing is written without a purpose. She does not waste words, and she layers the plot with beautifully intricate twists and turns, she leads the reader deeper and deeper into the fascinating and dangerous world of Faerie.

Not only does Black layer the plot but she layers the characters. Black develops her characters so that as a reader we struggle to see them as black and white characters. All the characters are grey. Black gives us enough for us to realise that some characters are cruel and vicious but are they all bad? All the characters, even the most minor, have their stories to tell. Black has neither completely good or bad characters. Even Jude, our captivating, tough, intelligent heroine has motivations that are not entirely pure, but understandable considering all she has been through.

Black is a master of story, and she has a gift for developing characters. The Cruel Prince isn’t just a book about Faeries, but a book about relationships, intrigue and bloodshed. This isn’t a book for the faint-hearted! You will find yourself wondering what is going to happen right up until the last page.

And in the words of Victoria Aveyard, bestselling author of the Red Queen series, “I require book two immediately. Holly Black is the Faerie Queen.’

Cruel Prince4

Scythe – Neal Shusterman

Imagine a world with no hunger, no disease, no terrorism, no crime, no war, no mortality. The digital cloud has transformed into the Thunderhead, whose good and generous totalitarian rule has turned the planet into a utopia. There is no such thing as old age, once you reach a certain age you can ‘turn a corner’ and choose to go back to any age you wish; which means that there can be people who are 140 years old in a body of a 30-year-old. The world’s population lives in harmony, all knowledge has been acquired, and there is nothing left to learn. Depending on how you feel about it, it could either be wonderful or exhausting. I think it would be exhausting, but that’s my opinion. In a perfect world where there isn’t much to achieve, what do we live for? What are our goals in life? What’s our purpose? I would imagine that after a period of time life would become quite monotonous and weary. The book left me with many questions, and I always say that is the sign of a good book – one that makes you question. The book isn’t perfect, and at times I don’t think the author thought through all the elements of such a utopia, but that’s okay because it really is quite cleverly thought out in most ways.

Of course, if we live in a world where people no longer die from accidents, natural causes or diseases, how do we keep the population under control and this is where the title of the book comes into play. In this world, we have Scythes, society-sanctioned killers. The Scythes operate independently from the governing AI (Thunderhead) and rely on their own moral code to control the population. The appointed Scythes must carry out ‘gleanings’ – true deaths which one cannot be rejuvenated back from, death at the hands of a Scythe is permanent.

We are introduced to two sixteen-year-olds, Rowan Damisch and Citra Terranova who have both impressed the Honourable Scythe Faraday with their empathy and humanity. He offers them both an apprenticeship, and they reluctantly accept. They leave their families and go and live with Faraday who teaches them all there is to know about the world of Scythedom. Being a Scythe is an honourable position in society and Scythes are meant to be noble characters. Though, even in a perfect world, there is always going to be those who are not moral or decent. We are after all dealing with people, and even though the world may be perfect, humans are not, and Scythes are not machines, they are people. One would hope that people are drawn to the profession of Scythe because they have a strong sense of justice and right and wrong, but of course, some people are drawn to the job because they like killing. In the days of mortality, we would call these people, ‘murderers’.

This is a book that is meant to be thought-provoking. It is a fascinating read, and I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys being challenged. It will have you questioning life, death and the meaning of both. Shusterman manages to inject humour into the book which allows the book to not get too dark or depressing.

Scythe2

CBCA SHORT-LIST ANNOUNCEMENT 2018

It was with great anticipation and excitement that I set off for the CBCA (Children Book Council of Australia) shortlist announcement. On this occasion, I took my dad and my boyfriend. I wanted the people closest to me to understand what I had been doing for the last two years as a judge and for them to gain an understanding of how prestigious these awards are to Australian authors and illustrators.  We arrived at Brisbane City Hall and made our way to Ithaca Auditorium where the shortlist presentation was being held.

The ceremony started with a welcome address from National Board Chair Margot Hillel OAM who was to MC the event. Firstly, Margo introduced us to CBCA QLD Branch Patron His Excellency the Honourable Paul de Jersey AC, Governor of Queensland. The Governor proceeded to tell us that he was married to a teacher-librarian, so I liked him instantly. It was evident from his speech that he genuinely supports and appreciates Australian literature, particularly children literature.

The best part of the day was to hear from previous shortlist nominees, Michael Gerard Bauer, Lucia Masciullo and Christine Bongers who spoke about what being a shortlist nominee meant to them personally and professionally.

First up to speak was Michael who talked about what it means to be an author who is acknowledged by the CBCA awards. Michael’s first book, The Running Man was the 2015 Book of the Year for Older Readers. His FIRST novel! Micheal said that being acknowledged by the CBCA gives writers and illustrators a boost in three fundamental ways: self-belief, publicity and income.

Illustrator, Lucia Masciullo spoke about how when she was shortlisted for Come Down, Cat! with Sonya Hartnett in 2012 she had no idea what a big deal it was to be shortlisted. Lucia, who previously lived in Italy, told the audience how Italy doesn’t have awards for children books. Luckily for her, her publisher was quite aware of what being shortlisted meant for Lucia and her career. Lucia went on to say that as she was only starting out as a children book illustrator, being shortlisted enabled her to showcase her art to Australia and this made her happy, excited and proud.

Lastly, we heard from Christine Bongers who spoke about her 2011 shortlisted book for Younger  Readers, Henry Hoey Hobson. Christine’s story is extraordinary! The wonderfully quirky, delightful and funny Henry Hoey Hobson almost disappeared into obscurity, but thanks to the CBCA shortlist was given a new lease on life. She says it is ‘truly the gift that keeps on giving.’

Next, we were treated to a series of short films from six schools across Queensland. The students were exploring the CBCA Book Week theme, Find Your Treasure. The students’ treasure contained the much anticipated shortlist nominees.

Finally, the magic hour had descended upon Ithaca Auditorium, and the shortlists for 2018 were to be announced. What I loved the most about the announcing of the shortlists was the nervousness of the presenters. They knew how life changing this was for the authors and illustrators and they were trembling with excitement.

First up was the older reader category (MY category). Though, I knew which books were going to be announced I was eager to hear the list.  AND there was MY list up on the screen. What a thrill! I would also like to thank the other two fantastic judges that I worked beside this year to create this list, Katharine England (SA) and Joy Lawn (NSW). It is a great list, and I am delighted with it, and I will write more about this list at a later date.

THE BOOK OF THE YEAR: OLDER READERS

Entries in this category may be fiction, drama or poetry and should be appropriate in style and content for readers in their secondary years of schooling. Ages 13-18 years (NB: These books are for mature readers)

We then went on to hear the other shortlists, all of which were wonderful!

THE BOOK OF THE YEAR: YOUNGER READERS

Entries in this category may be fiction, drama or poetry and should be appropriate in style and content for readers from the middle to upper primary years. Ages 8-12 years.

 

THE BOOK OF THE YEAR: EARLY CHILDHOOD

Entries in this category may be fiction, drama or poetry and should be appropriate in style and content for children who are at pre-reading or early stages of reading. Ages 0-7 years

THE PICTURE BOOK OF THE YEAR

Entries in this category should be outstanding books of the Picture Book genre in which the author and illustrator achieve artistic and literary unity or, in wordless picture books, where the story, theme or concept is unified through illustrations. Ages 0-18 years (NB. Some of these books may be for mature readers).

THE EVE POWNALL AWARD FOR INFORMATION BOOKS

Entries in this category should be books which have the prime intention of documenting factual material with consideration given to imaginative presentation, interpretation and variation of style. Ages 0-18 years

What a wonderful day! I enjoyed the ceremony immensely and give kudos to the Queensland CBCA branch for putting on such a professional but utterly enjoyable day. There have been many highlights for me in being a judge for the CBCA but today was really quite special.

Before the announcement…excitement building!

With my shortlist…Yay!