Solving a problem the Jeffers way: Stuck

One of the things that I love most about my Oscar is that he is very silly. He’s a laugh a minute, crazy as a cut snake, never have I met a kid so entertaining…

So it’s no surprise to me that he and I both loved the latest book to be added to The TBYL Store, Oliver Jeffer’s Stuck (HarperCollins).

This book is a laugh-out-loud joy! Even as I re-read it on my own this morning, I find myself giggling away like a loon:

It all began when Floyd got  his kite stuck in a tree…

The trouble really began when he threw a shoe up to knock the kite loose, and that got stuck too, followed by a ladder, a bucket of paint, the kitchen sink…

And so on and so forth until dear silly Floyd finds himself dealing with one very over-crowded tree.

The story itself is quite reminiscent of that poor old lady who swallowed a fly, but it’s so much funnier. The illustrations are engaging, bright and slightly whimsical, the text is wonderfully kid-friendly, and the story is fantastic to read out loud (as all good kids books should be!)

My favourite part of the story? It’s would have to be when Floyd’s recruits his cat to ‘help’…

“Cats get stuck in trees all the time, but this was GETTING RIDICULOUS.”

Floyd’s ‘unique’ approach to problem-solving is entertaining to say the least, and Oliver Jeffers‘ brand of story-telling is irreverent, child-like and one-of-a-kind, as you might well expect from an Australian-born, Irishman living in New York. You can find out a little more about Jeffers’ in this article from last weekend’s The Age (thanks for sharing, Thuy).

As well as Stuck, I’m looking forward to adding Oliver’s newest title The New Jumper to the collection next month. In the meantime, I’d guess that Stuck will be on high rotation in our house.

Do your kids have a favourite book at the moment?

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Judge a book?

I’ve taken a look at my diary and my to do list, and I’ve worked out I’ve about 15 minutes to blog. That’s not long enough for a book review, but it is enough time for a quick pic post. So, I’m timing myself, here goes…

Here’s my top five favourite book covers, and a little of the why.

I’m showing my age here, but this was one of my first favourite book covers, Z for Zachariah, by Robert O’Brien. As a young teen, this illustration gave me shivers (still does, in fact) and this book started my love affair with the post-apolyptic genre.

Next up is the cover of Still Life With Woodpecker, by Tom Robbins. Although Jitterbug Perfume is my favourite Robbins novel, this is my favourite of his covers. It’s almost like a little code-breaker for the story too. Love it!

Crazy is as crazy does, and in my opinion the cover of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, by Hunter S. Thompson sums up perfectly the crazy trip waiting for any reader brave enough to go along for the ride.

I don’t usually go in for ‘movie version’ covers, but for some reason this edition of The Colour Purple, by Alice Walker still works for me. Maybe it’s because I so enjoyed the movie as much as I enjoyed the novel. Whatever the reason, I love this cover.

Lastly, one of my most recent favourites. I know I’ve talked a lot about this book already but this cover was for me, the first sign that I would really love The Book Thief, by Markus Zusak. This illustration is hauntingly beautiful, as is the novel.

That’s my top five. This week. I reserve the right to change my mind by next week, but for now, these are the ones I love.

Do you have a favourite book cover? Do you judge a book by it’s cover?

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Longing for the weekend: Produce to Platter

Last month, I was really lucky to be able to offer copies of Produce to Platter, by Jonette George and Daniele Wilton (Smudge Publishing) to two lucky readers of TBYL News: All Things Bookish…

It’s a stunning book, featuring the most choice treats to be found on the Victorian Mornington Peninsula:

Friends, families, vignerons and producers welcome you to the Mornington Peninsula.

You will find a treasure trove of gourmet delights and indulgent wines as you travel the back lanes and the country biways throughout this region.

Local chefs share their favourite recipes and open their doors for a peek. Vignerons welcome you to taste their lovingly prepared wines, distinctive of the terroir of their soil and this region…

Produce to Platter is quite the ‘triple threat’. It’s a practical guide exposing incredible hidden treasures, it’s a recipe book sharing favourites from an amazing range of regional cooking luminaries and thirdly, it’s a beautiful collection of photography.

Images are from Charlie Brown and a range of talented local photographers, the collation offers an true sense of the region’s landscape, produce and people.

My copy is a coffee table book, and it’s always being picked up and flicked through. It distracts me from my work and makes me long for lazy weekends spent shopping, eating and drinking in regional Victoria. You can also pick up a copy in softcover, perfect to take with you as you explore the Peninsula, it’ll help you not to miss a thing.

You can find out more about this gorgeous book at the Smudge Publishing website.

If you’d like a chance to go into the running to win great prizes, don’t forget to subscribe to receive TBYL News: All Things Bookish monthly by email.


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Just a little bit country: Wattle Creek

I think it’s fair to say that the Australian country-side is naturally pretty romantic, the outback mysterious and beautiful. And for this, it should probably not be that big of a surprise that rural romance, otherwise known as country lit or ‘chook lit’ has become such a popular new genre.

Over the past couple of years, rural romance novels have experienced great success, their popularity increasing four-fold with new titles being released regularly and being very well received.

One of today’s most well known outback romance writers is Fiona McCallum’s who’s Wattle Creek (Harlequin Books) I’ve just recently read. A story full CWA meetings, small town gossip, bush fires and handsome young farmers, it’s chock full of country charm.

Fiona’s novel is the story of Jacqueline, a young woman who finds herself making a home in the small town of Wattle Creek, and Damien, a young farmer struggling:

Damien McAllister is a man on the brink. Spending long, hard days on a farm he has no affection for; and nights ignoring the criticisms of his mother, Damien can no longer remember what he’s living for. But in a small town like Wattle Creek, there are few people to turn to – and Damien learned long ago to keep his problems to himself.

Until Jacqueline Havelock, a young psychologist escaping her own issues, arrives fresh from the city and makes Damien question everything he has know about himself… also igniting a spark in his lonely heart.

Refreshingly, although Jacqueline and Damien’s fledgling relationship is the core of this story, it is a gentle romance, growing slowly and pleasantly. There’s no heaving chests or throbbing of any kind, it’s just a lovely story of two people finding in each other something that they both desperately need.

Ultimately Damien needs companionship and support, and in his story, the author is able to share a really  authentic tale of bush challenges. It explores the issues of isolation and relentlessly hard-work, and of the psychological challenges that many farmers face silently. Loneliness, depression and thoughts of suicide are all struggles faced by rural men, and this story considers them all.

Jacqueline faces her own demons, and finds out that running away doesn’t always work to exorcise them. To do that, she needs a champion…

This is a lovely novel. It is an easy read, nice and quick to get through. It’s a little cliched in parts, but other than that it’s well written and very readable. For me, I found it a really wonderful introduction to this relatively new genre, and I’m looking forward to reading more.

Fiona McCallum has two earlier books Paycheque and Nowhere Else, both available through Harlequin Books.

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Many heartbreaks: My Hundred Lovers

You know I love a good dose of book-talk, and was rapt last month to take part in my very first read-along. Hosted by Bree of All The Books I Can Read, a whole bunch of bookish bloggers, including myself, read and discussed the poetic My Hundred Lovers, by Susan Johnson (Allen and Unwin).

The book promised to be lusty and powerful:

“A woman, on the eve of her fiftieth birthday, reflects on one hundred moments from a lifetime’s sensual adventures. After the love, hatred and despair is done with, the great and trivial acts of her bodily life reveal an imperfect, yet whole self.”

And from this I expected a catalogue of sorts, of sordid encounters with multiple lovers.

Interestingly, I got was something quite different.

What this novel delivers is a reminiscence of a life lived in the shadow of others and in the pallor of self doubt. It is an exploration of self-worth, held against the fond and fearful memories of romantic endeavour. Deborah, ‘the girl’, ‘the Suspicious Wanderer’ remembers her family – her first bittersweet relationships, her friends, her lovers – men and women, her son and her lost husband. Some of these relationships are fleeting, others life-long but all make their mark on who and how Deborah finds herself in her later years:

“Once, in London on New Year’s Eve, traffic prevented me from being at the party where I was supposed to be. At midnight I found myself alone in the back of the black cab, caught in a traffic jam.

We were stuck in Westminster, right beside Big Ben, when I heard the bells start up. Suddenly I wanted to hear them with my unwrapped ears, to hear time being counted out as we passed through it. I leant over and tapped on the screen separating me from the taxi driver.

‘Can you wind the window down, please, so I can hear the bells?’

‘It’s bloody freezing,’ he said, but lowered the windows so the thrilling air rushed in, bearing with it the complicated, pealing sound of time passing.

I turned my face up to the icy air, to the bells, to the gold of the clock tower lit up against the black winter night, and as midnight struck a beautiful strangers leant into the taxi and kissed me.”

As per the arrangements of the read-along, we read and discussed this book in three parts and I think that reading it that way worked really well. Stopping and discussing at each third made it a really interesting reading experience. For me I found the first third very raw and hyper-sexual, the second third as very sad, introspective and then this final third of the book I found incredibly poetic:

“How could I forget the poetry of the bath? The limbs collapsing, swimming, cupped warm and safe, the skin and nerves and fibres of the heart surrounded once again by comforting water, as warm as amniotic fluid.”

Overall I felt very sorry for Deborah, despite her comfortable, adventurous life. There was a real sadness in her story, in the tone of the narrative, and I found myself wishing that she could have cared for herself just a little more. Her sexual encounters so often involved her surrendering something of herself in a way that ultimately caused her harm of one type or another.

This novel takes a little getting used to and it’s not always pretty. It is sensual, but at time confronting. But, it is rewarding and poetic and resolves itself nicely. Its picture of Paris and its view of Australia from the outside looking in, is enticing and romantic.

I would recommend that you give this novel a go, give yourself a little time get a feel for the narrative and pacing, and I think you’ll really enjoy this moving and unique story.

Buy your own copy of My Hundred Lovers at the TBYL Store

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Getting cozy in my reading corner

There are probably (definitely) many things I should have gotten done over the weekend. I was going to do some writing, some cleaning, some etc etc. But instead, I enjoyed my book collection…

I rearranged some shelves, made some space for some new books and just generally enjoyed looking over my favourites.

And that in turn got me to thinking about how much I love my reading corner.

It’s not quite as rustic as this…

And the weather rules this out…

But it is comfortable, and well lit and mine, all mine…

But Joi puts me to shame, on the cozy scale…

As did Jenny, whose reading spot seems to have been commandeered. Who can blame him, who doesn’t love reading in bed?!

The kid’s have it pretty good too. This reading corner is pretty special…

And this one has it all…

But I’ve got to say, Oscar seems pretty happy with his special spot…

To me, making a space is the first step in making the time to enjoy reading. Whether it’s five minutes or fifty, nothing beats a little time in the reading corner.

Do you have a special place that you most like to read in?

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Dark, cold, dragony night

I really like going out with my kids, it’s one of my favourite things.

I’ll admit that Oscar can still be a little bit of a handful, but he’s a showman, so what can you expect? Evan on the other hand is pretty much at the perfect hanging out age – good company, old enough to be really interested in what we’re doing, but still just young enough not to be (too) embarrassed to be seen with his daggy old Mum.

I’m making the most of it, because I know it probably wont last for very much longer, and so when I saw that Christopher Paolini, author of the Eragon series (Random House) was coming to Melbourne I thought it would be the perfect night out for Evan and I. Presented by the Melbourne Writers Festival, and the Wheelers Centre it promised to be a fun-filled, fan-filled evening and despite the cold, dark, wet, wintery night, it delivered.

I’ve got to say that I’ve not read any of the Eragon series myself. Sorry. But Evan has read the first three, and is half way through the forth (and final?) in the ‘four part triology’. And, although I’ve not read them myself, I do understand their appeal. They’ve got it all, heros, villains, dwarven languages, battles and journeys and of course lots of dragons. This combination of elements has seen an army of dedicated, extremely loyal fans build around the Inheritance Cycle. Standing in line for the book signing, with hundreds of readers with arms ladened with multiple copies of the four huge tomes, you could be left in no doubt that these people where committed – to the story, and to whatever this inspiring author was ready to do next.

Personally, I was fascinated by the fact that Christopher was only 15-years-old when he wrote the Eragon, the first in the series and couldn’t wait to hear more about what exactly brought that impressive feat about. In short, home schooled, living in Anchorage, Alaska and bored out of his brain, Paolini decided that the only thing to do was to get his head out of other people’s books, and bury himself in creating his own. With family support; as editors, publishers and publicists, Eragon was born and the rest, as they say, is history.

It’s the great self-publishing success story…

Christopher was a very entertaining speaker, and Evan genuinely enjoyed every minute of the event. There were plenty of backstories, in-jokes and teasers, all of which had the audience on the edge of their seats in the hope that they might find out a secret or two about this world they’d clearly immersed  themselves in.

Further, his story is inspiring. In my opinion, it’s fantastic for kids like Evan (and grown-ups too) to hear of someone putting themselves out there, backing themselves and having great success to show for it. I hope it reinforces in Evan’s mind that anything is possible, even if it’s a little out of the ordinary.

I can’t wait until the next of these events comes up, I’m looking forward to another night out with the kid. I’ll be keeping a close eye on the calendar…

In the meantime, I’ll just enjoy watching Evan enjoy reading.


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Out Now! TBYL News: All Things Bookish…July 2012

It’s wintery and chilly, and perfect weather for reading. I hope you’ll enjoy this month’s issue of TBYL News: All Things Bookish…

TBYL News is a great way to catch up on recent reviews, upcoming news and words from my lovely special guests. This month, I fired a couple of questions Rachael John’s way, about her writing and about her country romance Jilted.

You’ll also find exclusive newsletter specials at The Store and excitingly, newsletter-only competitions! This month I’ve got a copy of Edward St Aubyn’s At Last to give-away, with thanks to Picador.  Plus, in this issue, I happily announce that TBYL is partnering with the fantastic National Year of Reading!

Click here to read TBYL News: All Things Bookish, July 2012

If you’d like to subscribe to the newsletter, you can click here. This’ll mean that you get our monthly news by email, on the first Monday of the month. Perfect!

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