Book Review: Kakadu Sunset by Annie Seaton

It’s taken me a while to write and publish this review. I’ve been sitting on it for some reason. I think it’s because Kakadu Sunset by Annie Seaton is quite outside my comfort zone. At least, these days it is. A long time ago I worked for a certain well-known romance publisher, and I read so much romance back then I was quite burnt out after I left. Then Annie herself completely won me over in the interview she did with us a while back. She writes passionately about environmental issues and is a wonderful advocate for the Australian landscape.

Kakadu Sunset was, frankly, more than I expected. I expected a light holiday read. And it was. I expected a fast-paced plot. And there was. I expected romance and what-do-you-know, there was.

Most romance novels are also very character-driven, and this one was too, but there was a depth to the plot I wasn’t expecting. Annie manages to deftly include environmental issues like mining and sustainability in a way that doesn’t try to teach, but still addresses the issues around owning large stretches of land in a country where land is sought and bought for the riches that lie beneath. These issues were woven into the story as a natural part of the plot-line, and I came out with a better understanding of fracking and its impact on the environment.

The main character, Ellie, is a helicopter pilot who flies tourists over the spectacular Kakadu National Park. She loves her job, and her simple life living on the tourist resort. When she flies over her old family property and sees deep gouges in the land her family had loved, she is horrified and curious. Who has been digging so close to protected land? So starts a journey that puts her in great danger, a danger born of human greed and the depths some will sink to in seeking wealth.

Along the way, Ellie meets Kane, a sullen co-pilot and ex-soldier who is dealing with some pretty hefty post-traumatic stress. This is another issue prevalent in our society today, and while Annie really only skims the surface of the psychological damage done to soldiers, it was interesting to read about a male character with a level of vulnerability. We all come into a relationship with baggage; for some it’s closer to the surface than for others.

While Kakadu Sunset is long-form romance, it’s a quick, light read and a great example of the genre, which is why it’s been shortlisted for the Romance Writers of Australia (RWA) Romance Book of the Year 2016.

After reading this book, I will be happy to pick up another Australian romance every once in a while. I’ve realised that they’re great for when life is moving a little too quickly, and you want a break from the heavier, more literary novels (which I did at the time), or if you’re planning to lie by the beach for a while (and if you are I’m completely jealous). So I’m grateful to Annie for that.

Amanda x

We received a copy of Kakadu Sunset to review from Annie. Thanks Annie!

Book Review: Barbed Wire and Cherry Blossoms by Anita Heiss

Barbed Wire and Cherry Blossoms by Anita Heiss was just the book I needed to get me out of my reading slump! It was such a nice surprise to find it in the book shop. I had no idea Anita Heiss had a new book coming out and I’ve been meaning to read one of her books for a long time. I thought – why not start with the latest one?

Barbed Wire and Cherry Blossoms was a joy to read. I really enjoyed sharing Mary and Hiroshi’s beautiful story. 

5 AUGUST, 1944

Over 1000 Japanese soldiers break out of the No.12 Prisoner of War compound on the fringes of Cowra. In the carnage, hundreds are killed, many are recaptured, and some take their own lives rather than suffer the humiliation of ongoing defeat.

But one soldier, Hiroshi, manages to escape.

At nearby Erambie Station, an Aboriginal mission, Banjo Williams, father of five and proud man of his community, discovers Hiroshi, distraught and on the run. Unlike most of the townsfolk who dislike and distrust the Japanese, the people of Erambie choose compassion and offer Hiroshi refuge. Mary, Banjo’s daughter, is intrigued by the softly spoken stranger, and charged with his care.

For the community, life at Erambie is one of restriction and exclusion – living under Acts of Protection and Assimilation, and always under the ruthless eye of the mission Manager. On top of wartime hardships, families live without basic rights.

Love blossoms between Mary and Hiroshi, and they each dream of a future together. But how long can Hiroshi be hidden safely and their bond kept a secret?

There was so much to enjoy about this book. Mary and Hiroshi’s story was just one part. There was also the insight into the Aboriginal people of the time, how they lived, the attitude towards them and their stories. While I found this all fascinating, I also felt sick to my stomach at the injustice of it all.

I also found it interesting to read about the Japanese people, their culture and involvement in the Second World War.

Barbed Wire and Cherry Blossoms is beautifully woven Australian historical fiction. I felt a huge sense of loss when I read the last page; I just wanted more! Even now days after finishing it I still feel the need to be a part of Mary and the Wiradjuri peoples lives.

I would love for someone else to pick up this book and enjoy it like I did.

Jody

Great Picture Books for Kids

As some of you know already, I spend my days working as a children’s librarian. This means I get to spend lots of time surrounded by kids and the books they love, which makes me very, very happy. Sometimes though, seeing all those bright, happy faces makes me miss my family, who I don’t get to see all that often, especially all my little nieces and nephews who are just starting to engage with books and reading. It also reminds me that I promised their parents a couple of posts about great kids books. I’m sorry it’s taken so long (!) but here you go.

I thought I’d  steer clear of the usual children’s stories, opting instead for some that are a bit newer or slightly less well-known.

Great picture books for kids:

  1. Baa Baa Smart Sheep and I Love Lemonade by Mark and Rowan Sommerset. Okay – so to be honest these aren’t exactly new favourites. I’ve loved these books since they were released a few years ago, and they’re often my go-to books to buy for celebrations, especially for boys around 3 – 5  years old. The Sommersets are a New Zealand author/illustrator duo and they have a fantastically funny, delightfully quirky writing style that cracks me up as much as the kids I’m reading to.
  1. Sweet Petite by Poh Ling Yeow and Sarah Rich. I loved watching Poh & Co on SBS and when I found out she and her friend Sarah were releasing a picture book I was ridiculously excited. She has such a lovely vibe about her and just seems really genuine and down-to-earth. She’s totally on my list of fabulously fantastic people (everyone should have one of these don’t you think?! Life just seems so much more special when you surround yourself with people you admire and who inspire you, even if you don’t know them!). Anyway, this is a sweet little book about friendship and cake. Who doesn’t love friendship and cake?! Read the book then bake the cakes!
  1. Red: A Crayon’s Story by Michael Hall. This one had me in tears of laughter when I first read it. It’s about a blue crayon who somehow gets a red label in the factory. Cue identity crisis!! Red sets out to prove that it’s not what’s on the outside that counts. It’s a great story for 4 – 5 year olds and they won’t even notice they’re learning an important lesson at the same time.
  1. The Pigeon Series by Mo Willems, including Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus, The Pigeon Needs a Bath and The Pigeon Finds a Hot Dog. Kids love these books (and adults totally do too). Who wouldn’t love such a cheeky, mischievous pigeon? You have to do the voices though. Don’t borrow or buy these books unless you’re willing to put on your best pigeon impression! But let loose and you’ll reap the rewards.
  1. Sam and Dave Dig a Hole by Mac Barnett, illustrated by Jon Klassen. Okay, so this one is probably better for those slightly older, around 5 – 7  years old. They’ll be old enough to ‘spot the difference’ between the first and last pages, which is a really clever way of helping them to understand the story. What does happen to Sam and Dave after all? The illustrations by Jon Klassen are just beautiful (of course) and the story has the kids groaning in frustration. How could they have missed a diamond that big?!
  1. Please Mr Panda by Steve Anthony. I read this at our story time for 2 – 3 year olds a few weeks ago and they loved it. Mr Panda is a seriously grumpy-looking dude who has a gripe about manners. It’s great on the details too, you can pick out the colours of the doughnuts and ask/explain why the little lemur is upside down. You may, however, have a little difficulty explaining why they might not get a doughnut every time they say please. Yummmm…doughnuts…
  1. This & That by Mem Fox. Mem Fox is an absolute genius kids book writer. She has written so many that are now a part of our regular story times, from Possum Magic to Where is the Green Sheep? The Magic Hat and Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little ToesThis & That came out before Christmas last year and while it hasn’t packed as much of a punch as Mem’s big name books, I just think it’s lovely. Really lovely. It has beautiful rhythm, and read softly at bed time could help to lull little ones off to sleep or for spin-off stories with older ones. For 0-2 year olds.
  1. Mix It Up by Herve Tullet. I love this book! It’s all about colour! Colour that changes and mixes and splatters all over the page. Great for learning how yellow and blue become green and red and yellow become orange, etc. Read the book, then do it yourself I say! Great for 3-5 year olds. Herve has a new book out as well called Let’s Play which looks fab too.
  1. You Are (not) Small by Chris Weyant and Anna Kang. Okay…so pull those funny voices out again for this one. BIG. Small. BIG. Small! It’s fantastic for teaching kids about size, and you can do lots of little activities after, like getting them to line up their toys in height order, getting to line their family up, or grabbing some sticks from the back yard to do the same.
  1. Did you take the B from my _ook? by Bec and Matt Stanton: The blurb for this book says it all “Firstly, your favourite thing in the whole world is the letter B. And secondly, you’re about to sneeze and all the Bs are going to be blown out of the book. So until you can get your favourite letter back, you’re about to sound really, really silly …” Just sound silly. Stumble and slip over all those missing ‘B’s and you will have them giggling with you. Or at you. Either way, it doesn’t matter.

Okay, I’ve probably waffled on enough now. Just remember to read with enthusiasm! The little ones will love it if you love it. Reading doesn’t have to be a serious thing – it should be a joy. Reading is a joy. I promise.

If you like hearing about kids books, we can definitely include some more every now and then. We’re flexible like that. Just call us Gumby.

Amanda

Book Review: Jasper Jones by Craig Silvey

Jasper Jones by Craig Silvey is one of my best-loved books! I have read it three times (now in the middle of my fourth) and listened to the audio version twice. I have done this not over the space of the last last seven years since it was first published, but in the last two years.

Unlike many people I didn’t rush out to read it when it came out in 2009. It was a bestseller, and has gone on to win and be shortlisted for multiple awards. I ignored all this hype – and many recommendations from colleagues – and didn’t read it until a few years later. I am very much a person who will read a book when I am in the right mood. Now though, Jasper Jones is like an old, beloved friend!

Every time I read the first line “Jasper Jones has come to my window”, I feel a sense of calm come over me. This is what I need to read now, and I know I will enjoy every word. By no means am I implying Jasper Jones is a light read; it isn’t. It deals with some heavy subject matter. But what sets it apart from other books is the voice of the storyteller; 13-year-old Charlie. He is honest, raw and human.

When Jasper Jones comes to Charlie’s window one hot and humid night in 1965, Charlie unwittingly shares Jasper’s horrible discovery. How Charlie copes with this discovery, deals with life in a small rural mining town and the normal confusion of an early teen is a huge part of the story. But there is so much more; I will leave you to find that out for yourself. I seem to discover a new aspect every time I read it! This time it was Charlie’s relationship with his mother I found really compelling. I can’t wait to see what I discover the next time I read it – because I know there will be a next time.

Jody

P.S. The conversation Charlie and his friend Jeffrey have concerning super heroes is hilarious! I laugh harder every time I read it.

Book Review: The Dry by Jane Harper

Jody and I both love reading Australian books. We feel so lucky to live in a country with such a rich literary landscape, despite the relatively small population. The country itself is large though, and a large country with a small population lends itself to loneliness and isolation. This landscape makes the perfect setting for crime stories like The Dry by Jane Harper.

The Dry is set in an Australian drought, where the heat shimmers off the dusty land. The farms and their animals are dying, their bones left to be picked clean and whiten in the sun. It is set in small-town Kiewarra, where everyone knows everyone else and little remains secret. There is one heavy secret lingering over the town though. It is a secret kept between Aaron Falk and Luke Hadler, about a friend of theirs who drowned in the river many years ago when they were just teenagers. This death forces Falk and his father out of the town and into the city, where he lives an unsettled life.

That is, until Luke Hadler turns a gun on his wife and his young son in Kiewarra, before killing himself. At least, that’s what seems to have happened. Falk returns to the town to mourn his friend’s death but soon finds himself caught up in the secrets of the past.

The Dry is a true page-tuner. I read it quickly – on the train, in my lunch break, late into the night, wanting to know what happens. The appeal is in the landscape which reflects the attitudes of the town, and those of the main character Falk. He has dried up since he left town, just living life without much thought, without much depth. A kind of personal drought.

This is one of those books where the landscape itself is a character. The townspeople are so impacted by the drought there is a frenzy, a kind of madness in them all. So much so that little thought is given when an average man seemingly murders his family.

The story swings between Falk’s memories of the past and the trials of the present and never stops building. It is a story of misdirection, which leads you along a path that is entirely futile. That is the only thing I found a little disappointing, the ending wasn’t particularly clever, there was no great twist. It was just not what they were leading you to believe.

I’m trying not to give too much away because it’s entirely worth reading and to tell you the truth, I’m pretty desperate for someone else to read it so we can compare notes, because I think opinions on the ending will be quite divisive.

Apart from the vicious crime, The Dry is quite a light read, not heavy on description but rather more plot driven. Great to take on a holiday, or if you’re a commuter like me, one that’s fab for the trip to work – just difficult to put down when you get there!

Amanda