Chai Time at Cinnamon Gardens
By Shankari Chandran
Ultimo Press 2022
Cinnamon Gardens is a multicultural nursing home in Sydney. It houses residents who have moved to Australia from far reaching countries across the globe. Maya, the owner, is also now a resident and has left the management of the business to her daughter. But this is no feel-good book about old people. Each of the characters have a tragic history to share, and Maya, a published author, enlists the help of her linguist carer, Ruben, to record their stories.
Like a run in a stocking, racism may at first be invisible to most, but as it grows and spreads, the shocking ugliness and destruction expands. Through her writing, Shankari Chandra has illustrated this poignantly and although a work of fiction, the stories she interlaces come from a true place in history.
There is a rage in Chandra’s characters and through her writing, this rage ignited in me- almost to trembling point. I felt the grief that these characters feel and I was compelled to know more despite the unpleasant realities of the hatred that I know exists in Australia and around the world today.
I am amazed by the tapestry of love and pain that Chandran has so artfully woven, and I highly recommend this book.
Beautiful World, Where are you
By Sally Rooney
Faber and Faber Ltd 2021
I am envious of Sally Rooney’s writing. In both Normal People and Beautiful World, Where are you, Rooney breaks rules.
I was aware as I read both these books that writerly rules were being broken, but I just wasn’t sure which ones. And the rule breaking had me questioning at times how much I actually liked the story. However, both with Normal People and her latest, Beautiful World, Where are you, I found myself thinking about the characters for days, weeks and even months after reading them.
So my conclusion is that I do like these books; perhaps I even love them. Although the untraditional story telling may make me a little uncomfortable or awkward at times, I develop a vested interest in what happens to the characters as if they were my own friends, and find myself wondering about them beyond the story on the page. A sign of a good book, surely.
In this latest novel, we follow two women in their thirties. Best friends who communicate by letter or email, they talk of their love affairs and losses. They explore existential ideas, insecurities, culture and developments within their work. When they meet up towards the end of the book, it seems that there are some bridges to cross. Their relationship in person is not as easy as their relationship in script. Rooney’s style is unpredictable and as the reader, one starts to fret that there will not be a happy ending.
The concepts and ideas discussed between the characters in this book are deep and thought provoking. The characters are relatable, yet their dialogue seems removed from reality. The narrator is omniscient, yet we are blocked from hearing and seeing absolutely everything, almost as if the spy cameras on these people’s lives got covered or muffled accidentally at certain points in the story.
For someone who enjoys analysing relationships, reading about love and going with the flow of an unusual storyline, this is well worth the read. And who knows, maybe there’ll be a T.V. series made about this novel too, which would be excellent I’m sure.
A Blue Kind of Day
Written by Rachel Tomlinson
Illustrated by Tori-Jay Mordey
Registered psychologist, Rachel Tomlinson, has written an endearing picture story book to help children access themes of depression and sadness. For a young person who experiences a blue day or knows someone who does, this book helps them to understand these feelings as messages to their body.
Through this engaging story and Tori-Jay Mordey’s expressive illustrations, we follow a moment in young Coen’s life. Coen is struggling with some difficult emotions and these translate to different physical symptoms such as heaviness. Coen’s family all try to come up with solutions to help him move beyond his sad feelings, however, Tomlinson shows us that feelings can’t be rushed. Eventually the family curl up with Coen and wait until he is ready, illustrating compassion and sympathy for his journey.
As well as an excellent social emotional text, Tomlinson writes an elegant tale with a variety of similes, metaphors and a vivid array of adjectives. It would be an excellent text to accompany a word choice or sentence fluency writing focus. As a reading mentor text, the facial expressions within the illustrations, the symbolism of the words and actions, all lean towards a useful companion for teaching inference and connections.
Tomlinson, who has also written ‘Teaching kids to be kind’, has provided teachers and caregivers a fabulous resource that is worthy of a place on the bookshelf.
After the Tampa- from Afghanistan to New Zealand
By Abbas Nazari
Allen & Unwin 2021
This isn’t the first time I’ve envied New Zealand’s humane leadership. After The Tampa gives me another reason to wonder how two countries seemingly so similar can have such different approaches when it comes to ethical decision making.
Abbas Nazari at age seven, accompanied his family on the traumatic and exhausting journey to escape the hold of the Taliban in their home country of Afghanistan. As an ethnic Hazara, Nazari’s family and neighbours were at risk of murder.
After the Tampa tells a tale of a people who faced adversity and overcame it time and time again. Their journey started in the trailer of a lorry van, concealed from view with only a few bags of belongings. Nazari’s youngest sibling, an infant, stowed away in a bag. The eldest sibling, fearing that he would be conscripted to a militia group, had already been sent off to Iran on his own.
The journey spanned months including covert journeys in vans, buses, aeroplanes and finally boats. Motion-sickness along with other ailments were standard at each leg of the way. The journey cost the Nazari family everything, their homes, their money and even the wedding ring from Abbas’ father’s finger as they bribed and paid their way from Afghanistan, to Pakistan, to Indonesia and finally New Zealand.
Abbas’ father had a plan to take his family to Australia, a place of security, free from persecution. They never imagined that stuck out at sea, close to death as their small, overcrowded fishing boat tore apart in the storming waves, the Australian government was doing everything they could to prevent the people of the Palapa from touching Australian land.
The Nazaris are eternally grateful not only to the captain of the Tampa who rescued them and looked after them as the political parties of Australia, Indonesia and eventually New Zealand played ping pong with their lives, but also to the New Zealand government who offered them a new home.
Each step in this incredible journey is a leap of faith and it highlights the bravery of families who would do anything to secure a better, safer life for their children. Even when succeeding in New Zealand, the battle and uphill struggle was not over, with homesickness, earthquakes and the horrific, unforgettable massacre by a loan gunman in Christchurch.
Similar to Ahn Do’s ‘The Happiest Refugee’, this is a story of a young man who has done everything to stay positive and live his life to the full despite the hurdles. Courageous and inspirational, we should all be so lucky to have such a positive outlook on life.
Crimes against nature- Capitalism and global heating
By Jeff Sparrow
“We belong to the nature we alter”
Jeff Sparrow, a writer, editor and former socialist activist, writes a polemic novel describing how we have been hoodwinked by big business and capitalism. He argues that humans are dependent on nature no matter the technological advances. Unlike animals who alter nature to survive without conscious thought, our big brains let us choose. For example, we can choose to access water from a lake or build a well. We can build a hut for shelter or build a sky scraper.
The book is not an attack on us, the readers. Not all humans are ruinous, he assures us. “The unmaking of the continent resulted not from human activity so much as the wrong kind of human activity” pg 35. This can be seen through many examples including the evidence of how Indigenous Australians interacted with the land in comparison to the colonists.
Sparrow provides a brief history lesson that outlines some of the biggest tipping points in our journey to destroy the earth we live on. After World War Two, the economy needed to be reignited and so the message sold to us was ‘buy, buy, buy’. It was argued that to move the economy forward, consumption was necessary and that was the message we were sold.
Sparrow takes us through the invention of terms such as planned obsolescence, disposability, the carbon footprint and the jaywalker. His argument is clear: big corporations have been gaslighting the general public for decades- making us feel guilty for the things they have created and urging us to make sacrifices that will ultimately have no positive effect on the climate crisis. In simplified terms; they are pushing consumption while blaming the consumers for the consequences.
Crimes against nature is an enlightening novel that will ignite a passion to fire up against the lies we are being told. Through a calm and measured voice, Sparrow opens our eyes to the marketing tricks of the biggest corporations around the globe.
The Luminous Solution
By Charlotte Wood
Allen & Unwin 2021
Charlotte Wood is an Australian writer with a succession of fiction and non-fiction novels. Her work includes The Writer’s room and The natural way of things. She has also had success with articles featured in The New York Times and The Guardian, among others. The Luminous Solution is a book that draws from Wood’s doctoral studies in creativity, experience with her own writing journey and her many interviews with other creative writers. It is a series of essays that discuss creativity, resilience and the inner life. On top of that, there is an underlying theme of gender equity and political progress. Looking through a writer’s lens, Wood explores ideas around mentorship, despair and creative thinking, and uses her honed skill of metaphor to explain hers and those she admires’ approach to solving creative puzzles.
Intuition Vs Pragmatism, a resonating piece, describes two approaches to writing: “There’s the dreamer, the mystery seeker… and there’s the pragmatist who trusts in hard work and grit.” Pg 99 Further to this, Wood confesses to abandonment of a piece when the struggle becomes impossible: “perseverance wasn’t helping me,” pg 102. She describes her conflict with ‘giving up’ versus the need to give herself space. Eventually the “melancholy ache” brings her back and she returns to the work in “pure pragmatist mode.” Pg 103.
Further in the book, Wood’s articles turn to rage as she discusses issues of feminism. She describes the rage as ultimately exhausting. She then finishes her collection by posing questions such as “How should we think about growing old?” and discussing her thoughts.
A diverse collection of essays that thread together logically and result in an insightful and thought provoking book.
More rules for life- a special volume for enthusiasts
By Kitty Flanagan
Allen & Unwin 2021
I suppose I must be an enthusiast! I was given the gift pack (both books) for Christmas and it has been a pleasure to pick them up at varying intervals throughout the beginning of this year and have a laugh. Flanagan is an Australian comedian that appears both on the stage and TV. More Rules for Life is her third published book and both ‘rules’ books were written during the multiple lockdowns caused by the pandemic.
Both books are the perfect accompaniment while muddling through a deep or technical book. When reading something heavy, it’s nice to have something light on standby. Much like scrolling through a phone but far more satisfying, these books create the perfect tool for procrastination.
In ‘More Rules for Life’, Flanagan has logically ordered her rules into chapters such as leisure and lifestyle, and holidays and travel. There are rules for each generation, which tickled my fancy- it is always enjoyable to poke fun at other generations while ignoring the quirks of your own. She has also included different sections about the pandemic such as mask wearing, and zoom etiquette. Rule number 631 ‘always state your whereabouts when talking to someone on the phone’ had me laugh out loud but I won’t dare to summarise it as my execution wouldn’t do Flanagan’s humour any justice.
Flanagan’s dry wit is exactly what you might need on a dull day, in a dull zoom meeting, or just when you need a laugh.
Apples Never Fall
By Liane Moriarty
Pan Macmillan Australia 2021
A mother’s love is not always as clearly defined as one might imagine. And there are many ways for a child to show and return that love.
In Apples Never Fall the Delaney family are a passionate, competitive and larger-than-life tennis family. The parents, Stan and Joy, have recently retired from their tennis coaching school that both they and their children lived and breathed for decades. But neither Stan, Joy, nor their children made it to Wimbledon as hoped, and the question looms about who is most disappointed by this.
Savannah is not one of the Delaneys and her mysterious entry into their lives is unexpected. Her ulterior motive is unclear and when Joy disappears, suspicions about Savannah’s involvement bubble to the surface.
Liane Moriarty, author of nine successful adult novels, never fails to deliver. As with all of her published stories, she craftily builds numerous characters, each with vivid, defined voices. Her strength in writing from each character’s perspective is consistent and entertaining. Despite dark themes, Moriarty continues to create stories with humour and energy that allow her readers to breeze through the tales with light-heartedness.
One of my favourite authors; Apples Never Fall is another of Moriarty’s that I’d highly recommend.
The Silly Seabed Song
Aura Parker (2021)
Penguin Random House Australia
Have you ever counted sheep to get to sleep? Or perhaps you sang a song to help dreams come along? Poor Turtle Hatchling Fred can’t get to sleep and all of the other sea animals think it’s a great idea to play the Silly Seabed Song! There are rhymes and nonsensical words, boings and bangs and plenty of colour.
Aura Parker is an illustrator, designer and picture story book creator. Her successful book Twig received a notable from the Children’s Book Council of Australia, and her book Meerkat Splash won the Speech Pathology Book of the Year award in 2020. The Silly Seabed Song is Parker’s most recent project. With its playful illustrations and rhythmic text, it is bound to please a young audience.
The Silly Seabed Song is an extravaganza of bright colours and animated sea creatures. Parker has a ‘find it’ key at the beginning and end of the book that will mean multiple reads are a must. Well pitched for pre-school aged children, this book would also be ideal for the Early Years in Primary school where an abundance of punctuation, rhyme and onomatopoeia can be analysed.
Karen Blair (2021)
Penguin Random House Australia
“Here come the trains! Clickety-clack!”
This is a delightfully illustrated story that many pre-schoolers can relate to. The picnic rug and treats are set out and there is excitement bubbling as the mini trains and their drivers collect the families for a scenic drive around Castleview Railway.
Karen Blair is an illustrator and art teacher. She’s worked with a number of well-known authors such as Margaret Wild (Our Baby) and Davina Bell (Lemonade Jones). Train Party, however, is one of the few books that are both written and illustrated by Blair. The book begins with a playful map of Castleview Railway. The story takes readers through the delight of a young child’s birthday party. Colour and illustrations fill the pages with short bursts of rhythmic text and basic rhymes.
This would be a winner for any young child who has experienced the delight of a birthday party, and any eager young train enthusiast.
What's this about?
As a lover of books and a teacher, I read widely. Here you will find book reviews of many genres including picture story, middle grade fiction, graphic novels, women's fiction, short story anthologies, non-fiction and anything else that takes my fancy.