Book H00t #37 Will Grayson, Will Grayson

I picked up Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan  earlier this year, while on a trip to Sydney, in the wonderful Kinokuniya bookstore. It sat and sat on my TBR pile for over six months, which is a shame! But, as it turns out the timing could not have been better;  it is a perfect antidote to 13 R3asons.

The blurb:

What if you were somewhere you never expected to be and met someone with your name? What if the girl you didn't think you were interested in started being interested in you? What if your best friend started writing a musical about your life... and it made you look lame?
What if you are depressed? What if you are in love with someone you have never met? And what is the story with the guy walking around with your name?

Told from the perspective of each of the Wills, this is a book about love- finding it, falling in it, falling out of it, love between friends, and parental love. Tying the two Wills together is larger than life Tiny Cooper. 
Tiny Cooper is not the world's gayest person, and he is not the world's largest person, but I believe he may be the world's largest person who is really, really gay, and also the world's gayest person who is really, really large.
Tiny is writing a musical about himself, featuring his many ex-boyfriends and his best friends. His character really made the book for me, he is witty and wise.

 While some of the characters are depressed, this is in no way a depressing book. It treats 'issues' and problems that teens face with sensitivity and is a gentle reminder that there are people out there who care and who are going through the same stuff as you. I liked the writing of the adults too, unlike 13 R3asons, they were moderate and sensitive. in particular, the parental reactions to these teen boys coming out were reasonable and caring.

Even though I am in no way the demographic for this book, it was so engaging. I really liked the dual narration. The authors used punctuation to define the voices for the readers which worked well. The lyrics for the musical were so funny, and the instant messaging also helped characterisation and narrative whiz along. It really is beautifully written:
Tiny Cooper has brought me to a Gay-Straight Alliance meeting to hook me up with a girl. Which is of course idiotic in the kind of profound and multivalent way that only an English teacher could fully elucidate.
Loved, loved, loved the uplifting ending.

Highly recommended, pop it in a Christmas stocking!

4 hoots out of five!

Happy tales,
Barking Owl

Book H00t #36 13 R3asons Why

The blurb:
Clay Jensen returns home from school one day to find a box sitting on his doorstep. Upon opening it, he discovers that it is a shoebox containing seven cassette tapes recorded by the late Hannah Baker, his classmate and  crush who recently committed suicide. The tapes were initially mailed to one classmate with instructions to pass them from one student to another. On the tapes, Hannah explains to thirteen people how they played a role in her death, by giving thirteen reasons to explain why she took her life. Curiosity and fear of exposure keep the people on the list listening to the tapes, and through the audio narrative Hannah reveals her pain, and her slide into depression that ultimately leads to her suicide.

Thirteen reasons why I didn't love this book:

1.  Stupid number/ letter title.
2.  The main character Clay, is on Hannah's list when he hasn't wronged her in any way- it's all a narrative ruse.
3. The premise that teenagers would pass on tapes- tapes!- to others thereby incriminating themselves and opening themselves up to derision. Would. not. happen.
4. Dark, dark theme. No likable characters, no sensible adults, only a glimmer of light at the end.
5. Suicide is represented as easy. I think this is dangerous- just last week I heard on radio that in Australia, every day, six people take their own lives.
6. The representation of school as being the worst possible place for Hannah, isn't realistic for me. Naive?
7. The narrative voices were annoying for me. I thought Clay's responses to Hannah's comments interrupted the flow and dragged the plot's heels.
8. I've read that some people find this book 'preachy'. It's just NOT preachy enough.
9. The English teacher acting as a 'substitute' counselor was a bit too neat in gathering the poetry and lack of sensible advice together.
10. It makes the reader into a voyeur.
11. I wanted it to be better, I wanted the suicide to be a ruse, another rumour and the revenge to be ramped up as a result.
12. Hannah is not nice. The revenge seems petty at times.
13.Hannah is a victim- weak right from the get go. Not someone I would want a teenage girl emulating, or even thinking about too much.

2 hoots/ 5

Happy tales, and happier books!

Barking Owl

Book H00T #35 Fly Girl

What a lovely little read this is. It ticks all my boxes: spunky female protagonist, a series of challenging episodes, lovely writing and some real issues for later discussion.

Ida May Jones is a twenty year old young woman who is desperate to take to the skies again. Her departed father taught her how to fly and she has experience crop dusting. But as a black maid she has to work hard to make this dream a reality. Ida May dreams of going to Chicago’s Coffey School of Aeronautics to obtain her license. Also, when her brother enlists and is sent to the Pacific, Ida Mae promises to stay and look after her family and the strawberry farm.

Temptation comes when Ida Mae hears about the WASP, Women’s Airforce Service Pilots, scheme. She wants to do her part for the war effort and as a woman, let alone an African American woman, it is going to take some swift moves and clever thinking. Ida's light skin and 'good hair' certainly helps her "pass" as white, but this also leads to some crises of conscience.

Based on the real WASP, to whom last year President Obama awarded the Congressional Gold Medal, this book teaches history and civil rights without ever feeling like a lesson. “. . .If you’re colored, you get the short end of the stick. If you’re a woman, you get the short end of the stick. So what do we get for being colored and women?”

 The characters are warm and well drawn, and the narrative is pacy.  You'll be itching to get airborne too!

Five hoots!

Until next time happy tales,
Barking Owl

H00t #34 The Rosie Black Chronicles: Book 1 Genesis

Great cover don't you think?
I'm not a fan of some science fiction, let's get that out of the way from the get go. But,  I do love dystopian fiction and Lara Morgan's  Rosie Black Chronicles looks to be a great series in this genre.

Book One is set in a futuristic Australia, Newperth to be precise, and being a Perth  native, this piqued my interest. Morgan devises an apocalyptic event which is frighteningly possible; the "Melt" has sunk coastal cities. In the author's notes, she credits Tim Flannery's The Weather Makers as her inspiration. I'll be honest here, I wanted much more to take place in this setting of futuristic Perth. The action moves "off-world" far too quickly for my liking. Perhaps Book Two might have the action closer to home?

The division of the people of Newperth into the "Centrals, Have-nots, Bankers and Ferals" is also realistic and credible for Western Australian readers. The division of our city into those who are North, those who are South, and those who live in Fremantle certainly rang true. I also found myself thinking about the geography of the setting; where would Central East Darling Grove be on current maps?

Rosie finds a mysterious box in the first few pages that sets the action of the narrative into motion. And the action and suspense is pretty relentless for much of the book. There's drama and romance in there too, but for the most part the reader is on a rocket-ride lurching from event to event.

Rosie is certainly clever, gutsy and likable. Teens, and YA fans who enjoyed dystopias such as Patrick Ness’s Chaos Walking Trilogy, Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games books, Susan Beth Pfeffer's Moon Trilogy, or John Marsden’s Tomorrow When the War Began will love it. 

One final point to Morgan's credit, there's no forehead smacking cliff-hanging moment at the end. I know some readers hate that.

Three and a half hoots out of five.

Until next time,
Happy tales,

Barking Owl

Hoot #33 Mice Gordon Reece

This psychological thriller had me hooked very quickly. Shelly and her mum are both victims of abuse; Shelly is bullied my her previous 'friends' in some horrible ways. Her mother is bullied by her ex-husband in a messy divorce and she is also bullied in the workplace. The two little mice scurry off to the country to lick their wounds. But, their bad luck doesn't end there. 

The pace of this book is just right. It builds and builds until Shelly and her mum finally fight back.

Something that irked a little for me was the repetitive characterisation of the two of them as mice. It was a little heavy handed for my liking, but, is probably about right for the young adult readership.

The tone and tension reminded me a little of Beautiful Malice, a big hit with every teen girl I've recommended it to. However this has more depth I think. It will certainly make readers think about the ethics of fighting back and how far you would/ should go to protect yourself and your loved ones. It also has some lovely connections to Macbeth running through the story (Shelly is studying the play for her examinations.)

All the characters are well drawn. And if you have ever been bullied, which lets face it a lot of people have, then the scenes where poor Shelly is retreating further and further into herself because of horrible girls at her school will resonate with you. And no, I don't think the bullying is at all unrealistic or too violent.

Four hoots out of five

Happy tales,
Barking Owl

Book H00t #32 Pippi Longstocking

Happy Book Week to you all! As you can see from this post, Book Week is a particularly big one at my school, culminating in dress up day. Now we teachers always find this a source of much discussion, if not angst.

This year the theme is "Across The Story Bridge." What does that suggest to you? We went through characters that are associated with bridges but trolls and billy goats didn't really appeal. So we decided to choose characters that have crossed the bridge from print to film.

All this is leading up to my re-reading of Astrid Lindgren's Pippi Longstocking. For costume inspiration, I bought the lovely new edition illustrated by Lauren Child. And I am enjoying reading it so much. It reminded me how much I loved her sassiness.

Pippi is an excellent example of a strong girl who knows her mind, is independent and has fun at the same time. She also has a pet monkey!

If you haven't read Pippi Longstocking, or need a refresher, this edition is a lovely read.

5 Hoots out of 5

Happy tales,
Barking Owl

Book Hoot #31 The Ask And The Answer

The second in the Chaos Walking trilogy, The Ask And The Answer is a story of dictatorship and rebellion. It picks up moments after The Knife Of Never Letting Go left off. Viola and Todd are being kept apart by the Mayor of New Prentisstown, formally Haven.

For a lot of the story, each believes that they are fighting on the right side of the conflict. Todd is a part of The Ask and Viola The Answer. And this is one of the book's main themes; in war, is there a 'right side'? I imagine this would quite a challenging idea for some readers. But there are other themes here that show Patrick Ness is certainly not talking down to his readers.

The Spackle, an alien race who make a small appearance in Chaos #1, are more central to the plot in this book. The Mayor puts his son, Davy, and Todd in charge of using the Spackle as slave labour. They even brand them in an eerily similar way to the Jewish race being tattooed in the Holocaust. There are also moments of torture and ethnic cleansing in this story line. And as Todd struggles with his conscience; the old excuse of 'just doing my job' works for a while.

Meanwhile Viola finds herself in a group of terrorists. Just as The Ask is primarily made up of men, The Answer is primarily women and so there are themes of female emancipation in her sections. Mistress Coyle the leader of The Answer carries out a series of bombings and the book asks the reader to consider 'collateral damage'. Viola struggles with the actions of the rebels, but like Todd is blinded by the charisma of her leader and what seems at first to be their just cause.

I would highly recommend this series. I'm about to start Monsters of Men and can't wait to see how the series is concluded.

Five out of five Hoots!

Happy Tales,
Barking Owl

Book Hoot #30 Sugar, Sugar

Sugar Sugar seems an uninspired title for such a good book. Carole Wilkinson sets the story in 1972, so far in the past that for YA readers it may seem like another planet!

Jackie has left suburban Adelaide chasing her dreams of being a fashion designer. She travels from London to Paris for the weekend, thinking that she will show her marsupial and native fauna clothing ideas to a famous fashion designer. It is in Paris that the adventures begin. Jackie loses her folio and chases it across Europe, ending up in Afghanistan. Instead of swearing, she says sugar, hence the title.

Being a wanna-be fashion designer, Jackie is always snappily dressed:
I had a wash and changed into my grey velvet hot-pants and green pigskin boots... my maroon tights perfectly matched the swirls in my paisley blouse, and my over the knee high heeled boots looked great.
As she moves from Paris heading gradually east, we see Jackie transform and mature. Clothes are a constant motif throughout the story, but as she sees the poverty and conditions some people live in, she realises that there are more important things than fashion. Friendship and loyalty are two themes running through the book.

As I said earlier, the time period would be very unfamiliar for today's YA readers, the lack of communication with family when you're overseas is certainly a thing of the past. Jackie sends aerograms, doesn't telephone because of the expense and she doesn't have a camera either. in the endnotes Carole Wilkinson says:

When we travelled through the Middle East, photographic film was expensive and the need to record one's life in minute detail belonged to the distant future. We took ten photos.

It's a bit of a shame that this ability to be out of touch has gone; even when you're on the other side of the world today, you can still read emails, and your parents can be in touch immediately. I think that the setting, the time especially, would interest readers.

The places and landscapes are also especially well written. The sort of risk taking adventures that Jackie has make you want to stuff your hot-pants and thigh high boots into a yellow rucksack and hit the overland Hippie Trail.

Four Hoots/ Five

Recommended for older readers, being hippies there are some drug experiences...

Happy Tales,

Barking Owl

Book H00t #29 The Help

Kathryn Stockett's best selling, first novel The Help is about three women: two black maids and one white university graduate, who live in Jackson Mississipi. Set in the early sixties, the multi-voiced narrative shows their different experiences of the dawning of the civil rights movement. Their determination to find their own voices and make their own protest makes this book an engaging and compelling read.

There are hints of what is happening in the wider world, references to the march on Washington and Martin Luther King's "I Have A Dream" speech for example. So, I think this would make an excellent novel to read as a companion to a study of this historical period. But it is a compelling page turner in its own right. *I was reading on an IPad, so that page turning was silent :) *

While the stories of the mistreatment of the maids are compelling, it is the kindness of these women to their charges that also stays with the reader.

Aibileen is raising her seventeenth child, and she teaches her all that she is "good and kind and important", lessons her mother does her best to undermine. She has recently lost her son, and this has been a catalyst that makes her change. She is a woman who shows the power of commitment and faith.

Minny, has a "sassy mouth", is an excellent cook and is regularly beaten by her husband. She takes some pretty memorable revenge on the nastiest of the white women in the book, Hilly, and this is the impetus for her placement with another employer who doesn't know her reputation, and doesn't really know how to treat 'the help.' She cares more for this silly woman than you would think possible, and they have a friendship which seems remarkable given the circumstances.

Skeeter has just graduated from Ole Miss, and despite earning a degree and wanting to become a journalist, is pushed into blind dates by her friends and overbearing mother, until she has that ring on her finger. The mysterious disappearance from the family plantation of the woman who raised her makes Skeeter look closer at the lives of the black women around her. This is an awakening for her and the start of the book that brings them all together.

I really enjoyed this novel, it was a quick read, but a really satisfying one at the same time.

4 hoots/ 5

Happy tales,

Barking Owl

Book Hoot #28 Beautiful Malice

Beautiful Malice by Rebecca James was subject to a huge bidding war apparently. I can see why the editors were crazy for it: pacy narrative, likable characters, sad ending. All the elements for a successful YA book, except this one crosses that mythical genre line. It is perfect for an adult read, especially adults who like psychologial thrillers.

I was reading this while waiting for an operation, waiting most of the day as it happens, but the narrative kept me entertained and my mind off my knee. I got it pretty much done before the op, and finished it that night. Such is the captivating power of a good story.

Katherine is trying to escape her horrible past. She meets a charismatic and attractive girl who seems to have not a trouble in the world. Just what Katherine needs. Of course, as anyone who has read or watched one of these kinds of stories before knows, Alice has hidden troubles of her own, and secrets that aren't revealed until the last chapter.

This is a tightly written and interestingly structured story which flips from a more mature and reflective Katherine's point of view, back to chronological time during Katherine's HSC year, and also to the year before when something horrible happens that destroys her family. To say anything more would ruin the carefully built tension and probably the most interesting part of the book.

While I don't like to read stories that represent girls as victims, and yes it goes against my whole kick-ass theme here, along the way in this book are messages for teens about toxic friendships and irresponsible drinking. If some readers are scared out of their wits here, it wouldn't be such a bad thing!

3 and a half H00Ts /Five

Until next time,
Happy tales

Barking Owl

B00k H00t #27 Loving Richard Feynman

Fifteen year old Catherine is a science loving, geekish girl who is finding her place in Kyneton and highschool. When her dad gives her a poster of Richard Feynman, the Nobel Prize winning physicist who assisted in the development of the atomic bomb, she develops an unusual crush and begins to write her diary in letters to him. Over the course of the book, she reads his biography as well and reflects on his involvement in the bomb. She learns about love, maths and friendships.

Penny Tangey's novel has been short listed for the CBCA Children’s Book of the Year for older readers, along with previously reviewed Liar and Stolen. It is a much gentler read than those two, but equally well written and the plotting wasn't too predictable.

Also, Tangey does write an authentic teenage voice. Catherine is quirky and funny, her quick temper and mood swings are well captured. Because Catherine is a maths wizz, this brings her together with other like minded students, is the start of some friendships, and teaches her humility as well as confidence.

She also learns that people are flawed, her parents and her beloved Feyman included. Getting through high school is a common theme in teen reads, the portrayal of adults as complex and flawed probably not so much. So, this is certainly refreshing.

But, I don't know how many teenagers would identify with her obsession for Feynman. The kissing of the poster was a bit cringey for me. (It made me recollect my obsession for Davy Jones, from the Monkees that is not at the bottom of the ocean! That's showing my age...)

So, I'd recommend this one for thirteen or fourteen year readers. The letter style diary narration is easy to read, so reluctant readers might also enjoy this one too.

Any embarrassing teen crushes you'd like to share?

Happy Tales,
Barking Owl

Book H00t #26 The Weed That Strings the Hangman's Bag

Flavia de Luce, eleven year old precocious sleuth of the village Bishop's Lacey is back! And she's caught up in another murder in the delightful The Weed That Strings The Hangman's Bag by Alan Bradley.

No spoilers here, I'll just tell you how much I love Flavia and her hateful sisters Feely and Daffy. The chapters where Flavia puts her poisoner's skills to work against horrible Feely are genuinely laugh out loud. There is much more fun to be had between those two characters.

The murder and events surrounding it are a tad darker than in The Sweetness At The Bottom Of The Pie, however there are also many funny scenes. I liked Flavia's attempt to get Dogger (the family's gardener/ butler/ handyman) to explain the "mechanical details" of what exactly happens during an affair. Her only point of reference is Madam Bovary:
'What did Flaubert mean,' I asked at last, 'when he said that Madame Bovary gave herself to Rodolphe?'
'He meant,' Dogger said, 'that they became the best of friends. The very best of friends.'

There were also some excellent lines about the BBC as a famous television puppeteer of the (fabulously named) show 'Snoddy The Squirrel' plays an important role, but I'll let you discover those yourself.

Yarooh! for the latest installment of Flavia de Luce! Don't you love it when a much anticipated novel meets all expectations?

Happy tales,
Barking Owl

Fictional Bad Boys

Did you watch Tess Of The D'Urbervilles on ABC1? It brought back a few memories for me.

Firstly, I remember my favourite teacher, the woman who inspired me to take up the chalk, beginning a discussion in Lit about Tess, "So girls, what did you think about the rape?" And of the shocked faces in the room, "What rape?!" we cried. We had completely missed it! Now, I'm sure she set us up, and good on her. What a memorable lesson!

Also, now this is going to age me so don't judge, I remember getting the video (yes kids, before DVDs) of Nastassja Kinski in Roman Polanski's Tess. Saucy!

But all of this is leading me into a discussion of Fictional Bad Boys, because I was always of the opinion that Alec D'Urberville was MUCH more interesting than Angel Clare, who always seemed to be a bit of a milksop to me. See, the lessons of literature are not always the ones that the "Back To The Classics" brigade would like us to learn/ teach.

So, who are the top 5 bad boys of literature?

Exhibit #1 Heathcliff he'll dig you up after you're dead! That's how bad he is!

Exhibit #2 Wickham he can rock those military whites more than Darcy's foophy shirt, and he'll run off with your little sister if you're not careful.

Exhibit #3 Rhett Butler Frankly my dear, he'll whisk you up that staircase and into bed before you can say twiddle dee-dee.

Exhibit #4 now Hamlet *should* be a bad boy, but there are several Acts of poncing around, so I'm calling Othello- don't cross him mind!

Exhibit #5 Lestat the thinking person's Edward. Sexy, brooding and a little bit bitey.

Who's on your bad boy list? And can you think of an Australian bad boy character? I struggled as you can tell.

Happy tales,
Barking Owl

Non-fiction for senior students

I've been reading some non-fiction lately, partly to find something for my senior classes, and partly because I've been off the novel for a little while.

I started with Eating Animals thinking that might be a controversial but interesting read, but I think that some students would be really confronted, if awakened, by some of that information. I have taught Fast Food Nation with some success in the past. I might still come back to Safran Foer's text, even if just in part because of the beautiful writing.

Your Skirt's Too Short by Emily Maguire is a reworking of Princesses and Pornstars for young adults. I think some students would really get into the sexual politics and issues raised here. Maguire writes about her past as a slut and in doing so, questions our definition of the term. This would make the young reader think, perhaps for the first time, about power and discourse of sexuality. But, I found that she lost her way after the first few chapters, perhaps because the content wasn't new, or indeed meant, for me.

Lastly, I read Nice Work by Jana Wendt. I heard an interview with Wendt on local radio and was inspired to rush to the bookstore and snatch it up. The interview was so much better than the book.

This was disappointing, but perhaps to be expected. Wendt after all was one of Australia's better reporters, she could question an interviewee into the corner. Words are her weapons. Her writing on the other hand I found quite forced.

The objective of the book was to find out what drives people in their work. Wendt shadows a boxer, a priest, a forensic anthropologist and others in this quest. I just wish there had been more of the subject and less of Wendt in the overall book. The world of work is a fascinating topic, the book didn't live up to my expectations.

So, back to the drawing board. I'm waiting on my copy of Zeitoun, by Dave Eggers. This might be the one! I live in hope :)

Happy tales,

Barking Owl

H00t #25 The Book Thief

I am pleased to report that I have finally finished reading The Book Thief.

Firstly, can I say that Markus Zusak is lovely, cute and funny. I loved hearing him talk about writing at the Fremantle Children's Literature Centre last year.

So, I WANTED to like this book. I know that MANY people love it and much has been written about it, so I'm going to be brief in explaining why I don't.
  • The narrative point of view, while original, didn't really do much for me. I found the foreshadowing unnecessary and disruptive.
  • This was a LONG book which needed editing. Apparently it started out as a novella but ended up at 584 pages!
  • While I loved some of the characters, Rudy and Max, I struggled with Liesel. I'm not really sure why.
  • Another book on the holocaust? Really?
  • The colour of the sky- WAY too many times.
So, opening myself up for all sorts of derision here, what was it about The Book Thief that you loved? I'd really like to know because I start teaching it in a little over a week :)

Until then, happy tales,

Barking Owl

Quick update

It's nearly been a month without posting, and the last one was a cop out post. I blame the world of work...

So I've been reading quite a lot, just not teen fiction. Unless you count The Book Thief beloved of many, I'm just not one of them... I'm not sure what the block is with this one, but I'll have to suck it up because I start teaching it in about a fortnight. I think it needed editing down to about a third of its size.

I've also read the latest Alexander McCall Smith The Double Comfort Safari Club which was lovely, as usual.

And Lolita which was disturbing and beautiful all at the same time.

And Ian McEwan's Solar which I really loved. A lot of the negative reviews you might be reading miss the satire, in my humble opinion.

So, there's a quick round up. I have The Ask And The Answer waiting for me, and this book promo has me wanting to get into this series too:

nature sounds site

Someone called Andris found my humble little blog and would like me to promote his website.

I've had a go and it looks legit. The sheep sounds cracked me up. Only a Kiwi might find listening to them relaxing!

He says:

Sometimes it is hard to read if surrounding environment is noisy. In such situations it helps to use earphones and listen to some kind of white noise. It is known that sounds of nature work better as white noise comparing to music because of its two factors:
* lyrics which tend to distract thoughts
* varying volume of music which makes white noise either too quiet or too loud.
So I have made a free tool with which you can create a composition of nature sounds, save it in WAV file and listen to it via portable audio player for example when reading in public transport or while waiting in a doctor's office.

Give it a burl, or not :)

Book Hoot #24 The Knife Of Never Letting Go

Todd Hewitt is the last boy in a town of men. Prentisstown is a new settlement on a planet where because of a virus everyone can hear everyone elses thoughts and all the women have died. When Todd and his talking dog Manchee (you can hear the thoughts of every living thing in this world) stumble across some 'quiet' while out looking for apples, his world begins to change. He has discovered a girl.

The Knife Of Never Letting Go is the first in the Chaos Walking trilogy and it is an amazing beginning. I haven't been gripped by a book like this since Hunger Games. Apparently the Chicago Tribune labelled the novel as “a read-alone, stay-up-way-too-late book.” It is brimming with suspense and tension. There are moments of humour and tenderness also. Todd's relationship with Manchee in particular is lovely.

The noise is metaphorical, of course, of how many distractions there are in our everyday, how difficult it can be to stay focused and remember what's important. Todd repeats his name to himself, reminds himself of how close he is to his 13th birthday and sings a song from childhood all to block out the noise. How rare, but how important it is to find those pockets of silence and peace.

Viola, the girl with quiet from the swamp, turns out to be far from the damsel in distress. In fact she saves Todd a few times in their flight from Prentisstown. Quite the kick ass heroine!

I think if you like suspense, action packed reads, you'll like this one. The ending is open, of course because of the whole trilogy thing, but the good news is that part two is in the stores! I'm off to buy number two tomorrow!

Happy tales,

Barking Owl

Book H00t #23 The Girl Who Fell From The Sky

This novel has won the Bellwether Prize (an award for literary fiction that addresses issues of social justice and the impact of culture and politics on human relationships) but it doesn't read like a 'worthy' book. And by the way, what a great cover illustration.

I enjoyed Rachel's story. She is the sole survivor of a fall which claims her mother, brother and baby sister. How and why they fell from a rooftop is the spine of the narrative. Rachel's father, an African American GI, and her Norweigan mother's relationship is complicated by alcohol abuse. So there are issues of racial identity on top of having to come to terms with the accident and the expected trials of adolescence.

Adding more layers to the narrative are two more viewpoints; one from a boy who witnesses the fall, the other from a co-worker of Nella (Rachel's mother). We also have brief, probably too brief, comments from Nella's journal. Rachel comes to live with her grandmother, and there are a lot of humourous moments to relieve some of the tension. The story resolves sentimentally with readers wanting more from what is quite a brief novel.

Happy reading, happy tales,

Barking Owl

Book Hoot # 22 When The Hipchicks Went To War

When I picked this up, I was sceptical. How could a 16 year old find herself performing for the troops in Vietnam? But, I went along for the ride. And I was really glad that I did because when you get to the author's notes at the end, you realise that not only was it possible, that it did happen.

This is a well researched and tightly written narrative by Pamela Rushby which sensitively explores issues surrounding the Vietnam war.

Kathy is ready to leave school- but the possibilities open in the 60s are limited. She is frustrated setting perms at the local salon, her friends are heading in different directions and she dreams of breaking free from her insular town. The first step is a job as a go-go dancer, but the real opportunity comes in an audition to entertain the troops in Vietnam. So Kathy flys off with two other girls who make up The Hipchicks. They come back to earth awfully quickly.

As well as looking at this fascinating period in history, there are other themes that the novel touches on: what happens when your best friend is protesting against conscription and you're essentially earning a living from war, the tricky relationship between mothers and daughters and all the drama of first romances.

A very satisfying read, recommended for 14-16 year olds.

Happy tales,

Barking Owl

Book Hoot #21 Eating Animals

Jonathan Safran Foer's Eating Animals is certainly a difficult read for those of us who do, eat animals that is. There are some passages that I flicked over, I just couldn't have those images in my head before sleeping, but there are also some enjoyable moments here too. I find Foer's writing so clever and emotive and insightful.

While this is a book written by a vegetarian, its not a polemic. Foer moves through the unacceptable factory farming practices used for fowl, cattle and pigs. After reading this, you will think again about what goes in your mouth.

The parts I enjoyed the most were the comments about traditions and the role that food on the table plays in these ceremonies. Foer asks us to consider if a tradition like Thanksgiving, for example, could be the same without the turkey. The kindness in the personal moments in this story act as a counterpoint to the cruelty in others.

So, this isn't an easy book to read, but if you love animals it's essential.

Happy tales,
Barking Owl