Ode to a Library: Mad Martha breaks with tradition…again

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Hello again my fellow blog-opolists! I have decided to make up for my protracted abscence by providing two pieces of poetic proliferation in quick succession.  Today I feel the need to wax lyrical on the glorious and fantastic phenomenon known as “the library”.  I am still amazed that there exists a place – indeed, multiple places! – from which one can literally walk out the door carrying 20 books, with the implicit trust on behalf of the lender that said books will return safe and sound.  Amazing! So please enjoy this Ode which was inspired partly by Bruce’s rambling and random recollections about a book of poems by CJ Dennis that may or may not feature in an upcoming edition of his Retro Reading series….

library card

Who’s the main appointee to lend books out for free?

Come on! Let’s hear it for libraries!

Who welcomes us all into crisp, tome-lined halls?

Give a cheer! Let’s hear it for libraries!

Whose fine, expert staff know their wheat from their chaff

and direct us toward reading glory?

So Stand UP! Lend your EAR!

Let your Voices ring CLEAR

As WE SHOUT OUT IN PRAISE OF

*click click click*

Ahem! Excuse me!

Oh. Yes?

This is a library. You’ll have to keep it down.

Oh, right. Sorry.

*click click click*

(Sotto voce):

So stand up! Lend your ear! Let your voices ring clear

as we shout out in praise of our libraries…

quietly.

And just in case those of you in the back thought you got away with it, Library Cat has something to tell you:

library cat

Consider yourself warned!

Mad Martha

Australian Best Blog Awards: Get on it, people!

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Attention! I have just entered the 2013 Best Australian Blogs Competition…I nominated myself in case you were wondering. I thought I’d post about this in case any other Australian bloggers who don’t know about this competition would like to enter….preferably in a different category to me…

If you are interested, check out the website here: http://www.writerscentre.com.au/bloggingcomp/details.html

Also, there is a People’s Choice component of the awards opening on the 28th of March, so I look forward to pestering you all closer to that date with prompts to vote for your favourite blogging gargoyle.

Until next time,
Bruce

Haiku Review: Where the Forest Meets the Sea…

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Hello my blogging bilbies, it’s Mad Martha with you again after a fairly long absence…if you are wondering where I’ve been, I had to get my hair untangled after an unfortunate incident with one of the house felines.  But I’m back today with a Haiku Review based on one of my favourite ever picture books: Where the Forest Meets the Sea by Jeannie Baker.  This book was first released in 1988 and tells the story of a boy spending time with his grandfather in the timeless and beautiful daintree rainforest in Far North Queensland. Underlying the simple story is the spectre of development and the seemingly neverending threat to areas of natural significance from humans and their progress.

The standout feature of Baker’s books are the illustrations, which she cleverly crafts from clay, paper and found materials, and then photographs for inclusion in picture books.  You can find out more about Baker’s work at www.jeanniebaker.com and below are some of the page spreads from Where the Forest Meets the Sea to give you a teaser if you have not encountered her work before:

Where the Forest meets the Sea 2 forest meets sea 2

So without further ado, here is my haiku review of Jeannie Baker’s highly memorable, and still relevant (unfortunately!) tome, Where the Forest Meets the Sea:

forest meets sea

Ancient world struggles

against the modern era

A losing battle

If you have never encountered Jeannie Baker before, her work is well worth discovering.  Other highly recommended works of hers include wordless picture book Window and its companion book Belonging, and her most recent publication, Mirror.

Farewell for now,

Mad Martha

 

 

Read it if….:A Two-for-One Deal

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Today must be your lucky day – two reviews in the one post! You’re welcome.

Has anyone else noticed that books featuring a main character who exhibits behaviours characteristic of the Autism Spectrum are having a bit of a heyday at present?  I’ve recently read and enjoyed a number of these including The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time and The London Eye Mystery.  This past fortnight, however, I  picked up two books in this category without knowing it, and I now present to you a double Read-it-if…on the theme of fabulous diversity.

The first, Marcelo in the Real World by Francisco X Stork (isn’t that a fantastic name?!), features 17 year old Marcelo facing the unsavoury prospect of having to work in the mailroom of his father’s law firm during his summer holiday.  The story chronicles the ups and downs of Marcelo’s introduction to the “real world” as he develops a friendship with Jasmine, boss of the mailroom, and makes some difficult decisions about how to act when faced with some unexpected and potentially volatile information.

marcelo in the real world

Read it if:

* you have ever actually lived, or have ever wanted to live, in a treehouse

* you suspect that some people use the term “the real world” instead of saying “things that you aren’t grown-up enough to know about yet”

*you’ve ever made a friend in an unlikely circumstance; or conversely, if you have ever trusted the wrong person

* you believe that you do not fit neatly under a label that has been applied to you, and that this is not a bad thing

This story flowed nicely and engaged me immediately – there is nothing spectacular that singles this book out as one to read above the many other titles out there, but it is certainly a solid story with sensitively drawn characters and believable scenarios.

The plot of the second book, The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion, came as an utter surprise to me because I was mistakenly under the impression (after a clearly brief reading of the blurb and a filtered glimpse at the picture on the cover) that this was to be a story about World War II.  Now although stories  set in World War II are particular favourites of mine, The Rosie Project had plenty of charm to alleviate my ever-so-slight disappointment at my own mistaken conjecturing.

Don Tillman is an associate professor of genetics at a Melbourne university who decides that in order to meet the perfect mate, he must resort to designing and distributing a questionnaire to root out any undesirable candidates and reliably lead him toward “The One”.  Enter Rosie, who Don mistakenly assumes is an eager candidate, and watch as the hijinks unfold.  The book follows the developing friendship between Don and Rosie, with chuckle-inducing results.

rosie project

Read it if:

*you have a very particular wish-list to which any aspiring love-match must conform

* you possess the ability to unintentionally amuse others by your actions or words

*you are a moderate-alcohol-consumer, non-smoker and eater of meat

*you’re looking for a nice light romantic comedy with a difference

I found this book both humorous and believeable, even though some of the situations, particularly with regard to Don’s ability to learn new skills, are beyond the bounds of reasonable expectation.  This is a good pick-up, put-down read for those days when you just want a brain break.

The interesting thing about these two books is that while they can be categorised as “Aspie” books, neither main character conforms to that particular label.  Both characters realise that they seem to be wired differently from the common herd, but Marcelo notes that his behaviours don’t fit the diagnosis, and Don is not aware that his behaviours fit the label (despite giving a memorable lecture on Asperger’s Syndrome in one scene of the book!).  In both books, the characters’ personality really drives the narrative, rather than the label of Asperger’s, which I thought worked very well.

Until next time,

Bruce

Challenging Reads: January First…

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Ahem. Let me assume *serious reviewer mode* today as we delve into…..

Obstacle number 3 in the What’s in a Name Reading ChallengeJanuary First: A Child’s Descent Into Madness and Her Father’s Struggle to Save Her by Michael Schofield.

Taken from: the Non-Christie-Listie

Category: Three – A book with a party or celebration in the title

January First is the memoir of Michael Schofield, father of January (Janni) Schofield, a little girl who has been diagnosed with childhood schizophrenia. It charts the extreme lengths that Janni’s family had to go to before her illness could be diagnosed and appropriate help obtained.  I was drawn to this book after seeing this family’s story on television – notably on Oprah and Dr Phil .

january first

This book’s Point of Difference:

That would have to be it’s unusual subject matter and the author’s voice…more about that below.

Pros:

– Well, it’s certainly an interesting read.  The author relates the day-to-day struggles of living with a child with extreme (and inexplicable) behaviours and I’m sure many parents would be able to relate to at least some of what he describes, if not to the levels exprienced here.

Cons:

– I had a couple of problems with this book. Firstly, I came to this book after having seen the family in documentary style tv shows….from those it was obvious that Jani had some major differences in behaviour from your average 8 or 9 year old, and required medical intervention.  Unfortunately, in the book, the way her father describes some of these behaviours makes it seem as if Jani is just the typical, naughty brat one might see in the lolly aisle of the shopping centre, screaming until it gets its way.  I found this off-putting, as part of the family’s struggle was getting professionals to understand that her behaviour was atypical and dangerous to herself and others. 

– Michael Schofield narrates the story with a spectacular disregard for his wife’s (Jani’s mother’s) abilities and level of caring about their daughter.  In fact, almost everyone in the book is depicted as having a far lower level of rapport and ability to manage Jani than Schofield himself. I’m not sure whether this was a deliberate attempt to relate the actual dynamic of the relationship and his real emotional responses to the situations they found themselves in – he does address this briefly towards the end of the book –  but I found his narration arrogant and coupled with my first con, it left me with the (unwanted and judgemental) feeling that it was unsurprising that he didn’t find the help Jani needed sooner.

Overall:

I wanted to like this book more than I did. I was hoping it would be an insightful glimpse into the lack of services available for mental health generally and children’s mental health specifically.  It did accomplish this to a degree, but I really struggled with building mental rapport with the author and this diminished my levels of empathy toward his situation.  If you would like to give this one a try (and it’s certainly worth a look, despite my cons) I would suggest doing so after viewing some of Jani’s story on video, to give you an idea of Jani as a person. 

Here’s a little bit of Jani’s first appearance on Oprah Winfrey, to start you off.

Oh, and if  you are wondering why I started off calling her Janni and changed to Jani, all will be explained in the book.

Until next time, campers!
Bruce

 

 

 

Bruce’s Lucky Dip: Kickin’ Knitting….

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Given the interest in my serendipitous search for slightly unexpected colouring books, I have decided to share the booty of my book-hunting jaunts  on a semi-regular basis…I will title these shared adventures “Bruce’s Lucky Dip” and feature a different search term and its resulting weirdness each time.

To kick us off, I present to you the weirdness lurking in the simple search term “KNITTING“… 

One may possibly expect a certain amount of blandness and predictability within the ranks of knitters and those who write for them.   Clearly one would be woefully mistaken in this prediction if Sock Innovation: Knitting Techniques and Patterns for One of a Kind Socks is anything to go by. 

sock innovations

I don’t really have a need for socks myself, but I would have thought that since pairing is of utmost importance in sock wearing (unless you happen to be Dobby), Two-of-a-kind socks would be more highly valued.

Looking for something saucier than socks? Then look no further than Knitting Lingerie Style: More Than 30 Basic and Lingerie-inspired Designs…

lingerie knitting

…because nothing says “in the mood” like fleecy merino wool.  Particularly in summer.

Feeling lonely when you come home to an empty dwelling because your landlord/significant other/parent refuses to allow you to have a pet?  Or perhaps your desire for a cuddly animal companion has been thwarted by crippling allergies?  The good folk behind Knit Your Own Dog and Knit Your Own Cat have anticipated your dilemma….unless you are allergic to wool.

knit catThe author has even been kind enough to provide patterns of pedigree animals, allowing you to avoid those awkward silences and sidelong glances that follow the owners of knitted pets of uncertain parentage.

Lacked the funds to visit the UK for the wedding of Wills and Kate? Recreate the pomp and ceremony at home with Knit Your Own Royal Wedding.

knit weddingExtra points if you can faithfully recreate Beatrice’s silly hat.

For fans of knitting, weight loss and the aforementioned sidelong glances, Knitted Fast Food is the tome of choice This title features twenty exciting meals to knit, including hot dogs, cheeseburgers, sushi and fried breakfasts.

knit foodknitted prawns

Reviews seem to indicate that prawns are the popular favourite from this tome. Obviously.

So there you have it. I was pleasantly surprised by the weirdness that resides in the hearts of knitters and I hope you were too.  Please feel free to join in my lucky dip and add your own titles to the list for the benefit of all fanciers of odd reading material.

Until next time,

Bruce

Read it if: The Name of the Star…..

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I just love it when I pick up a book after a single recommendation from a fellow blogger, and not only does that book turn out to be just the kind of thing I love to read, but the first in a series. That sort of thing really makes my stony countenance stretch with joy… *insert image of Bruce grinning forcefully here*….  The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson is just such a book.

I have mentioned previously that I am a great fan of Ben Aaronovitch’s series about magic-wielding coppers in London, and this book seems to be following a very similar premise, except that it is aimed at fans of Young Adult fiction.  Essentially, main character Rory arrives in London from Louisiana to complete her final year of high school (sixth form for those in the know) at the same time as an apparent Jack the Ripper copycat killer unleashes the first gory murder in what turns out to be a historically-fairly-accurate-spree.  In an entirely separate event, Rory suffers a near-death experience, causing her to develop the ability to see ghosts.  These two happenings end up being connected in a very entertaining fashion, but I refuse to give any more spoilers.

name of the star

Read it if:

* you enjoy boarding school stories, ghost stories, murder mysteries, historical fiction, police stories, tales about famous killers, or any combination of the categories aforementioned

*you like books that can be read stand-alone, but are also part of a series

* you have ever taken an excessively large bite of an appetising dinner at a social gathering, and then immediately wished you hadn’t

*you like young adult fiction where the main character is perfectly ordinary and likeable, as opposed to riddled with angst, labouring under a ridiculously overblown attitude problem, carrying surprising amounts of emotional baggage for someone of tender years or a vampire

I thoroughly enjoyed this one, and will be getting my greasy paws on the next in the series, The Madness Underneath, as soon as the paper-pushing gargoyles in the finance department approve my loan application for essential reading material.

Until next time,

Bruce

Retro Reading: Books about Puberty…..

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Yes, it’s that time again – time to link arms with a trusted confidante (ie: me) and take a stroll down memory lane. BYO mosquito repellent and hayfever medication.

Recently I have been contemplating that most treacherous of life events – puberty.  A younger colleague of mine has just begun on this road to adult gargoyle-hood and is most vexed at the appearance of mould where there was no mould before.  It was while I was advising him of the necessity of a meticulous morning-and-evening cleansing routine to keep this problem in check, that I decided I should re-read some classics related to this special time for young gargoyles and fleshlings alike.

To that end I selected two that I remembered well (or at least I thought I did…): the perennial favourite Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret by Judy Blume and Pig City by Louis Sachar.

are you there godIt may come as a surprise to those of you who have read Are You There God?…., but on re-reading I had absolutely no recollection of any of the content pertaining to Margaret’s investigations into different religions. None, whatsoever.  How could this be? I wondered – clearly, this was an important part of the main character’s growth and development throughout the plot.  It’s even mentioned in the title, for goodness sake.

It was about this time that I began to suspect that on my initial reading, drawn by content arguably more interesting to a young buck undergoing certain important life changes, that I may have skipped the bits about religion and flicked through to the advice about increasing one’s bust…..Yes, dear reader, I believe that I may have been guilty of skipping large chunks of the story in order to get to the spicy bits! Surely, though, this small infraction can be forgiven – as creatures of stone, gargoyles have a vested interest in busts (of the artistic, sculptural variety) and advice as to how to make a bigger one could be just the ticket for a gargoyle without a lower half to take a step up in the world, so to speak.

In re-reading Pig City, you will be pleased to know I did not uncover any nasty surprises about content I had forgotten, for this book was certainly on high rotation in my reading list at that time.  Strangely though, I had forgotten all about the book itself until I recently overheard something that jogged my memory and I felt an immediate need to search it out.

pig city

The story follows the sixth-grade school year of Laura Sibbie and friends as they grope their way up, down and across the social ladder through the creation of various clubs.  The initiations and subsequent fall-out of these friendships make up the bulk of the story, and very entertaining it is too.  This is a much milder take on the beginnings of adolescence than that presented in Judy Blume’s work – the characters still have the charm and innocence that Blume’s more wordly girls do not.

Having had its first outing in 1987 though, I wonder how much the events in Pig City mirror the experiences of today’s children in grade six and seven.  I can’t help but feel that the squabbles depicted here would nowadays be more likely to occur in a younger age group than the technology-savvy, know-all-about-it pre-teens of the post-noughties.

I must say, having re-dipped the toe into books about this life event, I feel I must seek out more as the embarrassing predicaments in which the characters find themselves are really quite fun to read about.

Any suggestions from fellow bloggers about classic “growing up” reads to tackle?

Until next time,

Bruce