Utopirama!: Find the Good…

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imageNonfiction 2015It’s Utopirama time again – a time to take a brief time-out from the horrors, suffering and general discomfort of daily existence and look toward a higher goal.  Today’s book is all about making that glass at least half-full before you metaphorically kick the proverbial bucket.  It is Find the Good: Unexpected Life Lessons from a Small-Town Obituary Writer by Helen Lende.  As it is also a memoir of sorts, I will be submitting it for the Non-fiction Reading Challenge hosted by The Introverted Reader, hence the comfy armchair.

find the good

Quick Overview:

 In brief, easy-to-digest chapters, Lende takes the reader through the wisdom she has garnered from time spent composing obituaries in the local paper for her fellow townsfolk, both well-known to her and otherwise. Each chapter is titled with a little nugget of truth and follows the salient life lessons that presented themselves to Lende on reflection, ranging from “stop and smell the fish”, to “put on a costume now and then”. The stories are gentle and often humorous, and packed with unspoken exhortations for the reader to dig beneath the thin veneer of daily life and appreciate the untidy, unexpected and unexplored bits of our existence and that of those around us.

Utopian Themes:

Let it shine

Everyday wisdom

Seize the day

Lemons to Lemonade

Ask not for whom the bell tolls

Protective Bubble-o-meter:

protective bubbleprotective bubbleprotective bubbleprotective bubbleprotective bubble

 

5 out of 5 bubbles for the wholesome goodness (and unexpected sting) of squeezing fresh citrus fruits

This is a quick and gentle read and one that would make perfect before-bed reading for those who like to wind down by slowly shedding the layers of negative emotion accumulated during the day. Lende’s voice chimes with welcome and life-affirming humour and the format of the book suits those who like to dip in and out and reflect on what they’ve read. This is a great choice for when you need a cosy, restful distraction, such as during the daily commute, or while waiting for an unpleasant appointment.

Progress in the Non-Fiction Reading Challenge: 5/10

Until next time,

Bruce

A KidLit Haiku Review: The Snowbirds…

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It’s Mad Martha with you today for another haiku review, so plump up your feathers (or feathered pillow) and join me in my wintry foray into a  fable-esque tale for youngsters, set in Japan and including elements of Russian legend: The Snowbirds by Jim Fitzsimmons.

Here is the blurb from Goodreads:

In a small Japanese mountain village, young Shoji enters an ice carving competition. He soon finds he has a rival in Orochi, another boy in the village, who tries to sabotage Shoji’s entry, but with the help of his family Shoji creates a most beautiful Snowbird.

When the other ice carvings are revealed they discover that Orochi has stolen Shoji’s idea and has also carved an equally beautiful Snowbird. The judges cannot decide the winner of the competition so they announce that the result will be declared the next morning.

During the night Jack Frost discovers the two Snowbirds and thinks one of them will make an ideal companion for his Grandfather Frost, the Snow King. At the same time Shoji, anxious for the safety of his Snowbird, sneaks out of his house and meets Jack Frost who explains his plan. Shoji agrees to let him have his Snowbird, but they are both interrupted by the arrival of Orochi who demands payment in return for his.

Jack Frost brings the Snowbirds to life and tells them they must travel to the North Pole where his Grandfather will choose one of them to be his companion. On their journey they meet different characters and encounter many difficulties until they both finally arrive, but which one will be chosen? Jack Frost has a cunning idea to help his Grandfather decide…

 

the snowbirds

Adversarial 

actions lead to hard choices

Noble heart thaws ice

Fitzsimmons has developed an original and interesting story here, but at the same time it feels incredibly familiar due to the style of writing that can only be described as a fable.  I think this style will appeal both to grown-ups, who will appreciate a new and different “fairy tale” to read to their youngsters, and to children, who will be assisted into independent reading by the familiarity of the format.  At only 78 pages (in the digital version), the story is also very attainable for younger readers who are venturing into reading on their own.  The tale is very atmospheric, with the wintry surrounds leaping off the page through the descriptive writing and I could almost feel the snowflakes as I read.  The descriptions of some of the scenes, and of the snowbirds themselves are quite beautiful and lend themselves to easy visualisation for the reader.  I can certainly imagine youngsters and their grown-ups wanting to hop onto Google to have a look at some real ice sculptures after reading these sections.

Kids will love to despise the odious Orochi and his devious and spiteful actions towards Shoji’s delicate creation.  I’m sure they will also relish the fact that Orochi’s snowbird bears an incredible resemblance in personality to its maker.  The story is illustrated with line drawings that give a sense of naivety and reflect the tone of the story.

I was quite surprised at how quickly and how easily I became engaged in the story.  Not being a massive fan of traditional fairy tale formats, I appreciated the way that Fitzsimmons has mixed old and new.  The interesting setting helped me engage in the story also, as did the fact that the story was devoid of princesses.  I think parents and carers will really like the strong family bonds represented in Shoji’s family and the emphasis on perseverance,  truthfulness and generosity underlying Shoji’s actions.

If you are a fan of fairy tales and fables, The Snowbirds is well worth seeking out to add to your collection.

Yours in wintry, icicle-laden magic,

Mad Martha

 

Stella by Starlight: An MG Haiku Review…and Giveaway!

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Hello my little book-loving chooks! It’s time once again for one of my haiku reviews, and today I have one of those books that leaves a deep feeling of cuddly special-ness in your heart-cockles after you’ve finished reading.  I was lucky enough to receive a beautiful hardback copy of Stella By Starlight by Sharon M. Draper from Simon & Schuster Australia for review…and since I enjoyed the story so much, and the edition is so beautiful (with dust jacket and everything) I am also offering it in a GIVEAWAY at the end of this post.  But the giveaway is for Australians only. Sorry everyone else.

Stella is a young girl just trying to get along during the Great Depression in Bumblebee, South Carolina.  Her head is full of ideas but she has all sorts of trouble putting them down on the page, so Stella creeps out of her family’s shack each night to practise that troublesome writing.  On one of her night-time jaunts, Stella and her younger brother Jojo spot a burning cross across the river, surrounded by men on horses, dressed in white sheets.  The Ku Klux Klan has come to Bumblebee.

As the adults worry and keep watch over the neighbourhood children as they go to and from school, all Stella wants is to win the writing competition at school and have her words published in a real newspaper.  But when Stella’s daddy is among a few local men who decide to register to vote in the upcoming election, the danger posed by Klan members in the town comes to a terrifying head.  Will Stella be brave enough to do what needs to be done, or should she keep her head down to keep her family safe?

stella by starlight

This revolution

can be fought with pen, paper

Solidarity

Stella By Starlight is a thought-provoking piece of historical fiction that is all too relevant to contemporary young people.  Stella is an immediately relatable character – a cheeky but protective big sister, a keenly intelligent student who wants to be heard, and a sensitive member of a community that is brought low by persecution.  Draper has done a wonderful job of pitching these quite scary and disturbing historical events at a level that will best engage the intended age-group.  The scenes involving the Klan are (rightly, I think) frightening, but are tempered with the presence of steadying adult characters, so that the children (and young readers) aren’t left to process the implications of these events alone.

I also appreciated the depth that Draper has delivered in the various character groups – not all the white folk are horrible, violent racists, and not all the African-American folk are lion-hearted revolutionaries – so the story reflects the graduations of feeling and action found in any community, and particularly in a community in the grips of conflict.

Throughout the book there is a pervasive feeling of familial love and affection, driven by the closeness of Stella’s family.  It was in these parts that I really became most engaged, and enjoyed Stella’s attempts to put her thoughts down on paper.  The passages in which Stella gains access to a typewriter were quite funny, as both her thoughts and her commentary on the difficulty of wrangling the machine are collected in the one essay.

I think this is an important book for youngsters to read from a historical perspective, as it is vital for the building of peaceful communities that young people know what went before.  But just as important, this is a warm, winsome and witty story that will draw young readers in through the strength and diversity of its young characters.  I highly recommend Stella By Starlight and I wish there were more novels in this style, pitched at this age group, that deal with Australia’s difficult history from the perspective of our indigenous people.

So as this book is too good to keep to myself, on to the GIVEAWAY!  Many thanks to Simon & Schuster Australia for providing the giveaway prize.

If you live in Australia, you can enter using the Rafflecopter link below.  The winner will receive a hardback copy of Stella By Starlight.  Rafflecopter will choose a random winner and I will contact the winner at the end of the giveaway. Ready? Set? Enter!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Good luck to all!

Until we meet again, may your days be filled with the simple warmth of a homespun haiku,

Mad Martha

An Adult Fiction Haiku Review: Tita…

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It’s Mad Martha with you today presenting a very unusual little offering in the world of literary fiction.  I was lucky enough to win a review copy of this one through the LibraryThing Early Reviewers Program and because of this have been introduced to a little gem of a read that is a perfect pick for holiday hermit reading.  The book of which I speak is Tita by Marie Houzelle.  Here is the blurb, from Goodreads:

Tita is seven, and she wonders what wrong with her. She has perfect parents. She puts on plays with her friends, spies on adults, challenges her teacher, and even manages to read forbidden books. She should be happy. But she dreams of a world without meals, and keeps worrying about her mother’s whereabouts, spoiling her own life for no reason at all. Tita wants to be good – but how?
As her small town vibrates to age-old Latin rituals on the verge of slipping away, Tita finds refuge – and a liberation- in books.

TitaPoppet muses on

life and certain adult themes

in multiple tongues

Now I usually make up my own description of books that I review, but I have slacked off today and used Goodreads’ blurb because I really can’t think of how to describe the happenings in the book, as they are a distant second to the characters’ relationships.  Tita is a precocious seven-year-old who is greatly interested in the workings of the adult mind and the way the social world works.  Fortunately for the reader, while Tita is precocious, she manages to be so without the usual irritiating attitude that goes along with it – in a sense, Tita knows how much she doesn’t know and is perfectly happy to annunciate the gaps in her knowledge in order to fill them.  Our fleshlings happen to be Catholic, so the references to Catholicism and its traditions and Tita’s schooling were both familiar and amusing.  If you don’t know much about Catholicism, I’m not sure how you’ll take those passages – hopefully they’ll give a good measurement on the ole’ odd-ometer.

I can best describe this book as charming.  Tita is a sensitive and astute narrator and the reader is left to ponder her observations, particularly those relating to the relationship between her father and mother, from an adult perspective.  I very much appreciated the introduction to French culture and language that I received in reading this book – I have always considered it a particular failing that of the many languages that I have studied, French was (and is) conspicuously absent.  Houzelle has redressed this to some extent, as the French language and its influence are threaded through almost every scene in this book.  There’s also a little glossary at the back, so non-French-speakers can better understand particular phrases or references.

This is a gentle read, where events move at the pace of a Sunday morning breakfast and I suggest that’s exactly the sort of feeling you should bring when embarking on Tita’s journey of musing.

Au revoir mes chers,

Mad Martha