Thursday, 28 February 2013

Gathering Blue

I read The Giver for the first time a few weeks ago and I loved it, really loved it.  I was very excited to find that there were three sequels. Sadly my library only has this one.

I'm not sure that Gathering Blue is actually a sequel to The Giver. It's thematically linked for sure- another young person battling a dystopian world of the future, but it's a completely separate story to The Giver. Different dystopia, different characters. Is that a sequel? Not for me.

Gathering Blue is the tale of Kira, a young girl, recently orphaned as we meet her. The first page describes in rather harrowing detail how Kira has just spent 4 days sitting by her dead mother in the "vast foul smelling Field of Leaving". It's a cracking start.

There was no reply. She hadn't expected one. Her mother had been dead now for four days, and Kira could tell that the last of the spirit was drifting away. 
"Mother." She said it again, quietly, to whatever was leaving. She thought that she could feel its leave-taking, the way one could feel a small whisper of breeze at night. 
Now she was all alone. Kira felt the aloneness, the uncertainty, and a great sadness.

 On each of the following pages of the first chapter we learn further terrible happenings in Kira's life- she has lost much more than her mother, orphaned, homeless, she has a bad leg, and no food, and yet she has survived in her own way, and even managed to make her own mark on her village.

Kira's mother had a special role within the community even though she was quite poor- she had a talent with embroidery and knew the art of dye, and she was called upon to restore ceremonial garments for the village. But now Kira's mother is dead, she is quite alone, and must make her own way.

Perhaps it is unfair to judge this book as falling in the shadow of The Giver, but I think it does, and it lead to an inevitable disappointment for me. I was expecting a sequel, and it's not. I loved The Giver so much, and so I found this one a little lacking. Checking out reviews on Goodreads I see that I'm not alone. For me Gathering Blue didn't have the pace, excitement or tension of The Giver. Still some of the ideas and writing is great, and I'm definitely planning to read more Lois Lowry.

Monday, 25 February 2013

Road Trip - Eugene Atget

A few months ago we did a rather ambitious day trip to Sydney to see the Eugene Atget exhibition at the Art Gallery of New South Wales. Sydney isn't an easy day trip for us (8 hours in the car is a bit off putting), but I was very keen to see this exhibition, and this was our only chance before it closed.

Eugene Atget (1857-1927) was a French photographer who set out to document the 'Old Paris', which was disappearing after the demolitions and modernisation of Baron Haussmann. This exhibition was mainly photographs on loan from Musee Carnavalet in Paris (another Musee definitely on the hit list for this year), along with some of Man Ray's collection of Atget photographs, and a few from other galleries. Man Ray lived on the same Parisian street as Eugene and was responsible for introducing his work to the Parisian avant-garde "who were inspired by the mysterious and poetic visions of the city."

I hadn't heard of Eugene before seeing the publicity for this exhibition, possibly because this was the first major exhibition of his work in Australia. Then when I read The Flaneur last year, there was Eugene too. 

Eugene Atget, an obsessed photographer who was determined to document every corner of Paris before it disappeared under the assulat of modern 'improvements'. He had been born in 1857 near Bordeaux and as a young man had worked variously as a sailor, actor and painter. Penniless but driven, Atget carried his tripod, view camera and glass plates everywhere with him, shooting all the monuments but also the fading advertisements painted on a wall, the dolls in a shop window, the rain-slick cobbled street, the door knocker, the quay, the stairwell, even the grain of the wood steps. He photographed the grand salon of the Austrian embassy but also street vendors hawking baskets and the humble horse-drawn fiacre waiting for a customer. He wore his voluminous cape everywhere, carrying his heavy equipment in hands that had been badly scarred by developing solutions. 

Big cities always have interesting things going on, as well as exhibitions.

This dog appeared to have a camera strapped to it's head!

I was excited to see a tagged cockatoo
(turns out that he is Mr Squiggle)
bird research teaming up with social media-
folks on facebook love them

No trip to Sydney is complete without
at least a glimpse of the Harbour

Sunday, 24 February 2013

The Changeover

I was really looking forward to this book. Margaret Mahy is a legendary New Zealand author, who sadly died last year, and I hadn't really read much of her work- the occasional picture book, but not any of her longer books. I married a kiwi, and am a frequent visitor there, so naturally I'm interested in their book culture, and feel a sort of antipodean allegiance I guess, and have an expectation that I will like their books, and generally I do. So, I was quite disappointed with myself that I didn't enjoy The Changeover more.

The Changeover, which is sometimes subtitled A Supernatural Romance, won The Carnegie Medal in 1984. It is the story of 14 year old Laura, a schoolgirl in suburban Christchurch, who lives with her mother Kate, the manager of a local bookstore, and her 3 year old brother Jacko. Laura goes  to rather extraordinary lengths to save her young brother Jacko from sinister forces that threaten his life.

It was clearly well written, and I could see the cleverness of the author in the prose, but I just didn't like the story. 

Laura like to hear Jacko praised, but the man leaned forward as he spoke and his dreadful smell struck her like a blow- a smell that brought to mind mildew, wet mattresses, unopened rooms, stale sweat, dreary books full of damp pages and pathetic misinformation, the very smell- she thought she had it now- of rotting time.

I was never fully captivated by Laura's battle to save Jacko from the rather creepy Carmody Braque. There are great themes- love, family, cruelty, revenge, justice, teenage years and early yearnings. Even so I wasn't fully engaged.  Clearly, I'm a bit out on a limb here. Googling around there is much love for this book- it seems everyone else gets it, and loves it. Ah well. We can't all be the same, can we?


Saturday, 16 February 2013

Farewell Spit

On my recent holiday to New Zealand we got to visit an extraordinary place that was new to me.

Farewell Spit is at the Northwest corner of the South Island.

It was formed 14,000 years ago at the confluence of two currents- the West Coast and D'Urville currents. It is basically a 35km long sand bank, 1km wide at the base.

I'm glad I'm not the only one to notice
 the uncanny resemeblance

As well as being an extraordinarily beautiful place, it's a bird sanctuary of international importance. Farewell Spit is home to many local birds, and many birds from Alaska fly across the Pacific to spend the southern summer here.

The green farmland at Puponga gives rise to the spit. 

Access to Farewell Spit is strictly controlled. People can walk onto the inner beach for a few kilometres, but to go to the outer beach or further along the spit, then you have to go with an organised tour. There are two companies providing tours. Farewell Spit Eco Tours and Farewell Spit Nature Experience.

We were lucky and had a gorgeous day

Teenage boys aren't always bowled over by new experiences

New Zealand Fur Seal at Fossil Point

We travelled out to Farewell Spit Lighthouse
(still 10km from the end!)

Later in the afternoon the wind kicked up and it all got a bit lunar.

The dunes move 30 metres a year
You can see how
Actually you can see the moving sand from across the bay!

There is an Australasian Gannet colony further out on the spit beyond the lighthouse, sadly our tour didn't go there. A great reason to go back!

Saturday Snapshot, is a wonderful weekly meme from Alyce  at home with books

Friday, 15 February 2013

The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr Morris Lessmore

I really must live with my head buried in the sand. The whole Morris Lessmore thing seems to have passed me by. I didn't discover that the first incarnation of this story was an Oscar winning animated short film until I read the information at the back of the book.

It also exists as an app. I haven't used that yet, and given how often I get access to the ipad it might be some time before I do. I was very happy to read the book though. I'd read a couple of glowing reviews of the book- Good Reading magazine gave it 5 stars, and then I saw it somewhere else with similar levels of gushing so I knew I needed to search it out. I'm certainly glad I did.

The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr Morris Lessmore is a book for readers. It shows us the restorative power of story. The value of reading and writing.

And it's a gorgeous book to look at. Nice format. Beautifully illustrated. 

There is great use of black and white and colour

Intriguingly Morris's  books are in French
Interestingly there are two illustrators- William Joyce and Joe Bluhm. I would love to know how that collaboration worked on a practical level, but can't find anything online. 

Tuesday, 12 February 2013

Meat Free Week

It's not often that you find inspiration in the Sunday papers, but this week I did! The Can't Live Without page last weekend featured Krew Boylan, an actor apparently- I'm not really up with such things.

Among other things she is an ambassador for Meat Free Week to be held March 18 to 24 2013. Meat Free Week is a new initiative started by two Australian women, Melissa Dixon and Lainie Bracher, to highlight factory farming practices and the environmental and health benefits of reducing our meat consumption. Important issues to be sure.

My 12 year old son is currently living as a vegetarian, and while I share some of his misgivings about the ethics of eating meat, I still really like some of it- particularly fish and lamb, and think that it can be part of a healthy diet. I'll do this for me, but also to support him, and broaden my scope of vegetarian cooking. The team at Meat Free Week have made it as easy as possible to be vegetarian for a week and included a wonderful page of delicious looking vegetarian recipes to get us thinking and planning.

So I'm going to give this a go. I'm actually a bit excited about it, and intrigued as to the possibilities. I know that I can do it (well I presume I can), but it's something that I have never actually done. Care to join me?

Sunday, 10 February 2013

Come Down, Cat

Sonya Hartnett is rather extraordinary. She publishes amazing books for adults and children, and won the Astrid Lingren Memorial Award in 2008. She buys and sells houses. Most recently she edited The Best Australian Stories 2012. She also writes the occasional picture book. 

I loved her first picture book, The Boy and the Toy. Here she teams up again with illustrator Lucia Masciullo. Sadly, I didn't love this book quite so much. Not that it's bad- it's not by any stretch.

Come Down, Cat is a simple tale. Young Nicholas is worried about his cat, who is up on the roof and won't come down even though it's nearly night time. He worries about all the "ghosts and monsters and creepy crawlies" that come out at night. "Won't you be frightened, cat?" Cats being cats of course the cat doesn't want to come down, until it it's good and ready. What will Nicholas do when it starts raining during the night?

Come Down, Cat was an Honour Book in the Children's Book Council of Australia Early Childhood Book of the Year 2012. The winner was The Runaway Hug- see my rather gushing review here.

Saturday, 9 February 2013

Norman Lindsay Gallery

Recently, I was able to visit the Norman Lindsay Gallery at Faulconbridge, in the Blue Mountains, an hour or two west of Sydney. I've driven past the turnoff many, many times, and so when arranging a meeting in the Blue Mountains I thought of the gallery. I'm glad I did. It's an interesting place to visit.

An old house built in 1894 by one of the Foys department store family, then bought by Norman Lindsay in 1912. Norman was a talented artist, author and sculptor amongst many other pursuits.

The grounds are lovely with many of Norman's wonderful sculptures

And fountains

His wonderul paintings and etchings are well displayed

A replica of his painting studio
currently housed in the etching studio

I had no idea that he was quite the ship builder
there were many impressive ships
and even a book of his ships on display

My nephews were amazed at a rotary phone!

Saturday Snapshot, is a wonderful weekly meme from Alyce  at home with books

Wednesday, 6 February 2013

Wondrous Words Wednesday 6/2/13

Wondrous Words Wednesday is a fabulous weekly meme hosted by Bermuda Onion, where we share new (to us) words that we’ve encountered in our weekly reading.  

Today's words again come from my recent reading of Imagined London, a rich source of new words, as might be expected from a Pulitzer Prize winner. The first Wondrous Words post from Imagined London is here

1. Locution (Noun)

Perhaps nowhere was I as struck by this as I was in the City, for quickly I learned that that locution in literature referred not, as I had supposed, to the city of London, but to the part of London that is the oldest and today most dedicated to finance and commerce. 

1. A particular word, phrase, or expression, especially one that is used by a particular person or group.
2. Style of speaking; phraseology.

2. Aits (Noun)

Fog up the river, where it flows among green aits and meadows; fog down the river where it rolls defiled among the tiers of shipping and the waterside pollutions of a great (and dirty) city.

Chiefly British. A small island, especially in a river. 

Picture source

3. Usury (Noun)

And all of the above owe more than a bit to real life; their like can be found in the London papers on any given day, being charged with usury, being indicted for fraud, representing those so indicted.

1. The practice of lending money and charging the borrower interest, especially at an exorbitant or illegally high rate.
2. An excessive or illegally high rate of interest charged on borrowed money. 
3. Archaic Interest charged or paid on a loan. 

4. Farthingales (Noun)

Talk of farthingales and arsenic powder make us also assume that fashions in dress were completely unlike our own, and indeed the tight trousers and slashed skirts of Soho would shock and amaze any of the ladies of 1753 London. 

A support, such as a hoop, worn beneath a skirt to extend it horizontally from the waist, used by European women in the 16th and 17th centuries. 
5. Balmacaan (Noun)

And on Vigo Street a man in full old-fashioned London regalia- balmacaan, waistcoat, suit, tie and umbrella by his side- sells orchids from a stall. 

A loose, full overcoat with raglan sleeves, originally made of rough woolen cloth. (After Balmacaan, an estate near Inverness, Scotland)

Picture source

6. Perfidy (Noun)

At the height of the controversy about invading Iraq and the animosity that ensued between the United States and England and the French, a limo driver waxed poetic and specific about 1,200 years of French perfidy.

1. Deliberate breach of faith; calculated violation of trust; treachery.
2. The act or an instance of treachery. 

7. Rondelay (Noun)/ Roundelay

Early on we got into a frustrating rondelay about whether my son had any vests or jumpers. 

A poem or song with a regularly recurring refrain. 

All definitions today are from The Free Dictionary. 

Monday, 4 February 2013

Sweet Paris

I knew when I first saw Sweet Paris in a shop before Christmas that I would buy it. I didn't know then that I would end up buying 3 copies! Paris research is painstaking.

Michael Paul is a New Zealander as it turns out. A lifestyle photographer based in London, Michael has been lucky to visit Paris many times, and done his fair share of eating his way around the city. Here he combines lovely photos of Paris and her sweet treats, with his picks for the best of the best, and even 22 recipes to recreate a little piece of Paris magic in your own kitchen. Rather surprisingly he suggests that Sweet Paris wasn't intended as a guide! I think it makes a rather excellent guide.

Organised in chapters such as The Chocolate Capital of the World, Patisserie and Salon de The Classics, Traditional Viennoiserie, Decadent Desserts, Ice Cream Gelato and Sorbet, and Confiserie Michael Paul takes us through the history and provenance of these famous delicacies, such as the quintessentially French croissant- so many of which have actually come from Austria and Italy, but then been refined, perfected, and taken to heart in France.

Since the introduction of sugar in French cuisine, the country's cooks have been conjuring up all manner of confiserie, and there is no doubt that other cultures have influenced them to a great extent. The petit four appears a very French invention but its origins are oriental. Calissons, which are traditional candy from Aix-en-Provence, came originally from Italy, nougat from Persia and dragees, sugared almonds, probably from Greece. 

As with everyone who has visited Paris more than once we all have wonderful memories of delicious treats eaten in extraordinary locations. And I'm happy to take his suggestions and broaden my range of experiences. I am now especially keen to try a Paris-Brest- I had not realised that the rather bizarre shape was styled on a bicycle tyre from the famed Paris Brest cycle race, a Chausson aux Pommes (an apple turnover), and glace marron (glace chestnuts) which I have eyed before but never had the time to eat- but who could not be won over by such gushing description as....

Who can resist those glazed crystallised chestnut confectioneries candied in sugar syrup when cavorting in the French capital? They're the height of indulgence: subtly sweet, rich, nutty, gooey morsels of vanillary delectation that come wrapped in that gorgeous gold paper you can't help licking to savour every drop of sticky deliciousness. 

He's almost channeling Nigella with that- and I'm in. Another new to me treat is the delectable looking meringues found at Au Merveilleux de Fred. Oh my. I can see my first visit to the 15th coming up.

Michael Paul's Top 10 Paris Greats

Pierre Herme
-macarons of course, the best patissier in Paris.

Patrick Roger
- the 'wild child' of chocolate, his favourite chocolatier in France.

Gerard Mulot
-patissier with wonderful selection of chocolates and confisserie.

Ble Sucre
-one of the best small neighbourhood patisseries, his madeleines have a cult following, his croissants are equally good.

Des Gateaux et du Pain
-patisserie and viennoiserie

Du Pain et des Idees
-beautiful old neighbourhood boulangerie- chausson aux pomme, banana pain au chocolat, pain aux raisin.

Pain de Sucre
-adventurous patisserie specialising in melt-in the-mouth marshmallows (guimauve), baba au rhum and pain d'epice is a must.

- world renowned bakery with some of the best bread in Paris, also a fabulous selection of viennoiserie including a rustic, cinnamon apple tart to die for and their famous sable 'punition'.

A La Mere de Famille
-Paris's oldest and most beautiful confiserie and chocolatier- they do an amazing chocolate ice cream.

-patisserie and salon de the is a Paris institution. Place des Vosges not so crowded. The Trocadero location has a stunning view of the Eiffel Tower.

An exciting list as I've only darkened the doors of Pierre Herme and Poilane on my previous trips. So much to do....

Michael Paul has some rather opinionated views about chocolate in Paris. Foremost he calls Paris the Chocolate Capital of the World. His favourite maitres chocolatiers are Patrick Roger, Pierre Herme, Franck Kestener and Jacques Genin (who has sadly currently suspended making pastries to concentrate on chocolate and caramels). All of whom I look forward to trying.

True connoisseurs of chocolate focus on chocolate rather than chocolates- in other words, bars and not filled chocolates, or bonbons. They believe that the bar is the purest, most concentrated form of real chocolate, while bonbons fall into the realm of 'candy chocolate'. Purists talk of chocolate as though it was wine, and use the same flowery vocabulary- nutty, spicy, fruity, etc- to describe it. 

Just like my friend Hannah from Wayfaring Chocolate. Perhaps I'm beginning to understand.

I was rather pleased to see that on my first trip to Paris way back in 1998 I managed to eat what is still regarded as one of the best chocolate tarts (the chocolate silk tart from  La Maison du Chocolat) and the exceptional pate des fruits from Fauchon. Both experiences that I remember to this day. I can't wait to make some more lifelong memories later in the year.

Sunday, 3 February 2013

The Magic Fishbone

Well, what a funny little book this is!

One of Charles Dickens's lesser known works. I'm not the biggest Dickens scholar it must be said, but I wondered if it was one of his earlier works, but it is actually one of his later works, written in 1867 (he died in 1870).

A rather bizarre book. Princess Alicia is the oldest child of a rather poor king, King Watkins the First, and his queen who have a rather astonishing 19 children from 7 years to 7 months.

The Fairy Grandmarina, an old lady "dressed in shot-silk of the richest quality and smelling of dried lavender", comes to visit King Watkins at the fishmonger, after he buys a pound and a half of salmon. She directs the king to share the salmon with Princess Alicia and to give her a fish bone- and that she must dry it, rub it and polish it until it shines like mother or pearl. The fish bone will then be magic, and grant a wish, provided she wishes for it at the right time.

I did love that the queen swooned her way out of the story really. Princess Alicia of course revives her mother the queen with smelling salts. And I don't know that you can end books these days by choking the annoying little dog, mores the pity....

I was lucky and found a lovely old edition illustrated by FD Bedford and published in 1921 at a local op shop.  It has clearly been loved, or at least used by some previous child readers as they have coloured in some of the line drawings in the book.


Saturday, 2 February 2013

White-necked Heron

It's great finding new birds. Recently Mr Wicker noticed a new bird in a local dam. We jumped in the car to check it out one day.

It turned out to be a rather magnificent White-necked Heron (Ardea pacifica) in breeding plumage. I'd never seen one before- I've now seen them about a few places, locally and in the Blue Mountains- they're quite distinctive even when driving past.

Enjoying a meal

They look so intent on the search for the next meal

This dam soon dried up soon after these shots due to our rather awful record breaking hot summer. I hope he/she has found somewhere new to feed. 

Saturday Snapshot, is a wonderful weekly meme from Alyce  at home with books