allen and unwin

I’m still awake, still!

You might remember that during the school holidays I took the boys to see the musical and fabulously quirky Still, Awake Still!  The show was largely drawn from the songs that accompany the delightful picture book I’m Still Awake, Still! by Elizabeth Honey and Sue Johnson.

To follow-up on our junior theatrical experience, I borrowed a copy of I’m Still Awake, Still! from the library and it’s been on high rotation ever since!

Oscar read it on the way home, when we got home (twice), before bed, in bed, and again when he woke up. He’s had the CD on repeat, and it’s moved from his bedroom to the lounge room, and back to his room again.

The story is about little Fiddy, who is having terrible trouble getting to sleep…

“Fiddy is small and busy and quick. And at bedtime he’s still wide awake.”

Marlo, Parlo and Nonno all try and help Fiddy out, as do a cast of favourite Australia creatures. It takes a big old bear, a few sweet lullabies and a quick trip through space to finely wear this bouncy little boy out.

I can’t decide what I love more, the story, the illustrations or the music…

The story is cosy from start to finish, and Fiddy is the cutest little protagonist on page. I’m on the look-out for a pair of rainbow pyjamas for Oscar and listening to Elizabeth narrate the story (on the CD) is very special.

The illustrations are gorgeous, made all the better for having seem a few of the originals at the Art Centre last month. You can see a small sample here at A&U’s website. I was quite amazed at how Elizabeth has managed to maintain a cheer and brightness on the page, even in the dark of night.

And then of course there is the music. The first time I listened to Goodnight My Little Darling with Oscar he went quiet and still. Even in the middle of the afternoon, Oscar seemed to respond to the lullaby. I’ll admit that it gave me goosebumps, at the sweetness of this lovely song. The tracks go on to be a mixture of calmness and funkiness. As is the case with most really enjoyable kids music, Sue’s compositions don’t ‘talk down’ to the kids. They’re jazzy and funky in their own right, not overly silly and performed with great talent.

The combination of a clever, super-cute story, fun and colourful illustrations and wonderful musical accompaniment, I’m Still Awake, Still! is the whole package. So very worth a look, particularly if you’ve got a little one who struggles a bit at bedtime.

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An intriguing style: The Siren’s Sting

I’m pretty pleased that I can now tick another item off my to-do-list… ‘read a crime/thriller/spy novel’… check!

Up until now, this has been a genre I’ve not dipped into. I tend not to be drawn to the horror-mongery typical of some crime fiction, and I usually get my fill of intrigue and espionage from film and television.

But again, on the trail of reading differently, when I was asked to have a read of Miranda Darling’s The Siren’s Sting (Allen and Unwin) I jumped at the chance. And once more, I am so pleased that I did because I had an absolute ball with this book.

“With her mentor and boss David Rice seriously ill and his business in peril, Stevie must find who is behind the pirate attacks and why they will stop at nothing to bring down all she holds dear. As she poses as just another party girl on the lookout for a loaded husband, Stevie plays a deadly double game to detect – and destroy – the very heart of evil.”

The simplest way to describe Darling’s novel is that it’s quite a bit like a Bond film but with a female lead, espionage for the discerning lady. But, through the creation of a really compelling lead protagonist in Stevie Duveen, the author has created a story that is much more than just a formulaic Bond tale.

Stevie, with her sad past and dimunitive form relies most refreshingly on her wits:

“She was not an action woman: she could not run very fast; she favoured ballet slippers over combat boots, never swore and still suffered from nightmares; she did not enjoy confrontation of any kind. She was reluctant to face risk, and it was a quality that made her very good at her job. Her art lay in her ability to pass unnoticed, to slip in and out of the cracks of life, to be quietly invisible.”

She is tenacious but not burly, romantic but guarded, and she is a sterling example of a smart and independent woman undercover.

Enjoyably she has an effortless, underplayed sense of Mediterranean style. As Stevie moves from one exotic location to another (usually by luxury yacht) she takes with her a most enticing wardrobe, of raw silk the colour of raspberry sorbet, to denim, linen and pearls.

In keeping with most tales of intrigue, the descriptions of various stunning locations is incredibly enticing. Darling must have a had an amazing time researching this novel – trips to Sardinia, Venice, Morocco and Azerbaijan, all described in colours and form, complete with characters beautifully true to time and place.

Unlike many more gruff spy novels, Darling’s novel is nicely paced, not too gun-heavy and offers a complex mystery ripe for solving. It is weaved nicely, and sports a wide array of characters, both likeable and dispicable.

There are just enough references to Stevie’s ‘Russian adventure’ to convince me to read the first in the Stevie Duveen series, The Trioka Dolls and likewise, the story concludes with enough open-endedness to ensure that I purchase the next book in the series.

I would recommend The Siren’s Sting – it is entertaining, skilfully constructed and lots of fun. It’s a nice introduction to the genre, give it a try.

Buy your own copy of The Siren’s Sting at the TBYL Store!


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My first (?) autobiographical read…

I can’t actually remember the last autobiography that I read, or in fact whether or not I’ve ever read one before. So, in keeping with my current crusade to read widely, and differently, I made the choice to have a read of The Happiest Refugee by Anh Do.

I remember seeing this book everywhere when it was released, and I’d heard very good things about it. Quite recently I saw Anh Do on morning TV and it reminded me that I still hadn’t made the time to have a look at his book. He’s a funny guy, with an interesting story and so I thought this would make for a good (re)introduction to reading memoirs.

“Ahn Do nearly didn’t make it to Australia. His entire family came close to losing their lives on the sea as they escaped from war-torm Vietnam in an overcrowded boat. But nothing – not murderous pirates, nor the imminent threat of death by hunger, disease or dehydration as they drifted for days – could quench their desire to make a better life in the country they had dreamed about.”

Anh Do’s story is fascinating to me, and is wonderfully authentic. It refers to a period of time that is close to my heart and I feel at home with his tales of university life in the 1990s and the perils of entering the workforce, complete with false-starts, misadventures and successes, both small and large.

The Happiest Refugee further fascinates, by presenting a perspective of what it was like to leave a ravaged homeland for greater safety and better opportunities. I can’t even begin to identify with this experience, and I feel quite privileged to be privy to this story of dangerous relocation. The Do family’s experience of migration is at once horrifying and inspiring.

In fact, Anh’s whole life seems to ebb and flow between these two poles…

“….the computer turned out to be very significant, with Khoa and I both writing our first screenplays on its Honeywell keyboard. Still to this day Khoa likes to mention the very lucky day when a bus driver almost killed Anh and kick started his movie career.”

Time and again, Anh recounts a fortunate life, cheating misfortune and coming out ahead and on top, more often than not with his big trademark grin on his face.

The Happiest Refugee really is a happily-ever-after story and Anh and his family are grand examples of what can be achieved by hard work and a stack of perseverance. It is also a story of appreciation, a sense of gratefulness which  has lead Anh to do the things that he’s done for his family, for himself and for others.

Ultimately, this memoir is really entertaining. It is humorous and at the same time moving. If you’re a fan of Anh Do, you’ll find this a really interesting insight into his life and career, and even if you’re not a big fan I’d still say that you’ll find this autobiography enjoyable. It’s a fairly quick and easy book, and would work very nicely as a holiday read.

If you like autobiographies, or want to give one a try, check out The Happiest Refugee. 

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