Does my Head Look Big in This? by Randa Abdel-Fattah

Published: 1st August 2005Goodreads badge
Publisher:
 Pan Australia
Pages: 293
Format: Paperback
Genre: Young Adult
★   ★   ★  – 3 Stars

The slide opened and I heard a gentle, kind voice: What is your confession, my child? 
I was stuffed. The Priest would declare me a heretic; my parents would call me a traitor… 
The Priest asked me again: What is your confession, my child? 
I’m Muslim. I whispered.

Welcome to my world. I’m Amal Abdel-Hakim, a seventeen year-old Australian-Palestinian-Muslim still trying to come to grips with my various identity hyphens.

It’s hard enough being cool as a teenager when being one issue behind the latest Cosmo is enough to disqualify you from the in-group. Try wearing a veil on your head and practicing the bum’s up position at lunchtime and you know you’re in for a tough time at school.

Luckily my friends support me, although they’ve got a few troubles of their own. Simone, blonde, gorgeous and overweight – she’s got serious image issues, and Leila’s really intelligent but her parents are more interested in her getting a marriage certificate than her high school certificate!

I thought I would like this more. I didn’t dislike it, but it wasn’t the amazing book people made it out to be. It felt clunky and uneventful, and while there are great moments that shine through, the moments that falter stand out more.

The dialogue was…awkward. Conversations didn’t feel natural and Abdel-Fattah uses a lot of them to explain everyone’s back stories or Amal to educate the character (or us) about various topics and situations. They never seem to talk about anything else. The language was stilted and while what they are saying is valid and important, it doesn’t sit comfortably in the story. I don’t mind being told these things, but I think a more seamless inclusion was needed. This includes the excessive amount of metaphors and examples used, I understood that Amal wearing the veil sparked a need to educate the people around her but I felt overloaded with them.

I enjoyed the parts where Amal talks about why she wants to wear the veil and why it is important to her. I loved that I got to dislike the principal because of her own opinions and prejudices, no matter how subtle they were. And I liked Amal not putting up with anyone’s ignorance or preconception; her confusion, real or mocking, over why there is a problem at all is wonderful.

What was weird was being late reading this, it feels so old but it wasn’t at the time of course. I did not realise this was published in 2005, I thought it was the early twenty tweens, not the mid-2000s. The benefit of this however was I did enjoy reliving 2002 when Big Brother and Craig David were hot topics of discussion, I even think a bum bag reference was made which was fun.

It wasn’t all bad. There are some good moments like Amal’s frustration of being the token Muslim and I enjoyed getting to read about Muslim practice and faith. But it remained an average book, one I couldn’t connect with and whose clunky writing never let me fall into the story completely.

You can purchase Does My Head Look Big in This via the following

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Angus and Robinson | Dymocks | Wordery

Fishpond | Amazon Aust | Amazon | Audible

The Women in Black by Madeleine St John

Published: 30th March 2009 (print)/10 September 2012 (audio) Goodreads badge
Publisher:
 Text Publishing/Bolinda Audio
Pages: 233/5 hours 56 minutes
Narrator: Deidre Rubenstein
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Fiction
★   ★  – 2 Stars

Sydney in the late 1950s. On the second floor of the famous F.G. Goode department store, in Ladies’ Cocktail Frocks, the women in black are girding themselves for the Christmas rush. Lisa is the new Sales Assistant (Temporary). Across the floor and beyond the arch, she is about to meet the glamorous Continental refugee, Magda, guardian of the rose-pink cave of Model Gowns. With the lightest touch and the most tender of comic instincts, Madeleine St John conjures a vanished summer of innocence. The Women in Black is a classic.

This is a curious book. It was a decent read, the characters were all unique in their own way and yet have the wonderful conformity of the 1950s, and the era comes to life with St John’s words. I am caught between liking it and thinking it was just ok. Somewhere in the 2.5 star field because somehow I couldn’t give it a three.

If I stopped listening I found myself forgetting I was reading it at all. There was nothing in the story to get me back into it, and yet I didn’t hate it while I read it. I wasn’t bored per se, it’s just that nothing happens. I think it was the final third or even further when something happened that I finally got into it, and even then it’s not much. I think that was more the ending coming to a head so it felt conclusive.

This is a novel that is character driven, certainly more so than plot. I certainly have nothing against character driven novels, I think though that enjoyment comes from having characters that interest you so you want to read about their lives. I enjoyed Magda, and Lisa was endearing, but so few others piqued my interest. I felt two or three of these women took centre stage and felt more real than others which may have had something to do with it.

I did love the writing style. St John’s words are elegant and natural without being formal or unnecessarily complicated. The language puts you into this era and it separates the characters from one another with ease, almost so you don’t even notice it. This is emphasised by Rubenstein’s narration. Her use of voices and tone brought this story to life and highlighted St John’s beautiful words. There is slight humour but not enough to be a distraction, and the conversations are often humorous simply for their stark contrasts to modern times. This language was also why I enjoyed the ending. St John concludes this novel with style and it was a seamless ending that suited the characters she had created. There was a heartfelt sentimentality that gave extra meaning to all that had come before it, all through the characters she uses to bring this story together.

Oddly enough, I also found the obituary at the end of my audiobook quite enjoyable. I enjoyed listening about St John and her life from someone who knew her. It was interesting too because I learnt that the book was actually published in 1993. I was impressed because St John captures the language and the feel of the 50s remarkably well. It didn’t feel forced or over the top and there was class and charm in her words that she managed to recreate the era remarkably well.

I will be interested in the movie now (retitled Ladies in Black) because I would like to see how they portray this, if not for the story, but to see these wonderful cocktail frocks for myself.

You can purchase The Women in Black via the following

QBD | Booktopia | Book Depository

Angus and Robinson | Dymocks

Fishpond | Amazon Aust | Amazon | Audible

It’s Hard to Love A Tiger by Anna Pignataro

Published: 1st June 2018Goodreads badge
Publisher:
 Scholastic Australia
Illustrator: Anna Pignataro
Pages: 24
Format: Hardcover Picture Book
★   ★   ★   ★  – 4 Stars

I wish I had a tiger, a tiger from the zoo. 

A tiger of my own to love-a tiger just like you. 

A funny rhyming story about a little girl and a troublesome (but lovable) tiger.

Once more I have picked up a picture book because the front cover was too cute to ignore. I wasn’t disappointed either because this is a fun story told through rhyme, coupled with creative illustrations. Pignataro’s illustrations are a mixture of drawn and painted, and vary from full page detail to simple images on white.

I loved the poetic verse the story is written in. It flows wonderfully if you read it as a whole, and nothing is lost if the story is read at a slower pace either, each stanza matches the picture which is spread across a double page. Pignataro’s rhymes are clever and make sense in context, nothing too fanciful happens to make a rhyme work which makes the reading flow naturally and seamlessly. The formatting of the words also play into how you read the story and it helps with tone and pacing, especially when reading it aloud.

It’s one of those wonderfully absurd books that never explain why the young girl has the tiger, just that loving a tiger is hard because of all the mischief they get up to. I loved how the girl treats the tiger. Her complaints start just because he growls when you put a ribbon in his hair, and he takes up all the room on the bed. But then it gets more fun as he also is bad at ballet, and slurps when he eats, and huffs and pouts when he’s in the naughty chair.

I had not read any of Pignataro’s books before this but I may just have to track down some more because this one was just all kinds of adorable.

You can purchase I Wish I Had A Tiger via the following

Booktopia | Book Depository

Angus & Robertson | Fishpond | Dymocks

QBD | Amazon Aust | Amazon

Three Wishes by Liane Moriarty

Published: 24th June 2014 (print)/11 September 2015 (audio) Goodreads badge
Publisher:
 Harper Perennial /Bolinda Audio
Pages: 356/1 Disc (13 hours 50 minutes)
Narrator: Caroline Lee
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Fiction
★   ★  – 2 Stars

Lyn, Cat, and Gemma Kettle, beautiful thirty-three-year-old triplets, seem to attract attention everywhere they go. Whenever they’re together, laughter, drama, and mayhem seem to follow. But apart, each is very much her own woman, dealing with her own share of ups and downs. Lyn has organized her life into one big checklist, juggling the many balls of work, marriage, and motherhood with expert precision, but is she as together as her datebook would have her seem? Cat has just learned a startling secret about her marriage — can she bring another life into her very precarious world? And can free-spirited Gemma, who bolts every time a relationship hits the six-month mark, ever hope to find lasting love? In this wise, witty, hilarious new novel, we follow the Kettle sisters through their thirty-third-year, as they struggle to survive their divorced parents’ dating each other, their technologically savvy grandmother, a cheating husband, champagne hangovers, and the fabulous, frustrating 

I was trying to decide whether I disliked this book because it was Moriarty’s first and she hadn’t honed her craft yet, or whether it just didn’t gel with me. I’m going with the latter because as I’ve said in previous reviews, my enjoyment of her books is often a coin toss so there is no way to tell which way I’ll go come the end of it.

I didn’t sit through it hating it, I didn’t get bored in it or think it was unrealistic or too idealistic. I’m not entirely sure what it was. I liked some parts, I understood the story Moriarty was trying to tell, and yet I got to the end of it and felt unsatisfied.

I think one key reason was that when we finally get to Moriarty’s Reveal™, I recall thinking “is that it?” It was so anticlimactic that I think if it hadn’t have been built up to be such a big deal it would have been ok, but the way the story builds this Event to be I felt the payout should have been better.

Maybe I am not getting into the emotional journey and tribulations of these characters. I read it, I understood it, but I wasn’t quite so moved by it to the extent I was meant to be. I think I was meant to be more shocked, or more surprised by this surprise because of the journey Moriarty’s been taking me on so far. And yet, no. It was obvious in a way, once I recovered from my anticlimactic disappointment. I did feel empathy for the characters, what they go through individually is terrible and I can see how it affects them, but in terms of this coinciding with other events in the novel I think it doesn’t quite land.

Separately, each of the triplet’s story was well told. Moriarty explores their emotional story and their inner thoughts so we can understand where they’re coming from and who they are as people. One thing Moriarty does well is give her characters a distinguishing voice and there is a great honesty to them. Each of these girls had their own voice, one which reflected who they are and Moriarty makes them real. This was enhanced by the audio because Lee did a great job expressing each character in a believable way.

The random Nanna Kettle story felt out of place. I don’t know why it was included, I thought maybe it would end up linking to Kat,  but when it didn’t I still don’t know why it was included. It wasn’t like we were really that invested in Nanna Kettle, she had such a minor part to play she almost didn’t need to be there. One thing I did enjoy was the way Moriarty included the small anecdotes from outsiders on the Kettle family and their lives. It gave a nice side view of them without it needing to be included in the main narration. Each observation suits the moment in the story perfectly, and there’s even a few that break your heart a little.

There are few big subjects in this book but within the structure of Moriarty’s writing they are impactful, but not overwhelming. Each of these women have such different lives, but when they come together they collapse into the sibling mentality which was done well. Gemma somehow manages to have the baby sister vibe, despite them all being the same age. I think it is her lack of emotional maturity that brings this across, and Lyn is very much the big sister.

There is humour and a few surprises that Moriarty works with, and the depth she gives to all of her characters adds to their believability. Side characters have complicated stories and entwined together with the main cast. It rings true like a Moriarty story but it was one that just didn’t wow me.

You can purchase Three Wishes via the following

Booktopia | Book Depository Audible

Amazon | Amazon Aust | Wordery

Angus & Robertson | Dymocks

 Fishpond | QBD

I Don’t Believe in Dragons by Anna Walker

Published: 18th October 2010Goodreads badge
Publisher:
 Scholastic
Illustrator: Anna Walker
Pages: 32
Format: Hardcover Picture Book
★   ★  – 2 Stars

When kindergarten teacher Miss May tells her children she sees a dragon, the children react if different ways. Some are intrigued, some surprised, some scared. But Jack says he doesn’t believe in dragons. When Emma wonders where the dragon is, Jack reminds her there isn’t any such thing. When Ned finds a feather and asks if dragons can fly, Jack assures him it’s a bird’s feather – nothing to do with a dragon. And what about that snoring sound? Not a dragon, insists Jack. So do dragons really exist?

I picked this one up because the cover was adorable, and while the story didn’t quite hold up to the same standard, it was a nice story all the same.

In a reverse Pete’s Dragon situation, everyone believes in the dragon that teacher Miss May can see, everyone except Jack. It is a sweet story as the children theorise about what the dragon likes to do and eat, accompanied by Walker’s illustrations. The illustrations are quite cute and are the part I liked the most. The dragon is drawn simply, as are all the illustrations, in a colourful, rough design. I’m not sure what appeals to me about the dragon but I really enjoyed the design, it does remind me of the Pokémon Dragonite just more beige.

I liked Walker’s creativity with the illustrations, she manages to create pictures that allude to a child’s imagination but also have the possibility of being real. The colours are soft and the lines are rough but that only adds to the gentle nature and the magic of having a dragon hanging out at your school.

I ended up admiring the drawings because while the story starts with promise, it falls flat after a while. The story isn’t too engaging, but it’s cute so I’m sure kids can enjoy it all the same. With a few more pages there could have been a conclusion or any kind of recognition about what seeing the dragon actually meant and how Jack who’s been a buzzkill to everyone else about their belief, has a change of heart and finally learns to believe.

You can purchase I Don’t Believe in Dragons via the following

Fishpond | Amazon Aust

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