Shiver

09/05/2014 at 11:08 AM (Books) (, , , , )

Shiver is the very first novel written by Nikki Gemmell, the author of very controversial book, The Bride Stripped Bare. Although Shiver is described as a novel, it seems autobiographical given her inspiration for writing the story came from her own personal experiences.

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We are introduced to Fin, a radio journalist who works the police beat for the early morning shift. When an opportunity arises to undertake an observatory expedition to Antarctica, she volunteers. In real life, Nikki Gemmell went to Antarctica to cover a scientific expedition, courtesy of radio station Triple J. In the southernmost continent, she crosses a boundary of journalism by falling for someone she interviews. Guess what happens in Shiver? There isn’t much to read between the lines. But falling in love comes at a cost in both the real and fictional worlds  and so we are fed the saccharine but trite parable of not giving up and following your heart.

The plot although it has potential felt rather dull. The characterisation of the all the different men in Antarctica was too brief because I felt a new potential suitor appeared every 15 pages and and nothing about their personalities comes through the narration apart from the fact sexism is rampant and mostly tolerated. I will admit though she has a knack for writing imagery in poetic and lyrical prose. However that can be easily be disillusioned by sentences like, ” I’ve been in one of these in Bass Strait, and a bag of vomit was passed from person to person, and there was vomit on vomit” and “I’ve done one very large **** and it’s not going anywhere. I can see bits of my dinner from last night in it”. So while I was interested in her portrayal of landscape, I found her descriptions of human interaction and functions jarring. I wondered if the beauty in prose about landscape and the grossness in prose about human needs was purposefully done  but I’m doubtful about that interpretation of Shiver.

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Requiem

08/30/2014 at 2:25 PM (Books) (, , , , , )

Requiem brings the long awaited resolution to the Delirium series. All the loose ends lingering from the previous books are neatly resolved. 

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Lena has now become a fully-fledged member of the resistance and is trusted to take on roles that require leadership skills. The rebellion in Pandemonium was only a stirring of unrest. Now a full-scale revolution is underway and the government can no longer afford to turn a blind eye to the protests of the resistance fighters. This means the government starts to look at the Wilds as a threat to their order and structure and it ceases to be a safe haven. Regulators come past the border to combat the resistance head on. While the former have strength in numbers, the latter know how to put up a fight that does not require assistance from bombing planes. 

While Lena makes a stand with the resistance, we also learn of the fate of Hana – Lena’s best friend from Delirium. From Hana’s perspective, we learn she is the fiancee of the mayor’s son, Fred Hargrove, her assigned partner.  Hana quickly learns Fred is not what he appears to be on the surface and takes refuge in helping Grace, Lena’s cousin. What Lena and Hana don’t know is that their stories are going to collide.

What I haven’t pinpointed in the above plot is the love triangle of Julian-Lena-Alex. I think the entry of Coral as a nemesis for Alex gave the story a bit more bite but it was obvious Alex was still having feelings for Lena even if she was not able to see that. I felt sad for Julian because he quickly adapted to the Wilds after being torn from the life he had known but was only a source of secondary comfort for Lena. The decision she made to hook up with Julian in Pandemonium after Alex sacrificed himself for her was truly baffling but it did allow room for intense, seriously emotional cliffhangers.

The end felt somewhat curtailed but ultimately the series seems to have achieved its purpose with its depicted culmination of events. 

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Pandemonium

08/29/2014 at 2:25 PM (Books) (, , , , , )

Pandemonium is the second instalment of the Delirium series by Lauren Oliver. It continues Lena’s story after she escapes through the border fence separating the city from the Wilds.

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Emotionally distraught at losing Alex and trying to put her nightmares behind her, Lena puts her heart and soul into helping the resistance group that rescued her by infiltrating the protest group DFA – Deliria Free America. The mascot of the group is Julian Fineman, the protest group leader’s son, who is willing to martyr himself for the cause. Lena’s assigned job is to keep an eye on Julian but the resulting adventures after they are captured by Scavengers creates a shift in the dynamic of the relationship between them. So when a place of shelter is raided before they make it to safety, Lena makes the decision to rescue Julian rather than subject him to the cure which could potentially kill him. In this story, Lena does for Julian what Alex did for her.

Later on Lena learns there were things that played out which were planned for her but realises she wasn’t taken into confidence about them. While she feels betrayed and used, she ultimately receives support she needs when she makes a strategic plan of her own. She is also rescued by a freedom fighter in the  top ranks with whom she has a connection. But before she can even come to terms with that discovery, the final chapter brings with it a massive twist in the tale. So all I can say is Requiem will be heart-wrenching.

I think the transformation of Lena from insecure, disgruntled, whiny Cinderella to assertive and capable character makes Pandemonium quite an interesting book to read. It is easy to fail to see that chapters shift in perspective between past and present. I did this so I was a confused for a while with the first few chapters. Because her characters have been established, Pandemonium is directed more by action rather than governed by emotions of characters but I felt that made the built world more concrete.

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Delirium

08/28/2014 at 10:03 AM (Books, Uncategorized) (, , , , , )

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I heard about this series in the books sections of an anime forum I tend to visit occasionally. The plot reminded me of Hunger Games and Divergent which I had liked so I decided to give Delirium a chance as well. Delirium was written by Lauren Oliver, who wrote Before I Fall, which is about death. She has claimed she wrote the Delirium series because she wanted to write about the concept of love as a disease and the idea came to her while watching a report on a pandemic. 

We learn civilisation is segmented to areas which had survived bombings of the past and travel between cities is restricted. Electric fences enclose the population to protect them from people who have escaped without undergoing the procedure for the cure – the cure which prevents all over the age of eighteen contracting amor deliria nervosa which used to be called love. Beyond the perimeters of the fencing is the unregulated territory known as the Wilds.

The established government teaches, through the Book of Shhh, love is a disease often referred to as “the deliria”. For citizens over 18, the surgical cure for the deliria is compulsory. The fate for those that fail it or even families with a connection to someone uncured are not pleasant. The main character in the story, Lena Haloway, is eagerly awaiting the cure so she can forget the pain of her past and move on. Then she meets Alex, an Invalid (a name given to people who have not taken the cure  and who live in the Wilds) who is part of the resistance and succumbs to the symptoms of the deliria herself. Alex starts to shows her that love is beautiful and erases her initial reluctance and doubts.

When Alex suggests a means of escaping the cure by going to the Wilds, Lena undergoes some inner turmoil at the thought of leaving some close friendships but ultimately finds the idea not unpalatable. Unfortunately for the couple, someone has informed the regulators about plans  they have made for the impending flight and Lena is trapped against her will so she can be cured early. At the last moment, her best friend, her little cousin and Alex all contribute to her rescue .

Alex and Lena come to the borders of the electric fencing but alerts have been put out regarding their attempted escape. As a result, only one of them can make it into the Wilds. But Lena’s tale isn’t over yet because it continues on in book two of the trilogy Pandemonium.

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The Rosie Project

08/21/2014 at 9:37 AM (Books) (, , , , , , )

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The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion is my newly assigned book club read. Love finds you is the defining message in this marvellous tale full of hilarity which is narrated by the character of Don Tillman.

Don Tillman is an awkward and socially incompetent genetics university professor who decides to get married. Unfortunately he is extremely fussy and designs a sixteen-page questionnaire to eliminate undesirable candidates from the get go. This way he can ensure his potential wife is not a barmaid, a smoker or drinker and is always punctual.

Rosie Jarman is asked out by Don Tillman and she accepts. He finds out to his chagrin she fits all his undesirable criteria. To gently let her down, he offers to assist Rosie in finding out who is  her biological father. After all, he does have genetics lab facilities at his disposal.

While he spends time with Rosie, Don starts to find out the nuances of social cues and how to fit in properly. He starts to see how accepting Rosie has been while he has been discriminating. He even manages to get a second date for the first time in his life and avoid ice-cream taste issues. Perhaps Rosie Jarman fills the Wife Project candidate criteria after all?

We also are given insight into the life of Don’s best friend, Gene. His project is to sleep with one woman from every country in the world. Don’s understanding of social constructs or lack of it hinders him from understanding Gene is a jerk. Exposure to Rosie changes the way he observes the world and reacts to it.

In the Rosie Project, Don Tillman ultimately learns love is a master that you can’t fight with objectivity because it can deprive one of reason when it chooses to find you.

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The Wild Girl

08/14/2014 at 11:33 AM (Australian Literature, Books, Romance) (, , , , , )

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Kate Forsyth intrigued me once with her spellbinding retelling of Rapunzel in Bitter Greens. When I saw she authored The Wild Girl, I did not hesitate. This time, she explores the story of Dortchen Wild who is credited as having told many of the fairy tales belonging to the collection of the Brothers Grimm.

Set against the backdrop of the German kingdom of Hessen-Kassel in the early nineteenth century, we learn about boy next door Dortchen fell in love with the first time she saw him, her best friend’s brother, the poor but handsome scholar Wilhelm Grimm, who has returned from Marburg. War interferes in their newly budding romance because Napoleon’s army conquers their kingdom, takes over the palace of the Kurfürst and begins an oppressive regime setting French decrees. So the Grimm brothers embark on a mission to preserve the folk tales of their heritage and publish them in a book.

Dortchen, having grown up in the care of Old Marie, knows several beautiful old stories. These include Hansel and Gretel, The Frog King, All Kinds of Fur and Six Swans. She has to tell them to Wilhelm in secret as her tyrannical father opposes her plans to get married to Wilhelm and as the story progresses we learn it is for the darkest of reasons. Although their ardour deepens, Dortchen has to guard a dark secret but Wilhelm remains mostly oblivious even when she tells him the truth in the guise of a story. For Dortchen, as time passes and all of her sisters find husbands, marriage to Wilhelm seems an unlikely outcome.

Does this teller of fairy tales who has her heart trampled and spirit wounded get her happy ending? You’ll have to read The Wild Girl to find out. This may be a darker forbidden love story but both the protagonists have better fates than Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet.

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The Light Between Oceans

08/08/2014 at 8:15 AM (Australian Literature, Books, Historical) (, , , , )

The Light Between Oceans was a heartbreaking story about the consequences of a momentous decision made in the throes of grief and haste. Tom Sherbourne is a lighthouse keeper living on  Janus, a remote island off the West Coast of Australia together with his wife Isabel. He harbours Lucy, a baby who washed up on to the shores of the island in a boat, because of guilt over his wife’s miscarriage. However when a chance encounter with the mother of the child preys on his conscience, he can no longer keep silent. When his wife learns of his betrayal, they drift apart while Lucy tries to acclimatise herself to the stranger who keeps calling her Grace and makes a claim that tears the fabric of existence she has hitherto known.

The decision the couple makes to pass the child off as their own has heartbreaking results. Lies quickly unravel, unflattering truths come to light and a lot of pain and hurt is felt. In the middle of this, Lucy navigates trying to find her true identity while locked in a battle of two mothers vying for her custody, one with a legal claim who had never seen her since she was a baby and one with no legal claim but one who raised her in her formative years. M.L. Stedman’s poignant, riveting novel received several literary accolades and awards and since then Hollywood rights have been acquired for film production by Dreamworks.

Three characters stood out to me in this novel because of the internal conflicts each faced and weathered. Isabel struggles to cope with the loss of her baby but the arrival of Lucy changes her life but by the time she is willing to admit the truth, it is too late to not hurt anyone which nearly made a villain out of her to me due to her selfish desires. Meanwhile Tom is guilt-ridden because he feels survivor’s guilt after escaping physically unscathed from the war. This is why he goes against his straight-laced ethics when he decides to omit details in his logbook to keep Isabel happy. Hannah is sympathetic as the mother who thought her child was literally dead but has to fight an uphill battle to convince Lucy of the truth of the situation. The Light Between Oceans plot is complex as it encompasses a moral dilemma and it is possible to be empathetic to both the female leads but as the story unfolds, it shows justice for one party can lead to tragic loss for the other party. The conclusion however just might surprise you.

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Sand Sculptures – Storyland

08/02/2014 at 4:58 PM (Art, Books, Photography) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

I attended the annual sand sculpture exhibition in Frankston this year too which was themed after Penguin book titles for kids.

The sculpture below greeted me at the entrance letting me know I was entering Storyland.

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As I walked around, I saw the sculpture below of Postman Pat and his van. Although Postman Pat started as a British animated television series for children, over 12 million books about him have been sold. Postman Pat is about the adventures of the postie as he goes about delivering mail.

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Next there was a sculpture of Charlotte’s Web. It is a novel for children written by E.B. Williams and illustrated by Garth Williams. It is a story about a pig called Wilbur and his friendship with an intelligent spider called Charlotte.

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The sculpture below was unfamiliar to me but I thought the design was spectacular. It depicts the Flower Fairies, based on the books and illustrations of Cicely Mary Barker. The children in her illustrations are modeled on students who attended her sister’s kindergarten.

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I was familiar with the below sculpture as I had previously owned a Little Miss Sunshine T-shirt. The sculpture is a tower of Mr. Men and Little Miss characters. All of them have self-descriptive personality traits.

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Below is a sculpture of Where the Wild Things Are which was originally written and illustrated by Maurice Sendak. If you’ve not yet read the book or seen the movie, it is about a boy called Max who retreats into a world of imagination after he creates havoc at home and is sent to bed.

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The sculpture below is of Ferdinand, the bull. This bull prefers to smell flowers rather than fight. The children’s novel about him was written by Munro Leaf and illustrated by Robert Lawson.

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The next sculpture made me feel sentimental because I used to watch Angelina Ballerina cartoons having once been a ballet kid. Angelina Ballerina was created by writer Katherine Holabird and is illustrated by Helen Craig. It is about the adventures of a mouse who dreams about becoming a prima ballerina.

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The interesting sculpture below pays tribute to The Discovery of Dragons which is authored and illustrated by Graeme Base. It is written as a series of tongue-in-cheek letters from “discoverers” of dragon species in the world and features European, Asiatic and Tropical dragons.

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The picture below features several characters you might recognise from the books of Beatrix Potter including Peter Rabbit. He was named after a pet she used to have called Peter Piper.

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The quality of the picture below is not up to par so I apologise. It features the story written and illustrated by Eric Carle, about The Very Hungry Caterpillar who ate his way into becoming a beautiful butterfly.

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Next we see homage has been paid to the tales of Pippi Longstocking, the children’s series by Swedish author Astrid Lindgren. Pippi is a feisty nine-year-old girl with unconventional ideas and superhuman strength who takes her neighbours on adventures.

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The sculpture I came to next brought Narnia to life through the medium of sand.  Here we see a representation of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, the fantasy novel by C.S. Lewis.

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The next exhibit had me puzzled until the display informed me this showed Hairy Maclary. So it turns out New Zealand author Dane Lynley Dodd writes a children’s series about a fictional dog and his exploits against an opponent cat.

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The sculpture below portrays Jumanji. Before the movie, there was a book which was written and illustrated by Chris Van Allsburg. For those not in the know, it is about a magical board game.

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The sculpture below should be easily recognisable to anyone who watched the cartoons about him. It shows Spot the Dog and his friends. The books about Spot were written by Eric Hill.

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I loved the next sculpture because it showed a book I loved and adored as a child, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory which was written by Roald Dahl. The story was inspired by the writer’s experience of chocolate companies during his schooldays.

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The next sculpture was interesting as it was based on a video-game rather than a book. I guess Angry Birds represents the childhood of the present.

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Fortunately the next sculpture was more in my element as it was based on a fantasy book loved by children and adults, the story of the bespectacled boy wizard, Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling. The level of detail in the caricature of the characters was amazing.

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Having seen the exhibitions for Toytopia, Creepy Crawlies and now Storyland, I can’t wait for the upcoming theme for the sand sculptures next April.

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Saving Francesca

07/31/2014 at 2:04 PM (Books) (, , , , )

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At work, my colleagues made a big fuss about this book. My interest piqued, I went in search of it and acquired a copy to read. Saving Francesca is about a girl who is searching for her identity after moving into a new school which used to only be open to boys but had later decided to convert to a coeducational system. She is in the first test batch of female pupils who attend the school which has yet to change its way of thinking to welcome the new populace. There aren’t enough sports for the girls, the school play features a minimal number of female characters and the only concession seems to be a female bathroom. In addition, Francesca finds herself initially clashing with Will Trombal after a misunderstanding about Trotsky and Tolstoy. But after she gets to know him, she realises that there is more to him than her first impression.

Francesca also makes new friends with people she might have considered oddballs had she remained at her previous school: Tara, the ultra-feminist who tries to conscript people to causes, Justine, the awkward accordion player who wants to be ‘a rock’ to people and Siobhan, labeled the school slut. True to form, Melina Marchetta shows her understanding of human relationships. Meanwhile Francesca who used to be voiceless in a conformist clique is finding out how to stand on her two feet while dealing with her usually headstrong mother’s battle with depression which culminates in constant sparring sessions between Francesca and her wallflower but reliable father. Marchetta ensures the reader experiences the ups and downs that Francesca faces which is a hallmark of quality writing.

Saving Francesca is a book about love, friendship and the willpower to continue when life throws a curveball. In the end, you’ll be satisfied with an uplifting conclusion. As a character, Francesca can be quite amusing as she tends to end up in detention through no fault of her own and does her best to adapt to the gender wars at St. Sebastian’s. This young adult fiction book covers topics familiar to readers of Melina Marchetta and ultimately is about discovering the self and coming of age. Full of humour, heart break and a roller coaster of emotions, this novel is a worthwhile YA read. All that remains is for Saving Francesca to become a movie as the author’s work is currently trending in film.

 

 

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Open House Melbourne 2014

07/28/2014 at 12:56 PM (Architecture, Photography) (, , , , , , , , , , , , )

Last weekend was Open House Weekend 2014 which meant I was in for long trips and waiting in queues if I were to make my destinations. Armed with camera, water bottle, some fruit and a big book, I started my adventure of exploring the buildings in my city and their history. While I waited in line for an hour sometimes, I made great progress with my book while snacking on mandarins. On my third Open House journey I was prepared and succeeded in making it to 10 buildings so you can see the results of my efforts of traveling across Melbourne below.

Victoria Barracks

Victoria Barracks

This year, I was lucky enough to win the ballot for Victoria Barracks. It was constructed in 1856 on land regarded as unusable swamp and has a long history of defence activity. The headquarters for the Imperial Army and Victorian Military Forces were located here in colonial times. After Federation, strategic decisions took place here, for the Boer War, World War I and II and the Korean War, in the War Cabinet Room which still looks as it used to be, with seats preserved from the time of Robert Menzies until the defence administration was moved to Canberra in the 1950s. Heritage buildings here include an original bluestone soldiers barracks, a former military hospital, The Barracks Heritage Centre which used to be a guardhouse, the Staff Sergeants Quarters built in 1858 which became the first RAAF headquarters in 1921, the armoury and ordnance buildings from 1860 and the basalt ‘Keep’ which became a wine cellar. There is even a chapel which gave accommodation to married couples in the military forces.

Parliament House

Parliament House

My next port of call was Parliament House for which there was a 1 hour wait and an evacuation to the rear entrance due to a protest rally. Plans for Parliament House were drawn in November 1855. In 1856, construction first commenced for the Legislative Assembly and the Legislative Council Chambers. In 1861, the Parliamentary library came into existence. The Vestibule and Queen’s Hall were built later in 1879. Designed by architect Peter Kerr, the original plans have yet to come to fruition because a dome should be sitting on top of the Vestibule.

German Lutheran Trinity Church

Stained Glass Window in german Lutheran Trinity Church

This church pays homage to the Gothic Revival movement and designed by architect Charles Blachmann. The church is built of bluestone and was constructed by Heinrich Goedecke, a gold rush era migrant from Germany. The magnificent stained glass windows are striking and depicts biblical stories. Surprisingly, the ceiling of the Lutheran church resembles the inverted hull of a ship which is not a typical feature of German churches. The altar is  in the middle of the sanctuary and forms half of a decagon.

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Shell Mace sculpture

In the exterior plaza, I am greeted by the sculpture Shell Mace designed by Charles O. Perry who has designed other objects of art such as a collection of jewelry and silver for Tiffany, chess sets, and puzzles. The floor plates in the shape of a shell, acknowledge the original tenants, the Australian head office of Royal Dutch Shell. The building was designed by Harry Seidler, an ambassador of European Modernist architecture in Australia. In the foyer, an enamel mural by Arthur Boyd based on the painting Bathers and Pulpit Rock occupies an awkward space close to the ceiling. Meanwhile in the office on level 15 which houses the Department of Planning and Infrastructure, the windows overlook a magnificent panorama of the city gardens, MCG and the Yarra.

St Patrick’s Cathedral

St Patrick's Cathedral

This church is considered one of the largest Gothic Revival churches and is the largest building of its style in Victoria. It looks like the ancient, medieval cathedrals in England and is perhaps due to the influence of the architect William Wardell. In the church, the altar mosaics and the eagle lectern made of brass were built in Venice. The cross on the main spire was a gift  from the Irish government.

Limelight Studios and Salvation Army Heritage Centre

Limelight Studios and Salvation Army Heritage Centre

The Salvation Army purchased Attic Limelight Studio when the YMCA became unable to maintain the premises due to foreclosure. Afterwards Captain Joseph Perry used it for a while as a photographic studio. Under the encouragement of Herbert Booth, Perry started to produce motion picture films and gave birth to the Limelight Department. About 400 films were made here until 1909. The most well-known production made here was ‘Soldiers of the Cross’. The studio still remains preserved and now houses the Salvation Army Heritage Centre.

Melbourne Synagogue

Melbourne Synagogue

Built between 1928-1930 influenced by Nahum Barnet, it has a beautiful interior design with leadlight windows dating back to the 70s. The twentieth century Baroque classicism shows in the ornate exterior with its Corinthian columns in the entryway. It often is referred to as the Cathedral Synagogue. The congregation reached full membership in 1946 after some 15,000 European Jewish migrants came to Australia.

Australian Tapestry Workshop

Australian Tapestry Workshop

The Australian Tapestry Workshop was established in 1976 and uses the same techniques employed in Europe since the 14th century in the creation of contemporary, hand-woven tapestries. It employs weavers who are trained artists so works of art that are unique can be created instead of a reproduced design which is weaved. More than 400 tapestries have created here including in collaboration with international artists. Tapestries are woven using fine Australian wool which is dyed onsite to a palette of 366 colours.

Portable Iron Houses

Portable Iron Houses

These portable iron houses are pre-fabricated homes migrants brought with them when gold was discovered in Victoria in 1851. There are three preserved houses: Patterson, Bellhouse and Abercrombie. Patterson is still located on its original site, Bellhouse was saved from demolition in Fitzroy and Abercrombie was rescued from North Melbourne. These houses were a common sight during the 19th century but now they are quite rare.

South Melbourne Town Hall

South Melbourne Town Hall

When it opened in 1880, this splendid building, designed by Charles Webb, housed a courthouse, a firehouse, a post office, a library and a council office. It is located in Emerald Hill which was a site of significance for indigenous communities ahead of European settlement. Currently the Town Hall facilities are mainly used by the Australian National Academy of Music but the rooms I got to view included the Council Chambers, the Mayor’s room,  the auditorium and the Ballantyne Room which was gifted a beautiful chandelier.

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