Australia

Stream-It Saturday: Dance Academy (TV)

In my continuing selfless service to the world (ahem), I'm always looking for the next awesome thing to stream. And, of course, I must share my finds with you fabulous folks. Hence, Stream-It Saturday. Check out all my previous recommendations over here. 

This week's recommendation was pretty much inevitable: ABC Australia's charming half-hour teen ballet drama, Dance Academy. 

Here's the deal: Dance Academy is set in Sydney, Australia at an elite school for aspiring dancers. Just getting into the school is intensely competitive, and it's a feeder for the National Ballet Company. Over three years, the students train in hopes of being one of two or three students selected to join the Company. It's intense and brutal, physically. Amidst all that competition and training, these are still teenagers dealing with all the stuff that teenagers deal with. And, it's also a boarding school story, since they live at the school at which they train. 

 

Stream-It Saturday: Dance Academy (TV)

Guest Post: Small Things Become Big in Markus Zusak's I Am the Messenger

 

Note: This is a guest post from CEFS reader Anushree Nande, who blogs at Lost in Translation, and wrote this stellar tribute to Friday Night Lights aka The Greatest Television Show of All Time for Sabotage Times.

Interested in writing a guest post for Clear Eyes, Full Shelves? Drop Sarah a line!

My love for Markus Zusak is a very well documented fact (you can read my reviews for his other books here and here), so you can imagine my delight at receiving a reply to my tweet about his I Am The Messenger (simply The Messenger for the Australian editions).

This is a book I’ve been meaning to read for a few years now but couldn’t get around to before. In the mean time, I had managed to read Zusak’s The Book Thief, Fighting Ruben Wolfe and Getting The Girl and fall in love with his prose. Hence it was with a lot of (perhaps unfair) expectations that I started this book, and it says a lot about the quality that I didn’t feel let down. There were a few disappointing bits but we’ll get to that later. 

Read the rest--> 

 

Guest Post: Small Things Become Big in Markus Zusak's I Am the Messenger

Review: Dancing in the Dark by Robyn Bavati

Dancing in the Dark by Robyn Bavati explores the double life of Ditty, a young Haredi Jew, when she discovers the beautiful world of ballet and the passion it invokes in her. Along with this passion the darkness of an invisible wall of fundamentalist religion held together by the rigidity of her family and community.

Bavati breathes life into Ditty's dream of dancing and the depth of deceit she had to descend into to bring her passion for dance into reality.

As a young girl, Ditty happens upon a DVD of The Nutcracker while watching television in a forbidden venue--her dear friend's mother had surreptitiously purchased a television that she hides far back in her closet. Ditty could not turn herself away from the transfixing dance before her.

The movements seemed to ripple through me as my  body flowed to the music, and my spirits lifted. I felt vulnerable and vibrant and intensely alive, bursting with feeling I hadn't know existed, couldn't name.

The  television and DVD player opens a door to another world.  Ditty and her friend become enamored with the life that spread before them. Ditty, at twelve begins to question the dictates of her faith that should, according to her religious parents and community, fill her with all the happiness and joy she could want.

But what, I wondered now, did they actually mean? I knew what I'd been taught – that happiness wasn't something a Jew should strive for, it was a bonus that came from keeping the laws and strictures that had been passed down from one generation to the next.

Review: Dancing in the Dark by Robyn Bavati

Review: Love in the Years of Lunacy by Mandy Sayer

Reading Mandy Sayer’s Love in the Years of Lunacy was almost like reading two different novels. The first was a fascinating look at wartime Sydney, Australia. The second was an odyssey into the implausible. 

Set in 1942, Love in the Years of Lunacy is told mostly from the point of view of eighteen year old Pearl, a bit of a wild-child jazz musician. She plays saxophone in an all-girl band and one night, while playing in an underground club, she meets James Washington, an African-American GI and phenomenal musician. The two quickly begin a whirlwind romance until that is cut short by the news that James is being shipped out to fight in New Guinea. Pearl does something incredibly impulsive/batshit crazy to reunite with James. 

The beginning of Love in the Years of Lunacy introduces its odd narrative structure—one often used in historical fiction that rarely works for me.

In opens with a writer (it’s always a writer—and in this case the writer name-checks the Australian publisher of Love in the Years of Lunacy as his publisher) in modern day discovering a recording of a story told by his aunt (Pearl), instructing him to novelize her story so that it can be shared—these sections are told in first person. Then it switches to the 1940s and is written in third person, but from Pearl’s point-of-view. This is a narrative style that really bothers me. 

I’m trying to look on the positive side. I guess writing this book has allowed me to understand the complexities of [Pearl] and my background better than I ever have before and, by doing so, I begin to understand myself more clearly—a person who’s never felt completely at home…

It wasn’t until I read this book that I was able to really get my head around why this style of storytelling irks me, but I’ve finally hit on it: by framing a story of a historical figure around a contemporary person’s “discovery” it feels as if the main historical story is diminished. Why can’t a historical narrative stand on its own? In this novel there are some small things related to identity that are relevant to the contemporary discover-er, but really, Love in the Years of Lunacy was not better because of those elements. (And, honestly, they kind of troubled me—see my spoiler discussion here.)

I am fairly certain, that if the novel was told in a straightforward manner, I would have enjoyed it far more. 

Regardless of this frustrating structure, I was captivated by Pearl and James’ story amidst that backdrop of wartime Sydney. 

Review: Love in the Years of Lunacy by Mandy Sayer

Review: Stolen: A Letter to My Captor by Lucy Christopher

You leaned back onto your elbows. As the sun set farther, the colors became vivid. A red washed over everything, brightening the darker sections in the painting. Shafts of light lit up the floor, illuminating the millions of pained dots and flower petals there. Red and orange and pinks intensified all around us, until it felt like we were sitting in the middle of a burning pit of fire … or in the middle of the sunset itself.

Review - Stolen: A Letter to My Captor on Clear Eyes, Full ShelvesI tried to settle in to sleep one evening but could not bring myself to float into dreamland, so I reached for my usual curative: a good book. The first pages of Stolen: A Letter to My Captor did nothing to bring me into restfulness. 

Lucy Christopher’s novel in the form of a letter is written by the captive Gemma to her abductor. In her letter she describes a painting created by her captor on fire with life, separating him somewhat from his foul actions. Flowing from the memories Gemma holds, her experience becomes more than a story of abduction. In most books of this type, an abductor comes clothed in shades of black with little room for anything other than evil intentions, while the abducted is swathed in innocence all white and airy.

However, Stolen offers layer upon layer of complexity.

Review: Stolen: A Letter to My Captor by Lucy Christopher

{Review} Everything Beautiful by Simmone Howell

Everything Beautiful by Simmone Howell

Riley Rose. What a name and what a personality.

She’s complex, beguiling and difficult for others to understand. Her outward appearance and verbal flippancy belies the depth of her emotions. She charmed me with her always unexpected and often cynical insights.

In Everything Beautiful, Australian author Simmone Howell created a character who’s a seemingly tough teen with a rough exterior, yet inside is soft, tender and vulnerable. 

She’s overweight. She’s experiencing an acute loss after the death of her mother. She’s having difficulty adjusting to her father’s new love, a Christian woman who’s a radical contrast to everything that was her family. Riley Rose is experimenting with sex. She’s found a great new friend who’s a perfect partner in any new adventure they embark on.

In other words, Riley Rose is one vulnerable teenager.

Review: Cinnamon Rain by Emma Cameron

Cinnamon Rain by Emma Cameron

It stings—
sulphur tears
in cinnamon rain.

Emma Cameron’s Cinnamon Rain embodies the Trifecta of Awesome in my reading heart: a contemporary older YA, Novel in Verse, from Australia.

Fortunately, after a long (very, very long) wait for my order of this book from Fishpond, the Trifecta of Awesome didn’t disappoint—Cinnamon Rain is one of my stand out reads of the year. 

Cinnamon Rain interweaves the stories of three friends: Luke, Casey and Bongo (yes, Bongo—his real name is David). They live in a rural town in Australia, each hoping to escape their lives. Luke plays cricket, hangs out at the beach and pines away for Casey. Casey’s dream is to escape their town and everyone she knows, while Bongo drinks to avoid his abusive stepfather and the memories of his little brother taken away by social services. 

The whole group seems lifted
by one small success. 

Each character narrates a third of Cinnamon Rain (this seems like a more common narrative style in Australia than in the U.S. or U.K., am I right?), painting a rich picture of three lives in transition. We follow them separately out of their hometown in their first steps into adulthood. 

But somewhere in the mix,
I realise that
she’s not just running away.
Her life has focus.
I’ve got nothing.

Review: Cinnamon Rain by Emma Cameron

{Review} Gentlemen Prefer Nerds by Joan Kilby


Gentlemen Prefer Nerds by Joan Kilby
I should’ve listened to my instincts that a book titled, Gentlemen Prefer Nerds wouldn’t work for me. 

However, I was compelled to hit the “request” button on Net Galley when I saw that, 

  1. It was published by Carina Press, the massively cool e-publisher that’s doing a lot of creative things both in what they’re publishing and their marketing and DRM-free books;
  2. It promised a heist/caper sort of scenario and I am a giant sucker for heists and/or capers; and
  3. It’s set in Australia.

Unfortunately, those positives didn’t cancel out the numerous problems I had with the premise and characters in this novel. 

The basic plot of Gentlemen Prefer Nerds is that nerdy (more on that later) girl gemologist Maddie Maloney is charged with caring for a pricey diamond known as The Rose (she also discovered the diamond in a mine in Western Australia). As part of her effort to find a nice man, she ends up being conned by a jewel thief known as The Chameleon into allowing him access to the stone, which is then—shocker!—stolen. Maddie is, obviously, suspected for the crime and winds up hooking up with a mysterious English dude who promises to help her recover the diamond and helps her escape from the police while they pursue the thief. 

Okay, so the premise is pretty silly—but I’m often okay with silly premises!

{I Love} Raw Blue by Kirsty Eagar


Editor’s Note: I reviewed this novel on Goodreads last year, and refreshed it for Clear Eyes, Full Shelves—because Raw Blue is such an important book. This is a hard book to acquire, but if you love high quality, contemporary fiction that tackles tough issues, it will be well worth your while. I left in the off-handed comment from my original review about starting a book blog for the laughs (I believe I made the same comment in my Goodreads review of Freefall, mentioned early in this review). This is the first in an ongoing series entitled “I Love,” in which we profess our love and devotion for books, authors, themes or anything else bookish we love.

I’m not even sure how to begin a review of this Raw Blue—this is the kind of novel that makes me feel like I should start a book blog to tell the world about the amazing books* they’re missing.

Given that it was a tremendous pain in the ass to acquire this book, the bar had been set pretty pretty high—and it certainly met those standards, and will be permanently filed under “True Book Love.” 

Why I ♥ Kirtsty Eagar’s Raw Blue.

{Review} Graffiti Moon by Cath Crowley

Author’s Note: I read the Australian edition of this shortly after it was released. It is my understanding that the U.S. edition has some significant differences from the one I read.

This is one of those books that make me sound like a crazed superfan.

When I finished Graffiti Moon, I got out of bed, went to my laptop and emailed some friends a breathless message along the lines of,  

Alert! Alert! Omigod. You have to—have to—read Graffiti Moon immediately!

I love, love, love this novel that much.