And then my suitcase began to sing

On the last night in my apartment in Singapore I finally squeezed the last book into my suitcase and burst into tears.

Of all the cliches, there are two that I cannot deny:

  1. it’s a small world
  2. time flies

Where have the two years gone? Between chasing children around a tiny classroom, organising the next travel adventure, and staring at a pile of books to read and scribbled story ideas to develop, I think it’s fair to say that two years passed in a suitable whirl. I travelled to places I never knew existed, met people who reminded me of the incredible power of the human spirit, and filled my soul with stories.

All of this culminated with one over-sized bubblegum-pink suitcase (purchased especially for The Return), a carry-on suitcase that I would avoid weighing, and one teary individual perched precariously on the brink of – yet another – breakdown.

And then my suitcase began to sing, lilting notes so faint and delicate that I thought I had imagined it. Startled, I opened my suitcase (too upset to be cautious – the books spilled forth) and discovered a little music box that had been bumped into song.

I dried my tears with laughter and set about readjusting the contents. It all seemed to fit much better after that, so I dragged my bags to the door and fell into bed. The next day I flew to Cambodia (with a backpack I eventually gave away and clothes I discarded to donation bins), then returned after a week to collect my bags and fly back to Australia.

And that is where I am now, sitting with a view of trees in a suburban bushland and feeling far more positive today than I have felt in some time. The Return has been emotional – the happiness of being with my family and seeing my friends has been marred with the anxiety that comes with being unemployed (I’m still looking) and suddenly aware that a quick trip to Vietnam is not possible from this location.

I fell into a slump long before I came back to Australia. Things are still working themselves out, but such is life. It feels like I spend a lot of time waiting for the perfect conditions, waiting for one thing to fall into place so everything else becomes worthy of my time and attention. I realise, now, that it will always be like that – there will always be something imperfect, something not quite right. There will always be a suitcase overflowing with stuff and a feeling of not being in full control.

Today, I am taking stock of everything that gives me joy, and working out how to keep the joy in my life. This blog has made it to the list, and while it will change because I have changed, it is something to which I Return after more than a year of intermittent posts and updates.

Joy also comes from my research. I spent yesterday at a conference and came home feeling a faint buzz beneath the exhaustion. Today, that buzz is a warm vibration as I consider where I am going with my research and how excited I am to have the time to spend focusing on my books and ideas.

Late last night on the long drive home, I belted out a song (out-of-tune, of course) and could not help but feel incredibly excited about getting back to it – the blog, the research, the writing, the reading, the coming to terms with things not always going “my way” but ending up being “a way that I can make work”.

No matter how out of control things become, how overstuffed and falling out and not quite working, there will be something singing from the depths – if you listen carefully – and maybe, just maybe, that song will help things fall into place.

***

Image credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/zeevveez

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Book Review: ‘The Last Wild’ by Piers Torday

the last wild cover

Book Title: The Last Wild

Author: Piers Torday

Genre: Dystopian Fiction

Summary: This is a world where animals no longer exist. Contaminated by the red-eye plague, surviving animals were destroyed from fear of further outbreaks and mutations of the disease. Locked away in a special school, Kester’s only companions are the varmints that have remained; cockroaches and moths are the only members of his social circle. Unable to speak, he practises a silent speech in his mind – but then he discovers he is heard. And he, too, can hear and understand the cockroaches and moths. Carried away from the school to the wild, Kester slowly discovers some of the lies and deceit that surround the red-eye disease and disappearance of the animals, as well as his own disappearance from his father and home.

Favourite Scene: It’s hard to choose because there weren’t really any “stand-out” scenes for me … yeah, I really can’t choose one. Sorry!

Favourite Character: It’s a toss-up between the very childish Wolf Cub and the very amusing White Pigeon.

Review: This was a sweet book that I would happily recommend to a mature and confident reader of 9 years, up to a young adult reader who wants to further explore the dystopian setting so popular in today’s books for young people. By focusing on animals and creating a protagonist who can talk to them while the natural world is coming apart, readers are offered a first-hand account of what the “end of the world” means for nature and its inhabitants. This was an approach I really enjoyed as the animals were given their own voices to share their perspectives. At times the dialogue, which attempted to use realistic pauses and hesitations as well as accents, was labourious, often distracted me from what was being said as I was caught up working out how it was being said. This is my main criticism of the novel. Torday has used a simple but effective quest-narrative in a dystopian setting; astute readers will find the novel predictable and, at times, mundane. However readers who appreciate entertaining novels with uncomplicated plots and characters will thoroughly enjoy this story. I wasn’t sure if I should give this a three or four comma rating … I was tempted to go with 3 1/2 but I refuse to do halves! So three it is!

3 commas

I was provided with a review copy of The Last Wild by the Book Depository. You can buy your copy here.

Book Review: ‘A Monster Calls’ by Patrick Ness

monstercalls

Book Title: A Monster Calls

Author: Patrick Ness

Genre: Fantasy / Magic Realism

Summary: Conor has recurring nightmares of screaming and darkness, and wakes one night to find the yew tree outside his house has transformed into a monster summoned, it claims, by Conor. The monster visits Conor and tells him three stories in exchange for Conor’s own story of his nightmare. In between the monster’s visits, we witness Conor’s grief as his mother battles terminal cancer, the bullying and alienation to which he is subjected at school, and the struggling relationship between Conor and his grandmother.

Favourite Scene: The first story the monster tells and the perspectives he offers Conor. This novel is a story about grief and change as much as it is about the nature of story and understanding perspectives and the behaviours that result from this.

Favourite Character: The monster.

Review: I’ve been a big Patrick Ness fan since I read the Chaos Walking books (one of which I reviewed a while back). His talent as a writer is undeniable – and two Carnegie Medals don’t lie. I’ve had this book on my “to read” list for a while and eventually read it easily in a single sitting. I was left with a gaping ache that some books leave me with, an ache for the story and the characters, and an ache and desire to share the book with the world and make sure it is given the attention it deserves. Read it. Read it. Read it.

At its core, A Monster Calls is about terminal illness and grief and change and the horrid experiences that arise from all of this. Conor has to confront what it means when his mother fails to get better from the treatments, and what it means to grieve and mourn for someone. Furthermore, he has to acknowledge the changes that will take place – changes he cannot control. On top of this, there is the “special treatment” he keeps getting at school and at home which, rather than being comforting, further alienates him from others. The story is, in its own right, a brilliant concept and beautifully executed with Ness’ artistry as a storyteller and Jim Kay’s evocative illustrations.

And yes, you will need tissues.

5 commas!

5 commas

You can buy A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness here.

Book Review: ‘The Owl Keeper’ by Christine Brodien-Jones

Book Title: The Owl Keeper

Author: Christine Brodien-Jones

Genre: Children’s Literature / Fantasy

Summary: In a dystopian future ruled by the High Echelon, Max Unger struggles to make sense of a world in which he may no longer have a place – allergic to sun particles, the promise of constant sunlight in the Domes gives him little cause for celebration. On top of that, Max has a secret. Silver Owls are deemed evil and supposed to be extinct, yet Max knows this to be untrue. Urged by the memories of the stories his Gran had told him before she died, Max waits for the Owl Keeper to arrive and rise up against the Dark Brigade, restoring balance in the world.

Favourite Scene: The description of Rose when Max first meets her. You can read an extract here.

Favourite Character: Rose for her strength and imagination.

Review: This is a sweet book that I can imagine my younger cousins reading and enjoying. Set in a dystopian future in which the Great Destruction of 2066 managed to wipe out a large portion of the natural world and change the balance of the seasons, the novel possesses vast elements of fantasy that had something of an Obernewtyn-esque feel (though to compare the two further would be terribly unfair – like comparing Anne Rice to Stephenie Meyer). The story is slow at first while it sets out the groundwork for its post-apocalyptic setting but when it gets moving, it moves so quickly that it feels like quite a rush – almost too much after the slow start. At the end, I felt like there was room for a sequel yet I have no interest in reading any more stories set in this world with these characters – they were fun, but not especially well-developed. It was predictable and relied on a poorly written prophecy for the plot to progress, though I’m trying to be forgiving and keep in mind the novel is aimed at 10 year olds (or thereabouts). If you have a young avid reader in your midst who likes fantasy/dystopian stories, then this would be an easy novel for them to read as there are not too many subplots or twists to make it hard to follow (in fact, it’s rather linear and not too surprising).