Worthy Thoughts

Books, reading, life & other worthy thoughts

Author: Dana Mele

Publisher: Putnam

People Like Us is one of those books that checks all the boxes.

Great cover ♥

Intriguing blurb ♥

Setting (private boarding school) ♥

So it was with great excitement I began reading this book, I was keen to immerse myself in the world of prep school drama, but this is a book that is lacking.  Don’t get me wrong it isn’t a bad book but nor is it a great book. It is an easy read, but I don’t think there was any time that I felt shocked or surprised. It is one of those books that you kind of see all the twists and turns coming. It is hard to give a proper review without giving away what happens in the book, but suffice to say that the book is predictable rather than unpredictable.

Yes, there is murder, backstabbing, revenge, alcohol and sex but somehow it is all a little contrived and a bit too polished. There is nothing authentic in this book. Mele does create a cast of razor-sharp and intelligent students and I do believe she handled the fluid sexuality of the characters well, but when I finished the book, I immediately forgot about the characters and didn’t think of them again. The characters are a little too ‘Gossip Girl’ and nothing is surprising, unusual or distinctive about any of them. You don’t feel drawn to any of the characters.

Though, maybe it is just me. Looking at the ‘Goodreads’ reviews, this was a popular and well-liked book. Personally, I like my books to be more raw and gripping rather than predictable and sophisticated. And that was another thing there was no humour. Yes, I know it is meant to be a creepy, disconcerting thriller but still all books need humour. There needs to be light and shade to balance out the dark and dense, but this book lacked the nuances needed to make it moving or gut-wrenching.

For me, this book lacked the creepiness that was needed to make it a genuine thriller. Not once was I on the edge of my seat with anticipation of what was to come next. I wanted edgy brilliance and instead, I was given a good but not excellent prep school drama.

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Author: Allayne L Webster

Publisher: Random House Australia

The Centre of My Everything by Allayne L Webster was recommended to me by a friend. At first, when I started reading it, I wasn’t sure I was going to like it, but I think my initial reserve was that it was too close to home. This is a book that captures Australian small town living and it doesn’t hold back.

The book is set in small-town Mildura, where everyone knows or thinks they know everyone. The first character we meet is Corey. Corey is a football hero and high-school drop out who is struggling in the real world. On first meeting Corey it is quite easy to write him off as a loser, but as the book progresses we learn more about Corey and there is a lot more to him than initially meets the eye.

It is pretty easy to dislike Corey, particularly in the opening chapter when we learn that Corey and his mate Hamish have gone on a bender and stolen bones from the local cemetery. Upon reading this, I wasn’t particularly sure I wanted to keep reading but having grown up in small towns I know that sometimes things that happen don’t always define the person involved.

The next character to be introduced is Tara. It is relatively clear from the beginning that Tara is a disaster. She’s a beautiful disaster, but still a disaster. Her mother is off travelling with her boyfriend and has left Tara to fend for herself and Tara isn’t coping. Tara hasn’t had the best upbringing. Her mother hasn’t been the best role-model.

Next, we are introduced to Justin, who has come back to Mildura after leaving ten years earlier, at the age of fourteen when his mum committed suicide. Justin found drugs in the city but has come back to Mildura clean and looking for answers. His father is the local drunk and is seen most days propping up the bar at the local hotel.

Finally, there is Margo. Margo is aboriginal. She’s not into drinking, partying or messing up her life. Margo wants to escape Mildura and she is working hard at school, so she can leave Mildura and make a life for herself. Out of all the characters, Margo comes from the most stable home.

The book follows the characters and what results is a raw and riveting tale. This is a no-holds-barred book and how refreshing is that to read. I think that’s what holds people back from truly appreciating this book. This is real life and sometimes real life is difficult to read. At the moment I am reading an American YA book and I think that the most significant difference I noticed between the two is that American books are polished (but not always in a good way). Australian YA fiction tends to give us the flawed characters that are relatable. Australian authors don’t sugar-coat characters or a story and Allayne L Webster, in particular, has written a story that is beautifully Australian. Yes, at times it is crude and gut-wrenching, but for lots of Australians so is life.

This is a cautionary tale about binge drinking, but it is never condescending or blaming. Young people don’t always make the smartest decisions, but I think what this book shows is that a bad decision doesn’t have to define you. There are ways out of bad choices. The Centre of My Everything shows that there is hope for everyone, not just the chosen few. Your life may feel like it is out of control, but life can turn around for the better.

The book also presents to us the idea that how someone is presented is not always who they are as a person. That when treated with respect and love a person can show a different side. This happens to all the characters but in particular Corey and Tara. From the outset, these two characters are the most difficult to like. It would seem as though they are wasting their lives away with alcohol and bad decisions. It would also appear that they are no-hopers – not very smart and very little going for them except their good looks and charisma. Through the book, we learn that there is more to Corey and Tara and with compassion and understanding they show what potential they do have. Webster gives us two teenagers who are doing the best they possibly can under the circumstances that they have been handed in life. Neither of the two has had good role models in their life and when they are shown a different way of life they embrace their lives in more positive ways.

The Centre of My Everything is quintessential Australia. It is funny, crude, intense, moving and gut-wrenching. It isn’t always an easy read, but it is a book that will stay with you long after you read it and aren’t these still the best books. The books that make you think, question and wonder. What I loved most about this book is that it is a book about forgiveness and as they say, “to err is human; to forgive divine.”

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Grace Foley is the girl who lives by her own rules. She’s the prankster in her small group of misfit friends. Grace is the one who always pushes the boundaries. Her friends ground her and they may be the misfits of the town, but they each have a place in their small circle – Grace is the funny one. The trouble is that Grace’s small group is growing up and they are changing and unlike Grace, they want more than what their group can offer them. Grace fears change because change has not been kind to Grace Foley.

Wakefield draws you into Grace’s narrative immediately when in the opening pages of the book Grace sneaks out of home to defend her position as the record holder for the fastest time crossing the 40-metre pipe running 15- metres above a gully at the local quarry. Grace has completed the pipeline run hundreds of times and she is fearless when it comes to this challenge, but this particular night she freezes and is paralysed with fear.

“I stop, steady myself, blink. Stretch my arms and wait for the edges of the world to come back. Fear is in front of me now, and to the side, above and below.”

Not only is Grace paralysed with fear. A strange blue mist has crept in and Grace begins to see, feel and experience the presence of another.

“I trace the word with my finger. It shimmers. A sharp impact near my ribs knocks me sideways and the pipe seems to buckle and twist. My legs lose grip. Close by, someone is sobbing as if their heart could break.”

After that night Grace begins to change, even though she’s desperately trying to hold on to the world, she knows. Grace learns of a mystery that is associated with the gully – a twenty-year-old mystery. A blonde, blue-eyed teenager named Hannah Holt disappeared without a trace and it’s rumoured she’s buried in the gully.

Grace is convinced that Hannah is haunting her. Hannah wants Grace to reveal the truth of what happened that night. That until Grace can do this, she won’t be free of Hannah.

Wakefield writes so beautifully and hauntingly; you feel the creepiness of what is happening to Hannah so vividly.

“A lone crow drifts in lazy circles above. Overhead, the powerlines are humming, and the pitch is maddening. I cup my hands over my ears and lean against the tree. My vision is leached – it’s as if I’m the only person breathing in an abandoned world.”

Wakefield writes her characters so tenderly that you truly ache for them and the dilemmas they find themselves in and Grace is no exception. Wakefield’s characters are real and nuanced.

Vikki Wakefield’s writing is to be appreciated and though this is a book that you want to read quickly because of the riveting mystery. Do yourself a favour and slow down because you may miss those moments that only add to Wakefield’s brilliance. Savour her writing.

Ballad For a Mad Girl is a beautifully creepy book. There is Wakefield’s usual edgy brilliance combined with a thrilling mystery. Ballad For a Mad Girl is Vikki Wakefield at her best – brilliant, edgy and disturbing.

Ballad

Recently, I was lucky enough to see ‘Out of Africa’ for the second time. The first time I saw it was many years ago. I was slightly apprehensive about seeing it for a second time, mainly because I have invited my partner to go see it with me. I hate recommending movies to people and then you feel anxious wondering if they liked it or not. ‘Out of Africa’ takes on more anxiety because it goes for a whopping 161 minutes (a quick calculation tells me that we are looking at almost three hours of movie).

Anyhow, off we trekked to USQ for Friday Night Flicks. Friday Night at the Flicks is advertised as ‘Toowoomba’s very own arthouse film night!’ and I would like to take this opportunity to thank the organisers of this great event. Over the last few years, we have had the opportunity to see some great films. Yes, we could watch them on Netflix or a similar service, but there is something about coming together with a group of people who love movies that makes this event quite special. I am yet to stay for the drinks and chat afterwards (being the notorious introvert that I am), but I appreciate this service to the Toowoomba community. The organisers always try and pick movies that will both entertain and challenge. When looking up this event because I was hoping to find the names of the guys who created this occasion; I came across this snippet of trivia on their website about the movie – Meryl Streep wasn’t the first pick to play the lead role of Karen Blixen, the role was originally offered to Audrey Hepburn as the director didn’t think Streep was ‘sexy’ enough. If you’ve seen the movie, you will know that Meryl Streep embodied Karen Blixen (particularly the Danish accent).

Out of Africa is the story of Karen Blixen, the Danish writer who was later to publish under the name of Isak Dineson. Blixen shares her story of when she lived in British East Africa, now Kenya, where she ran a large coffee plantation. It is also the story of her love affair with big-game hunter Denys Finch Hatton played by Robert Redford. But the real character of this epic story is Africa.

David Watkin’s romantic and graceful cinematography and John Barry’s lavish score indeed provides us with a feast for both the eyes and the ears. Sydney Pollack (director) made a beautiful film and the way he showcased Africa’s beauty is masterful. Even if you don’t enjoy the storyline, David Watkin’s photography is incredible – the landscapes, the shots of animal life. Finch Hatton’s biplane and the spectacular scenery will take your breath away. I am sure many who watched this movie fell in love with Kenya and were planning a trip to this majestic place.

There have been many criticisms of this movie since its release. Most criticisms were levelled at its length at almost three hours long and that it was boring and suffered from hostile pacing.  Personally, I didn’t find the movie too long. This is a movie that is a visual masterpiece and I soaked up every image that was presented to me on the screen.

The direction of the movie was gentle and sensitive. There is a scene in the movie where Robert Redford can appear to be narcissistic, but with the careful handling of director Sydney Pollack, as an audience, we are sympathetic to him AND to Meryl Streep’s character who wants so much more from him.

Out of Africa is a movie with the audacity to be about complex, sweeping emotions and Sydney Pollack doesn’t shy away from using his stars and their star power to his advantage and without apology. This is a movie that owns it stars – Streep, Redford and Africa.

 

 

 

 

 

Take Three Girls is one of those novels that comes with high expectations. Three award-winning authors are writing together in one book. The first time I read this novel, I wasn’t quite sure what all the fuss was about and it was only on my second reading that I appreciated the three narratives that Cath Crowley, Simmone Howell and Fiona Wood had blended together.  The book’s chapters switch between each girl’s individual view. Take Three Girls is a book so well written that you take the subtleties and the nuances of this beautifully crafted novel for granted.

Ady, Clem and Kate are thrown together as part of their elite school’s Wellness Program. The three girls are put together in a group (based on their thumb size). The Wellness Program forces the girls to interact with one another and it is through this compulsory group that the three girls get to know each other better, eventually becoming friends. These three girls were barely acquaintances and without the program most likely would never have become friends – Clem is a star swimmer, Ady is the Queen Bee and Kate is a quiet over-achieving musician.

As the book progresses you realise there is more to each girl then the label they have been given. All of them are trying to find their way in the world. The girls are on an exploration to discover who they are and how they fit into the world that they live. The book also introduces us to the online site called PSST (Private Schools Secret Tracker). PSST is an online social media site that takes delight in bullying – mainly through body and slut shaming (most of which is untrue). PSST is a toxic website that shows how toxic online social media sites can be and the damage they can unleash.

“The class is filing in for Wellness, a new program designed to cure us of the urge to trash each other on social media. I love the internet, code, computers. I love that if I miss Ben, I can summon him into my room and talk to him over Skype. It’s the most mind-bending invention in the last century and how do humans use it? They access porn and talk smack about each other.’

What I love about this book is that it is a celebration of friendship. Take Three Girls captures what good friendship looks like but it also shows what bad friendship looks like.

“Friends. It seems so simple it’s dumb, but it took you a while to get onboard – a friend is someone you can be real with. No games, no faking it, no showing off, no putting down, no power plays. Not cool or hot or mean or unpopular or fashionable or competing with each other. Just being true. And how that makes you feel is…relaxed.”

This book also celebrates how a few can make a difference in a small way. This is a book about showing teenagers that if everyone made a stand (even in a small way), then the bullies can be put in their place. Online bullying is most likely here to stay, but rather than embracing it and relishing the gossip and takedown of others – stand up, speak out and do what you can. It may only be small. It may not make a huge difference, but it will make a difference. Teenagers are an influential group and they can make a change. Ady, Clem and Kate took on an online site and they may not have stopped it but their small action brought joy and beauty to many and this ultimately is what life is about – giving happiness and taking away pain, even if it is for just a moment.

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Melissa Keil is one of the finest voices in Australian YA fiction. Her books are always delightful, entertaining and wonderfully eccentric and The Secret Science of Magic, her third novel is no exception.

A quirky, high school romance unfolds in alternating voices of maths whiz Sophia and aspiring magician Joshua. The Secret Science of Magic is a book with a lot of heart that deals with complex questions of love, identity, friendship – sensitively and realistically.

Sophia is a fantastic and refreshing character. She is almost certainly on the autism spectrum – brilliant in science and maths but finds people challenging. Life for Sophia is not comfortable – crowds frighten her and she suffers from panic attacks. She lives inside her own head and sees the world a little differently to those around her. Sophia is authentically geeky and readers will emphasise with her anxiety.

I like that Sophia shows us that just because someone doesn’t feel comfortable around people doesn’t mean that they are shy, aloof or uninterested. Many of those on the spectrum choose to be alone, preferring their own company – a little like introverts.

“I resist the urge to remind her that I am not shy. That’s always been the conclusion most people draw about me, the simplest and least demanding diagnosis, which I rarely bother to correct, ‘shy’ is a label everyone can get on board with.”

Keil has an exceptional gift of putting together characters who are uniquely different but so well matched. Joshua is empathetic, vulnerable, awkward and romantic. He understands Sophia and Sophia needs a Josua in her life.

Joshua brings fun and joy to Sophia’s life. He uses his magic to woo her (often anonymously) and it works. It is sweet, charming and gorgeous. And that’s coming from someone who doesn’t like magic.

“Mr Grayson’s vintage movie projector on the back of the room starts to whirl…it floods the dreary lab with flickering light and then begins broadcasting a Dr Who Xmas special.”

Josh is unique because at school he’s a loner but he’s okay with this, he’s happy and he isn’t fazed by what other people think.

Melissa Keil has a knack for creating colourful and likeable characters that you wish you knew in real life. Her characters feel real and always are fun, engaging and intelligent.

The Secret Science of Magic is a modern classic for today’s generation. Both Joshua and Sophia are clueless about what their life after high school will look like. Keil doesn’t sugar coat the reality of what life can be like for a teenager and the confusion that occurs particularly in Year 12 where life is about to change dramatically.

What I love about Melissa Keil’s books is they sparkle and yet they have hidden depths. She always makes her books funny, uplifting but also moving and emotionally wise. She makes it look so smooth and effortless, but a book with this much heart has been written by an exceptional author.

Like her previous novels, The Secret Science of Magic is humorous, heartfelt and compelling. Once again Melissa Keil has delivered a book that is heartwarming, empathetic and often hilarious – a delightful read.

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busyness

Recently I received a book in the mail, and there were several advertisements, including one for Audible that said, “No time to read? You need Audible”. Seriously? I had just ordered a book in the post, BUT it wasn’t the advertisement that truly offended me, what bugged me was the idea that I would have no time to read – I couldn’t find a few moments in the day to sit and read.

The idea of BUSYNESS has bugged me for quite some time now. I will admit that my week-days are particularly busy. I arrive at work at 7 am and most days I don’t get home until between 5 – 6 pm most days. Rarely is there a time during the day to sit and just read BUT my weekends are a different story and so are my weeknights. I will definitely make the time to read because reading is essential to me. It slows me down, it centres me and it relaxes me AND I take the time to read because I enjoy it. I will never be too busy to read.

BUT let’s get back to the idea of busyness. I hate that word. BUSYNESS. I hate people that tell me that they are TOO busy to read. People that tell me that they are too BUSY to go see a movie. Too BUSY to take time out for themselves. When did we become so obnoxious that we think being busy makes us important?

A couple of years ago I photocopied many of the above quote (that opens this blog) and placed them around my staffroom (before the first bell). When I went down to the staffroom at morning tea, all the posters had disappeared. I found this curious, so throughout the week, I would put the posters up and by the time I went back to the staffroom they had been removed. Apparently, someone was incredibly offended by this poster. Someone who equated their busyness with their worthiness??

Personally, I believe that BUSYNESS is used as a sense of entitlement or as something to hide behind.  If I were to say that I couldn’t go to a party because I was busy, no one would bat an eyelid. If I was to say that I couldn’t go to the party because I didn’t want to, then everyone would be offended or everyone would try to change my mind. What’s the difference? Busyness is the greatest of all excuses. No one will even ask what you are busy doing; they will just accept that you are busy.

Today it would seem that if you have “nothing” to do on the weekend, then you are pitied, BUT no one pities the busy person. Instead, they are admired. We praise busyness. If someone comes into work for the whole weekend, they are respected, appreciated and prized. Why? Is this healthy? Are we giving our best to our students if we are spending our weekends at school working? Wouldn’t it be better to give ourselves some distance from school on the weekend and come to school on Monday feeling refreshed? Isn’t it better to show our students that we are well-rounded individuals with a life outside of school?

I believe that busy people choose to be busy because they are frightened. They are fearful of silence, solitude and idleness. They need to fill their lives with busyness, otherwise, what will they do? Lately, I have been leaving my phone at home when I go to do errands. This means that while I am waiting for my coffee or standing in a queue, I wait and stop and enjoy the small amount of time with my thoughts, or I look around and watch what is happening around me rather than mindlessly scrolling through my phone. It is kind of sad that people never look up and appreciate what is happening around them. It is unfortunate that a few minutes waiting for a coffee, or standing in a queue or waiting at a traffic light can’t be endured without a screen to stare into.

Why do we have so much less time today then our grandparents did fifty years ago? Do we have less time today than in previous years because we waste so much time scrolling through our phones, iPads, laptops? Is it because we binge watch television? If you were to put your devices away, what would you do? Try it and see how much time you get back for yourself.

Lately, I have been choosing to spend a day where I do “nothing”. I read. I sit on my couch and daydream. I watch television or a movie (but not six hours of bingeing, but rather an hour or two). I play with my dog. I sit on my deck and watch the birds. I go for walks with my dog. I sit in the park. I read a magazine. I read the newspapers. I avoid my phone and other technology that will distract me. I don’t do any work for school. These days are blissful. They restore me. They make me a better person.

Let’s stop being consumed by the busyness monster. Let’s stop thinking that being busy makes us important. Lets put away our devices and look around and enjoy and appreciate the world we inhabit. Let’s stop the “glorification of busy”.