The Elephant by Peter Carnavas

Published: 3rd July 2017Goodreads badge
Publisher:
 University of Queensland Press
Pages: 180
Format: Paperback
Genre: Fiction
★   ★   ★   ★   ★  – 5 Stars

Olive’s father has a sadness so big that she imagines it as an enormous elephant following him around. Every day Olive sees the elephant, and every day she wishes it would go.

With the help of Grandad and her best friend, Arthur, Olive sets out to chase the elephant away.

Just reading the blurb of this book made me instantly want to start reading it. It’s the story of a girl called Olive who lives with her dad and the elephant that follows him around. Olive is tired of seeing the looming elephant near her father, she is tired of seeing how it affects him and how it makes him forget about her.

I loved seeing how Carnavas explores Olive’s different relationships. I loved seeing her interact with her grandad, how he treats her and takes her on special adventures. I also actually really loved when Olive tries to be with her father. She’s always hopeful, always trying to get him to see her through the elephant.

There was one part that I thought really summed up the experience of depression and grief very well: “[Olive] longed to share it all…In the end, she said nothing because her father would never listen – really listen – with the elephant beside him.” I felt that this part portrayed the relationship Olive and her dad have. He doesn’t ignore her; he just can’t be there in his entirety for her because his sadness is too great, it overwhelms him.

This book is ideal for kids who need help understanding depression or how grief can affect the people around them. This isn’t a book that explains what depression or grief is or how it is treated, it doesn’t explicitly try to be either, but it is a story about a girl who lives with a dad who is sad all the time and can’t always be there for her.

There are some beautiful moments in this story and there’s a lot of wonderful surprises as well. I love Olive’s imagination and her creative mind, and I love Carnavas’ illustrations that fill this special book.

You can purchase The Elephant via the following

Dymocks | Booktopia | Publisher

Amazon | Fishpond

Book Depository | QBD | BookWorld

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The Martian by Andy Weir

Published: 28 October 2014Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Random House
Pages: 387
Format: Paperback
Genre: Science Fiction
★   ★   ★   ★   ★  – 5 Stars

Six days ago, astronaut Mark Watney became one of the first people to walk on Mars. 

Now, he’s sure he’ll be the first person to die there. 

After a dust storm forces his crew to evacuate the planet while thinking him dead, Mark finds himself stranded on Mars’s surface, with no way to signal Earth that he’s alive. And even if he could get word out, his supplies would be gone years before a rescue could arrive. 

Chances are, though, Mark won’t have time to starve to death. The damaged machinery, unforgiving environment or plain-old “human error” are much more likely to kill him first.

Armed with nothing but his ingenuity, his engineering skills–and a gallows sense of humor that proves to be his greatest source of strength–Mark embarks on a dogged quest to stay alive. But will his resourcefulness be enough to overcome the impossible odds against him?

I love this book. I knew before I started I would love this book. It’s funny and clever, and I love it. You don’t need to know anything about space or Mars or NASA because Weir writes in such a way that it is all official and practical, but it isn’t bogged down the technical language. You know what is happening at all times and it makes you amazed. This is helped along by Watney’s logs, he is a character who is fun and light-hearted so he makes jokes, and enjoys himself, even when he is in dire situations.

The events in the novel take place over a couple of years, switching between Mars and Earth. The book starts right in the middle of crisis mode on Mars. Watney is presumed dead and the team have left him behind. From there we see his struggle to survive and eventually we get to see their journey home with the knowledge he’s died and can’t be brought home. Watney is the main narrator, he gets first-person control. But there’s ample third-person narration that comes in a few chapters in where we see the NASA side of things and how various characters contribute and are dealing with the Mars Situation. I liked the characters Weir compiled to create his not so distant future NASA (the year is never actually stated but it can be worked out and the answer is online). They’re clever and tough and take no backchat. But they’re also good at their jobs and excited about what they do which makes it fun for the reader to experience alongside them.

One criticism: Didn’t like Annie. I know we don’t have to like all the characters but she actually didn’t come across as A Character We’re Not Meant To Like. She was fine until she started making fun of the ‘nerds’. Really Weir? Are you telling me, NASA’s Director of Media Relations would be making fun of the NASA scientists for liking LOTR? The brilliant NASA scientists who are working on saving a man left on Mars? Is Annie just some random reporter who likes making fun of “nerds” despite them being in NASA herself and who deals with important things like sending people to space. Is that a nerdy thing? I don’t know. I have steered this off the review but it annoys me so much that we still feel the need to make these jokes in movies and books. Can we never let go of the stereotype of making fun of people for liking things other people deem uncool? Anyway, rant over. Back to the awesome book which is awesome despite Annie. (Also it’s very hard to emphasise the importance of NASA when it is already in capitals).

What I also loved about this was nothing was rushed. You see Watney’s full time on Mars albeit a few months here and there. You see his slow progress working things out and taking the time to travel outside the HAB. None of it drags out, because Weir needs to explain Watney’s process makes it seem plausible, and because it’s Watney it’s fun and interesting and hilarious. No kidding, there is so much humour in this book it’s amazing. I predominantly chose to read this book because of one hilarious snippet I saw posted online and that got me in (the biggest outrage was this scene was not in the movie!). Watney tells his story through journal entries which vary in length so you will get an entry of a few pages or you may get one a few paragraphs or one line. It really mixed u the flow of the story and breaks up the story nicely into these snippets of events and times when things happen.

You would think that having to describe the day to day goings-on would be tedious and repetitive, but it isn’t. Weir balances it out perfectly. We root for Watney and his struggles. We see him succeed and we see him fail. Weir makes us enjoy checking in on potato crops and solar panels because of the environment it is happening in. We’re enjoying seeing Watney succeed/struggle, but we are also fascinated that it’s happening at all. I could not fault this book. From beginning to end it was wonderful. I adored the ending and Weir never takes his foot off the pedal when working out logistics of everything while still making it enjoyable and understandable.

I genuinely could have started this book again the moment I finished. Instead, I watched the movie and marvelled how actually very true it was to the book. They included all the important points and any minor changes made no real difference whatsoever. It’s one of the better film adaptations in my opinion. This does account for the 2.5 hour runtime though.

If you do see the film instead of reading the book I suggest you read it as well. You miss out on some of the hilarity and Watney ruling Mars by himself is a delight to behold on the page.

You can purchase The Martian via the following

Dymocks | Booktopia

Wordery | Book Depository

Fishpond | Amazon

La Belle Sauvage (The Book of Dust #1)

Published: 19 October 2017 Goodreads badge
Publisher:
David Fickling Books
Pages: 560
Format: Paperback
Genre: Young Adult
★   ★   ★   ★   ★  – 5 Stars

Eleven-year-old Malcolm Polstead and his dæmon, Asta, live with his parents at the Trout Inn near Oxford. Across the River Thames (which Malcolm navigates often using his beloved canoe, a boat by the name of La Belle Sauvage) is the Godstow Priory where the nuns live. Malcolm learns they have a guest with them; a baby by the name of Lyra Belacqua . . .

For over ten years I have been waiting [im]patiently for this book to finally be published. From 2005 when Pullman first really mentioned he was working on it I have waited. I’ve check update after update, any little mention from 2005, 2007, 2012 when Pullman said he was taking over a year off everything just to work on it. When the “late 2016” possible publication was announced I was excited but also doubtful, when that got pushed back to 2017 I was heartbroken. When that 19 Oct date was announced in February this year I may have lost my little mind. Then I had to wait, but it finally happened. I finally got it, I finally read it, and I have to say, my word was it worth the long wait.

The Book of Dust is everything I possibly imagined it to be and more. It is a beautiful and magnificent book that draws you right back into Pullman’s world, so much like ours but still completely different. It’s familiar, but not too familiar because it takes place away from the Oxford we know but still feels like slipping into a well-loved pair of shoes. I fell in love again almost instantly and the more I read the more drawn in I became. Every turn of the page I was almost in tears of happiness and I loved this new side of this world we got to explore. (As I said, I have a slight obsession with this series and I have been waiting a long time for this book, so no judgement please).

Pullman’s new characters are as fully formed and unique as his existing ones, and those we’ve met before (technically) are also introduced as if we’re meeting them for the first time, such is the benefits of having a new point of view to focus on. Malcolm Polstead is a great voice to tell this story; he is young, can come off as a little simple or naive, but shows strength and determination when needed. His loyalty and friendship for others, and his love and protection over Lyra is his driving force. His sense of what is right and what’s wrong is clear, and he has wonderful guidance around him to direct his curious mind.

I loved Malcolm. I loved his love of Lyra, and I love his childlike wonder and innocence. Having only really seen Lyra’s interactions with Pan as the example of child/dæmon relationship, it was great seeing Malcolm and Asta’s connection. Pullman also includes subtle and brief bits of information about the daemons through the story, and uses childlike curiosity to cover any questions, much as he did in His Dark Materials.

What I found interesting was that Lyra’s role is so small, she is just a baby after all, and yet she is the entire point of the book as well. One thing I adored, and actually had never thought about before was babies and baby daemons. There’s plenty of children’s daemons in the trilogy, but babies not so much. Seeing baby Lyra and baby Pan interact was joyous, and every time they’re mentioned I found myself aging them forward to the wild girl and dæmon ten years on and thinking of all the great things they were going to achieve.

Important things to note, there is some swearing in this book, one of the Big Ones I guess you could say is said by a few characters. Pullman has used them well so they work, but it was a surprise when they appeared. Also, there is a darker story here, it’s a bit more brutal at times, nothing too explicit, but just darker. Pullman has also said numerous times this is not a sequel or a prequel, he calls it an equal, a companion piece. I would agree in as much as it is separate from the trilogy, and even separate in part from the follow up books he did. But my opinion is you do have to read the original three first. Very much like Star Wars you need to have experienced all that there is in the originals before you go back to the Before. Knowing what it all means and to know the grandeur and power it holds is more impactful as you read this book. Secrets from the trilogy are openly discussed, mysteries are no longer mysterious as they play out before you. All of which is fantastic mind you, but knowing that they have been secrets means that reading the trilogy after this will not have the same effect at all in my opinion. Though I would be interested to speak to someone who does read this first.

When I finished reading I did find myself with a few tears. Not so much for what happens but for all of it: for the big, gorgeous new story, for Lyra and Pan and Malcolm and his beloved canoe. For the strength and love Malcolm has, and the beautiful innocence and unbridled sense of doing what is right. And of course, because who can read any book about this world and not end up in beautiful tears of happiness? When I finished that last page I wanted to hug the book close to my chest because it was perfect in all the ways that mattered. Pullman brought long time devoted fans the book they’ve been longing for for over ten years. He made us wait, but for what has come of that waiting I couldn’t ask for anything more. I can only imagine what is going to come in the next two volumes, and I’m sure Pullman will come up with something much better than I ever could imagine.

In a Sydney Morning Herald article Pullman said that the second book is written but not yet edited. With a hopeful release date of next year I have something to look forward to that’s much less vague than it has been. If you’re interested, it’s a great article, Pullman talks about his Australian connection to parts of La Belle Sauvage, and his experience with the whole writing experience.

You can purchase La Belle Sauvage via the following

QBD | Dymocks

Booktopia | Book Depository

Amazon | Publisher

Audible | Wordery

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (#5) by JK Rowling

Published: 21st June 2003Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Bloomsbury Publishing
Pages: 766
Format: Hardcover
Genre: Fantasy
★   ★   ★   ★   ★  – 5 Stars

Dark times have come to Hogwarts. After the Dementors’ attack on his cousin Dudley, Harry Potter knows that Voldemort will stop at nothing to find him. There are many who deny the Dark Lord’s return, but Harry is not alone: a secret order gathers at Grimmauld Place to fight against the Dark forces. Harry must allow Professor Snape to teach him how to protect himself from Voldemort’s savage assaults on his mind. But they are growing stronger by the day and Harry is running out of time.

It is so easy to dub this book ‘the one where Harry is angry’, but rereading this, he has a valid point. He is frustrated no one believes him, he suffered a traumatic event and didn’t really get the support afterwards he needed, and the people he turns to for help aren’t helping him. Not to mention with all his bad dreams he probably has PTSD.

Personally, it’s about time Harry was overwhelmed with everything. In the other books he, admittedly, gets himself into these situations, but for once I think he was dragged into danger kicking and screaming in GoF. Now, in the aftermath, he’s trying to deal with it. There are so many one off scenes and sentences about Harry that break my heart. How can you not feel sorry for him? What’s great though is that people do call him out a lot, as good friends should, when he’s being unreasonable. He also learns to channel his frustrations into something productive which is excellent.

Rowling puts a lot into this story, which is why it’s the biggest of them all, but there is a lot to cover. There’s possibly less individual subplots going on, while a lot is happening it is all connected in some way. Our trio have exams coming up which is a focal point, reminding us they are still at a school and not just out saving the wizarding world all the time. There are also more wizarding world discoveries as the revolt against Voldemort reignites, we learn more about a few characters, and get some new villains.

Umbridge is a great villain because she is so unreasonable, and malicious just for the sake of it. She doesn’t have grand master plans to take over the world like Voldemort, she just likes being cruel and tormenting for fun. I found a previous review I’d written and was actually interested to see how much it changed. I mentioned that I thought this book was too political, and wasn’t my favourite, I did give it four stars though. Which is interesting because I remember thinking about it being too political with the Order and stuff, but rereading it that didn’t bother me as much. It’s quite curious how it changes.

Fun Facts

At 257,045 words it is the longest book in the series

First published on 20 June 2003

Cover art is by Jason Cockcroft

The book forged new pre-order records, with thousands of people queuing outside book stores to secure their copy at midnight.

In 2004 the book was cited as an American Library Association Best Book for Young Adults and as an American Library Association Notable Book.

The first official foreign translation of the book appeared in Vietnamese on 21 July 2003, when the first of twenty-two instalments was released.

The first official European translation appeared in Serbia and Montenegro in Serbian, by the official publisher Narodna Knjiga, in early September 2003.

It is the first book in the series to be released while the movies were being produced.

The phone number to get into the Ministry of Magic is 62442, which can be used to spell “magic” on a mobile phone.

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (#4) by JK Rowling

Published: 8th July 2000Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Bloomsbury Publishing
Pages: 636
Format: Hardcover
Genre: Fantasy
★   ★   ★   ★   ★  – 5 Stars

The summer holidays are dragging on and Harry Potter can’t wait for the start of the school year. It is his fourth year at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry and there are spells to be learnt and (unluckily) Potions and Divination lessons to be attended. But Harry can’t know that the atmosphere is darkening around him, and his worst enemy is preparing a fate that it seems will be inescapable.

This book was the tipping point in the series, it was the moment when things suddenly changed and everyone grew up a little bit faster. There is so much to love about this series, it’s got new information about the wizarding world, new characters to love, new adventures. I love that we get to see more magical events and everyday wizarding things. The World Cup and the TriWizard Tournament are incredible parts of the story, and I love reading about everyday wizarding life.

Harry, Ron, and Hermione are wonderful as always. When I reread the books I remember more how they’re only teenagers, and that they hang out with other teenagers and members of their houses much more than is shown in the movies. I love reading about shared common room experiences, and doing things with the other Weasley children. Plus with the introduction of two extra schools, it not only expands what we know, but also makes for interesting storytelling as the three schools come together.

Rowling delivers in terms of surprise and suspense. The Triwizard events were interesting enough, but with the added mystery of who put Harry’s name in the Goblet, and multiple little subplots to weave in-between it goes to a whole other level. After the break of a Voldemort free book three, book four returns the focus as rumours and mahem resurfaces about the Dark Lord. Rowling brings numerous big events together intricately, beautifully, and stylishly with all the impact and emotion they deserve. The gut-wrenching scenes and the anticipation is almost too much and Rowling uses her words well to conjure up a scene in your head as you read. You feel like you are there beside Harry, in these moments of fear and stress and triumph. It’s an incredible reading experience. No matter how many times I reread this I will never get over how amazing Rowling is at hiding secrets and offering slow reveals. Definitely one of my favourites books of the series.

Fun Facts

Is the fifth longest book at 190,637 words.

First published 8th July 2000

Cover art is by Giles Greenfield

The first book in the series to be released in the United States on the same date as the United Kingdom

To publicise the book, a special train named Hogwarts Express was organised by Bloomsbury, and run from King’s Cross to Perth, carrying J.K. Rowling, a consignment of books for her to sign and sell, also representatives of Bloomsbury and the press. The train departed from platform 1 at King’s Cross – which had been given “Platform 9 34” signs for the occasion

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