Kids’ books: Chicken Big (Keith Graves)

Chicken Big (Keith Graves) In our family compound, plans were afoot for a shared chicken house for a rather long time.

S. had been cutting steel and welding in between the school and kindy drop-offs for months. Finally, in September, four point-of-lay hens and four chicks came to roost.

In preparation for the chickens’ arrival, I’d bought Keith Graves’ Chicken Big when I spied it in a bookstore.

It sat for weeks in the cupboard. Things were moving slowly on the chicken palazzo front.

When we finally broke it out and read it to the kids, it was love at first sight: peals of laughter; reading it cover to cover repeatedly and literally (there are cartoons on the back cover); imitations of the characters over breakfast; and fragments of text as family code.

It is a book that’s a lot of fun. It’s a classic story about not belonging, and trying to find one’s community. Even if that community is kind of nuts, and thick, and…well, you have to read this book. I’m sniggering to myself just thinking about some of the phrasing and images.



AWW 2013 – how’d I do?

AWW 2013
AWW 2013

So, I failed again.

I keep signing up, though, so don’t fault my consistency.

For AWW 2013, I had signed up for the Franklin challenge, which meant reading 10 books and reviewing 6 (if one was intending to review, which I did).

I had decided to have a focus on fantasy/horror for this challenge, but wandered off that trail quite early. I tend towards crime fic, and am a fan of Young, so it’s not surprising that I had to read Antidote to Murder. I’d heard so about Savage’s books that I had to try one for myself, and Gardiner’s trilogy is one I’ve been wanting to read ever since I heard about them.

I started well. In fact, I started better than I thought I would. I read Lister and Chan within a month, and felt I was ahead. Each came from the genres I had said I’d focus on.

Chuffed from this, I managed to then let the challenge down by not keeping an eye on the year as it – again – sped past.

Before I knew it, we’d hit November and I was three reviews short and had three more books to go.

I didn’t hold much hope for getting more books read, but I did want to get two more review done, given I’d read the books and all. One of the reviews was for a trilogy of YA novels, which I’d considered splitting into three reviews but thought that might be a bit sneaky (not to mention a lame and transparent attempt to complete the challenge without attending to the spirit of the reviews…).

My final completed book and review list is:

  1. Dionne Lister. Shadows of the Realm. –> my review
  2. Queenie Chan. The Dreaming series. –> my review
  3. Felicity Young. Antidote to Murder. –> my review
  4. Angela Savage, Behind the Night Bazaar –> my review
  5. Kelly Gardiner, Ocean without End (Swashbuckler! series)
  6. Kelly Gardiner, The Pirate’s Revenge (Swashbuckler! series)
  7. Kelly Gardiner, The Silver Swan (Swashbuckler! series) –> my review of the trilogy


Am I signing up for AWW 2014, which is now officially open?

I’m not sure yet. Truly. It seems a bit pathetic to keep signing up for a reading challenge that I then never complete.

The thing that makes me want to sign up and participate, though, is that AWW is a great community (on Twitter and in blogging circles). It’s companionable to be part of the challenge, even when I know my feet are dragging and I’m not in any danger of completing it.

Watch this space…!

REVIEW – Stax Cafe

Cafe Stax - upstairs (Photo by Tseen Khoo)
Cafe Stax – upstairs (Photo by Tseen Khoo)

[I had written this post, queued it for publication, then went there again just recently – the menu has changed! The burger menu I so loved (see below) is whittled down, to the detriment of my all-time favourite…]

If there’s one place near work that I embrace as my regular haunt, it’s Cafe Stax on Little La Trobe Street. I usually cut through Literature Lane, and mosey past two places I frequent less often (WE Cafe [Taiwanese] and Wonderbao).

The first few times I went to Stax, it was because other people had organised meetings or lunches there. While the food and prices were consistently good, I didn’t really like the downstairs seating – too close and noisy. It felt too small.

Then I discovered there was an upstairs!

The upstairs section is rarely brimming with people, much lighter, and had corrugated cardboard furniture. Walls are papered in old comics. I was sold. It’s the first place I suggest to meet anyone.

Though space is at a premium at Stax, the menu is extensive: soups, all manner of burgers, wraps and sandwiches, fish and chips, pasta dishes, salads… I rarely stray from the burgers, but I have tried a few of the things there and they’ve all ranged from fine to really good.

Burger #4 is my favourite, as I’ve mentioned in a previous post:

Burger 4 – Moroccan marinated chicken thigh, grilled haloumi, lettuce, tomato and harissa mayonnaise.

It’s the haloumi and harissa mayo that really lifts this one, and the fact that they use chicken thigh. Most of the reason why I never have chicken burgers is because places tend to use the chicken breast, which I always find too dry/dense/thick. This Stax burger, though, is always tasty and just right. Sometimes, they get super generous with the haloumi. Those are good days.

I try to wean myself off Burger #4 every second visit, but I don’t always succeed. it’s a keeper.

[Further to my earlier note: This burger is no longer on the menu – they do have a 4th burger on the list but it’s a “haloumi burger”, by which I thought they meant a normal burger + slices of haloumi. Meh! Wrong guess. What they meant was a haloumi burger: brioche bun, salad-y stuff, and a thick slab of haloumi. A vegetarian burger. I am not a vegetarian burger eater…]

Another aspect of this cafe that I like is that the service is always very good: friendly, fast, efficient. I’ve never had a hassle with any of my orders (and I’ve been many times now), and the delivery and clearing of food/drink is quick and unobtrusive.

My only caveat about the cafe is that I’ve only ever had lunch there, not breakfast. And an important element, without which I couldn’t be a return customer: Stax coffee is consistently good. [<– I don’t think this has changed – same people running it; just a menu re-vamp]

REVIEW – The Fades (TV series) – SPOILERS


On my sister’s recommendation, we watched The Fades (2011) recently. I’d heard much positive raving about it on Twitter and elsewhere, and I think it’s worth the cultish hype.

As with some of the best cultural ‘finds’ in my life, I had next to no knowledge about it.

These were the things I did know:

  • There are only six episodes. Ever.
  • It’s supernatural horror.
  • It’s a UK series.

I had deliberately not Googled it after my sis told us about it. From what she was saying, I knew we’d be watching it no matter what.

In the end, we inhaled the series, watching the six episodes over three nights. We’ve had a good run of British horror movies lately (i.e. Daisy Chain, The Broken), so were predisposed to this series.

Summary of the show (my version):

Teenage Paul possesses the ability to see dead people, but it’s nothing like Sixth Sense. These dead people – or fades – are out to live again, even if this means destroying life as they knew it. The core of the narrative rests on the ages-old ‘war’ between the angelics and the fades, but evolutionary changes take place that lower humanity’s survival prospects significantly! Can Paul save the world with his best mate Mac, brand-new girlfriend Jay, queen-bee twin sister Anna, and lugubrious comrade Neil?

What did I think?


REVIEW – Pappa Rich

Pappa Rich - QV (Photo by Tseen Khoo)

This post is brought to you after lunch at Pappa Rich Chadstone two days in a row.

I had just gone there with my buddy @sommystar and my family felt deprived when I told them that I was going there without them. Hence, a second visit there today.

Our family’s been fans of this franchise since they started opening in Melbourne in March 2012. My first experience was in QV, and the queues are now notorious. @sommystar tells me that the Nunawading restaurant takes bookings, but the ones I’ve been to (QV and Chadstone) do not.

My Malaysian colleagues all love going there, and my family is always happy to make it our go-to place for lunches. The key, of course, is to go slightly earlier than peak – for example, turning up at about 11 or 11.30am guarantees you a good table, but getting there after noon means you may be stuck in the queue (this has been our Chaddie experience). Prices are reasonable, with the drinks obviously a money-spinner (that said, I don’t think I’d find Malaysian-style drinks like this easily elsewhere).

We’ve browsed our way through the menu broadly, with the roti, laksa, and chicken rice staying in ‘staple’ territory. While occasionally transparent in its pre-prepared-ness, the food is tasty, fast, and consistent.


REVIEW: Boozehound (Jason Wilson)

Boozehound (Jason Wilson)

My reading habits have always been fairly eclectic, and I meander regularly between fiction and non-fiction.

Lately, I feel like I’ve been immersed in crime fiction more than anything else, but I’m finding a fair amount of non-fiction creeping in.

Hence my close encounter with Jason Wilson’s book, Boozehound, which is part travelogue, part cocktail manual, and part a cultural history of liquors.

I loved reading this book.

It may seem a bit strange that I was heavily engrossed in Wilson’s book, given I’m a teetotaler and the book presents narratives immersed in spirits lore and the liquor industry.

Wilson, a spirits reviewer for the Washington Post, writes engagingly and with a deft witty touch.

I’ve never tasted any of the spirits that he’s talking about, so his ability to evoke a creative ‘memory’ around them is quite a feat. The smug panache of the foodie language (as commonly applied to wine and coffee) in addressing the tastes and effects of various liquors is a vicarious delight.


AWW 2012 REVIEW – Saltwater Vampires (Kirsty Eagar)

Cover of Saltwater Vampires (Kirsty Eagar)

Since I first heard of this novel through Twitter (prolific source of to-be-read refs ever), I’ve been intrigued by the idea of saltwater vampires.

What were they? For some reason, my mind flashed to bayous and the backwoods, alligators and inbreeding.

But I couldn’t have been more wrong! Admittedly, I would’ve been glad to read the bayou narrative, but Kirsty Eagar’s novel is set in a small coastal town in Australia.

The evocation of place is very well done, with the dynamic of the locals servicing regular influxes of tourists and musical festival goers capturing the unglamorous, tedious side of living in holiday zones.

The novel opens with an attack on a young surfer, who is one of the teens at the core of the novel. The group has layers of fractured relationships, and the reasons for why things are the way they are are revealed gradually as the growing vampire danger becomes apparent.


REVIEW – Ghost Money (Andrew Nette)

Ghost Money (Andrew Nette)

I must admit to being initially interested in reading this novel because Andrew Nette and I follow each other on Twitter, and I’ve always appreciated, and been curious about, his obsession with pulp culture.

I knew he wrote crime fic and I am a total sucker for many shades of crime fic.

It was when I read one of the first reviews of the book (by Fair Dinkum Crime’s bernadetteinoz), however, that I dashed off straight away to buy a copy.

The triggers that set me off in bernadetteinoz’s review?

A Vietnamese Australian protagonist, the Cambodian setting – all bundled together as a noir crime thriller. It ticked a lot of boxes for me.

Kicking off with a dead body in Thailand, we find ourselves quickly in Cambodia as Max Quinlan, a fresh private investigator, traces Charles Avery’s whereabouts. Avery’s sister had made the initial approach to Quinlan, and offered him a conversational snapshot of her brother as an ambitious and morally grey character.

Of course, all is not as it seems, and the increasingly complicated figure of Avery is nicely unpacked as the narrative rolls out.


AWW 2012 Review – The Lion Drummer (Gabrielle Wang)

The Lion Drummer (Gabrielle Wang)

Like the typical assiduous parents of today, we’ve been reading to the kids since they were babies.

Having our eldest – who turns 6 at the end of this year – learn to read and write this year has been a magical time for me. Her reading is improving in leaps and bounds, and the hesitancy with which she used to read the one-sentence books she brought home is now gone.

When we go to the library each week, she’ll often find a few books, settle into a beanbag and start reading to herself. Tonight, she read five small books. Just because she wanted to. She reads to her little brother. He’s a big fan.

She still wants to throw a few ‘younger’ books in the pile as she loves the illustrations (as I do), and I’ll find a few short novels that I think she’ll like.

I’ll tell you the narratives I tend towards because I know the topics contrast with what she’s usually immersed in with her peer group: time travel and dinosaur tales, monsters and aliens (particularly dragons), mad scientist and experiments gone wrong, (G-rated) kungfu novels…the ones that are usually badged/branded as “for boys”.

The girls’ novels are all horrendously pink and sparkly and…I just can’t do it. She chose a fairy book last time and I threw in another book about pirates for good measure. Yes, I may be fighting a losing battle. Let me retain a bit of hope for the moment.

ANYway, I recently also found Gabrielle Wang’s The Lion Drummer, on the shelves. I chose it in the hopes that E. would find it fun and interesting and possibly reflecting a life in Australia that had similarities with hers. I try not to be too sledgehammery in my quest to ensure that the kids have a diversity of narratives and characters in their books. I’ve not focused on Chinese Australian or Asian Australian children’s lit. to any great degree, but I am aware of mixing up the material that crosses their cultural radars.


AWW 2012 review: A Dissection of Murder (Felicity Young)

When I read this Fair Dinkum Crime review of Felicity Young’s A Dissection of Murder by bernadetteinoz, I added it to my already-excessively-long TBR* list. I’m a sucker for historical crime novels, especially when the lead character is female, and this one had the added relish of the protagonist breaking into a new, ‘suspect’ profession as an autopsy surgeon.

I fell into this book with relish. From the first scenes of the suffragette rally gone bad to the denouement, I was hooked.

The narrative opens with the arrival home of newly qualified Dr Dody McCleland, who has returned from Edinburgh where she completed her studies.

The immediate summons to the first job in her new capacity throws the first elements of latent and overt conflict into the mix: a relationship that is long overdue for pruning, the suspicion and open hostility towards her as a woman in what has been a profession for men only, torn loyalties when confronted with her first autopsy cases…and that’s just the first few pages!