Tuesday, 17 January 2017

Top Ten Tuesday - Forgotten Books

The Broke and the Bookish host a weekly meme called Top Ten Tuesday.

This week we revisit those precious gems from our recent past.
Thanks to the Classics Club and the Australian Women Writers challenge I have been prompted & encouraged to read some long lost, unknown or forgotten classics.

I hope this post helps them to be not to forgotten any more!
Click on the links provided to read my reviews.

My Top Ten Underrated/Forgotten Books


So Big by Edna Ferber



Angle of Repose by Wallace Stegner


Mansfield Park by Jane Austen


Memoirs of a Fox Hunting Man by Seigfried Sassoon


No Name by Wilkie Collins


Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston


The Watch Tower by Elizabeth Harrower


The Tragedy of the Korosko by Arthur Conan Doyle


The Fortunes of Richard Mahony by Henry Handel Richardson

Friday, 13 January 2017

Brona's Salon: Satire

This year's Booker has been awarded to satire - again! I was dreading The Sellout winning the Booker because I really don't want to tackle another satire. No matter how worthy it may be.

Satire is used to highlight the foolishness or vices within a society of group. It can be categorised further into irony, sarcasm, exaggeration, ridicule and parody.

I don't mind some satire - some of my favourite books are satire - Pride and Prejudice, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, A Fraction of the Whole, The World According to Garp and Northanger Abbey for instance.

I enjoyed studying The Loved One, The Importance of Being Ernest and Animal Farm at school.
I have also appreciated the message/warning that is behind books like A Brave New World, Lord of the Flies and 1984.

But I often just get tired of the joke (I'm thinking of you Catch-22 and Jasper Fforde, Terry Pratchett and dare I say Douglas Adams - I adored Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy but I got very tired by the fifth book).

Or they just leave me cold (Cold Comfort Farm, Solar, The Finkler Question, American Psycho, A Clockwork Orange).

Garry Trudeau stated in an article in The Atlantic recently that,
Traditionally, satire has comforted the afflicted while afflicting the comfortable. Satire punches up, against authority of all kinds, the little guy against the powerful.

Tim Parks in the New York Review of Books said,
satire alludes to recognizable contemporary circumstances in a skewed and comic way so as to draw attention to their absurdity. There is mockery but with a noble motive: the desire to bring shame on some person or party behaving wrongly or ignorantly. Its raison d’ȇtre over the long term is to bring about change through ridicule; or if change is too grand an aspiration, we might say that it seeks to give us a fresh perspective on the absurdities and evils we live among, such that we are eager for change.
Since satire has this practical and pragmatic purpose, the criteria for assessing it are fairly simple: if it doesn’t point toward positive change, or encourage people to think in a more enlightened way, it has failed. 

I think the reason I often struggle with satire is that I have trouble seeing the 'noble motive', all I see is the 'mockery'. So I decided to circumvent the noble worthy motive and go straight to the heart of black comedy with this month's featured book for Brona's Salon.

Brona's Salon is a new meme which aims to gather a group of like-minded bookish people 'under the roof of an inspiring host, held partly to amuse one another and partly to refine the taste and increase the knowledge of the participants through conversation.'

I will provide a bookish prompt or two to inspire our conversation.
However please feel free to discuss your current read or join in the conversation in any way that you see fit.
Amusement, refinement and knowledge will surely follow!

What are you currently reading?

Our Man in Havana by Graham Greene

How did you find out about this book?

I was researching books set in Cuba to read in preparation for our trip to Cuba.
This was first on every list I found.

Yes *squeal* we're going to Cuba!

Why are you reading it now? 

Because our trip to Cuba is very, very soon!

First impressions? 

"Mr. Wormold, vacuum cleaner salesman in a city of powercuts, is, as always, short of money. His daughter, sixteen, followed everywhere by wolf whistles, is spending his money with a skill that amazes him, so when a mysterious Englishman offers him an extra income he's tempted. All he has to do is run agents, file reports: spy. But his fake reports have an alarming tendency to come true, and the web of lies he weaves around him starts to get more and more tangled."

Which character do you relate to so far?

I'm not sure you're meant to relate to any of these characters?
(which is another problem I often have with satire & it's related sub-genres)

Are you happy to continue?


Where do you think the story will go? 

I suspect they will get busted, but that it will all be covered up or glossed over.
The typical colonial experience when the British come to stay!

What has your experience with satire and black comedy been?

Saturday, 7 January 2017

Six Degrees of Separation January 2017

Six Degrees of Separation is a monthly meme hosted by Kate @Books Are My Favourite and Best.

This month the starting book is The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo by Steig Larsson.
Are you game?

I read The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo back in 2009 (this was one of my very first blog reviews - succinct and to the point!) 

I read the sequels as they were translated into English. It was a long, frustrating wait between books. I found them highly addictive, adrenaline fuelled books. They were not my usual fare, but sometimes book club reads take you out of your comfort zone and introduce you to books that surprise you.

Another book that surprised me recently was His Bloody Project by Graham Macrae Burnett.

Pretending to be true crime, this Booker shortlisted surprise package was enthralling from start to finish. 

Which leads to me an historical fiction that really was based on a true crime.
The Lizzie Borden case has fascinated writers (& readers) for years.
Angela Carter wrote The Fall Creek Axe Murders in 1979 and her interpretation still rings true now.

The fascination surrounding Lizzie Borden and what really happened continues with Sarah Schmidt's soon to be published See What I Have Done (Hachette Australia, April 2017).

Haunting, gripping and gorgeously written, SEE WHAT I HAVE DONE by Sarah Schmidt is a re-imagining of the unsolved American true crime case of the Lizzie Borden murders, for fans of BURIAL RITES and MAKING A MURDERER.

When her father and step-mother are found brutally murdered on a summer morning in 1892, Lizzie Borden - thirty two years old and still living at home - immediately becomes a suspect. But after a notorious trial, she is found innocent, and no one is ever convicted of the crime.

Meanwhile, others in the claustrophobic Borden household have their own motives and their own stories to tell: Lizzie's unmarried older sister, a put-upon Irish housemaid, and a boy hired by Lizzie's uncle to take care of a problem.

This unforgettable debut makes you question the truth behind one of the great unsolved mysteries, as well as exploring power, violence and the harsh realities of being a woman in late nineteenth century America.

I have high hopes for this book after reading another debut Australian writer's re-imaginings of a well-known tragic event - the sinking of the Titanic.

David Dyer's The Midnight Watch took us on board The Californian, the ship the failed to come to the rescue when it saw the distress flares from the Titanic.

Every Man For Himself was also set on board the Titanic.

This was my very first Beryl Bainbridge.
One of her better known quotes recommends that you should read her books at least three times each. I love a good reread and one of the authors that continues to delilght and surprise even after many more than three rereads is Jane Austen.

Mansfield Park in particular highlighted this fact for me.
It was my least favourite Austen and I had avoided rereading it.
Since my twenties I had reread all her other books several times, but not Mansfield Park.
It took Austen in August a couple of years ago to get me to try it again...
and I was blown away!
I had failed to see all the intricate, beautiful, clever devices used by Austen in creating this book.

One of the reasons I love #6degrees so much is that I can go from a pop culture worldwide hit series full of blood and gore and dastardly deeds to an oft maligned classic that deserves to be read and reread for generations to come.

Where did your #6degrees end up?

Tuesday, 3 January 2017

Salt Creek by Lucy Treloar

One of my good friends has been raving about Salt Creek for nearly a year now. I knew I would love it - it has all the things I usually look for in a good book.

Strong, interesting female protagonist, fascinating setting (Younghusband Peninsula in South Australia), a lovely cover design and historical fiction based loosely on real stories.

Hester is the eldest daughter in a large family fallen on hard times thanks to their father's dubious business investment ideas.

After the failure of his sheep run and the sudden death of two baby siblings, the grieving family is forced to sell up and move to the Coorong region.

Treloar's writing is beautiful, even lyrical at times, but the story that is told is tragic.

The earth still turned and we had almost reached the sun.
There was nothing there but a strong feeling of absence.
A person might appear to be complete and be invisibly crumbling, or might appear to be falling apart and yet persist despite all expectations. 

Poverty, hard work, more loss, death and business failures dog the family throughout their time at the Coorong.

However, it is Hester's strong will and hopeful nature that keeps them together, or at least moving forward as best they can.

They befriend a young man from one of the local tribes, Tull.

For me this is one of the highlights of the story. The disconnect between the two worlds is so vividly and perceptively drawn. Both parties tried so hard to get to know each other, to learn from each other, but you just know it will end badly. This imbues the story with sadness and frustration.
You know what's coming; we just don't know the details of how Treloar is going to bring it about.

Treloar's indigenous perspective is definitely coloured by Bill Gammage's The Biggest Estate on Earth, which she acknowledged in her afterword. For me this is historical revisionism at its best.

If you loved Kate Grenville's The Secret River or The Lieutenant, I think you will love this too.
Salt Creek is heart-achingly good and deserves to be widely read.

And I'm not the only one to think so. Treloar won the 2016 Dobbie Literary Award and the Debut Fiction section of the 2016 Indie Book Awards. Salt Creek was also shortlisted for the 2016 Miles Franklin Award.

Whether we will ever make something complete I cannot know. It is a fractured thing, life; it is in its nature...and broken people can survive and find each other and become whole.

This review is part of my Australian Women Writer's challenge.

Monday, 2 January 2017

The Histories by Herodotus - Readalong

I first read The Histories at school.

I was studying Ancient History and we were meant to read a handful of chapters in Herodotus that related to the topic we were focused on.
But I fell in love. I couldn't get enough of this world and these people that I knew nothing about. I wanted to know more. Much more.

Over the summer holidays I brought my own copy of Herodotus (& The Peloponnesian War, but that's another story!) & I read the book from cover to cover, underlining and highlighting as I went.

Yes, I have been a bookish 'conchie swot' geek all my life!

I've been wanting to reread it ever since (& The Peloponnesian War).

Ruth @A Great Book Study is working her way through Susan Wise Bauer's book, The Well-Educated Mind. She has now reached the History section...and the first book on the list is Herodotus The Histories.

Given our holiday plans for January and my intention to host my very own #HLOTRreadalong2017 starting in February it will be a juggle. But I'm willing to give it a shot!

My school copy fell apart years ago - being held together with nothing but tape and contact.
I had purchased a new copy a couple of years ago in the hope I would find time to reread it soon.

First published in 441BC, Herodotus is often referred to as the father of history. The translator of my current 2003 Penguin Classics edition is Aubrey de Sélincourt.

One of the masterpieces of classical literature, the "Histories" describes how a small and quarrelsome band of Greek city states united to repel the might of the Persian empire. 
But while this epic struggle forms the core of his work, Herodotus' natural curiosity frequently gives rise to colorful digressions - a description of the natural wonders of Egypt; an account of European lake-dwellers; and far-fetched accounts of dog-headed men and gold-digging ants. 
With its kaleidoscopic blend of fact and legend, the "Histories" offers a compelling Greek view of the world of the fifth century BC.

How to Read History:

According to Susan Wise Bauer, these are questions to consider when reading a historical work.

Level I:
Who is the author, and does he/she state the purpose for writing?
Who is the story about, and what are the major events?
What challenge did this hero/heroine face, and what causes this challenge? What is the result of the hero/heroine?
Do the characters progress/regress, and why?
Where/when does the story take place?

Level II:
What are the historians' assertions, and what questions is he/she asking?
What sources does the historian use to answer them?
Does the evidence support the connection between questions and answers?
Does the historian list his or her qualifications?

Level III:
What is the purpose of history?
Does this story have a forward motion?
What does it mean to be human?
Why do things go wrong?
What place does free will have?
What relationship does this history have to social problems?
What is the end of history?
How is this history the same as - or different than - the stories of other historians who have come before?

Are you game?

Are you ready to go back in time, to the beginning of Western civilisation?

Sunday, 1 January 2017

First Book of the Year

Happy New Year!

May your 2017 be joyous, healthy and full of grace.

For the past few years Sheila @Book Journey has hosted a First Book of the Year meme. Participants simply send her a book selfie showing the book/s they will be reading on New Year's Day.

I will (hopefully) be reading two books.

I plan to finish Salt Creek by Australian author, Lucy Treloar on NYD, which I have been reading since Boxing Day. the next book to go will be Graham Greene's Our Man in Havana in preparation for our upcoming holiday.

What are you reading today, to start your New Year off with a bang?

I guess the first day of a brand new year is also the time to reflect on memories of books past.
According to Goodreads I read 116 books in 2016.
74% were written be women.
51% were written by Australian authors.
35% of my books were picture books, junior fiction or teen/YA.
21% were historical fiction books.
19% were classic titles.
12% were memoirs or biographies.

2016 was a great reading year.

My Best Book/s of 2016

Mothering Sunday by Graham Swift and Do Not Say We Have Nothing by Madeleine Thien.

Honorable mentions also go to Louise Erdrich for LaRose and Graham Macrae Burnett for His Bloody Project.

My Best Debut Read

Ruins by Rajith Savanadasa

An Australian/Sri Lankan writer who knocked my socks off this year.

My Best YA Book

Just A Queen by Jane Caro

I've thoroughly enjoyed the first two books in this planned trilogy about young Elizabeth I.
I just hope that Caro doesn't make us wait four years for the final instalment!

My Best Kids Book

Wormwood Mire by Judith Rossell

Another Australian author who continues to impress. Book two in Rossell's Stella Montgomery mystery series is even better than the first.

My Best Picture Book

An honorable mention must also go to Aaron Blabey for his The Bad Guys early reader series.

Best Crime Book

Give the Devil His Due by Sulari Gentill

I don't read a lot of crime.
My crime reading tends to fall under the cosy crime/historical mystery umbrella rather than gruesome murders, political thrillers or forensic crimes.
If you also like your crime on the cosy side with a dash of elegance and a whiff of turpentine, then this could be the series for you too!

My Best Graphic Novel

This may have been in actual fact my only graphic novel for the year, but that takes nothing away from how stunning and amazing this book is.

My Best Non-Fiction Read

An honorable mention to Helen Garner for Everywhere I Look and Naomi Klein for This Changes Everything.

My Best Memoir/Biography

Honorable mentions go to Magda Szubanski for Reckoning, Paul Kalanithi for When Breath Becomes Air and Nadja Spiegelmen for I'm Supposed to protect You From All of This.

My Best Classic Read for 2016

Angle of Repose by Wallace Stegner

An honorable mentions goes to Virginia Woolf for The Voyage Out and Edna Ferber for So Big.

My Most Disappointing Book

I started 2016 with books 2 & 3 of the Elena Ferrante Neopolitan tetrology.
This ended up being a bit of a mistake. 
I should have had a break between the two books, because by the end of Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay I was exhausted and not sure that I liked the books at all. 

My Most Surprising Read

Hot Milk by Deborah Levy

Best Readalong for 2016

The Home and the World by Rabindrantah Tragore with Cirtnecce.

What were your favourite reads for 2016?

The linky below is for anyone who has created their own best of 2016/hopes for 2017 post and would like to share it.

Feel free to use my 'best of' headings, or make up your own.
I'd love to explode my TBR wishlist with your suggestions!

Happy New Year from Sydney!

Thursday, 29 December 2016

Cuba Diaries by Isadora Tattlin

Isadora Tattlin is a pseudonym and most of the names in her Cuba Diaries have been changed. However, this takes nothing away from the extraordinary insights into life in Cuba during the late 90's and the periodo especial en tiempo de paz (special period in time of peace) immediately after the withdrawal of economic subsidies from the Soviet Union.

Her love/hate relationship with Cuba over four years has been documented with shopping lists, brief political discussions, history lessons and loads of observations and day to day stories.

Yes, Tattlin was living a privileged life in Cuba, but then again, most visitors to Cuba would fit that category, especially during the 90's.

Her husband worked as an executive for an unnamed European energy company and they mixed in exalted company, eventually having Fidel Castro himself to dinner a couple of times in their final year in Cuba.

Tattlin's obsession with shopping (of the art and jewellery and furniture variety) wore a bit thin by the end, but her daily observations - the everyday fears, worries and delights of living in a foreign country were captured succinctly and sincerely.

As a future visitor to Cuba, I lapped up every word.

I had studied the Cuban Revolution - viva Fidel y la revolucion socialista (long live Fidel and the socialist revolution) at school - so I was aware of the basic facts of history, but the 1990's was an unknown era for me.

Tattlin vividly described her experiences in trying to conseguir (obtain) food and other necessities. There were also lots of trips to other areas of the country - places we plan to visit too - like Santiago, Trinidad, Vinales, Camaguey, Holguin and Cienfuegos.

Petty crime and the constant hassling or hustling for money by the Cubans was another factor to manage. I can't imagine what it must be like to live a life of near-poverty with very few opportunities to change that situation...and then have busloads of near-wealthy tourists passing through, glittering and flashing their wares and education and worldliness. Tattlin and her family were more embedded than that into the Cuban way of life, but they still stuck out as being different and lavish in their lifestyle.

Obviously, this all happened over twenty years ago, and times have changed. Castro's alliance with Venezuela throughout the 2000's brought some economic security and prosperity. Relations with the US also gradually thawed during this time.
Due to poor health, Fidel eventually handed the presidency over to his brother, Raul in 2008.
Raul immediately removed restrictions on mobile phone use for Cubans and announced a plan for economic reform in 2011. He installed vice-president, Miguel Diaz-Canel in 2013 and stated that his presidency would end in its second term in 2018.
Fidel's death, last month was honoured with a nine day period of national mourning. At his request, there will be no statues, parks, institutions or streets named after him to prevent a cult of personality from developing.

Tattlin's epilogue, written a couple of years later, unexpectedly veered off into the realm of magic realism. Perhaps, with a few years reflection, her time in Cuba started to feel surreal and imbued with fabulism.
It was a curious way to finish off her practical, fairly dispassionate diary...but perhaps that's the effect that Cuba can have on you.

Now that I've had this tantalising, intimate journey into 1990's Cuba, I'm even keener to observe modern day Cuba.

Tuesday, 27 December 2016

My Top 10 Best Reads of 2016

The Broke and the Bookish host a weekly meme called Top Ten Tuesday.

This week we revisit our favourite reads from the past year.

My Top Ten Books of 2016 (with snippets from my reviews) are:


"The real tragedy here is watching history fall through the gaps of miscommunication, assumptions and preconceived ideas. It's about how two men - two decent, flawed men - with contradictory, deeply held beliefs about the role of command, loyalty and leadership failed."


"It's a fascinating look at genius, power and ambition in a society on the cusp of major technological and sociological change. As the world moved from gentleman scientist to professional inventor, 'idle fiddling' changed from something the educated rich did to fill in their days to something people did to make obscene fortunes."


"Angle of Repose was a tremendous read. It's another example of a fabulous Pulitzer winner that completely embraces and encapsulates a period of time and way of life in American history.

It felt like this book has taken me ages to read. But it was only 3 weeks in the end.

Angle of Repose was a book to savour slowly. At 557 pages with small font and minimum line spacing, it wasn't a small undertaking, however it was worth every minute, every page, every letter. In fact, for me, it was Mary's many original letters that made this story such an absorbing gem."


"Wulf's biography has been thoughtfully arranged, with a few gorgeous coloured plates, extensive notes (at the back of the book where they don't clutter up the narrative) and an inspiring bibliography.

One of Humboldt's strengths was his ability to make science and the wonder of nature accessible to everyone. Wulf has replicated this strength in her award winning biography."


"Despite the number of years this book spans, Garner's various essays, diary entries, letters and observations hang together gracefully. They range from thoughts on moving house, her friendship with Tim Winton, her reaction to the movie Red Dog, meeting Rosie Batty, a wonderful section on literary appreciation to hilarious observations on ageing.

There is so much to love and ponder. So much to connect to. So much of the personal Garner, warts and all.

One of the endearing qualities of this collection is how Garner imbues the familiar and everyday with a touch of beauty and charm, even when she is being scathing. She also gives us hope that the passing of time can finally bring us some form of healing and wisdom."


"It's literary; it's a masterpiece and I suspect LaRose will be an award winning book for Erdrich. It's emotionally haunting (and very very compelling). It's tragic yet hopeful. It's about justice and also about retribution and redemption. It's profound and thought-provoking. There is atonement as well as forgiveness and understanding. And there is a lot of fascinating stuff about Native American culture and mysticism, and about contemporary life and how ancient traditions continue to influence modern behaviours.

I loved it. I feel like a richer, more soulful person because this book is now a small part of my story as well.

LaRose would make a great bookclub book - is has interesting moral provocations and ethical dilemma's to discuss."


"Swift plays with time, starting the story with "once upon a time" and constantly shifting between now - the perfect day - to reflections of earlier days and big jumps forward into a future made different because of this perfect day. It could be disconcerting, but I found it breathtaking.

The writing has a circular, pacy feel. You're racing through and onwards and going around at the same time. Ideas of sliding doors and possibilities and chance tease you at ever turn. What if? becomes the central theme.

The final section turns more inward looking as our characters discuss the nature of truth and story and memory. We see the power of the mind to carry us away with alternate versions of our stories.

You are left pondering all the stories we tell ourselves about our own lives - all the fictions and possibilities that we run through in our mind that seep into our realities, that inform our decisions and choices even though they are merely figments of our imaginations."


"Ruins is a contemporary novel narrated from multiple points of view.

Latha is the Tamil servant of a family at a crossroads of change. The family consists of the disturbed teenage daughter, Anoushka, the bumbling, passive-aggressive husband, Mano, his Tamil born, anxious wife, Lakshmi and their selfish, angry son, Niranjan.

The time frame is the end of the decades long Tamil Tigers civil war in 2009.

As the chapters cycle around for a second look at each characters POV, Savanadasa cleverly nudges us to see that our first opinions may not have been entirely accurate or complete. For a debut writer there is a great deal of assurance in his ability to create nuanced characters and layers of meaning.

As the civil war ends they're all forced to deal with their Tamil connections. Niranjan steps up, Mano disappoints, Anoushka falls apart, Lakshmi becomes obsessive and Latha finds a kind of peace."


"Burnet has set this book up as true story. A part of his own family history that he unearthed during some genealogical research.

He plays around with this idea right from the start with the title page - His Bloody Project: Documents Relating to the Case of Roderick Macrea: A NOVEL, edited and introduced by Graeme Macrae Burnet.

The tension between what's real and what's not continues throughout the reading of Macrae's journal, the medical reports (citing real doctors) and the trial proceedings. Metafiction at it's best!

I normally only read cosy crime, so I thought this story might be outside my comfort zone. But His Bloody Project is really a delicious piece of creative writing decidedly sitting inside the historical fiction genre. Burnet delves into the mind of someone charged with a heinous crime. It's a psychological study about sanity, reason and motivation, set in the Scottish Highlands."


"Because I was enjoying Do Not Say We Have Nothing so much, I began researching stuff before I had finished reading.

I looked up the classical pieces of music conducted by Glenn Gould* that Thien mentioned throughout the book (Bach's Goldberg Variations and Sonata for Piano & Violin no 4) and listened to them as I read the book.

I researched the politicians and artists who were real people. He Luting (1903 - 1999) was a real composer and he really did say 'shame on you for lying' when hauled before a televised interrogation during the Cultural Revolution.

I researched the L'Internationale** to find out the various interpretations of the phrase that Thien used in her title.

I simply couldn't get enough of this book - I wanted to know more, delve deeper. I wanted to totally immerse myself in the reading experience."

There you have it!

My favourite books of 2016.

I knew I had put my books in the correct order, as the closer I got to no. 1, the more of my original reviews were added to this post. 

What was your favourite read of 2016?