Saturday, 29 August 2015

Moving Among Strangers by Gabrielle Carey

Today I had the pleasure of attending the Honouring Randolph Stow event at the NSW Library.

The Honouring series is the brainchild of my friend Julia Tsalis, the Program Manager at the NSW Writers Centre. On their website she says:
Sometimes we forget about the great when revelling in the new. In its annual Honouring Australian Writers series, the NSW Writers’ Centre pays tribute to writers who have made an important contribution to our literary culture.
In 2015 we turn to the West Australian writer Randolph Stow. Perhaps best known for The Merry-Go-Round in the Sea and To The Islands, which won the Miles Franklin Award, Australian Literary Society Gold Medal and the Melbourne Book Fair Award in 1958. He was also awarded the ALS Gold Medal for his poetry in 1957 and won the Patrick White Award in 1979.
A writer fond of silence, known for the metaphysical and existential qualities of his writing but also a master at evoking the Australian landscape, Randolph Stow embodied contradictions. Geordie Williamson, says of him in The Burning Library, ‘In him, as in no other non-indigenous writer in our literature, landscape and mindscape are one.’
Honouring: Randolph Stow brings together Gabrielle Carey, author of Moving Among Strangers a memoir about her family’s connection to Stow, Suzanne Falkiner whose biography will be released in 2016, Richard Tipping a poet and producer of a documentary on Stow, and West Australian author Alice Nelson (The Last Sky) whose career has been inspired by him.

In preparation for this event, I read Gabrielle Carey's Moving Among Strangers: Randolph Stow and My Family.

Carey's award winning book is a curious, but pleasing mix of family memoir and grief journal as well as a homage to little known Australian author and poet, Randolph 'Mick' Stow.

I say little known, because when I told family, friends and colleagues (yes, even colleagues!) where I was going today. Only a couple of them had heard of Stow.

My relationship with Stow is not much better. I've only read one of his books and that was his children's story about Midnite, and sadly, the talking cat put me off too much to ever enjoy it properly!

But I do seem to have this fascination for Australia's long lost and forgotten authors.

I'm curious about why we, as a nation, do not seem to celebrate, embrace or cherish our award winning, highly acclaimed authors.
Their childhood homes do not become museums, no "so and so was born here" plaques pop up on suburban streets and rarely do they have university or school wings named after them. They're lucky to have a street named after them!

Carey echoes my concerns in her book when she reminds us that:
Other countries seem to be able to preserve significant writers' houses - why are there so few in Australia?

However, after the Honouring Randolph Stow event today, I wonder if part of this lack of recognition starts with the authors themselves.

All four panelists spoke of Stow's famous silence.

Suzanne called it his "authorial invisibility". Richard told us how Stow had said, "writers are writers because they're not talkers." And Alice quoted poet Louise Gluck's "eloquent deliberate silence" to describe Stow's personality.

Meanwhile Carey's tender memoir is an endless parade of Stow's reticence which she sums up towards the end by saying,
Stow's silence doesn't appear to have been an unfriendly one. His temperament and philosophical bent both point towards a faith in silence and deep doubt about language.

This is not someone searching for the limelight or to have his name forever blazoned across the skies. His story writing and poetry were personal, they were part of his search for home.

Maybe we don't need to make a fuss about his childhood home or where he went to school, except of course, there is no denying, that it is the fabric of our childhoods that shape us is so many ways, consciously and unconsciously.

Stow himself also said (in reference to Joseph Conrad) that "I think one does need to know a great deal - well, a certain amount, anyway, about an author's life...and not only what he chooses to have known."

So, what have I learnt about Stow in the past week?

He could speak and read about five languages, he was fascinated by the Batavia wreck (so much so that he taught himself to read Old Dutch so he could research the source materials), he loved to read Conrad and Joyce and he 'wrote' his books in his head whilst walking and only physically wrote them down once he had it complete in his head. Sadly, he had two such books in his head when he died.


Stow also had an incredibly mellifluous voice (not unlike Princes Charles but with an Australian undertone) that we heard thanks to the resurrecting of Tipping's interview with Stow from the 1988 film A Country of Islands. More than preserving old homes and the placing of plaques, we need to ensure that archival films and interviews like this are conserved for future reference.
The 8 minute excerpt we heard today was one of the highlights of a stimulating afternoon.

I look forward to reading one of Stow's adult novels (now republished by Text Publishing) or seeing one on the big screen soon. I also highly recommend Carey's memoir for those who love their family memoirs and author biographies entwined in a happy embrace.

Thursday, 27 August 2015

Lady Helen and the Dark Days Club by Alison Goodman

I do love it when an unexpected gem falls into your lap.

Regency romance/supernatural YA is not my usual genre, but I can tell you now, that this review of Alison Goodman's first installment in her Lady Helen trilogy will be a rave one with some outright gushing thrown in for good measure!

I could barely put this book down and when I did have to, you know, to go to work or actually talk with my family, it was done so reluctantly. The whole time counting down the minutes until I could pick it up again.

It has been a long time since a book seduced me in such a dramatic, slightly obsessive way.

How was this possible?

I recently attended the Harper Collins Christmas roadshow for work. The Lady Helen and the Dark Days Club unedited ARC was part of the goodies package. Goodman was also one of the guest authors at the event...in full Regency regalia (below)!

I wasn't feeling very well the night of the roadshow.
After the official presentation I was therefore happy to stay in my seat (with a glass of bubbles for company) and people-watch.

One of the truly fascinating sights was the small, but dedicated crowd that quickly formed around Goodman.
There is a LOT of love out there for her previous YA fantasy books, Eon and Eona and her fans wanted her to know about it!
I found it a curious thing that an author renown for dragon fantasy stories had gone to the trouble to dress in a full Regency costume. What?

It turns out that Goodman is a Georgette Heyer fan from way back. Her only quibble with Heyer (& Jane Austen) has been that their books assumed that the reader had a lot of knowledge about Regency society and customs. She has always wanted to write her own Regency story with all these interesting details included.

Somehow I missed out on reading any Heyer's in my younger years, so I can only imagine that they were similar to my go-to historical fiction romance books at that age written by Eleanor Hibbert (a.k.a as Jean Plaidy, Victoria Holt and Philippa Carr).

Perhaps because I was unwell, I viewed this entire Regency/dragon/Jane Austen/supernatural powers conversation through a haze of total bemusement.

But at the bus stop on the way home, I pulled out my ARC of Lady Helen.

And that was the end of all sense and sensibility from me for three days.

I couldn't get enough of Goodman's regency world. I loved how the story gradually morphed into the supernatural. It felt natural and (almost) believable. The main characters were well-drawn, although at times a little stereotyped (the strict uncle, the protective older brother, the illusive, darkly handsome older man with a deadly secret from his past). But that's half the fun of a Regency romance!

The story was full of surprising action, sexual tension and moral dilemma's to keep the pages turning quickly.

I for one, will now become a Goodman groupie, hanging around, demanding to know when the next book is coming out.

This post is part of my Australian Women Writer's Challenge and promotes #LoveOzYA

Sadly, the rest of you have to wait until January 2016 before you can read Lady Helen and The Dark Days Club when it will be published by Harper Collins Australia.

Monday, 24 August 2015

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

This week's potential reading list is a little ridiculous in it's scope, size and eclecticism!
I have no excuse, except it seemed like a good idea at the time.

Last week at work was dominated by the Children's Book Council Awards - with congratulations going to Freya Blackwood, in particular, for winning the award for three different books in three different categories.

The 2015 winners are:

Older Readers - The Protected by Claire Zorn
Younger Readers - The Cleo Stories by Libby Gleeson and Freya Blackwood
Early Childhood - Go to Sleep Jessie by Libby Gleeson and Freya Blackwood
Picture Book - My Two Blankets by Freya Blackwood (author Irena Kobald)
Eve Pownall Info Book - A-Z of Convicts in Van Diemen's Land by Simon Barnard
Crichton Award for New Illustrator - One Minute's Silence by Michael Camilleri (author David Metzenthen).

On the blogging front, I was excited to see the Classics Club announce their latest Spin.
I always love how a Spin encourages me to dust off my classics challenge list and re-engage with a fabulous community of classics readers.

Next weekend I will be attending the Honouring Randolph Stow event at the NSW Library. In preparation, I plan to read Moving Among Strangers by Gabrielle Carey (she of Puberty Blues fame):
As her mother Joan lies dying, Gabrielle Carey writes a letter to Joan’s childhood friend, the reclusive novelist Randolph Stow. This letter sets in motion a literary pilgrimage that reveals long-buried family secrets.
Like her mother, Stow had grown up in Western Australia. After early literary success and a Miles Franklin Award in 1958 for his novel To the Islands, he left for England and a life of self-imposed exile. Living most of her life on the east coast, Gabrielle was also estranged from her family’s west Australian roots but never questioned why.
A devoted fan of Stow’s writing, she became fascinated by his connection with her extended family, but before she can meet him he dies. With only a few pieces of correspondence to guide her, Gabrielle embarks on a journey from the red-dirt landscape of Western Australia to the English seaside town of Harwich in a quest to understand her family’s past and Stow’s place in it.
Moving Among Strangers is a celebration of one of Australia’s most enigmatic and visionary writers.
I recently picked up a copy If This Is a Woman: Inside Ravensbruck - Hitler's Concentration Camp for Women by Sarah Helm. I seem to have this almost compulsive lifelong urge to understand the Holocaust and man's inhumanity to man. Or in this case, man's inhumanity against women.
The compelling story of the only concentration camp for women by the acclaimed author of A Life in Secrets.

On a sunny morning in May 1939 a phalanx of 800 women - housewives, doctors, opera singers, politicians, prostitutes - were marched through the woods fifty miles north of Berlin, driven on past a shining lake, then herded through giant gates. Whipping and kicking them were scores of German women guards.

Their destination was Ravensbrück, a concentration camp designed specifically for women by Heinrich Himmler, prime architect of the Nazi genocide.

For decades the story of Ravensbrück was hidden behind the Iron Curtain and today is still little known. Using testimony unearthed since the end of the Cold War, and interviews with survivors who have never spoken before, Helm has ventured into the heart of the camp, demonstrating for the reader in riveting detail how easily and quickly the unthinkable horror evolved
.
This is a chunkster of a book. The horrific topic also means that I can only read a little bit at a time. But hopefully I will finish it in time for Non-Fiction November.

The Dust that Falls from Dreams by Louis de Berniere:
In the brief golden years of King Edward VII’s reign, Rosie McCosh and her three sisters are growing up in an idyllic and eccentric household in Kent, with their ‘pals’ the Pitt boys on one side of the fence and the Pendennis boys on the other. But their days of childhood innocence and adventure are destined to be followed by the apocalypse that will overwhelm their world as they come to adulthood.

For Rosie, the path ahead is full of challenges: torn between her love for two young men, her sense of duty and her will to live her life to the full, she has to navigate her way through extraordinary times. Can she, and her sisters, build new lives out of the opportunities and devastations that follow the Great War?

Louis de Bernières’ magnificent and moving novel follows the lives of an unforgettable cast of characters as the Edwardian age disintegrates into the Great War, and they strike out to seek what happiness can be salvaged from the ruins of the old world
.

The Days of Abandonment by Elena Ferrante:
A national bestseller for almost an entire year, The Days of Abandonment shocked and captivated its Italian public when first published.
It is the gripping story of a woman's descent into devastating emptiness after being abandoned by her husband with two young children to care for. When she finds herself literally trapped within the four walls of their high-rise apartment, she is forced to confront her ghosts, the potential loss of her own identity, and the possibility that life may never return to normal.

What will you be reading this week?
#IMWAYR

Sunday, 23 August 2015

Gone With the Wind - Final Post

Phew! We made it.

After two months of all things Scarlett and Southern sentiment it is time to draw the curtains and dim the lights on the O'Hara's and the Confederacy.

Rereading Gone With the Wind after twenty+ years was an unexpected treat. I was worried that it may have dated or that I may have moved on in my literary tastes. I was delighted to discover that it was as fresh, rich and as engaging as the first read.

Yes, there are modern concerns about the depiction of slavery, women and the Confederacy. And Mitchell has infused the story with a strong sense of nostalgia. However these views reflect not only the period of time that Mitchell wrote about, but also the period of time that Mitchell herself grew up and lived in.

Our reading of GWTW is now influenced by the thoughts and beliefs of our period of time.
In the future, different understandings and sensibilities will have evolved again and our reviews will simply be a part of the timeline of this remarkable book.

I believe that this is what makes GWTW a classic.
 
Despite the constantly changing landscape that is its historical, social and cultural contexts, the underlying themes of friendship, strength, courage, belonging and morality have been and will be endlessly fascinating to readers across all times.

Corinne, early on in the Gone With The Wind readalong, mentioned that Margaret Mitchell was very interested in psychology and that the development of Scarlett's character reflected this interest.

From the start I was struck by Scarlett's distinctive behaviour and language which had lots in common with Borderline Personality Disorder. But as the story went on I realised that Scarlett didn't exhibit the usual BPD characteristics of unstable self, hostility and irresponsibility.

A quick google search found that Scarlett's character more accurately reflects Histrionic Personality Disorder (HPD).

A few of the typical HPD characteristics are:
  • Attention-seeking behaviour
  • "life of the party"
  • Initially lively, dramatic and charming
  • Use physical appearance to draw attention to themselves
  • Inappropriate sexually seductive or provocative behaviour
  • Rapidly shifting and/or shallow expression of emotions
  • Impressionistic speech style lacking in detail
  • Self-dramatisation, theatricality & exaggerated expression of emotion
  • Highly suggestible
  • Considers relationships to be more intimate than they actually are
  • Craves novelty, stimulation & excitement
  • Impulsiveness
  • Intolerant of, or frustrated by delayed gratification
  • "drama queen"
  • "victim" or "princess"
  • Manipulative
  • Unconcerned about how their actions harm or upset others
A common BPD/HPD saying.
Antisocial, Narcissistic, Borderline, and Histrionic Personality Disorders are all closely related since they all share the same core feature of antagonism.
This core feature is an exaggerated sense of self-importance, insensitivity towards the feelings and needs of others, and callous exploitation of others. These antagonistic behaviors put the individual at odds with other people. If an individual has one of these antagonistic personality disorders, they are very likely to have another. (mentalhealth.com)

Initially I had planned to add quotes or descriptions that highlighted Scarlett's HPD traits. But there were so many that in the end it felt completely unnecessary to rehash the whole book to prove each point!

However my curiosity and interest in this side of Scarlett's personality gave me insights into why we love to hate her and hate to love her. 

Yes, she is strong, independent and very capable. She can also be sassy, smart and sexy. We can admire and even respect these traits. However her motivations, words and subsequent actions so often negated the good she actually did. 

Having experienced up close and personal the roller coaster ride of someone with BPD, I understand Rhett's "I don't give a damn" comment.
It is exhausting being around someone like this, especially an untreated, in denial someone like this.

The constant drama's lose their appeal very quickly and the emotional manipulations take their toll until you just can't do it any longer and you simply don't believe or trust they can ever change (despite all their promises to the contrary).

Which is why I firmly believe that Rhett and Scarlett will never get back together. Scarlett's future manipulations to get Rhett back will only reinforce to Rhett why he should keep his distance. Peace, charm and grace are not in Scarlett's repertoire.

In my opinion, the main feeling Rhett experiences as he walks out the door is one of pure relief (tinged with sadness and regret no doubt, but relief nonetheless).

Rhett is no angel, but he is fully cognizant of his own behaviours and motivations. He accepts responsibility for his actions and character flaws. At the end he simply realises that Scarlett's charm is best viewed from afar. The reality of living with it is no longer so delightful to him.

Mitchell's ending may not make every reader happy, but it reflects the usual (untreated) HPD/BPD relationship trajectory.

I found myself surprised by how much I thoroughly enjoyed this reading of GWTW though. Comments and reviews that have come my way over the years, had led me to believe that it wouldn't live up to my fond memories. And the BPD connection made for some uncomfortable reading at times.

If you haven't read GWTW yet, please reconsider. It's an epic read with fascinating characters, set during a remarkable period of American history. It's a Pulitzer Prize winning, American classic for very good reasons.

Interesting facts from Margaret Mitchell's real life that turned up in GWTW:
  • Grandfather Mitchell was a Confederate soldier who made a large fortune selling lumber in Atlanta during Reconstruction.
  • Her maternal grandfather emigrated from Ireland and eventually settled near Jonesboro on a plantation.
  • Her family lived on Peachtree Street.
  • In 1918 she became engaged to Clifford Henry who died shortly after in action in France.
  • The following year Mitchell arrived home from college the day after her mother's death of Spanish 'flu.
  • She was an "unscrupulous flirt" and found herself engaged to five men at once!
Curious facts about GWTW:
  • Scarlett was actually called Pansy O'Hara right up until publication.
  • Mitchell wrote the last chapter first.
My check-in post for chapters 21-30 is here.
Chapters 31-40 is here.
And chapters 51-60 is here.


Friday, 21 August 2015

Classics Club Spin #10

I can proudly say that I have not missed one single Classics Club Spin. And I'm thrilled to join in the latest - the club's tenth spin and mine.

The idea is to pick 20 unread titles from your Classics Club list and wait until Monday morning (US time) for a random number to be drawn. You then read the book with that number by October 23.

My previous spins have been mostly successful and/or enjoyable. I've also enjoyed reading along with other Classic Clubbers during most of the spins:

#1 The Magnificent Ambersons with Cat.

#2 Tess of the D'Urbervilles with Lakeside Musings & Several Four Many.

#3 My Cousin Rachel.

#4 The Brothers Karamazov with Bree who also read a Dostoyevsky novel for this spin.
I'm still reading this chunkster...very slowly...and with lots of breaks. A good editor would have been helpful :-)

#5 The Odyssey with Plethora of Books.
This one was a bit of a cheat as I had started it for another readalong, but struggled to finish.
I added it to my list to motivate me to finish it.
When no. 20 spun up it seemed like the gods had decreed it so!

#6 No Name by Wilkie Collins with Melbourne on My Mind.

#7 Silent Spring by Rachel Carson with Booker Talk.

#8 Vile Bodies by Evelyn Waugh has been my one and only dud Spin read so far.

#9 The Great World by David Malouf

I've only read 50/125 of my Classics Club list. 
I am now over halfway through my personal challenge but well under halfway through my list. 
Hopefully this spin will get me motivated again. 

It's not that I don't enjoy reading classics, but my job in an Indy bookshop requires me to stay abreast of contemporary literature. I know, it's a hard life, but someone has to do it! However, it does impact on my ability to read all the classics I would like. Especially at this time of year with all the interesting shortlists and awards being announced.

My Classics Club #10 spin list inlcudes:

1. Watership Down by Richard Adams (reread)    reading with Historia @Classics Club Challenge
2. The Good Earth by Pearl S Buck
3. Angle of Repose by Wallace Stegner
4. Tender is the Night by F. Scott Fitzgerald
5. A Far Cry From Kensington by Muriel Spark
6. When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit by Judith Kerr (reread)
7. Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates
8. The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath            reading with Kaja @Of Dragons and Hearts
9. The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Bronte     reading with Jessica @The Bookworm Chronicles
10. Mary Barton by Elizabeth Gaskell      reading with Margaret @Books Please
11. Dubliners by James Joyce
12. I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith
13. Stoner by John Williams
14. The Berlin Novels by Christopher Isherwood
15. Ninety Three by Victor Hugo
16. The Sea, The Sea by Iris Murdoch      reading with Joy Isabella
17. Indiana by George Sand 
18. Man and Wife by Wilkie Collins
19. Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde        reading with Donna @Scrambled Books 
20. Hare and the Tortoise by Elizabeth Jenkins

Happy Spinning everyone! 

*****UPDATE*****

Our lucky spin no. is 5.
Which means I will be reading my gorgeous Virago Modern Classics designer edition of
A Far Cry From Kensington by Muriel Spark

Thursday, 20 August 2015

Emma by Jane Austen

I do love August and Adam@Roof Beam Reader's Austen in August meme.

This year I reread Emma for the third time in my lifetime (so far!)
Emma is now a classic study of friendship, truth and character, but each reread reveals hidden depths and layers.

There is already an incredible array of opinions and analysis about all of Jane Austen's novels and right now I feel unequal to adding to this body of scholarship.

Perhaps the best I can do is discuss what I have discovered with each reading of Emma.

Over the years I have realised that it is the rereading of Austen that reveals her true genius. All her stories contain puzzles, misunderstandings and hidden agendas that only become apparent with a reread, but none more so than Emma.

When I first read Emma as a teenager, I struggled to find any merit in the story.

Title page of my Folio Society copy of Emma.
It's first problem was that it wasn't Pride and Prejudice! Emma wasn't Lizzie and there didn't appeared to be any tall, dark, brooding hero to fall in love with.

I also didn't like and couldn't relate to Emma herself. I got frustrated by all the secrets, 'in-jokes' and duplicity.

My second reading (in my early 30's) revealed Austen's mastery though.

Austen had in fact carefully presented to the 'knowing' reader all the clues required to see through the many deceptions and secrets. With this insider knowledge we could all see how the characters misconstrued or deceived themselves to suit their own purposes. Very cleverly done Jane Austen! Brilliant writing and plotting. Bravo!

It was during this reread that I also fell in love with Mr Knightley.

But it was my current reading of Emma that allowed me to enjoy and appreciate all the players for who they really are, even the Elton's!

Their friendships, their connections and motivations were all so delicately drawn.
Their nuances, flaws and depth (or shallowness as the case may be) of character were all carefully crafted.

Throughout this reading, I felt for Jane Fairfax far more than before. Her reserve and restraint were painful to watch as she struggled with her moral conscience and her secret.

Wood-engravings by Joan Hassall
Frank Churchill also revealed himself as the (lovable) cad he is from start to finish - the non-attendance at his father's house, the secret engagement, the flirting with Emma, the teasing about Mr Dixon, the pianoforte ... just to name a few of his indiscretions.
He actually doesn't deserve Jane at all and I fear for their future together as she will be constantly have to remind him of what the right and moral thing to do is.

Being someone's appointed moral guardian is no happy place to be.
Jane will constantly feel the pain and embarrassment of his moral softness and Frank will constantly feel rebuked and criticized. He will wax lyrical about her goodness and put her moral standards up on a pedestal until it actually stops him from doing something he really wants to do.

My beautiful Folio Society edition has an Introduction by Richard Church. I found his opinion to be very thought-provoking:

It is the clarity of portraiture in the delineation of those characters which gives the book its authority as the masterpiece of the six novels. Most readers will agree about that, though there are some who prefer Mansfield Park, and others who think that Persuasion the most mature. But surely for sheer technical, literary perfection, Emma must bear the palm. Its flawlessness makes it elusive for the critic. It includes some autobigraphical allusions, with the author interpolating herself and her problems into the story....

Until recently I would have laughed off any idea that MP was a superior Austen novel, let alone, the superior novel.

But my reread of MP two years ago, changed my mind completely.

Persuasion will always be my preferred Austen - for story, for complexity and maturity and for it's heart that so appeals to mine. But MP has now overtaken P&P (on my Austen ranking scale*) thanks to it's 'literary perfection' and also thanks to Fanny.

I was also intrigued by Austen's real life 'interpolating' into Emma's story.

As I reread, I looked out for biographical examples.
There were Emma's comments to Harriet on marriage, woman and money "A single woman, with a narrow income, must be ridiculous, disagreeable old maid!", and Isabella's motherly horror about giving up a child to another branch of the family to raise. I also wondered about Mr Dixon, the suspected married lover who runs off to Ireland - could this be an oblique reference to Jane's Thomas Lefroy?

Which neatly reminds us all that Jane Austen herself also kept secrets.
My Austen Folio set
Seldom, very seldom, does complete truth belong to any human disclosure; seldom can it happen that something is not a little disguised, or a little mistaken.

*My Austen Ranking Scale:
1. Persuasion
2. Mansfield Park
3. Pride and Prejudice
4. Sense and Sensibility
5. Emma
6. Northanger Abbey

Monday, 17 August 2015

It's Monday! Remember me?

The best laid plans....

Last weekend I thought life was settling down and returning to normal after 'THE MOVE'. I didn't factor in getting sick though.

I've spent the last week feeling sorry for myself (& sleeping non-stop) as I've battled some kind of lingering winter throaty, chesty lurgy.

Thankfully I had scheduled a few posts to tide me over during the 'moving' weeks so that I didn't drop off the radar completely.
But now it's time to reclaim this blogging life.
What better way to get back into the groove than with Sheila's meme It's Monday! What Are You Reading? (The good news being that Sheila hopes to resume hosting IMWAYR in September.)

What have I been reading these past few weeks?

Last weekend I finally finished Gone With the Wind with much love and admiration in my heart for this classic epic story. My final review post is a 'work in progress'.

Last night I finished my reread of Emma for Austen in August and now feel at a bit of a loss as to what to read next.

I have Remarkably Jane by Jennifer Adams to tempt me...
The wit of Jane Austen has for partner the perfection of her taste.
Virginia Woolf, 1925
It wasn't really me that everyone went crazy about--it was the character [Fitzwilliam Darcy], who'd been around for a couple of centuries.
Colin Firth, 1997 
Every time I read Pride and Prejudice I want to dig her up and hit her over the skull with her own shin-bone.
Mark Twain, 1898 
For those of us who suspect all the mysteries of life are contained in the microcosm of the family, that personal relationships prefigure all else, the work of Jane Austen is the Rosetta stone of literature.
Anna Quindlen, 1995

Or perhaps I will dip into an AARC (yes, an advance, advance reading copy due for release in January next year) that came my way last week, Lady Helen and the Dark Days Club by Aussie #LoveOzYA writer Alison Goodman....

New York Times bestseller Alison Goodman’s eagerly awaited new project: a Regency adventure starring a stylish and intrepid demon-hunter!

London, April 1812. On the eve of eighteen-year-old Lady Helen Wrexhall’s presentation to the queen, one of her family’s housemaids disappears-and Helen is drawn into the shadows of Regency London. There, she meets Lord Carlston, one of the few who can stop the perpetrators: a cabal of demons infiltrating every level of society. Dare she ask for his help, when his reputation is almost as black as his lingering eyes? And will her intelligence and headstrong curiosity wind up leading them into a death trap?
My copy is so advanced, the final cover art has not been decided. Personally, I hope they pick the dark cover; the pink one brings to mind a bodice-ripper story!

I also have several books left-over from previous It's Monday! posts that I've dipped into over the past few months but have not yet finished. The inevitable chaos and distraction that moving house creates explains my ridiculously long goodreads 'currently reading' panel!

The only blogging effort I've managed to complete this past week is my bi-monthly roundup post for the Australian Women Writer's challenge (here).

What have you been up to lately and what will you be reading this week?

Twitter #IMWAYR

Thursday, 13 August 2015

Coming of Age: Growing Up Muslim in Australia

Coming of Age: Growing Up Muslim in Australia edited by Amra Pajalic and Demet Divaroren has been shortlisted for this year's CBCA Eve Pownall Information Book Award.

Amra and Demet have brought together a diverse range of voices and experiences in this fascinating, challenging and sometimes surprising book.

From football stars to female kickboxers, established authors, activists, lawyers and even a Miss World Australia we see what it was like to grow up in the suburbs of Australia through Muslim eyes.

Teasing, bullying and isolation were sadly a common theme - whether for the food they had in their lunch boxes, their names, the clothes they wore or for their family routines, rituals and religion.

The challenge for me, in reading these wide-ranging bio's was just how different most of their worlds were to my white, working class/middle class childhood experience. Even though we lived in and grew up in the same country, there were times, reading this book, where we seemed poles apart.

I also found myself confronting my own childhood memories and those kids in every class, in every school who were always on the outside, being teased and bullied. During my childhood they were usually the Greek, Italian or Vietnamese children, the underprivileged or those with a disability. It's hard to look back and see the me that was too shy and too insecure of my own belonging to ever stand up to the bullies let alone defend the outsiders. I may not have joined in, but I did nothing to stop it either.

'Marginalised youth' at risk of being 'radicalised' are now regular news items in Australia. Is it possible that these stories in Coming of Age can help us to understand and identify some of these 'at risk youths'? Can we empower children to not only stand up for themselves against bullies and harassment, but to stand up for others? How can we promote tolerance, empathy and social justice?

Surely one way is through education and information?
The more knowledge we give to our children (in particular), the more they accept that difference is normal, difference is okay and that difference is interesting not threatening.
Coming of Age provides a dozen such interesting, candid and revealing stories.

I've included this post in my Australian Women Writer's challenge as half the contributors are young women.

Sunday, 9 August 2015

The Summer Book by Tove Jansson

Hopefully this post will be the first sign that life is resuming some semblance of normality here at Brona's Books after our move.

The majority of the boxes are unpacked.
Most of our stuff has found a new nesting spot.
Routines are being re-jigged to fit in around the layout of our new place.
Fresh habits are also developing.

I initially added The Summer Book to my 20 Books of Winter list as my token gesture towards the Northern Hemisphere season.

Tove Jansson is mostly known for her creation of the Moomin series of books for children which won the Hans Christian Andersen gold medal in 1966. However she also wrote several novels and short story collections for adults.

The Summer Book was first published in 1972 and then translated from Swedish into English by Thomas Teal.

It turned out to be the perfect type of book to be reading whilst packing up one home and moving into another.
It was:
  • Slim (it fitted into my coat pocket).
  • Easy to read brief chapters (when falling into bed exhausted each night a quick stand-alone chapter was all I could take in).
  • A simple, idyllic family story (that didn't require a lot of concentration; but satisfied my need to be someplace else for a while).
  • Only two main characters and one island to remember between reads.
  • A few black and white photographs of the actual island in the Gulf of Finland and Jansson's mother and niece (who were the inspiration for this story), to keep it real.
  • Heart-warming, quirky vignettes that captured the complexity and simplicity of family life (which reflected how we as a family worked well together to move house yet rubbed up against each other at times).
A final quote to whet your appetite for island life:
Every year, the bright Scandinavian summer nights fade away without anyone's noticing. One evening in August you have an errand outdoors, and all of a sudden it's pitch-black. A great warm, dark silence surrounds the house. It is still summer, but the summer is no longer alive....
Day by day, everything moves closer to the house. Sophie's father takes in the tent and the water pump. He removes the buoy and attaches the cable to the cork float. The boat is pulled ashore on a cradle, and the dory is hung upside down behind the woodyard. And so autumn begins....
Grandmother had always liked this great change in August, most of all, perhaps, because of the way it never varied: a place for everything and everything in its place....Grandmother's leg ached, which may have been due to the rain, and she couldn't walk around the island as much as she wanted to....She picked up everything that had to do with human beings....It's shaking us off, she thought. It will soon be uninhabited....
"Why are you in such a rush?" Sophia asked, and her grandmother answered that it was a good idea to do things before you forgot that they had to be done. 

Which is the perfect place for me to finish tonight, although it's not very likely that I will forgot all those unpacked boxes awaiting my attention!

Wednesday, 5 August 2015

The Bad Guys: Episode One by Aaron Blabey

Do you have a reluctant reader in your house?

Then I may have found the perfect book for you to tempt them with.

Aaron Blabey has ventured away from picture book territory into early reader land with The Bad Guys: Episode One.

In an attempt to convince us all that the Big Bad Wolf is simply misunderstood, Blabey presents Mr Wolf (with a nod to Tarantino noir) as the narrator of this story about bad guys turned good.

Full of humour, intelligence and lots of fast pacing, the bad guys struggle to come to terms with their new and improved roles.

An unlikely partnership evolves as these traditional baddies get in touch with their kinder, softer sides!

Full of the trademark quirky Blabey style, easy to read format with large exciting fonts, oodles of pictures and quick chapters, The Bad Guys has award winning hit series written all over it.

Guaranteed to amuse children and adults alike.


Monday, 27 July 2015

The Most Beautiful Walk in the World by John Baxter

Subtitled A Pedestrian in Paris, I was expecting The Most Beautiful Walk in the World to be all about walking around Paris, seeing the sights and getting some great tips for places to visit next time...one day....

But TMBWW is more of a memoir. Part boastful name dropping, part journal, with quite a bit of "look at me! look at me!" thrown in. It seems that Baxter wanted to impress us with his literary connections and elegant taste in food.

I wanted to love this book.
I wanted to lose myself in the streets and parks and cafes of Paris.
I wanted to dream, plan and hope.

Instead I clunked and shuddered from one anecdote to the next, always expectant, always waiting for that moment when Paris would reveal itself from underneath Baxter's seemingly endless supply of words.

I understood his "look at me" approach completely.
Growing up in rural Australia is not an easy thing when you're shy, with intellectual tendencies and a burning desire to not only see the world, but to make your mark on it. I just didn't feel in the mood to read his book about it though.

At some point I also realised that I was enjoying the well-selected chapter quotes more than I was enjoying the actual chapters.

The only section that really piqued my interest was early on when Baxter was talking about a French family Christmas.
His wife had a
stoneware vinegar bottle....Into it, she emptied a few trickles of red wine left after a dinner party. Inside, the mere, or mother, a gel-like colony of bacteria, transformed it into an aromatic vinegar. This bottle, with the mere already inside, came to Paris in 1959 with Aline, the housekeeper hired to cook for Marie-Do, her young sister, and their widowed mother. Before that, who knew...? As long as you kept it fed, the mere was immortal.
I had never heard of this before, although I guess it's like those 'live' cake mixes that go around every now and again. A regenerating vinaigrette is more my style though - and more anecdotes like this would have appeased me.

Sadly my one excursion into Paris for Paris in July has left me feeling a little 'meh', although I can still be found Dreaming of France :-)

Breaking News:
At work today, I picked up Snow Kimono by Mark Henshaw (winner of this year's NSW Premier's Literary Award for fiction) as my lunch time read. If the stars align this week, I may be able to get in one more Paris book before the end of July and also fulfill my Japanese Literature challenge at the same time.

On the same day that retired police inspector Auguste Jovert receives a letter from a woman claiming to be his daughter, he returns to his Paris apartment to find a stranger waiting for him.

That stranger is a Japanese professor called Tadashi Omura. What's brought him to Jovert's doorstep is not clear, but then he begins to tell his story - a story of a fractured friendship, lost lovers, orphaned children, and a body left bleeding in the snow.

As Jovert pieces together the puzzle of Omura's life, he can't help but draw parallels with his own; for he too has lead a life that's been extraordinary and dangerous - and based upon a lie.
This now also counts as my cheats-I'm-too-busy-packing-to-blog #IMWAYR post!

Saturday, 25 July 2015

Gone With the Wind - check in

So close...the end is in sight...only three chapters to go.

But for now, this is the official check-in post for chapters 51-60 of Margaret Mitchell's Pulitzer Prize winning Gone With the Wind.

The birth of Bonnie sees lots of changes occurring in the Butler household. Mammy has finally accepted Rhett and Rhett has been smitten by his beautiful baby girl. After a rather compromising afternoon with Ashley, Scarlett decides that she does not want any more babies (to preserve her 17 inch waist and to enjoy a similar marriage to Ashley and Melanie). So Rhett is banished to the spare bedroom.

Wade is upset because he is not invited to the birthday parties of the Atlanta old guard families. Rhett decides that Bonnie will never know this kind of pain and he sets out to win over all the old families.

Scarlett continues on her self-absorbed, self-obsessed path and finds herself alone once again with Ashley. Curiously she has discovered that her feelings for him are no longer of the raging passion kind, but more of a loving, comfortable friend. But it still looks very bad, when India and Mrs Elsing walk in on Scarlett being comforted in the arms of Ashley at the lumber mill.

What follows is one of the most uncomfortable, awkward birthday parties in the history of mankind at Melanie's. Scarlett desperately tries to get out of it, but Rhett forces her to attend to face her shame. But, of course, dear, loving, unsuspecting Melly stands by Scarlett with ferocious tenacity.

At home, a night of unbridled, drunken, rough sex leaves Scarlett bewildered and slightly shamed by how much she enjoyed herself. Rhett's drunken declaration of love satisfies her age old desire to finally have Rhett exactly where she wants so she can manipulate him. Except that things don't go exactly to plan.

Poor Scarlett is still as bewildered by other people as she has ever been. She is completely unable to see other people's perspective or understand that other people have different motivations to herself. As a result, everything that happens is always a surprise or a shock to her and everyone is mystery.

Rhett ups and leaves her, taking Bonnie on an extended holiday to visit family in Charleston. Melly sticks to Scarlett like glue to ensure that the Old Guard of society continue to accept Scarlett on Melly's terms.

After a few months Scarlett realises she is pregnant again, but for the first time, with a child she is actually looking forward to having. She thinks a boy might appease Rhett and return their marriage to what it was before.

Sadly, when he does return home, miscommunication, fear and an argument result in Scarlett falling down the stairs. For a while she is gravely ill, suffering a miscarriage, broken ribs and a high fever. Rhett is distraught with guilt, fear and love.

Scarlett's recovery is slow, but after a brief visit to Tara she comes back home, pale and still weak, but much better in mind and spirits.

In the meantime, young Bonnie has been learning to ride her pony. Bonnie has become quite willful and spoilt and she insists on taking a jump that is too high for her pony. Tragically, she falls and breaks her neck.

Rhett, in his grief, shots the pony before getting rip roaring drunk. Scarlett blames Rhett for Bonnie's death and lashes out with her bitter, cruel words, sending Rhett into a downward spiral of grief, self-hatred and drunkenness.

Mammy has to call on Miss Melly's help when Rhett refuses to allow Bonnie to be buried because she will be scared of the dark. Scarlett and Rhett are unable to comfort each other as their marriage cracks wide open under the pressure. Rhett turns to alcohol and Belle Watling for support and Scarlett realises that she has nobody but Melly to turn to.

This section is full of tragedy and despair.

Watching Rhett and Scarlett's marriage disintegrate is heart-breaking because they both do actually love each other and are so alike it should be easy for them. But pride, fear and an inability to be open and honest drives wedge after wedge between them. They continually bring the worst out in each other and they seem to enjoy baiting each other with their cruel, spiteful words.

The frustration continues to be Scarlett.

Her inability to assess, evaluate or understand anyone's point of view except her own has moved me from pity to infuriating impatience to eventually not giving a damn (sound familiar?)
She might be spunky and determined and hard-working, but sadly her selfishness, manipulative behaviours and outright meanness makes these good qualities count for naught (in my opinion). There even comes a point when you believe that she is finally getting what she deserves! She doesn't even bring out the best in her readers (& I am no Miss Melly)!!

Of course, Scarlett is a brilliant protagonist.

Full of drama, contradictions and provocations, she is a constant source of light, dark and movement. We don't have to like her; I'm not sure we're even meant to, but we can admire her at times, even if that admiration is grudging and tinged with disbelief at times.

How is your relationship with Scarlett progressing?

If you have missed any of the previous check-ins but would like to post your latest link here, please feel free to add them. Sorry this post is a bit rushed, but as regulars to my blog will be aware, we are in the middle of moving house. Finishing this post today has been my little treat/break inbetween boxes and cleaning out the shed (ugh!!)

I've left this linky open for a month to give folks plenty of time to jump on in.

With only three chapters to go until the end, let me add here how much I have enjoyed this readalong. Being able to read such a huge chunkster in such fine company with such a generous time frame between each check-in, has made this a very easy and do-able event.

Would anyone else like to host the last check-in and wrap-up post on the 1st August? I may have time next weekend or I may just be a blubbering mess curled up amongst the detritus of packing boxes!
Please let us know in the comments below if you'd like to host so we all know where to head to when we're finished.

I'm using #gwtwreadalong on Instagram if anyone wants to post pics of where they've been reading GWTW.


Schedule

Friday May 1: first post – just to enthuse about how excited we are to begin. 
Saturday May 16: first check-in on Chapters One through Ten
Saturday May 30:  check-in on Chapters Eleven through Twenty
Saturday June 13:  check-in on Chapters Twenty-One through Thirty
Saturday June 27:  check-in on Chapters Thirty-One through Forty
Saturday July 11:  check-in on Chapters Forty-One through Fifty
Saturday July 25:  check-in on Chapters Fifty-One through Sixty
Saturday August 1:  check-in on Chapters Sixty-One through Sixty-Three (final discussion)

Thursday, 23 July 2015

Rivertime by Trace Balla

Shortlisted for this year's CBCA Picture Book of the Year, Rivertime is a gentle, meandering story that celebrates connections and nature.

Balla spent ten days with her partner paddling 80km of the Glenelg River one summer. She kept a journal and sketched her experiences of the trip which then formed the basis for this story and its illustrations.

Done in the style of a graphic novel with easy to read speech bubbles, we follow Uncle Egg and Clancy on their boy's own adventure paddling up the river with no technology (except for a pair of binoculars) and no schedule.

I loved the gentle pace of this story and how you gradually slip into 'rivertime' yourself as you read along, stopping to take note of all the details and information included on each page.

Balla has infused the story with respect. From the relationships of the main characters with each other, to respect for the environment and the local Indigenous tribes. This is a book full of heart and wonder and care.


The end papers are full of nature-loving pictures - the front showing off all the bird life to be found in the area - and the back featuring animals, reptiles, fish and plants.


The illustrations are simple line drawings, coloured with an earthy palette. Most of the pages include lots of animals and plants for you to find and name.


Suitable to be read aloud to 4+ nature lovers, but perfect for primary school aged children to enjoy too. Covering many of the themes required by the Australian Curriculum including self-discovery, exploring, learning new skills, perseverance, bonding, appreciating nature and taking notice.

Monday, 20 July 2015

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

I should be doing lots of other things rather than blogging tonight. But here I am, hunched up in front of the fire trying to keep warm, ignoring all the boxes that need packing and trying to pretend that the magic packing fairies will turn up in my sleep, wave their magic wands and sprinkle their magic dust and all the hard will be done!

Except I've moved enough times before to know that the magic packing fairies do not exist, or at least, they always forget to come to my place!

My dad was a Bankie, which meant that we moved every 4-7 years for his work. Curiously, as an adult, thanks to Uni, work and love, I have continued to move house every 4-7 years. Often it's just to another area of the town or suburb I'm currently in, but seven times, so far in this lifetime, it has meant a complete change of town/city.

The good thing about this is that I have fabulous friends all over Australia. The hard part for me though, is making those friends in the first place.

I am an introvert; it takes a while for me to form deep, close personal relationships. So the downside of moving is how much I miss those fabulous friends who live all over Australia.

Fortunately this move is basically just around the corner. No friend farewells required. We will miss our lovely neighbours, but we're already making coffee and dinner plans.

Moving is also great for decluttering.

It forces me to throw out old clothes and sort through my books and papers.
Going through the kitchen cupboards has revealed a whole kitchen shop of unused wine glasses, salad bowls, vases and platters...to be donated to the local op shop.
And what's with that drawer in the bathroom full of those tiny shampoo, conditioner and hand lotion bottles from holiday hotels and resorts?

When did I turn into my Nan?

(when Nan died and we were cleaning out her house, we found one whole kitchen drawer devoted to those silver tops on the old glass milk bottles (thankfully all washed and cleaned!) and another drawer full of the plastic square clips from bread bags! The laundry also revealed a muslin bag full of all the odd little leftover bits of soap.)

But this isn't getting any more boxes packed.

One of the things that I've really started reassessing with this move is photos.

Seven years ago when we moved in here, we had a digital camera and we were just starting to store photos on our computer and external drives, but mostly, I printed out whole packets of photos and put them in albums and photo frames.

It has now been two years since I ordered a print of a photo.
All our pics are digital. I've created a shuffle screen saver on all the family computers so we see these pics randomly throughout our days. As I've been packing up the photo frames, I've realised just how tatty and discoloured most of the photos have become. Why am I keeping them?
Is sentimental value enough?
Do I even look at them during my daily life?
If nobody is looking at them, then why do I keep them?

Obviously, I shouldn't be planning a reading week. All my thoughts and energies should be focused on getting those damn books packed instead!
Except my brain doesn't work that way.

I need to reward myself for each box packed. I need to know there is a little something pleasurable waiting for me at the end of the roll of packing tape. I need something to look forward to at the end of each trip to the car.

So far I have rewarded myself with a binge evening home alone with Olive Kitteridge - watching all four episodes in one heart-wrenching go. Last night Mr Books and I finally watched the last two episodes of Game of Thrones (season five) - OMG!!!! I'm not sure I want to or care to go on to season six after that final scene!!

I've also eaten my way through a pack of Magnum icecreams, got my hair done and had a massage.

There seem to more treats and rewards than boxes packed - slight flaw in plan! Time to reassess packing strategy.

This week, I hope to read ten more chapters of Gone With the Wind (only 13 to go!)
I may also finally get started on The Tenant of Wildfell Hall (the title seems appropriate somehow!)

However, I suspect I may get sidetracked by the wonderful treat that turned up at work today...

...my very own, shiny, new, months before publication date, reading copy of Geraldine Brook's lastest book, The Secret Chord (Hachette Australia release date October 2015).

Brooks takes on one of literature’s richest and most enigmatic figures: a man who shimmers between history and legend. Peeling away the myth to bring David to life in Second Iron Age Israel, Brooks traces the arc of his journey from obscurity to fame, from shepherd to soldier, from hero to traitor, from beloved king to murderous despot and into his remorseful and diminished dotage.

The Secret Chord provides new context for some of the best-known episodes of David’s life while also focusing on others, even more remarkable and emotionally intense, that have been neglected.  We see David through the eyes of those who love him or fear him—from the prophet Natan, voice of his conscience, to his wives Mikal, Avigail, and Batsheva, and finally to Solomon, the late-born son who redeems his Lear-like old age. Brooks has an uncanny ability to hear and transform characters from history, and this beautifully written, unvarnished saga of faith, desire, family, ambition, betrayal, and power will enthrall her many fans.

It may be a tad more religious than my usual fare, but I'm hoping that Brooks' storytelling ability will keep me enthralled. (Teeny weeny boasting moment - before moving to the States, Brooks was a local resident of my suburb and a regular in my bookshop. I had the good fortune to meet her during her last visit home :-)

This week's shout-out goes to:

Lisa @ANZ LitLovers Blog for highlighting the exciting new LoveOzYA initiative.

and to the host of bloggers that have helped to convince me that, yes, I will (when the unpacking is over and done with at the other end) read Go Set A Watchman - Melinda @ WestMetroMommy, Adam @RoofBeamReader, Melissa @AvidReadersMusings and Allie @ALiteraryOdyssey. Thank you.

Procrastination time is now officially over.

Note to self - packing a few more boxes will warm me up...but so will a generous glass of wine - hmmmmmm!

Twitter #IMWAYR
I'm also linking this post to Sunday Post hosted by Caffeinated Book Reviewer.