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 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.


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 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... 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.

Saturday, 18 July 2015

Memoirs of a Fox-Hunting Man by Seigfried Sassoon

Normally a book with the word 'fox-hunting' in the title would have been an automatic turn-off.

But the new Faber Modern Classics covers have a weird appeal.

My life is also soooooo crazy, out-of-control, mad at the moment that I'm in desperate need of comfort - comfort reads, comfort food, comfort clothes and comfort other worlds in which to lose myself.

Curiously a fox-hunting memoir fit the bill perfectly.

It turns out I needed to escape into a more innocent, gentle and slower time almost as badly as Sassoon did after his time in the trenches of WWI.

Memoirs of a Fox-Hunting Man is Sassoon's semi-autobiographical remembrances of life in rural England before the ravages of WWI scarred a generation. They are lovingly nostalgic, yet tinged with the bittersweet knowledge of what is to come.

They are loosely based on his childhood but read more as a collection of boys own adventure stories. George Sherston is a reserved, cautious boy living alone with his Aunt Evelyn. Thanks to the kindly interest of the groom, George is given a pony at the age of nine. This leads eventually to day excursions to watch the local hunts and races.

The fox-hunting is never described in gory detail. Sassoon sticks to the wholesome and slightly romantic riding side of things with a bit of local gossip thrown in for good measure. The story is more about George's coming of age - his thoughts, his moods and his doubts and insecurities - as he enters society and begins to race with the adults.

MOAFHM is, ultimately, a love letter to a time and place long gone.

Sassoon is not concerned with class differences or cruelty to animals - we are after all seeing the world through the uncritical eyes of a young boy. Occasionally, though, an older, more reflective 'George' provides the voice of impending change and loss.

The air was Elysian with early summer and the shadows of the steep white clouds were chasing over the orchards and meadows; sunlight sparkled on green hedgerows that had been drenched by early morning showers. As I was carried past it all I was lazily aware that my dreaming and unobservant eyes that this was the sort of world I wanted. For it was my own countryside, and I loved it with an intimate feeling, though all its associations were crude and incoherent. I cannot think of it now without a sense of heartache....

Fox-hunting drawing by Sassoon
Those long days of dry weather and white figures moving to and fro on the greens now seem like an epitome of all that was peaceful in my past. Walking home across the fields from Butley, or driving back in the cool of the evening after a high-scoring game on the county ground at Dumbridge, I deplored my own failure or gloated over one of my small successes; but I never looked ahead, except when I thought about next winter's hunting. The horses were out at grass; and so, in a sense, was I.
Dotted with county cricket matches and country dances, Memoirs of a Fox-Hunting Man has been a genteel stroll down memory lane in a period of history that I feel very comfortable in losing myself.

Sassoon followed up this highly successful story with two more novels to complete The Sherston Trilogy - Memoirs of an Infantry Officer (1930) and Sherston's Progress (1936).

Interestingly, Sassoon's time spent in a psychiatric hospital at the end of WWI was also fictionalised by Pat Barker in her well-known book Regeneration (1991).

MOAFHM was the winner of the James Tate Black Memorial Award (one of the UK's oldest literary awards) in 1928.

The other 15 titles to look out for in this current range of Faber Modern Classics are:

Nightwood by Djuna Barnes

Ariel by Sylvia Plath

Pincher Martin by William Golding

The Buddha of Suburbia by Hanif Kureishi

Self-Help by Lorrie Moore

Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson

Venice by Jan Morris

Selected Poems by T S Eliot

Look Back in Anger by John Osborne

The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro

An Unsuitable Job for a Woman by P. D. James

The New York Trilogy by Paul Auster

The Hawk in the Rain by Ted Hughes

Oscar and Lucinda by Peter Carey

Aunt Julia and the Script Writer by Mario Vargas Llosa

Thursday, 16 July 2015

Teacup by Rebecca Young and Matt Ottley

It's no secret that I have a bit of a thing for Matt Ottley's illustrations. In particular, I love Sailing Home, Parachute and Tree....and now I can add Teacup to that list.

The soft, dreamy palette of the early pages grows stronger and more vibrant as we head out to sea.

At this point, Ottley's oil paintings remind me not only of those he used in Sailing Home, but also, at times of some of the more iconic scenes in the movie of the Life of Pi.

I could spend hours pouring over Ottley's illustrations - he effectively uses reflections and transparency to draw your eyes to all the details.

This is one of those magic picture books, though, where the collaboration between author and illustrator is close to perfect.

The story flows seamlessly between the text and the pictures and back again. Young uses finely pared language & concepts to create a refugee and self-discovery story that is perfectly suited to preschoolers.

Infused with hope, courage and the possibility of new beginnings, Teacup is a poignant, tender story worthy of a 2016 CBCA nomination.

Monday, 13 July 2015

It's Monday - oh no, not again!

It's Monday! And what am I reading?

Not much as it turns out.

I have just had a week fully, completely and totally immersed in boys and soccer.
The boys have had a fabulous time and it is a lovely bonding week for the boys every year when we go to Canberra for Kanga Cup.
It's also a lovely bonding time for the families when we take the whole show on the road despite freezing our arses off on frosty, windy sidelines!
We usually find a good coffee shop or two and fit in the occasional cultural experience around the games. The shared meals each night are loads of fun too.

But relaxing it is not.
Sharing a cabin with four 15 yr old man-child's is definitely not conducive for reading either!

And this year, our Kanga week was bookended by two weekends back home madly looking at no avail.
And more soccer!

It may come as no surprise to anyone but me, but I seem to have come down with a head cold.

But I've used my spare time this evening productively. I have now changed my gravatar image across my entire social media spectrum so that everything matches.

Enough dawdling & daydreaming though.
It's time for some bookish stuff.

Back at work today and everyone was talking about Go Set A Watchman.

When is it due out? Why do they embargo books? Can it possibly be better than To Kill A Mockingbird? Can it live up to expectations? Is it doomed to fail? Will you be reading it?

All day I've had to manouever around our heavily embargoed boxes of stock.  

All day I've being having a 'will I? wont I?' argument with myself. 

One of our local Sydney papers has said that the book is more complex than TKAM but not as compelling. Do I really want to know how Scout grew up? Wouldn't I prefer to leave my high regard (okay! my love and adoration and idealisation) for Atticus untarnished by adult complications? Do I dare court disappointment and disillusionment?

Rereading my earlier review of TKAM (link above), reminded me that TKAM actually begins with an adult Scout recounting the Finch family history.

Perhaps GSAW will be like reading March by Geraldine Brooks. 

Initially I struggled to get into March as subconsciously I was expecting more of Little Women. But March is an adult book about adults. Little Women is a book for all ages about children and their relationships to each other and the adults around them. It has an innocence and wholesomeness that is totally appropriate for its audience & structure. 

March was far more complex and difficult and complicated, befitting a book about adult relationships for mature readers. Once I accepted this and my brain (& heart) shifted away from its childish desires, I was able to embrace and appreciate the story of March.

Will I need to make the same kind of brain (& heart) shift to read GSAW? 

Will you, dear reader, be racing out to get your hands on a copy of Go Set A Watchman? 

Somewhere, somehow, this week, I also hope to get my reading challenges back on track...maybe something Victorian? Something Japanese? Or Parisian or maybe an Aussie female author? 

Fingers crossed xx 

This week's shout-outs go to:

TJ @My Book Strings for her heart-warming and thought-provoking post about books and places. I love posts that reveal more of the blogger through their reading habits. This is a delightful exploration of the personal meaning of books and the places we read them.

And if you'd like to be reminded of how gauche, insecure and (ab)normal you were during highschool, then visit Rory @Fourth Street Review for her trip down memory lane with Are You There God? It's Me Margaret.

Happy Reading

Sunday, 12 July 2015

Brother of the More Famous Jack by Barbara Trapido

Oh delight!
Oh glorious, splendiferous delight!

How on earth did this book escape my teenage radar?

I so wish I had read Brother of the More Famous Jack in 1982 when it first came out. I could have come of age with Katherine and had this as one of my go-to comfort reads for the past thirty years.

Littered with Jane Austen references (because, of course, our Katherine is an Austen fan), Italian lovers and a few feminist rants - what's not to love!

I'm not going to say any more about this wonderful, heart-warming story in case you haven't read it yet (or even heard of it, like me until a few weeks ago)!
I want you all to experience the sheer delight of discovering it for yourself.

I feel sure if I had discovered Brother of the More Famous Jack in my teens, I would have spent my adult life quoting from it.

Roger wears his principles, a little provocatively, high on his shoulder like a schoolboy's dufflebag....
I was too much in love with him and too young to perceive him as absurd and petulant Hamlet....

I slipped politely and obligingly out of his life without a word of recrimination....

I know all about these clever chaps like yours and mine you see. I know all about their nice impressive commitments to the rights of women and the division of labour, because they're very good at articulating these things and it costs them nothing to say it all as nicely as they do....

The fact that this slim book has taken me over three weeks to read, says more about my crazy life at the moment than the quality of this little literary gem.

Our imminent move has proven somewhat useful to my reading habits though. It has helped me to reassess just how many books I need to take forward with me in this life. The criteria for keeping a book or passing it on has boiled down to one basic idea - will I reread this book at some point in my life or not?

So far it has been surprisingly easy to decide.

I own books that I have loved and adored but I know that I will never feel the need to reread it (All the Light We Cannot See).
I have books that I felt a little so/so about, but sensed there was something more to the book than my first read revealed that I want to explore further (The Childhood of Jesus).
And there are some books that I just know will be read, reread and reread again.

Brother of the More Famous Jack is one of those.

PS. After some recent web-trawling I found this great snippet on Bloom about Trapido's books that now has me gasping for more:

Barbara Trapido’s books are not exactly a traditional series. Still, four of her seven novels share a common set of characters and, if read in order, offer some of the pleasure of a series—chiefly, the chance to return to a well-loved fictional universe and revisit its characters over time.
The irony for me is that when I first discovered Trapido, I had no idea that any of her books were connected. I started, in fact, with the last of the four, her 1998 novel The Travelling Hornplayer, which I enjoyed with no foreknowledge whatsoever. But it was only when I learned its connection to her three earlier novels—Brother of the More Famous Jack (1982), Temples of Delight (1990), and Juggling (1994)—and read the books in sequence that I could appreciate the full scope of Trapido’s creation, her unique genius. So, it should be no surprise that my first bit of advice is to read her books in order, or, at least the four linked books. Her three unlinked novels—Noah’s Ark (1984), Frankie and Stankie (2003), and Sex and Stravinsky (2010)—are all also wonderful and can be read in whatever order you’d like.

Wednesday, 8 July 2015

Miles Off Course by Sulari Gentill

Miles Off Course is the third book in the Rowland Sinclair series.

This delightful series set in 1930's Sydney has become my go-to read when feeling overwhelmed and tired.

With a move in the offing on top of our regular crazy-busy life-work schedule, a comfort read was definitely required this past week.

Miles Off Course filled the bill beautifully as our four dashing young things took us on a trip around NSW - first to Medlow Bath's Hydro Majestic, then to Yass, on up into the wild high country around Tumut, before returning to Sydney in all it's 1930's glory.

All the main characters are now firmly established and it is a delight to just sit back and watch them do their thing. It was surprising to meet an unexpected half-brother of the Sinclair boys and great fun watching Stella Miles Franklin run around the high country incognito, interacting with our lovely young things.

For devotee's of Rowly and Edna's romantic prospects, this book also offers us a glimmer of hope.

This is not the best of the series so far, but as a stress-free, easy read for tired out little old me, it was perfect.

This post is part of my Australian Women Writers challenge and another book off my 20 Books of Winter.

Tuesday, 7 July 2015

Top Ten Hyped Books I've Never Read

When it comes to me and books, I prefer to never say 'never'.

However there are a number of big named books that have had lots of publicity and lots of rave reviews that I have yet to read, and probably never will.

They are:

10. Twilight series of books.

Vampires are not my thing and I left teen romances behind when I was a teenager.

9. Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy.

I think it's fairly to safe to say that I will NEVER read these books, ever. I skimmed the first one purely for work purposes as our customers were asking if any of us had read them. I felt compelled to at least dip in so I could chat knowingly with our customers.

8. Life of Pi

I've tried to start this book several times, but fail to get past page two every time. I enjoyed the movie, but not so much that I wanted to plough my way through the book.

7. Eat, Pray, Love


6. Catch 22

I love this book for the first third or so. Then it just stops being funny. The joke gets tired. I get tired. I have now given up on this book three times.

5. The Shadow of the Wind


4. Burial Rites by Hannah Kent

I may get to this one day, but it kind of feels like I missed the boat on it somehow.

3. Wuthering Heights

Hysterical, gothic and supposedly a romance? But Kate Bush does a killer song of the same name !!

2. Madame Bovary


1. Game of Thrones series.

This is one I am not ready to say 'never' to, but at the same time, I'm not sure when I will ever be ready to commit the time and energy into reading them all. Mr Books has though & he provides me with the extra details that the TV series is missing out and/or changing.

This post is part of Top Ten Tuesday, hosted by The Broke and Bookish.

Sunday, 5 July 2015

Paris in July

Vive La Paris!

This is one of my favourite times of year - when all things French and Parisian takes over my life. Thyme for Tea's, Paris in July event is the perfect antidote to freezing cold winter holidays in Canberra and cold, grey July days back at work.

Tamara has already run a badge making contest in the lead up to this month...with the winner, Lisbeth from Content Reader, on display (left).

Despite my anticipation and excitement, I will have to keep my plans low-key and reasonable this year though as we are also moving house soon.
Please excuse any erratic attendance at events or posting deadlines.

One of my winter reading books was picked with this event in mind (as well as my Easter holiday in Vietnam).

The Book of Salt by Monique Truong:

Binh, a Vietnamese cook, flees Saigon in 1929, disgracing his family to serve as galley hand at sea. The taunts of his now-deceased father ringing in his ears, Binh answers an ad for a live-in cook at a Parisian household, and soon finds himself employed by Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas.

Toklas and Stein hold court in their literary salon, for which the devoted yet acerbic Binh serves as chef, and as a keen observer of his "Mesdames" and their distinguished guests. But when the enigmatic literary ladies decide to journey back to America, Binh is faced with a monumental choice: will he, the self-imposed "exile," accompany them to yet another new country, return to his native Vietnam, or make Paris his home?

I also hope to add a couple of smaller, lighter reads into the month, time and packing permitted.

Onto matters totally unrelated - today is my 6th blogging anniversary!

Last year I had the time and energy to collate all kinds of interesting stats about my reading and reviewing habits.

This year I didn't even remember the occasion. 
Dear Nancy @ipsofactodotme remembered for me. Thank you Nancy for your attention to detail and ceremony way and above the call of international blogging duty. You are a treasure xoxo

Hopefully life will stop being so crazy busy soon and my blogging routine will return to schedule. Until then dear friends,

Bonne Lecture.

Tuesday, 30 June 2015

Top Ten Books I've Read So Far This Year...

This week the good folk at Top Ten Tuesday have challenged us to list our top 10 reads so far this year.

The hard part, of course, is stopping at ten! And do I dare rate them from favourite to most bestest favourite?

Let's see what happens...

10. The Husband's Secret by Liane Moriarty

You haven't read any Moriarty yet?
What are you waiting for?
Moriarty is the perfect holiday read - lightly told yet intelligent.
You won't be disappointed!

9. The Anchoress by Robyn Cadwallader

Fabulous historical fiction set in a Medieval village.
Great new Australian author - UK and U.S. release due soon.

8. Ru by Kim Thuy

Vietnamese/Canadian writer - a fictionalised memoir of exquisite beauty.
Can't wait to read her latest book, Man.

7. The Incredible Journey of Edward Tulane by Kate DiCamillo

A children's book that moved me to tears.
Beautifully illustrated too.

6. The Monkey's Mask by Dorothy Porter

Gritty, tense and sexy verse novel from one of Australia's well-known poets.

5. Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell

A reread that has revealed so much more.
Scarlett is such a complex, fascinating protagonist.
Deeply flawed and not very likeable, but lots to admire.
Recent readalong discussions have centred around the overt racism expressed by Mitchell & whether this affects its ability to connect to future readers.
Or can modern readers filter Mitchell's southern romanticism and see it for what it really was, but still admire the craft involved in creating this epic story?

4. The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro

Incredible experience.
I loved the journey and can't wait for the reread that I feel this story demands.

3. All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

More historical fiction, this time WWII.
Rich, epic and sensory.
Pulitzer Prize winner.

2. Germinal by Emile Zola

Riveting story telling, compelling drama, memorable characters.
A highlight in the Rougon-Macquart series.

1. Testament of Youth by Vera Brittain

One of the saddest books I've read for a while.
But so beautifully told - its authenticity and immediacy is what makes it so heart breaking.
I haven't stopped thinking about since & im looking forward to seeing the movie soon.

That ended up being a lot easier than I thought.

What is your favourite read this year so far?

This post is part of Top Ten Tuesday, hosted by The Broke and Bookish.

Monday, 29 June 2015

It's Monday

This weekend just past may not have been the busiest weekend I've ever experienced, but it comes in a pretty close second.

I'm so exhausted I hurt.

My eyes ache, my legs throb & my head hurts!

After work on Friday we enjoyed a staff farewell party.
Saturday morning my family viewed four houses for rent....because, yes, we have to move. Not unexpected or even unwelcome, but a tiresome, tiring process nonetheless.
Then my sister and her family came to stay Saturday night...another late night ensued.

Sunday morning was an early start to get them off to the airport in time to start their holiday, followed by two huge semi-final soccer games with the boys (both went into extra time, one also went into penalty shoot-outs but both were ultimately successful).
A quick trip home to catch up with one of my dearest school friends who was also driving through Sydney with her family for their holiday on the North Coast, followed by another viewing of one more house, then cleaning up our house after the visitors, packing a few more boxes (why or why did I buy all those books?) Finally packing my own bags for my mini-break away this week!!

My mind has so many things going through it right now (mostly to with packing up & cleaning logistics) that I can't settle to anything. 

I needed a quick, easy, fun read and I needed it now!

The choice was obvious in the end. 

Miles Off Course is the third book in the Rowland Sinclair series and it starts off in the Blue Mountains...were I am right now!

In early 1933, Rowland Sinclair and his companions are ensconced in the superlative luxury of The Hydro Majestic - Medlow Bath, where trouble seems distant indeed.
And then Harry Simpson vanishes.
Croquet and pre-dinner cocktails are abandoned for the High Country where Rowland hunts for Simpson with a determination that is as mysterious as the disappearance itself. Stockmen, gangsters and a belligerent writer all gather to the fray, as the investigation becomes embroiled with a much darker conspiracy.
Murder, Treason, Trespass, Kidnapping, Betrayal...
Again, Rowland Sinclair finds himself in the middle of it all.

There's so much more I want to say about things like Paris in July, Japanese Literature Challenge, Gone With the Wind, great holiday reads & how do you turn your brain off to get a good nights sleep, when you have so much stuff going on that you feel like bursting?

But I'm feeling so very weary again & typing on my phone isn't helping. 

What do you do to unwind & switch off at the end of each day? Do you have a fun, easy series that you turn to in times of stress?

Please forgive any weird formatting issues & no links as I'm also posting this on my phone & won't be able to check on my laptop for a few days. 

Twitter #IMWAYR

Saturday, 27 June 2015

Gone With the Wind - check in

This is my Gone With the Wind check-in for chapters 31-40 for Corinne's GWTW Readalong.

The start of Part Four sees Scarlett, Tara and the South trying to find their feet after the war. The hardships continue with heavy taxes, the fear of losing Tara and the death of Gerald. Scarlett moves to Atlanta, remarries, falls pregnant and starts up a new & very successful business.

This was obviously a difficult time in the Southern states full of great changes, hardship and insecurity. Resentments built up, divides were created and animosity flourished. So many men dead or maimed, so many single women with no chance of ever being married. Brought up in luxury and ease, so many couldn't cope with the new conditions - their "mainsprings are busted" as Will so elegantly stated at Gerald's funeral.

Mrs Fontaine elaborated on this idea when she said -
The rest have gone under because they didn't have any sap in them, because they didn't have the gumption to rise up again. There never was anything to those folks but money and darkies, and now that the money and darkies are gone, those folks will be Cracker in another generation.

Atlanta 1864

Naturally Scarlett was unimpressed when Grandma Fontaine included Ashley in this group, claiming that "if the Wilkes family pulls through these hard times, it'll be Melly who pulls them through."

It's not only Rhett and Will who see how things really lie with the Wilkes'!

And you just know that Scarlett's willful and deliberate refusal to see Ashley for who he is, will lead to big trouble down the track. She is so practical and realistic about everything except love! Once again Grandma Fontaine nails it when she says to Scarlett, "you're smart about dollars and cents. That's a man's way of being smart. But you aren't smart at all like a woman. You aren't a speck smart about folks."

This is also the first section of GWTW where I have really questioned Mitchell's motivations and intentions. Brimming with overt racism and justification, we see Mitchell's (rich, white) characters claim the roles of victimhood and martyrdom.

Was Mitchell playing devil's advocate, writing tongue-in-cheek or being ironic? Was she trying to simply show how the South reacted to the Reconstruction period including the birth of the Ku Klux Klan? Was she just being obtuse or romantic? Or did she truly believe what she wrote in this section?

Chapter 37

The South had been tilted as by a giant malicious hand, and those who had once ruled were now more helpless than their former slaves had ever been.
Georgia was heavily garrisoned with troops and Atlanta had more than its share. The commandants of the Yankee troops in the various cities had complete power, even the power of life and death, over the civilian population, and they used that power. They could and did imprison citizens for any cause, or no cause, seize their property, hang them. They could and did harass and hamstring them with conflicting regulations about the operation of business, the wages they must pay their servants, what they should say in public and private utterances and what they should write in newspapers. They regulated how, when and where they must dump their garbage and they decided what songs the daughters and wives of ex-Confederates could sing....They ruled that no one could get a letter from the post office without taking the Iron-Clad oath, and in some instances, they even prohibited the issuance of marriage licences unless the couple had taken the hated oath.

There was so much about this particular paragraph (& the entire chapter) that was offensive.

How on earth anyone could believe they were actually worse off than a slave when they still had the freedom to live in their own homes, with their own families. Where they could be educated, employed and, well, free!

After the war, Atlanta
The Yankees may have had the power of life and death during the reconstruction period, but many of the Southern slave owners also had had the power of life and earth over their slaves for generations...and they had used it. Their slaves could be imprisoned or punished, especially whipped, without any recourse to a fair or legal justice system.

The slaves had no property as they were THE property. Strict class systems were put in place to keep the slaves divided amongst themselves (house slaves versus farm hands). They were not payed wages and they had no free speech. They worked long, hard hours in all weather conditions.

They lived in cramped, poor conditions. Teaching slaves to read and write was illegal in most places. Singing certain songs could see them severely punished. They were only allowed in some areas to associate as a group for purposes of worship. They could be sold and separated from their families forever. They couldn't communicate with family or friends on other estates and their marriages were considered illegal.

The Southerners justified this system by claiming that the slaves were just like children. That the slaves weren't capable of managing their own lives by themselves.

Some quick research on google has indicated that smaller plantation owners could often be more charitable towards their slaves as closer relationships did occur. But bigger plantations, that had absentee landlords or were ruled by overseers, were usually much harsher environments. Rape and sexual abuse of female slaves was common.

It could be possible that Mitchell was trying to show how the Southern mind worked during this period - that she was helping us to 'walk in their shoes'.
Peachtree Street 1864
But as I kept reading, it felt like pure, ugly justification. At one point it even felt like Mitchell was trying to excuse the early Ku Klux Klanner's - that they were merely defending their women folk from "Carpetbaggers who steal money and negroes who are uppity" and that they were only reacting to the injustice of their situation.
They could see nothing wrong with taking the law into their own hands. They were unable to see that any of the issues with the freed slaves actually stemmed from the years of inhuman treatment that the slaves had suffered under the slavery system. They actually believed that the slaves lives were better under slavery - that they had done their slaves a favour by removing them from Africa and converting them to Christianity.

They couldn't see how this wonderful, benevolent system that worked so well for them, might not have been viewed as so wonderful from the other side. Even when all their slaves ran off as soon as they could during the war (except for a few house slaves who were more deeply integrated into the families lives) they still didn't see it as an indictment on the slave system.

Curiously Mitchell has never told us where Mammy, Dilcey, Pork, Prissy or Uncle Peter slept or in what conditions. We are told how grateful Scarlett is that they stayed loyal to the family, but there is no interest in their personal lives except for how it serves the family.

Peachtree Street 1866
I've also found the whole Will Benteen side story fascinating.

In the movie, he is left out completely. Therefore, there is no adequate explanation for how Scarlett manages to keep Tara going whilst she lives in Atlanta with her new husband, managing her new business.

In the book, Will's presence makes this transition much easier for Scarlett and a more logical plot choice by Mitchell. Will provides Mitchell with a way to show us how much things have changed since the war. That a poor, white Cracker could now be on equal terms with an old plantation family highlights how far the societal mores of the South have shifted.

Will's proposed marriage to Suellen also allows us once again to see how different (some might even say, progressive) Scarlett's thinking is compared to most of her neighbours, even whip-smart, practical Grandma Fontaine.

There is so much more to say about Scarlett, but I'm saving my Scarlett post for the very end when all the evidence is in! I'm beginning to believe, however, that I will need a Masters in Psychology to fully appreciate Scarlett's complexities!

What are your views on the obvious racism on display throughout GWTW? And in particular, in this section?
Can we view it as a product of its time? Not okay, but comprehensible within the historical context?
Or does Mitchell's cruel self-justification, ignorance and martyrdom make this book irrelevant to modern audiences?

In Corinne's absence, this week's check-in is being hosted by TJ @My Book Strings.

Friday, 26 June 2015

Book Beginnings on Fridays

I'm trying to work out what I'd like to read next.

I'm 3/4's of the way through the Gone With the Wind readalong, but I'm being good at stopping at the end of each reading section, so that any comments I make do not contain spoilers.

So I'm looking for something lighter, slimmer and quicker to read in between.

Perhaps you can help me decide which book I should take to bed tonight!

Brother of the More Famous Jack by Barbara Trapido -

Since I have no other, I use as preface Jacob's preface which I read, sneakily, fifteen years ago, when it lay on the Goldmans' breakfast table, amid the cornflakes;
'I cannot in good conscience give the statutory thanks to my wife,' it says, 'for helpful comments on the manuscript, patient reading of drafts or corrections to proofs, because Jane did none of these things. She seldom reads and when she does it is never a thing of mine. Going by the lavish thanks to wives which I find in the prefaces to other men's books, I deem myself uniquely injudicious in having married a woman who refuses to double as a high-grade editorial assistant. Since custom requires me to thank her for something, I thank her instead for the agreeable fact of her continuing presence which in twenty years I have never presumed to expect.'

Promising? A bit of humour, a bit of snap and bite. It could be the perfect antidote to a Civil War chunkster.

My other choice is The Guest Cat by Takashi Hiraide -

At first it looked like low-lying ribbons of clouds just floating there, but then the clouds would be blown a little bit to the right and next to the left.
The small window in the corner of our kitchen bordered on a tall wooden fence, so close a person could barely pass by. From inside the house, its frosted glass looked like a dim movie screen.

This one sounds a little more introspective and thoughtful. It also has one of the best covers I've seen this year. Modern Japanese literature is about as far as possible from Civil War US as I can get!

Which way should I go?

Linking up with Book Beginnings on Fridays over at Rose City Reader.