Saturday, 25 April 2015

Dewey Readathon

This is only my second and a half Dewey Readathon (the half was the time when I found out about the readathon the day after, but then realised that due to the 11 hr time difference, I could actually join in the last half!)

Without fail the Readthon always falls on a busy weekend for me. This weekend is no different, but I've decided to throw caution to the wind & join in anyway. I will simply do the best I can.

My aim is to finish some of my partly read books so that I can start May uncluttered!

I will use this post as my update page on the day & I plan to keep an eye on twitter when I can.

I can't wait to find out who my cheerleader is this year #readathon #anticipation #feverpitch!!

Are you joining in this year?
What will you be reading this weekend?

The Beginning: below are the page numbers I will be starting from on each book.

Circus of the Unseen - pg 61
Germinal - pg 291
You're Still Hot to Me - pg 35
Yes Please - pg 65

Given it's late Saturday night in Sydney, I'll probably only read a chapter or 2 before falling asleep. Next update will be in the morning. 

Below is my #wordsofwisdom quote from Amy Poehler's Yes Please.

I believe I'm on team Jo March as I've been added to that group on Twitter, but I don't quite understand how it all works. Hopefully my morning brain will sort it out tomorrow...

Until then,
Happy Readathon!

Half-time Report

It's a wet, cold, miserable morning in Sydney - a perfect day for reading all day!

The first half of readathon sees me 63 pages further into Yes, Please with 6 hrs sleep under my belt.

We have friends visiting this weekend, so realistically, I won't get much reading done this morning. 
Does reading Twitter & scrolling through Instagram pics count?

Hopefully this afternoon I will visit a few blogs to see what everyone is up to.

Friday, 24 April 2015

Heat and Light by Ellen Van Neerven

One of the things I love about the new Stella Prize is that it encourages me to read authors & books that I might otherwise overlook.

Heat and Light had slipped under my radar last year, but when it was shortlisted I did a little research and found some very interesting reviews.

I dived in with great anticipation. An anticipation that quickly moved onto enjoyment and excitement at finding such a wonderful new voice in the Australian literary arena.

The only problem is I lost my notes!

This book is divided into three very distinct sections that are not connected.
As I read several books at once, this allowed me to put this book down between sections to savour the story, & read something different, before coming back for the next section.

I wrote my thoughts about each section on the bookmark I was using. It is now gone. And they were beautiful pearls of wisdom!

Ellen van Neerven has an interesting heritage. She is from the Yugambeh people of the Gold Coast with Dutch heritage. Her stories & writing style reflect this diversity.

Heat is about Pearl, an Aboriginal woman who doesn't know where she belongs.The story is told from her extended family's point of view as they all struggle with their own sense of identity & belonging.

Water was my favourite of the sections.
Set in the near future with a major environmental crisis looming & frightening political double-speak the norm, a new species of plantpeople is earmarked for extinction. Water is sexy, disturbing & very provocative - I couldn't put it down.

The final section, Light, consists of ten unconnected short stories, that again, feature themes of belonging & family.

Van Neerven's writing is light & easy on the surface with curious layers and complexities of emotion that bubble up when you least expect it. I look forward to seeing what she comes up with next.

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

Thursday, 23 April 2015

And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda by Eric Bogle

This weekend is the 100th anniversary since the Gallipoli campaign.

Gallipoli was the first major military action by the Australian & New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) as "independent dominions" (an autonomous country within the British Empire).

The 25th of April, the day the troops first landed on Gallipoli, is now our national day of remembrance, Anzac Day.

Needless to say, there has been a LOT of commentary, TV shows, articles, exhibitions and books covering the Gallipoli story from every possible angle in Australia in recent months.

I've reviewed a number of them previously (here) - And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda is the latest offering.

There aren't many Australians who wouldn't know Bogle's famous war song, And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda. In fact it is hard not to sing it out loud as you read through this picture book version illustrated by the ubiquitous Bruce Whatley.

In the foreword, Bogle says he wrote the song in memory of the WW1 Anzac's.

He hoped it would "operate on two levels: firstly as a tribute and secondly, as an indictment of the stubborn stupidity & arrogance of the political and military leadership of the Allied Forces at the time, which led to the waste of all that courage and all those young lives."

Whatley's accompanying illustrations are also inspired by the Gallipoli campaign & reflect the archival research he put into his work.

If you've never heard this heartfelt folk song before I've included the youtube link of Bogle's version of the song (it has also been covered by the likes of John Williamson, Joan Baez & The Pogues.)

Wednesday, 22 April 2015

Digger The Dog Who Went To War by Mark Wilson

I know. I know.
Another WW1 picture book.
But I'm a sucker for historical fiction in any guise and I will always get emotional with animal stories.

Digger was no different.

A tale of a young lad and his puppy growing up on a farm in Victoria. The young lad gets caught up in the excitement of war and runs off to join up.

As he is about to sail out to Egypt, his sister brings him his puppy, which he conceals in his jacket and smuggles on board.

As it turns out, Digger is not the only smuggled animal on board ship. Digger is not the only animal to suffer through the hardships of war. And Digger is not the only animal that performs great deeds in the name of loyalty and love.

Wilson uses his usual storytelling format of text, letters and signs inside his evocative, detailed illustrations.

This WW1-overloaded softie managed to tear up at the end of this story.
I suspect you will to!

Monday, 20 April 2015

It's Monday.....what am I doing?????

Suddenly my blogging & reading worlds have gone crazy.

I've agreed to write a contribution page on the Australian Women's Writers blog starting this month. I'm thrilled but a little daunted about trying to fit it into my current crazy schedule.

And I've just signed up for another Dewey's Readathon, even though we have visitors this weekend with several outings planned. Despite all the interruptions I usually find the readathon to be a great motivation for me to get stuck into or finish a couple of books, even if it's just for a few hours.

What will I be reading?

I hope to start my Classic Club spin book, the Australian modern day classic, The Great World & I'd like to finish Germinal by the end of the Zoladdiction month.

At work, lots of fabulous new releases and ARC's turned up this week, tempting me with their untold stories & pristine pages but I'm trying to be strong and finish all my half-started (or is that half-finished?) books first!

These include, the books mentioned above, and One Life by Kate Grenville & Something Special, Something Rare, an anthology of short stories by Australian women.

The merry month of May is the Sydney Writer's Festival. 
I'm booked into four events already and hope to fit in a few of the free ones as well.

In a fit of madness I signed up for the Gone With the Wind readalong which starts in May. The reading schedule is very relaxed, but there's no denying that GWTW is a chunkster!  

I also want to reread Age of Innocence in May for my very own Wharton Review.

This is my second year hosting the Wharton Review. It's a no pressure author readalong. Simply read, blog or comment on all things Wharton at your leisure throughout May.

Wharton's Goodreads author page can be viewed here if you need help getting started.
There is also a dedicated webpage called The Edith Wharton Society.

You can spread the word about The Wharton Review by using #whartonreview on facebook, twitter and instagram.

Copy The Wharton Review badge to add to your posts or sidebar.
I will create a master post on May1st for review links.

Until then, 

Happy Monday and Happy Reading! 

Sunday, 19 April 2015

And the Winner Is....

It's that time of year again when the book world goes crazy with longlists, shortlists and highly commended's! 
No matter what you think about the various awards, their merits & selection criteria's, it's very difficult not to get caught up in the buzz.

In Australia, the Indie Book Award has come and gone... 

and the Stella longlist has been whittled down to a 6 book shortlist.

The Miles Franklin Award began it's 2015 journey with an impressive longlist. 
The shortlist is due on the 18th May, with the winner announced on the 23rd June.

 In the UK, the Folio Prize celebrated it's second year by awarding it's Prize to Family Life a couple of weeks ago.

 And the Baileys Women's Prize released it's (dare I say) ridiculous large longlist.

Which they quickly shortlisted to the books below.
The winner will be announced on the 3rd June.

This week the IMPAC Dublin Literary Award also released their shortlist with the winner announced on the 17th June.

I'm pleased to see Nora Webster on a couple of lists.
I hope to read A Spool of Blue Thread & Harvest soon (they're both on my TBR pile).
How to be Both and Paying Guests intrigue and repel me at the same time.

I think I'm the only Australian who hasn't read Burial Rites - purely because the hype got to me!

I've just finished Heat and Light & feel very kindly about its chances for taking out the Stella, although The Golden Age will probably give it a good run for the money (so I believe - another book for my ever expanding wishlist!)

Do you have any favourite's in the running this year?
Do you care?
Is there an award where you try to read the entire shortlist prior to the winning announcement?

Friday, 17 April 2015

Germinal by Émile Zola

Mangoes and Cherry Blossoms is now hosting a new meme for readers of the classics called The Classics Salon. Each week she will pose a question for you to answer about the classic you are currently reading.

Thanks to my recent holiday, I'm running two weeks behind, so this is my catch up post.
The first question asked us about our first impressions.

I'm currently reading Germinal for Zoladdiction month.

I actually started Germinal two years ago. But I was reading it on my epad and it was a struggle. Not the story - the epad. It turns out that I seriously dislike reading a book on a screen. So I left Étienne languishing halfway down a mine for over a year.  

Firstly, Germinal is not a comfort read.

Zola's exploration of life in a mining village in France is bleak, cold, grim and definitely uncomfortable. My first impressions of Germinal have been very physical in nature.

Zola's descriptions of working in the mines made me squirm as the claustrophobic, cramped nature of their work bore down on me. I could almost feel the jagged edges edges pressing into my spine, the cold seeping into my bones, the muscle cramps and aches from repetitive work in unnatural poses.

The crowded, bleak existence of the miner's home lives also affected me strongly - instilling a sense of despair & helplessness. I felt how unfair it was to live like that and how difficult it was going to be to try and change anything.
To find love and human kindness amongst this grimness almost seemed like sacrilege. 

The acceptance of ones lot; to work in mean, squalid conditions as being better than to not work at all. That living and sleeping with 10 others in a two room hovel was the best you could expect from life; all hard truths for the reader to accept.

But despite all of this the young girls still dreamed of love. 

They believed that love & marriage would somehow be different for them because they loved more deeply, passionately & wisely than their mothers did!

Which leads me to Mangoes second Classics Salon question - which character do you relate to?

Young Catherine steals my heart so far. 

Her faith and trust that somehow everything will work out better for her...even as she gets drawn into a sexual relationship she doesn't really want because she has no power to avoid it.

Zola captures the innocence & unswerving self-belief of youth beautifully. Catherine's headlong rush into adult behaviours before having any real understanding of what she's getting herself into or the self-awareness to make good choices, is heartbreakingly familiar.

Thursday, 16 April 2015

CBCA 2015 Shortlist

How can it possibly be a year since last year's Children's Book Council Awards? 

But it is...and here it is in all it's glory!
 I have read all these books but only reviewed two.
I will add to the list below as I write up the rest.





I think the illustrations in One Minute's Silence are extraordinary for the power of emotion the convey & I love the humour in Pig the Pug.
The Tea & Sugar Christmas was a fascinating story about a little known bush Christmas tradition & I love Graham Byrne's illustrations in Emu.
Noni the Pony Goes to the Beach has pranced into my heart this year & I hope that Rossell writes a follow-up to Withering-by-Sea sooner rather than later.

Which one's have you read?
Any favourite's?

Wednesday, 15 April 2015

The Frangipani Hotel by Violet Kupersmith

The Frangipani Hotel is a collection of contemporary short stories predominantly set in Vietnam - which made for the perfect holiday read whilst travelling through said Vietnam.

The stories featured Saigon, Hanoi, the Mekong, the USA and a convent. The cast of characters included refugees, nuns, siblings, ex-pats, soldiers and ghosts.
Plenty of ghosts in fact, as well as haunts, the walking dead and even a were-snake!

Some of the ghosts were friendly & protective whilst some lured people to their deaths. Others tried to steal your soul or mess with your head. Some were lost, wandering the heavens & earth looking for somewhere to belong.

The ghosts reflected our own inner demons and insecurities - they highlighted the pasts that haunt us all.

All the short stories were extremely diverse, very enjoyable & a pleasure to read. Kupersmith has a lovely light touch that hides a surprising depth and complexity. The creepy edges to her stories leave you with a little tingle of horror.

Family, connections and belonging are common themes throughout, as is the act of storytelling.
Kupersmith uses storytelling within the stories to reveal truths, histories & traditions. They also hide secrets & disguise what really happened.

Highly recommended not just for travelers to Vietnam, but for all lovers of beautifully told short stories.

Monday, 13 April 2015

A Year of Marvellous Ways by Sarah Winman

I can't tell you how much I was looking forward to A Year of Marvellous Ways.

I read When God Was A Rabbit four years ago and adored it from start to finish. When an ARC of Winman's much anticipated second novel turned up at work two days before my holidays - I knew it was meant to be. AYOMW was going to be my holiday read par excellence.

Everything started off so hopefully. The quirkiness I remembered; the lovely writing. I was in the zone to savour every word and nuance.
But slowly something happened...or failed to happen.

I failed to engage with the characters. I failed to feel emotional involved, & by page 163 (when the main characters finally came together), I failed to see the point.

I don't often write reviews about the books I did not finish or did not enjoy, but occasionally I find it instructive to work out what went wrong.

Was it me? the book? the author? the timing?

In this particular case I started off with extremely high expectations.

The cover treatment for the ARC was superb - inviting and inticing. The little peephole onto the wooden stilt house put me in mind of Vietnam. Even though I knew it was set in the UK, it was just another detail that made this book feel like we were fated to love each other.

I also normally enjoy a story that deals with memory.
The opening quote from T.S. Eliot's, Little Gidding had me ready to dive headlong into its world of living and dying and the marvellous inbetween...

We die with the dying:
See, they depart, and we go with them.
We are born with the dead:
See, they return, and bring us with them.

I tried very hard to rediscover the magic of WGWAR but instead I kept bumping into disjointed time jumps and convenient crises. And in the end my sad conclusion was that it simply tried too hard...and the effort showed.

Normally, on a Monday, I would post my It's Monday! What Am I Reading schedule with Sheila @Book Journey.

But a couple of weeks ago I promised myself not to start any new books until I had finished all the half started ones by my bed (or in my suitcase)! 

Tragically, during this time, Sheila has suffered some heartbreaking family news which means that she will not be continuing her meme for the moment. 
I have found it heartening to witness the love & concern from the book blogging community pouring onto Sheila's various social media sites and blog. 
I sincerely hope that Sheila finds herself able to blog again one day soon. As we all know, the writing process can be such a creative, healing act & the act of reading can be such a comfort & release from our daily affairs. 

However, in the meantime (when I have finished the unread masses), I will continue my weekly reading updates on Monday's as I find them a truly useful way to keep track of my reading life as well as the many book events in the blogging world.

For now, I will finish with my own Monday Shout-out! feature where I highlight interesting reviews that I have read during the week.

Due to my recent holiday in Vietnam, I haven't read many reviews this past week or so, but I did make a point of catching up with Mangoes and Cherry Blossoms new Classics Salon meme.

The idea is to discuss or blog about the classic you are currently reading using the weekly question as a starting point.

I hope to use the meme to kick start my discussion of Germinal for Zoladdiction month along with Fanda et al.

Saturday, 11 April 2015

Whoops! by Suzi Moore & Russell Ayto

I love picture books with a sense of fun and silliness.

They made great read alouds when I was a preschool teacher.  
Whoops! is one of those books.

Fun rhyming & onomatopoeia make for lots of interactive, noisy moments as three animal friends keep getting the wrong sound after a witches spell.

The repetitive element gives great "oh no what will happen this time" suspense which makes the surprising twist at the end even more pleasurable.

Ayto's simple but captivating illustrations are lovely - I'm always partial to rich earthy colour palettes. The dead-pan expressions on the animals faces add to the humour of the text.

I loved this topsy-turvy, chaotic story - it was great fun from start to finish.

Friday, 10 April 2015

A few views from Halong Bay Vietnam....

"Getting in touch with the beauty of nature makes life much more beautiful, much more real."
You Are Here by Thich Nhat Hanh
Halong Bay is beautiful, magical and impossible to capture.
There is a majesty in the simplicity of these limestone karsts. It's difficult to accurately capture their scale & depth.
But there is another side to Halong Bay.
The side that is on the brink of bring overdeveloped, exploited and ultimately depleted. The abundance of tourists & boats is overwhelming.
It was hard not to feel guilty at times for being there and being a part of the environmental destruction.
But there were bays and coves where one could feel like you were the only person left on earth (except for the crew on the boat!) The silence was extraordinary - broken only by lapping waves and birdsong. The peace and serenity, though fleeting, were healing in their purity. And their unexpectedness.
Like Venice, one could focus on the rubbish floating around the busier sections of Halong Bay. 
Or like Venice, you could focus on the marvels of the (natural) world.
I chose to focus on the magical beauty of Halong Bay. But the detrimental impact of human beings was never very far from my consciousness or conscience.

I sincerely hope that the Vietnamese government can work out a reasonable and environmentally ethical solution soon to this dilemma. It must be possible to enjoy this world & it's simple beauty without destroying it at the same time.

Tuesday, 7 April 2015

Marilyn's Monster by Michelle Knudsen

I love Michelle Knudsen's previous picture book, The Library Lion, so I had high hopes for Marilyn's Monster.

I was initially disappointed because the front cover didn't appeal to me the same way as The Library Lion did, but inside was another lovely Knudsen story about friendship, belonging, patience, determination and difference.

With a touch of Philip Pullman and his 'daemons' we follow young Marilyn as she waits patiently for her special monster to find her.

We see the other kids at school being found in all sorts of weird and wonderful ways by their monsters. Marilyn goes from waiting patiently, to being philosophical. She then becomes anxious & cross, & eventually she moves to pro-actively searching for her monster herself, despite her brother's derision.

I like how Marilyn never gave up. She tries lots of different strategies and remains hopeful throughout.

"She thought there were a lot of different ways that things could work."

Until she discovers that friends "sometimes find you & sometimes you find them and sometimes you find each other."

By the end of the book I also felt more kindly towards Phelan's soft water colour illustrations.

Saturday, 4 April 2015

Fearless Sons and Daughter by Colin Thompson & Sarah Davis

If you loved Fearless and Fearless in Love then you'll be delighted with this latest installment about the most adorable, scaredy-cat bulldog in the world!

Fearless Sons and Daughter follows the clueless Fearless as he comes to terms with his new role as dad to five of the silliest, cutest bulldog pups ever.

The usual puppy mishaps ensue and the usual Fearless fears arise as the ever patient, Primrose carries on.
My only beef with the book, & it may be the former teacher coming out in me, is the poor grammar as spoken by the dogs - it annoys me! I understand that Thompson has created his own dog language but if I read this aloud to a class, I would have to automatically correct it. I would emphasise the doggy language but using my 'barky' voice instead!

Sarah Davis' illustrations are as adorable as ever - the impulse to reach in and give those puppies are cuddle is very strong indeed.

Friday, 3 April 2015

Classics Club Spin #9

In the past I've carefully collated my Classic Club Spin to include connecting links to other bloggers reading the same book.

However, it is AusReading Month during November so this time around I wanted to highlight as many Aussie classics as possible.
I only have 5 left on my classics club list as I read quite a few during last year's AusReading Month.

I've also cheated a little by only picking small sized classics.
I definitely do not need another chunkster in my life right now!

My previous spins have been mostly successful and/or enjoyable:

#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.

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

So without any further is my list with a twist for CC Spin #9.


1. The Dig Tree by Sarah Murgatroyd (non-fiction).
2. The Great World by David Malouf (reread).
3. Swords of Crowns and Rings by Ruth Park.

4. Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates.
5. A Good School by Richard Yates.
6. The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck.
7. Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton.
8. Stoner by John Williams.
9. This Side of Paradise by F. Scott Fitzgerald.


10. The Silver Sword by Ian Serraillier (reread).
11. Dubliners by James Joyce.
12. Cranford by Elizabeth Gaskell.
13. I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith.
14. A Far Cry From Kensington by Muriel Spark.
15. The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Bronte.


16. Man's Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl
17. Corinne, or Italy by Staël
18. The Dream by Emile Zola   
19. Out of Africa by Karen Blixen
20. Death in Venive by Thomas Mann  

On Monday, the Classics Club will do their magic mumbo jumbo and the lucky spin number will be revealed!
What will you be reading?

Monday -  the lucky spin is #2 - it's a reread of a modern day Aussie classic for me. What about you?