Tuesday, 31 March 2015

11/22/63 by Stephen King

One of the things I enjoy about reading Stephen King is the connections.

King has created three fictional towns based in Maine that reappear regularly in his books - Derry, Jerusalem's Lot & Castle Rock.

Many of the characters from these towns also pop up in unexpected places.

Pennywise the Clown & Randall Flagg are two that cross our paths, one way or another in almost every story.

And it's not just the main characters - neighbours, pharmacists, librarians & even cars tease the Kingophile into trying to remember which books they came from first.

11/22/63 has oodles of these connections to tantalise and tease, beginning with the protagonists name Jake - a name that King uses a lot in his books.

Jake's second time-travelling experience takes him back to Derry 1958 - a few short months after the murderous summer of IT.
He briefly meets young Richie Tozier & Beverly dancing in the park. They allude to the events of the summer and tell Jake that they know he is one of the good guys.

The whole time Jake is in Derry he feels the negative effects of the bad undercurrent that infuses everyone & everything. A visit to the old Kitchener Ironworks leaves Jake with a sense that something evil is lurking in the fallen chimney...all IT readers know exactly what that lurking thing is!

When Jake finally moves on to Dallas, Texas, we leave many of the familiar King haunts only to arrive in a time and place that anyone born before 1970  is intimately familiar with.

King excels at the details. The language, the songs, the cars, the clothes, the books, the shops, the references are all of their time. A nostagla effect kicks in for the time-travelling sections of the story (which is most of it!)

The writing is not beautiful, but it is evocative and it is real. The darker, grittier side of real that is. Bodily functions, dark thoughts, gross behaviours, crude speech....

11/22/63 is a page turner, like the best Stephen King's of old. The battle between good and evil is far more subtle & complex than in some of his earlier books, which makes for a richer reading experience. I can now see why this has become one of Mr Books favourite King's.

There is the impossible, eerie coincidences, the despair of reality & the promise of hope. This one is not a gory horror story. 11/22/63 is more about the suspense.

Thank you to Wensend and Fourth Street Review for hosting King's March. It has been quite an intoxicating experience dropping back into the world of King. I won't stay away so long this time...promise!

Monday, 30 March 2015

It's Monday

It's Monday! or ngày thứ hai as they say in Vietnam.

This week I hope to read, or at least browse through my travel guides for Vietnam to prepare for our upcoming holiday. 

Yes, excitement levels are rapidly rising - the anticipation is as delicious as a green papaya salad!

If you have been to Vietnam and have any great tips on things to do or must see suggestions, I would love to hear them below. 

I also love to read literature from or by local authors. 
Any reading suggestions would also be welcome, especially contemporary stories or ones about the French Colonial period of Vietnamese history.

But in the meantime....my reading week will hopefully contain....

 A Year of Marvellous Ways by Sarah Winman

Cornwall, 1947. 
Marvellous Ways is a ninety-year-old woman who's lived alone in a remote creek for nearly all her life. Recently she's taken to spending her days sitting on the steps of her caravan with a pair of binoculars. She's waiting for something - she's not sure what, but she'll know it when she sees it. 

Freddy Drake is a young soldier left reeling by the war. He's agreed to fulfil a dying friend's last wish and hand-deliver a letter to the boy's father in Cornwall. 
But Freddy's journey doesn't go to plan, and sees him literally wash up in Marvellous' creek, broken in body and spirit. 

When Marvellous comes to his aid, an unlikely friendship grows between the two. 

Can Freddy give Marvellous what she needs to say goodbye to the world, and can she give him what he needs to go on?

Something Special Something Rare: Outstanding Short Stories by Australian Women

Something Special, Something Rare presents outstanding short fiction by Australia’s finest female writers. These are tales of love, secrets, doubt and torment, the everyday and the extraordinary.

A sleepy town is gripped by delusory grief after the movie being filmed there wraps and leaves. A lingering heartbreak is replayed on Facebook. An ordinary family walks a shaky line between hopelessness and redemption.

Brilliant, shocking and profound, these tales will leave you reeling in ways that only a great short story can.

Kate Grenville * Mandy Sayer * Penni Russon * Favel Parrett * Tegan Bennett Daylight * Sonya Hartnett * Isabelle Li * Gillian Essex * Brenda Walker * Gillian Mears * Fiona MacFarlane * Joan London * Karen Hitchcock * Charlotte Wood * Tara June Winch * Cate Kennedy * Alice Pung * Anna Krien * Delia Falconer * Rebekah Clarkson

The Frangipani Hotel by Violet Kupersmith

From the story about a beautiful young woman who shows up thirsty in the bathtub of the Frangipani Hotel in Saigon many years after her first sighting there, 
to a young woman in Houston who befriends an old Vietnamese man she discovers naked behind a dumpster, 
to a truck driver asked to drive a young man with an unnamed ailment home to die, 
to the story of two American sisters sent to Vietnam to visit their elderly grandmother who is not what she appears to be, 
these stories blend the old world with the new while providing a new angle of insight into the after-effects of the war on a generation of displaced Vietnamese immigrants as well as those who remained in Vietnam.

I also plan to spend the next couple of weeks finishing off all my half started (or is that half finished) books. 

I will not start any more new books until I have finished all the current books underway!!

*********************************************************************

I often read a great review but then forget who, where & when, so I've decided to add a shout-out feature to my It's Monday post.

My first shout-out is actually a half-hearted curse sent to Melissa @Avid Reader's Musings for tantalising me with the idea of rereading The Lord of the Rings trilogy!

Part of my bloggiesta plans for this past week were to get better at using the goggle+ reader.
Thanks to spending time with it last Tuesday, I found these fascinating reviews...

Sandra @Writing With A Texas Twang reminded me about Snow Child which I've been meaning to read for years.

Sim @Chapter 1 - Take 1 has got me duly excited about the upcoming Wolf Hall mini-series by her review of Bring Up the Bodies.

And Nadia @A Bookish Way of Life has got me rethinking about whether or not to give up on Maisie Dobbs with this very emotional response to the latest book.

Tania @Girlxoxo has created a master list of Book Blogging Memes for Bloggiesta. It's a fabulous resource for those bloggers interested in participating in the wider blogging community.

What are you reading this week?

Sunday, 29 March 2015

Bloggiesta Wrap Up

I only planned to dip into Bloggiesta this week as I had a very busy week without adding anything extra to it...but there you go....I went and did it anyway!

And what a gem of a week it turned out to be.

For anyone wanting to update/refresh their blog this is the place for you.

The wonderful folk at Bloggiesta have now created a separate blog page to keep all the posts - old and new. It's a fabulous resource. You can visit any time and check out the posts and suggestions left from previous Bloggietsa's.

It covers everything from design, style, readers, comments, twitter, facebook and how to organise your blogging life. Guest bloggers write posts that they are knowledgable about, providing tips and helpful hints. And bless their cotton socks, they answer your dumb questions and pleas for help with grace and good humour.

I was simply planning to tidy up my google+ reader by adding a few folders to make it easier to keep track of the blogs I want to read often, occasionally or for special events.....until!

I read Andi's inspiring post about feedly - here.

I had already quickly discovered the limitations of what I was doing with my google+ reader - that is very few bloggers actually have google+ accounts and/or link them to their blog.

So I set up feedly...and quickly saw the light!

It is very easy to add favourite blogs and keep track of what their up to.
Following Andi's advice I set up a Daily and Weekend folder. Because my mind tends to categorise bloggers by how I first met them or in what way I connect with them, I also set up a Classics Club folder, a Memes folder and an Australian Bloggers folder.

What I love about it, is that it is easy to interact with on my PC (which is where I prefer to do the admin/organising side of things) and very easy to use on my phone (which is where I will do most of the actual reading of other blogs).

The bonus has been the spring (or autumn in my case) clean up of my phone apps as feedly also allows me to have a News folder.

I was feeling pretty pleased with myself but then I stumbled across Brianna's article about IFTTT.

And my blogging world changed forever!

IFTTT stands for If This Then That.

It allows you to create 'recipes' or commands that automatically posts your latest blog article to fb, twitter etc. You can create recipes for email notifications, instagram pics & linkedin updates...you can even use it to find your phone! Each recipe can be fine tuned to your specific needs & requirements.

And it's easy.

Which isn't to say that I haven't experienced some teething problems...the main one being how to specify which image on my post is the one used when linking it to my fb page and to twitter. Brianna & I are still trying to fine tune this one.

The week has also had some mixed blessings.

I have been wanting a fresher, cleaner looking blog all year & have played around with a few options. But then on Thursday I read through the Weds chat recap post.

These two sections caught my eye in particular:

What makes a blog look nice and readable?
  • lots of white space
  • light backgrounds
  • no script fonts
  • no colored type (or very little)
  • breaks in text
Sidebars and Menus
  • maybe just have one sidebar with minimal content
  • three column layouts are out!
  • maybe you can get away with no sidebars? Maybe have stuff in a footer?
  • drop down menus are nice, but no more than 5 to 7 links
  • only have one row of tabs
As these points confirmed what I already experienced myself in all but the 3 column layout, I decided it was time to abandon the 3 columns to see what it looked like.

The disaster was saving the new look before I was really thinking about what I was doing. When I checked the new look all my special add on features had gone! Poof! No more social media icons, let alone the ones that rotate. My centred header - poof! Gone!

The real disaster occured when I couldn't find where my computer had saved the backup template.

Thursday, my day off work to rest & play & get lots of things done, became a Thursday tied to the computer trying to fix my big boo-boo!

It took all day to find the blogger help sites that showed me how to add the rotating SM icons in the top right of the page & to fix the new layout to accommodate the one & only sidebar.

I ended up tweeking everything - from date formatting, to font sizing, header spacing & column widths & I added a quote to my header for the first time.
I may still tweek the actual background design when I have more time to explore some of the free options out there, but for now one of the simple blogger template designs will suffice.

And this time I saved my updated blogger template in an area on my PC that I can find it easily.

How was your week of bloggiesta?
What were your successes, dramas and lessons learnt the hard way?

Thank you one and all for your support, positive messages and oodles of provocations.
It's been fun.
Really!

Saturday, 28 March 2015

Bloggiesta Feedback

Part of the Bloggiesta week long experience is the oppportunity to ask for feedback about the style & design of your blog.

Obviously the aesthetics of your blog should appeal to you. It should reflect who you are and make you feel a little flutter of pride everytime you log on.

But there are some elements of design that help or hinder visitors when they come to your blog.

I've been fiddling with lots of these features this week.

I've moved to a two column blog which has allowed me to make the central post column much wider (but is it too wide now?)

I would like to make the sidebar a little slimmer, but any smaller than it currently is affects the integrity of the goodreads widget. I have yet to check the goodreads widget code to see if I can easily change its dimensions.

What do you like to see in a sidebar? My current set-up reflects what I like to spot when I visit others - readalongs & other bookish events and what people are reading esp. 

I managed to change my label widget to a drop down menu which has freed up a lot of space. Does anyone know if you use the same code (but change the relevant names) to create a drop down for the archives widget too?

The recent change to my blog lost all my old add-ons (the social media icons in particular).
I have found how to get three of them back, but would also like to add an Instagram and Feedly button that matches what I currently have. Where did you source your SM icon's from?

The header looks too thick to my eyes too, but I don't know how to adjust that without changing the template completely.

I've toyed with the idea of my own personalised image and/or badge, but have never come across anything I really like and am prepared to commit to!

I've also considered changing to one of the dynamic templates that would allow me to run my posts as excerpts. But I'm in two minds about that. I often fail to click on the 'read more' option with most excerpts, although I spotted one last night that just had the title of the review with an image and that looked good and easy to navigate.

I've also started using IFTTT. What are your favourite/most useful recipes to date?

Please feel free to leave constructive feedback in the comments below.

Thursday, 26 March 2015

El Dorado by Dorothy Porter

El Dorado (2007) was the final verse novel written by Dorothy Porter before her death in 2008.

It's another dark crime story with a psychological twist, but unlike Monkey Mask, her earliest work, this one is set in Melbourne.
We follow Detective Inspector Bill Buchanan in his attempt to solve a spate of child killings. He calls in his childhood friend Cath (now a successful Hollywood mover & shaker) to help with some of the more curious details of the murders.

The writing is crisp, clean & evocative. But I have to admit it wasn't as gritty, lucid or as passionate as Monkey Mask.
MM got under my skin in major way. It moved me, it captured my attention and took me along for the ride, big time.

I enjoyed El Dorado but it didn't sweep me up and carry me away like I was expecting... or hoping.... but maybe my expectations were impossibly high.

You could also say that El Dorado was more polished - a mature story compared to the raw, soul-searing newness of Monkey Mask. It was still full of wonderful imagery as only a verse novel can achieve (that continues to linger days after I finished reading it). Porter also had lots of interesting commentary about the aging process & the impact of childhood memories.

Falling in love also gets a look-in as Cath describes that crazy feeling...

my heart is falling
into her beautiful face

my heart is tearing open
its presents
in a giddying storm
of Christmas beetles' wings.

As well as love of Sydney...(you can take the girl out of Sydney but not Sydney out of the girl...)

And his Sydney had always
loved him lavishly back.

The arching surrender
of her scorching blue skies,
the silky shiver
of her rolling-him-over
surf.

Her beautiful smell.
The Harbour on a hot midnight
oozing ferry diesel and oily green water
while glowing Luna Park
sprawled and clutched
like a drunk date.

Oh Sydney.

The ending felt a little rushed with a whoosh of smoke and mirrors, but sometimes tying everything up in a pretty bow isn't the thing to do.

This post is part of the Australian Women's Writers Challenge & also part of the Birthday Reading Challange as Dorothy Porter's birthday is today, the 26th March 1954. Happy Birthday Dot!

Monday, 23 March 2015

It's Monday

Another It's Monday; another week begins.

The weather has now taken a definite turn towards the cooler side of things on the east coast of Australia.
It's nice not to be so hot & sweaty all the time, but I do not like the long, dark, cold winters (& Sydney doesn't even get that cold!!)

I dislike wearing layers of clothes. I hate wearing jeans or stockings every day (but I do love scarves!) I miss my summer dresses already - not being able to wear them again until November is a sad thing indeed!

To cheer me up I've decided to read a biography about an amazing woman.

One Life by Kate Grenville

Nance was a week short of her sixth birthday when she and Frank were roused out of bed in the dark and lifted into the buggy, squashed in with bedding, the cooking pots rattling around in the back, and her mother shouting back towards the house: Goodbye, Rothsay, I hope I never see you again!
When Kate Grenville’s mother died she left behind many fragments of memoir. These were the starting point for One Life, the story of a woman whose life spanned a century of tumult and change.

In many ways Nance’s story echoes that of many mothers and grandmothers, for whom the spectacular shifts of the twentieth century offered a path to new freedoms and choices.

 In other ways Nance was exceptional. In an era when women were expected to have no ambitions beyond the domestic, she ran successful businesses as a registered pharmacist, laid the bricks for the family home, and discovered her husband’s secret life as a revolutionary.
One Life is an act of great imaginative sympathy, a daughter’s intimate account of the patterns in her mother’s life. It is a deeply moving homage by one of Australia’s finest writers.

*********************************

One of the great ideas I spotted on my It's Monday travels last week was a fellow blogger (so sorry I've forgotten who already!) giving shout-outs for interesting reviews they had read during the week.

I often read a fascinating review but then forget who, where & when, so I've decided to add the shout-out feature to my It's Monday posts.

This week I have spotted some tempting reviews for books already on my radar but not on my shelf!

*The Guest Cat by Takashi Hiraide @ +Wensend - I love the idea of a book that continues to improve weeks after you finished it.

*The Death Fugue by Sheng Keyi reviewed by Lisa @ANZ LitLovers LitBlog - I enjoy Chinese literature, although it sounds like one I will need to be in the right mood for this one.

And sadly, a favourite series of mine has lost its way according to this review of the latest Maisie Dobbs book by Jacqueline Winspear @ Dolce Belleza.

There were also reviews for books that are waiting patiently for me to get to them, get back to them or finish them!

*Goodbye Sweetheart by Marion Halligan @Debbishdotcom - another book on my TBR pile from one of my favourite authors of old. Debbish compares her writing style to Anita Brookner.

*Carrie by Stephen King - a satisfying reread for Christine @Bride of the Book God of this truly frightening teen story.

*Ellen van Neerven's Heat and Light, reviewed by Whispering Gums. This is one of the Stella shortlisted books that I've been savouring slowly over the past few weeks. It was lovely to spot another satisfied reader.

*I have absolutely no idea how I'm going to fit this in, but I'm so very, very tempted to reread Gone With the Wind along with Corinne @The Pursuit of Happiness & her very easy, relaxed readalong starting May 1.

One of the many advantages of living in Australia is being one of the first countries to experience the new day, the new month & the new year before the rest of the majority of the world.

This helps me a lot in the blogging world. I often miss the lead up to many readathon's, readalongs and other special blogging events & so I often feel like I'm jumping on board late. But thanks to the time difference it turns out I'm just in time.

This week I'm just in time for Bloggiesta!

With the week ahead of me anything more than a basic commitment is beyond me but I do have things I want to do to improve my blogging life & this seems like as good as time to say 'yes, I'm in'.

But for those interested in getting more involved please click on the link above for the week's highlights including twitter chats, mini-challenges and to see what other bloggers are doing to improve/update/refresh their blogs.

The thing I've struggled with ever since losing the blogger reader is how to keep track of my fellow bloggers reviews & posts.

This week I will work out a system to manage this.

*I will explore & master the new goggle+ reader (does anyone know how to make the posts appear in chronological order?)

*I will check my wordpress notifications for new comments & replies (I just found out how I can do this on my phone - do'h! Late to the party in oh so many ways!)

*I will use twitter to find reviews & posts of interest (is there an easy filtering app or system to do this?)

How do other bloggers keep track of & find new reviews?

Until next Monday,

Happy Reading!
And Happy Blogging!

Saturday, 21 March 2015

An Armadillo in Paris by Julie Kraulis

My first thought when I saw this picture book at work was 'Louise!' (from A Strong Belief in Wicker) because An Armadillo in Paris would tickle her Francophile fancy in all the right spots!

Elegant black and white illustrations grace each page & the covers. They are simple, clean drawings enhanced by splashes of water colour.

Young Arlo the armadillo likes to explore - he comes from a long line of nine-banded explorers. His grandfather, Augustin, left him a trail of clues with which to explore Paris for the first time. His aim is to find the Iron Lady.

So with "a twitch that only stops when adventure begins..." Arlo sets off!

He takes in all the usual Parisian sites as his follows his grandfather's clues around the city.
We also learn some facts about the Iron Lady at each stop.

Arlo particularly enjoys the stops that allow him to munch on croissants & try macarons!

The final double page spread revealing the identity of the Iron Lady is followed by a page of facts and figures for those who want to know more.

Julie Kraulis is Canadian and has a website full of her lovely illustrations & art work here. She also has an earlier picture book called, Whimsy's Heavy Things, for me to track down :-)

This post is part of Dreaming of France with Paulita.

Thursday, 19 March 2015

The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro

I've managed to get to this point without reading any reviews for The Buried Giant. Therefore, when I began reading it last week I had no idea what it was about or what to expect.

There is something very thrilling & even a little daunting about opening a new book by such a well-known, well-regarded author that includes a leap into the great unknown. It's an act of reader faith.
Where will this story take me? Will I like it? What will I discover along the way?

A part of me wants to say nothing at all about The Buried Giant so that you have the pure, unadulterated pleasure of discovering this bittersweet tale about memory and love all by yourself, like I did. But that would make for a very brief & rather pointless review!

If you've read this far, I have to assume you want to know whether this book is for you or not.

I've only read two Ishiguro novels before this.

The Remains of the Day, which I thought was an exquisite story of yearning, restraint & repression and Never Let Me Go, which I failed to get into at all.

The first book is set in post war upstairs/downstairs England while NLMG has a futuristic dystopian setting. TROTD follows an aging butler come to terms with the decisions and choices he's made in life around duty, honour & class. While the latter is a boarding school romp with some creepy cloning issues!

Where could Ishiguro possibly go after that?

Shall I tell you?

Alright.

Go back.
Waaaaay back!

Back to post-Arthurian England. Back to a Dark Ages world of Saxons and Britons. Back to a time steeped in mythology & legend where she-dragons, ogres, pixies and curious memory-sapping mists prevail.

Axl & Beatrice are a couple to take into your heart forever.

Ishiguro's language is careful, gentle and deliberately paced to slow your reading down. Each sentence is savoured, each emotion rolls off the page as the subtle tension builds.
What will their missing memories reveal?

'It would be the saddest thing to me , princess. To walk separately from you, when the ground will let us go as we always did.'

The Buried Giants won't be for everyone, but if you're prepared to go along for the journey, you will be well rewarded.

Tuesday, 17 March 2015

My Autumnal Reading List

I seem to have hit the winter doldrums rather early this year!

The autumn leaves are only just thinking about turning & already I'm grumbling about the cold and dreading the long, dark nights ahead.

I'm also struggling to find my blogging groove this year. A manic start to the year, followed by a writing slump of epic proportions now. I can't just blame it on our busy life....or can I?

I'm reading some fabulous books, but my reviews of them are far from fabulous. My writing persona seems to be missing in action...or perhaps she simply needs a good, long holiday!

All my recent reviews feel forced & flat.

So right now I'm trying the old 'writing-myself-out-of-a-writing-slump-by-writing' theory by creating a list!

In an effort to work my way through my out-of-control TBR mountain, here is a list of books that I hope to finish by the June long weekend (NSW).

The timing of this list also gives me the chance to use the word autumnal in a post - one of my favourite all-time words in the English language!

To help my 2015 challenges get back on track I will try to read Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Bronte, Watership Down by Richard Adams, Stoner by John Williams and Summer of the Seventeenth Doll by Ray Lawler.

A few new releases will be needed to mix things up - One Life by Kate Grenville, A Year of Marvellous Ways by Sarah Winman & A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler.

For light relief, some junior fiction & teen books - The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Kate DiCamillo, Promised by Caragh O'Brien and Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green & David Leviathan.

I would also like to read at least one book on the Stella shortlist before the winner is announced on the 21st April.

The next Dewey's Readathon is planned for the 25th April which I hope to participate in again.
 
However, between now & June, I have a two week trip to Vietnam to look forward to.

I like to read books related to the areas I travel to so I've been researching a few good ones & reflecting on past experiences.

Years ago I read The Quiet American by Graham Greene and way back when in my school days, I studied the Vietnam War in my history class & read Michael Maclear's Vietnam: The Ten Thousand Day War. I don't feel the need to revisit either of these books right now.

More recently I have read Ahn Do's memoir The Happiest Refugee and his children's book, The Little Refugee. I've also read the picture books I Was Only Nineteen, Mark Wilson's Vietnam Diary & The Lotus Seed by Sherry Garland.

But I would like some adult literature set during the various era's in Vietnam's history as well as something contemporary.

Have you read any books set in Vietnam that you could recommend?

What do you do when you have a writing slump?

What are your reading plans for this coming autumn (Southern hemisphere) or spring (Northern hemisphere)?
If you feel like creating a seasonal post on your blog and linking it back here - I'd love to see what your reading plans are.

Later: Thanks to Lianne's comment below I realised my autumnal list idea is far from original or even unique!

Top Ten Tuesday have got in ahead of me!

I do usually check TTT most weeks to see what the topic is, but I had Monday off work this week & now I'm a day behind with everything! Synchronicity? Serendipity? Snap!

Monday, 16 March 2015

It's Monday, Monday

What are you reading this week?

Join Sheila at Book Journeys to find out what the big, wide world of blogging is also reading this week.

I feel much lighter of heart now that my sad chunkster, Testament of Youth from the last month is finished & reviewed (below).

To say that I now need something more light-hearted is an understatement. And as luck would have it, the perfect book fell into my lap a couple of days ago.

Yes Please by Amy Poehler should do the trick!

In Amy Poehler’s highly anticipated first book, Yes Please
she offers up a big juicy stew of personal stories, funny bits on sex and love 
and friendship and parenthood and real life advice (some useful, some not so much), 
like when to be funny and when to be serious. 
Powered by Amy’s charming and hilarious, biting yet wise voice,  
Yes Please is a book is full of words to live by.


Thanks to last week's It's Monday meme I discovered that Wensen & Fourth Street Review are hosting a Stephen King reading month called King's March. It's still not too late to join if, like me, you have some King's lurking on your TBR pile.

Mr Books highly recommended 11/22/63 to me and given my predilection for time-slip stories & JFK, it seems like an obvious win-win book choice for me.

Life can turn on a dime—or stumble into the extraordinary, as it does for Jake Epping, a high school English teacher in a Maine town. 

While grading essays by his GED students, Jake reads a gruesome, enthralling piece penned by janitor Harry Dunning: fifty years ago, Harry somehow survived his father’s sledgehammer slaughter of his entire family. 

Jake is blown away . . . but an even more bizarre secret comes to light when Jake’s friend Al, owner of the local diner, enlists Jake to take over the mission that has become his obsession—to prevent the Kennedy assassination. How? By stepping through a portal in the diner’s storeroom, and into the era of Ike and Elvis, of big American cars, sock hops, and cigarette smoke. . . . 

Finding himself in warmhearted Jodie, Texas, Jake begins a new life. But all turns in the road lead to a troubled loner named Lee Harvey Oswald. The course of history is about to be rewritten . . . and become heart-stoppingly suspenseful.

The only problem I have with this book is the date.

In Australia we always write the date DD/MM/YY. 
Everytime I see this title my mind automatically says, "the 11th of ......what, we only have 12 months, not 22? what the? Is Stephen King messing with my head already? No! oh, it's American, so that means the month is first, so it reads November the 22nd, 1963! And means the same as 22nd November, 1963. Or 22/11/63 to be more Aussie. Got it now! Phew!"

And just in, a copy of Anatolia: Adventures in Turkish Cooking has found its lovely way into my home enticing me with gorgeous places to visit and yummy aromas. Based on the menu at one of my favourite local restaurants, Efendy, I can't wait to try some of them myself!

Anatolia is a richly illustrated, entertaining and informative exploration of the regional cooking culture of Turkey. Turkish-born chef Somer Sivrioglu and co-author David Dale re-imagine the traditions of Turkish cooking, presenting recipes ranging from the grand banquets of the Ottoman empire to the spicy snacks of Istanbul's street stalls. In doing so they explain their take on the classics and reveal the surrounding rituals, myths, jokes and folk wisdom of both the old and new Turkey.

More than 150 dishes are featured, and images of the recipes are complemented by specially commissioned photographs shot on location in Turkey. Feature spreads on local Turkish chefs and producers and their specialities add a fascinating layer of interest and flavour.

Somer Sivrioglu grew up in Instanbul and moved to Sydney when he was twenty-five. He now runs the extremely popular Efendy restaurant in Balmain, where he draws on a multitude of cultural influences to recreate the food traditions of his homeland.

David Dale is an Australian political journalist, commentator on popular culture, and food and travel writer. In his earlier books, David analysed how Italian cooking charmed the world. He's convinced that 'Turkish is going to be the next international phenomenon and Somer the next Ottolenghi'.

Happy Reading! 

Friday, 13 March 2015

Testament of Youth by Vera Brittain

Reading Vera Brittain's memoir about her years as a VAD nurse during WW1 was a far more intense and bittersweet experience than I first anticipated.

I have tried to write this review several times this week but I've struggled to find the right tone.

Testament of Youth is a sombre book and my attempted reviews so far have reflected this. But unlike Brittain I have been unable to claim the tags, "sad but beautifully written", or "heartbreaking yet eloquent"!

This is a story full of beauty and ugliness. It is deeply personal yet restrained. It is insightful, intellectual writing encased in emotional honesty.
It's a slow, compelling read, with a lot to absorb.

Testament of Youth was also part of my Reading England challenge.

Although Vera's adult years were spent between Oxford and London (as well as nursing overseas), her teenage years were in Buxton. And it was in Buxton that she first met Roland....

Buxton is near Manchester in the spa district of Derbyshire. Built on the River Wye with a geothermal spa nearby, it was made famous by the patronage of the Darwin's & Wedgewood's.

Vera's father worked in a local pottery mill. Her feelings about Buxton were of a love/hate kind.

"but in those years when the beautiful heather-covered hills surrounding Buxton represented for me the walls of a prison." pg 38

"Buxton, which my father used to describe as 'a little box of social strife lying in the bottom of a basin,' must have had a population of about twelve thousand apart from the visitors who came to take the waters." pg 38

Buxton Pump Room 1890-1900
It was in Buxton that Vera and her family sat out the wait to see if the world was going to war or not. 

"Later, on my way home, I found the Pavilion Gardens deserted, and a depressed and very much diminished band playing lugubriously to rows of empty chairs." pg 75

"It was the last Christmas we spent together as a family, and the unspoken but haunting consciousness in all our minds that perhaps it might be, somewhat subdued the pride with which we displayed him to our acquaintances in the Pavilion Gardens." pg 89
Buxton Pavilion 1910



Buxton & surrounds also witnessed the early scenes of Vera & Roland's romance.

"After tea we walked steeply uphill along the wide road which leads over lonely, undulating moors through Whaley Bridge....This was 'the long white road' of Roland's poems, where nearly a year before we had walked between 'the grey hills and the heather', and the plover had cried in the awakening warmth of the spring. There was no plover there that afternoon; heavy snow had fallen, and a rough blizzard drove sleet and rain into our faces." pg 104

Whaley Bridge
From Buxton, Vera watched the young men marching off to war, feeling more & more frustrated at her own lack of activity and purpose.

"...the mobilisation order on the door of the Town Hall; I joined the excited little group round the Post Office to watch a number of local worthies who had suddenly donned their Territorial uniforms..." pg 75


Buxton WW1
"In the early morning we walked to the station beneath a dazzling sun, but the platform from which his train went out was dark and very cold....I watched the train wind out of the station and swing round the curve until there was nothing left but the snowy distance, and the sun shining harshly on the bright, empty rails." pg 106

Brittain describes the constraints and provincialism of small town life to a tee. While she could appreciate the natural beauty of the area, it was never going to be enough to hold someone who was so fiercely determined to live an intellectual, independent, active life.

There is so much more to say about this book as it discusses feminism, academia, the League of Nations & politics. Brittain comments on the values of peace, duty, despair, resilience, remembrance & honour. I could go on & on & on....but the best thing for all of us is for you to simply read this exatrordinary story yourself!

I highly recommend Testament of Youth for lovers of great memoirs. This is one you wont forget in a hurry.

Tuesday, 10 March 2015

King's March

I love a readalong.

And I love Stephen King.

Well, that's not quite true.

My relationship with Stephen King has been more turbulent than a simple bookish love affair.

And it all began with Mr Books.

Mr Books & I met during our Uni days many, many moons ago. I was just nineteen, he was twenty. And he loved Stephen King...so much so that he gave me It for our first Christmas!
I know, I know! Nothing says I love you forever like a scary clown, disappearing children and creepy drains!

Our first road trip holiday together saw me scaring myself silly with Pet Sematary while the future Mr Books, amused himself by practicing his Jack Nicholson Shining laugh when I least expected it!

During this happy, youthful time together, I devoured Cujo, Carrie, Fire Starter, Christine, Salem's Lot, The Talisman, The Eyes of the Dragon, Misery, Different Seasons, The Stand & The Gunslinger 1, 2 & 3.

But, sadly, inevitably, the seemingly never-to-be Mr Books & I parted company.

I tried to maintain my King-love, but The Tommyknockers, Dolores Claiborne & Dreamcatcher stretched the friendship to breaking point.

In 1994 The Stand mini-series came to my attention.
My profound disappointment with the appalling adaptation caused me to go back and reread a few of the early King's. My opinion at this point, was that King had lost his way. His best & genuinely scary book writing days were behind him and that with the exception of The Shining, it was impossible for the screen to do justice to his creeping horror.

Not long after, I discovered that King was still writing The Gunslinger series (as I continue to call it, though it has now been renamed The Dark Tower series.)

I wrote about my love affiar with this series last year here & I revised my opinion again. Yes, King could still write - as long as he stuck to the fantasy/horror genre that he did so well and stayed away from the alien/dream shit!

Then I watched The Shawshank Redemption & realised that his short stories especially, could be adapted successfully to the big screen.

And just like a big screen romance, Mr Books & I found each other & true love again!

During our time apart, he had also drifted away from King.

And so it was that this time around, I re-introduced Mr Books to Stephen King via The Gunslinger series.

Together we watched The Green Mile & The Shining. And in a fit of madness, we also decided to re-watch The Stand mini-series (this book sooooooo deserves a better screen version!)
We've read and watched Under the Dome together (although I gave up on the TV series long before Mr Books conceded defeat!)

Mr Books has now also read Duma Key, 11/22/63, Joyland & Mr Mercedes. Knowing how pressed I am for quality reading time, he insists that the only one I really need to read is 11/22/63.

Which is my very long-winded, round-about way of saying that, this month, during King's March, hosted by Wensend and Fourth Street Review, I will be reading 11/22/63.

Monday, 9 March 2015

It's Monday

It's Monday! has been in repeat mode for the past few week as I've slowly, sadly read Vera Brittain's memoir of her WW1 experiences in The Testament of Youth.

But this week will see it draw to a close. It has been such an emotional read and so consuming that I'm struggling to see what book might fill its place.

During the past few weeks, I have also knocked over a few quick, easy teen reads for light relief, so I don't need more of that. (Although there was nothing easy or light about The Ghosts of Heaven by Marcus Sedgwick - see review below).

How do you solve the dilemma of what to read next?

This time, this book, this 'what next' I will resort to a well-known phrase from the Monty Python gang "and now for something completely different!"

The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro


An extraordinary new novel from the author of Never Let Me Go and the Booker Prize-winning  
The Remains of the Day.

"You've long set your heart against it, Axl, I know. But it's time now to think on it anew. 
There's a journey we must go on, and no more delay..."

The Buried Giant begins as a couple set off across a troubled land of mist and rain in the hope 
of finding a son they have not seen in years.

Sometimes savage, often intensely moving, Kazuo Ishiguro's first novel in nearly a 
decade is about lost memories, love, revenge, and war.

I also hope to get to Stella longlisted author Ellen van Neerven's debut novel, Heat and Light.
 
Winner of the 2013 David Unaipon Award

In this award-winning work of fiction, Ellen van Neerven takes her readers on a journey that is 

mythical, mystical and still achingly real.

Over three parts, she takes traditional storytelling and gives it a unique, contemporary twist. 

In ‘Heat’, we meet several generations of the Kresinger family and the legacy left by the mysterious Pearl. 
In ‘Water’, a futuristic world is imagined and the fate of a people threatened. 
In ‘Light’, familial ties are challenged and characters are caught between a desire for freedom 
and a sense of belonging.

Heat and Light presents an intriguing collection while heralding the arrival of an exciting 

new talent in Australian writing.

What will you be reading this week?
How do you decide what to read next?

(Apologies to those of you who use intensedebate comments. I've tried everything to create an account/log in, but I simply cannot leave comments on your blogs.)

Thursday, 5 March 2015

The Ghosts of Heaven by Marcus Sedgwick

My brain is spinning, cycling endlessly, much like the spiral symbolism throughout Sedgwick's latest book, The Ghosts of Heaven.

This was not the light, easy, I-need-a-break-from-my-desperately-sad-chunkster-bio, YA read that I thought it was going to be. The Ghosts of Heaven was intense reading. Absorbing, intriguing, frustrating, compelling, disturbing, thought-provoking....but what does it all mean?
The main (the only?) flaw with this book is its lack of a solid ah-ha moment. That point when all the amazing stuff that you've read before comes together and the authors purpose is revealed.

Normally, a book that lacked such a major component, would be a dud for me. But curiously, the lack of (apparent) meaning or higher purpose is a very minor detail.

Sedgwick takes us on a journey through time, to places & people tinged with madness, magic & mystery. The book is divided into four parts that can be read in any order. Each quarter is a stand alone story (well, almost. The final story, The Song of Destiny does connect some of the dots that only makes sense (I think) if you've read the previous three quarters).

I could barely put this book down. Like many of the characters, my dreams were disturbed by these stories. Each quarter was a quick read. But they were so dense with symbolism, murky with half-formed ideas & barely contained from spinning out of control, that it felt like a lifetime in each story.

The first quarter was written in verse.
Having read several verse novels now, I wasn't phased by the style and upon reflection, Whispers in the Dark, was probably my favourite of the four sections. Set in forest dweller times, we followed a tribal community preparing the magic required for a successful hunt.

The Witch in the Water brings us into the era of witch hunts & another strong female protagonist fascinated by spirals, desperately trying to find their meaning, & tap into their power, before it's too late.

The third quarter, The Easiest Room in Hell, takes us into a Victorian lunatic asylum where spirals spark madness and the line between sanity and lunacy is a very fine one indeed.

You've probably already worked out that the fourth quarter is set in the future, in space. High-tech space craft & a mission to find a new planet habitable for humans, The Song of Destiny has a very 2001: A Space Odyssey-ish tone. Solitude, dreams & deceit mess with our heads as Sedgwick tackles parallel universes and light-year travel sickness.

Truly incredible story-telling.
With a more convincing, satisfying ah-ha moment, this book could have been a masterpiece. Although, perhaps that will be revealed in future re-reads.

Part fantasy, part historical fiction, part science fiction. Where to shelve this book will become a librarians nightmare!

Monday, 2 March 2015

Back to Blackbrick by Sarah Moore Fitzgerald

It's Monday, but I have nothing new to add to this blogging week.

Life is still crazy, busy.
And I'm still reading Testament of Youth & The Brain's Way of Healing.

ToY is extraordinary - moving & desperate, beautifully written, but it's a slow, thoughtful read and I usually only manage to read a couple of chapters in one sitting.

Friday night, though, found me tired & emotional. I needed something easier to read so I pulled out a slim teen book, Back to Blackbrick to slide me gracefully into the weekend.

I've finally had some time to write its review tonight.

You are now seeing the sum total of my reading and blogging week!

I hope your week has been more bookish & bloggish than mine.

When I first read Fitzgerald's The Apple Tart of Hope last year I knew I had found a new-to-me author to love and enjoy.
Part of that enjoyment involves tracking down the backlist.

Back to Blackbrick (first published in 2013) is her first book and I fervently hope and pray that there are plenty more to come. But right now it is true for me to say that I love everything that Fitzgerald has ever written!

Back to Blackbrick grew out of Fitzgerald's experience with her own father's Alzheimer's diagnosis. In her afterword she writes,

"the magic of writing is that you start out being dominated by your own experiences and feelings, (but) you end up being able to occupy other people's heads and hearts....They have helped me to remember that no-one who has loved you ever really goes away."

To this end she has created a lovely time-slip story that deals with young Cosmo's distress as his beloved grandfather slips into memory loss.

Curiously, the actual time-slip section of the book doesn't work as well as the current day story line. The character of Cosmo remains strong throughout, but the younger grandfather is less convincing. I found myself skimming through the time-slip section very quickly. Perhaps because I've read A LOT of time-slip books over the years it takes something stunningly different to grab my attention.

As with Apple Tart there are some mature themes - this time death, grief & loss, sexual harrassment & teen pregnancy. But just like Apple Tart, Blackbrick is infused with hope, love & memory.

Highly recommended for mature 12+ readers.