Saturday, 25 March 2017

The Fellowship - check in time.

The 25th March is Tolkien Reading Day which seemed like an auspicious day to host our latest check-in post. The theme for the 2017 TRD is Poetry and Songs in Tolkien's Fiction. Therefore I will start our #HLOTRreadalong2017 business with Bilbo's Walking Song,

The Road goes ever on and on,
Down from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone,
And I must follow, if I can,
Pursuing it with eager feet,
Until it joins some larger way
Where many paths and errands meet.
And whither then? I cannot say.

How are you going with your journey through The Fellowship of the Ring?
Are you going on and on?
Or perhaps you cannot say!

Have you found your way to Rivendell yet? Or did you get stalled in The Shire? Perhaps the Black Riders scared you from the path? Or maybe Tom Bombadil bored you to tears with his hey now! merry dol's!

Are you one of those who has raced ahead impatient to find out what happens next?

I confess that I am one of those readers who skim or skip the long poems in LOTR.
I was determined to read them this time round, which is partly why I have allowed generous reading times for each book. But I'm failing somewhat.

I happily read the smaller poems and songs, like Bilbo's walking song, but the 4 page epics are beyond me. I don't see the point of them and I'm just not that interested.

However Tolkien's ability to create a brand new world, complete with history, geography, myths and legends is very impressive. His descriptive passages are made to be read with the map alongside so that you can trace your finger over the paths, rivers and mountaintops that Frodo and his friends walk.

I have heard some people complain about how long it takes for the action to get going in LOTR, but I love our extended time in The Shire at the beginning. Meeting Bilbo again and getting to know Frodo and his friends has a lovely cosy, comfortable feel to it.

Bilbo's one hundred and eleventh birthday party is a lot of fun. The excitement, the excess, the humour. But even here, there is a sharp edge. Bilbo's sarcasm, Gandalf's growing concerns about events outside The Shire and the obvious power of the ring over Bilbo.

I was impressed to see that it was Tolkien who in fact coined the word 'tweens' in reference to hobbits in that irresponsible twenties phase between their childhood and coming of age at thirty-three.

Tolkien's usual foreshadowing techniques let us know that we should enjoy our warm, cosy time in The Shire as more dangerous times are fast approaching. Rumours of strange things happening, whispers and murmured hints reach our ears. Prepare, beware, watch out!

He uses words like strange, unwholesome, queer, dark, deadly, malice, revenge, enslaved, peril, torment, wretched and fear to great effect during these first few chapters. This time is clearly the calm before the storm.

It takes a while for Frodo to get going though.
As much as the most avid fan may enjoy this time in The Shire, by the end we are urging Frodo on his way. 

The casual passing of time that brings us to eve of Frodo's 50th birthday and the slow packing up and selling of Bag End almost feels irresponsible. 
His last leisurely stroll though The Shire on the way to Crickhollow is not as dramatic or as dangerous as I remember from the movie. Tolkien allows Frodo a real sense of leave-taking.

The tension builds as the menace of the Black Riders is felt, but a couple of near-misses is all that we witness at this point. The danger still feels like it is out there somewhere.

I had forgotten all about Tom Bombadil (he was absent from the movie).
I'm not sure why he's in the story at all, except as one of Tolkien's safe havens from the increasing danger. And the danger is not just in the form of Black Riders. We must beware stone-wrights, old man willow and some of the more suspicious folk in Bree.

I hope you're enjoying your time in Middle Earth as much as I am.
I haven't had as much time as I originally hoped to write more regular posts with this book, but the main thing is to read with pleasure and fellowship. The blogging can take care of itself!

Thursday, 23 March 2017

Picture Book Technology & Online Safety

It was only a matter of time before we saw picture books for children that contained themes about mobile phone use. The two latest offerings deal with the positive aspects as well as the addictive nature of technology and social media.

Australian writer/illustrator Nick Bland gives us The Fabulous Friend Machine. Popcorn the hen is a very friendly chook. She's even won awards for friendliness. One day she discovers a glowing device on the ground near her home. It appears to be very, very friendly.

But Popcorn quickly learns that spending hours and hours talking to her new online friends can cause problems with her real life friends. And who are these new friends anyway?

After nearly being running over by a tractor (because she was too busy looking at her screen) and discovering that her new online friends were actually wolves, Popcorn rediscovers the value of paying attention to her real life friends. She also learns to exercise more caution when using her new friend machine.

Nick Bland is a CBCA and ABIA award winning illustrator. He doesn't appear to have his own web page, but he did have an exhibition last year in Darwin (where he now lives), to show off some of the work featured in his previous 26 books. Bland's usual medium is acrylic paint and pens.

Tek: The Modern Cave Boy by Patrick McDonnell also deals with the addictive nature of mobile devices, online games and binge TV viewing, but plays around with the book's formatting to do so. McDonnell's Tek looks and feels like a tablet, with firm dark edges and a screen like set-up on each page. You can even see the battery life running low as you read along.

Both books use humour to convey their message. However Tek needs to learn to disconnect so that he reconnect with his family, friends and the real world around him. His technology obsession is making him uncommunicative and anti-social.

McDonnell is an American author/illustrator best known for his comic strip MUTTS. His recent forays into picture book territory have already elicited New York Times bestsellers and a Caldecott Honor winner.

Have you come across any other picture books dealing with online behaviour and mobile phone use for children?

Another Australian title is The Internet is a Puddle by psychologist Shona Innes - initially written to help some of her clients, it teaches us how to play safely online.

Please add titles or links to any other picture books (from anywhere in the world) in the comments below so that we can build up a picture book online safety resource list.

Wednesday, 22 March 2017

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by J K Rowling, John Tiffany & Jack Thorne

I had LOTS of doubts about a new Harry Potter.

Did we really need a new Harry Potter? Wasn't this just a crass cash grab? Was there anything new to be said about the power of love?

As it turns out the answer is yes!

Rowling along with Tiffany and Thorne had plenty more to say about the power of love and the art of forgiveness. After all, Harry was a pretty easy character to love. But what would happen if the main character was less lovable? How would we all respond then?

Young Albus is struggling. Struggling with being the youngest in a high achieving family. Struggling with being famous thanks to who his father is and struggling to feel competent or relevant.

It's only natural, then, that when he starts at Hogwarts that he would be drawn into friendship with another outsider. Another boy struggling with his family history and his sense of belonging - young Scorpius Malfoy.

I'm not going to reveal any major (or minor) plot points, you will have to read the book (or see the play) for yourself if you're that curious. My main concern, was centred around whether or not it was actually worthwhile to continue the series at all.

Given the huge response to Rowling's tweets in previous years about what the Potter children would have been up to, it's easy to say, yes, the interest was there.

Did Rowling herself feel compelled to write more about the Potter's and Hogwarts? I guess only she can really answer that, but given that she chose not to write a book herself perhaps suggests she was a little ambivalent or maybe just more focused on other creative pursuits.

Although perhaps those other creative pursuits played right into the idea of creating a play (see what I did there?)

As for the play itself, if I lived in the UK, I would have moved heaven and earth to get tickets for the show. Reviews for the play generally agree that the 2 part experience was worth it. As a theatrical production, The Cursed Child works. And if it ever comes to Australia, I will be there.

But what about the script?
Was it necessary to produce a hugely publicised co-written script for the event?

Given that it's Harry Potter, again, you'd have to say yes. People want to know, even if they disagree with what Rowling et al have ultimately devised.

The tricky thing about The Cursed Child though is that it's only half about Harry Potter and it's only half about the childhood world of Hogwarts. And Harry Potter as an adult, struggling with how to be a father, juggling work, marriage, friendships and fame is not the same as the youthful, idealistic Harry that we watched grow up.

Albus (and Scorpius) are baring the brunt of intergenerational damage. Their character growth and development and that of all the main players felt believable and real.

All of that comes through in the script.

What doesn't come through as well though (at least for someone who is imaginatively impaired) is the glorious blend of ordinary life and magical life that is alive in the earlier books. I missed the descriptive language.

I ended up skimming through the final half of the script just to find out what happened. It was a quick, easy read that left me delighted to see that once again, the power of love and hope wins out. The magic of Harry Potter is still out there. You just have to believe!

Monday, 20 March 2017

Florette by Anna Walker

Anna Walker's whimsical water colour illustrations appeal to my inner child. Last year the CBCA award winning Mr Huff captured my attention while the gorgeous storm-tossed Peggy won my heart a couple of years before that.

Florette is another urban story about moving and adjustment and finding home wherever you are. Environmental concerns are addressed as Mae takes us on a nature journey in her new city - we experience first hand the impact of nature on our moods and attitudes. We also see the importance of having a passion, expressing your creativity and keeping busy as ways of helping us to adjust to change.

From small beginnings much bigger things can grow. You just have to start. And that small start can lead to friendship, good health and happiness.

Walker taps into an emotional truth as well as the gentle innocence of childhood in each of books. I predict another CBCA nomination ahead for Florette.

Saturday, 18 March 2017

The Case Against Fragrance by Kate Grenville

I didn't expect to read one of my Top Ten Tuesday Autumn Reads so quickly, but a curious reaction at work today prompted me to devour Kate Grenville's The Case Against Fragrance in one sitting.

I've known for quite some time now that certain garden chemicals, cleaning products as well as regular old dust particles can give me ghastly long-lasting sinus headaches.

But it took me longer - much, much longer to accept that some perfumes and fragrances also had a similar effect.

As a family we moved to soap free washing powders and body washes a number of years ago when one of the booklets developed eczema. The link between soap and skin problems seemed obvious.

However, because I didn't wear perfume very often, it took a long while for me to link my sudden migraines to scent. I blamed hormones, chocolate, red wine, cheese and work, but some non-scientific and sporadic testing over the past few years, has led me to finally believe that it's perfume. Not all types of fragrances though - perfume and some room air fresheners seem to be the main contenders. I'm fine with essential oils, incense, shampoos and hand lotions.

I usually cope fine if the scent is on someone else or in another room or if enough time (& air) have gone before me in an enclosed space.

Our recent holiday in Mexico was a case in point. The hotel we stayed at used a specially designed fragrance for their boutique rooms. If we came back to our room not long after the cleaner had been and we turned on the air-con, I ended up with a sinus headache. But if we stayed out all day and opened up the verandah doors when we did come back, I was fine.

When we checked out the hotel presented us with a small vial of their special room scent, so we could be transported back to Mexico with one whiff of their special spray!
The first time I sprayed it at home, I ended up with a headache and felt nauseous. Not the kind of holiday memory they intended I'm sure!

Today at work, one of my colleagues cleaned the bathroom with some regular supermarket purchased spray cleaner. I was a room away, but the outside doors were closed. Within minutes I felt ill and dizzy and completely overpowered by the scent. Opening the doors up and turning on the fans helped me feel better, but tonight I'm feeling all sinusy with a sore throat.

I've never had such an immediate reaction before.

Reading Grenville's book tonight seemed like the logical thing to do.

Grenville is not a scientist, but she has used her formidable research skills to present her case against fragrance. Early on she says that,
using fragrance is a choice,and my hope is that this book might give people the chance to make that choice an informed one.

She presents studies (among people who get migraines, around half get them from fragrance - pg24), lists signs and symptoms, defines terms, lays out the history of the use of scent and how scent is produced, reveals the various industry and government bodies who regulate the use of fragrances and chemicals as well as providing anecdotes about her experience with fragrance intolerance.

Did you know that 'when you smell something, it's because little bits of it have just gone up your nose'? Grenville goes on to explain how this actually occurs and why it can be beneficial for us.

Problems around trade secrets, loopholes in labelling, animal testing and industry based research and assessments are discussed. Lists of impossible sounding chemicals and some of their known side-effects are noted. Grenville devotes two chapters to the recent research around the indestructible nature of synthetic musks - how it has invaded our water sources, is stored in our bodies and affects our hormones (it was common to find musks in over ninety per cent of the people tested pg125).

She concludes with a discussion about recommended dosages,
How small is safe, how weak is safe and what the long-term effects might be, are questions no one yet has the answers to.

What to do? Grenville encourages us to consider creating low-scent work places and buying fragrance-free products (if you can only afford one alternative product, spending a little extra on laundry powder is one of the best ways to make life safer for you and your family pg168).

Have you ever had a reaction to the fragrances and scents in perfumes, cleaning products or air fresheners?

I wonder how many people have been suffering in silence, not knowing what the problem was? Or how many people have had a milder reaction to fragrances and therefore haven't made the link?

Thursday, 16 March 2017

Brona's Salon

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

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


Lately I have been thinking about rereading a lot.

I used to reread all the time.

When I was a child it was often out of necessity. I didn't have many books of my own, so I read the ones I did have over and over again until the next birthday or next Christmas brought in a new haul of new books!

Rereading favourite books seems like a natural thing to do. Who wouldn't want to return to that place where we had such a good experience?  That place where an amazing connection was had, new friends made and where a new world was inhabited.

Rereading can also tap into deeper psychological needs - our need to belong, to feel loved and understood, or simply just to feel something.

However Lisa @Bookshelf Fantasies recently provided an interesting provocation.

Rereading our favourites seems like an obvious and natural thing to do.
But what about rereading those books that left us saying 'meh' or those books we didn't finish?

If we know that rereading our favourites can reveal new things with each reread, depending on our age, life experiences, mood etc, why not those books we failed to connect to first go?

I have never been able to finish Catch 22.
I've tried three times now.
I keep trying because Catch 22 is the favourite book of one of my best friends.
I love the start, but every time, I simply get tired of the whole premise and give up.

Burial Rites by Hannah Kent is another book I've tried to get into twice because a good friend loves it, but after a handful of chapters I go 'meh' and put it aside.

I've had plenty of rereading experiences where a once favourite book was reduced to ashes by a reread. The need it had fulfilled at one point was no longer relevant or needed. That's okay.
I can remember it fondly as I book I loved when. It doesn't have to connect to the older me as well.

Grand Days by Frank Moorhouse almost fell into this category.
I adored it in my twenties, I felt an incredible connection to the main character Edith. But a decade later it felt contrived and ridiculous and Edith was just annoying.
However thanks to the publication of the final book in the trilogy in my 40's, I tried again. And once again I fell in love. A more tempered, reserved love, but love nonetheless!

The only book I can think of that vastly improved with a reread was Jane Austen's Mansfield Park. My 2013 reread bumped it up from my least favourite Austen to one of my favourites instead!

What has been your experience with rereading?

Have you had another go at one of those old school texts that you hated and resented at the time, but loved in your 20's, 30's, 40's...? Maybe you watched a movie interpretation of one of those 'meh' books that gave you cause to reconsider?

What are you currently reading or rereading?

The Fellowship of the Ring by J R R Tolkien

Why are you reading or rereading it now? 

I'm rereading it for my #HLOTRreadalong2017.

I decided that I wanted to make some time to reread books this year.
Hosting a readalong has made it happen.

It's also the 80th anniversary of the publication of The Hobbit this year, which seemed like a good time as any to revisit this classic fantasy series.

First impressions? 

I had forgotten that it took nearly half the book for Frodo and company to even leave The Shire!
I'm fascinated by how carefully Tolkien builds the tension and danger levels.
All the action and drama in the movies almost from the word go, had made me forget that Tolkien was far more subtle at the beginning.

Which character do you relate to so far?

Frodo, of course.
Although, it's very easy to feel connected to all the hobbits. Their simple pleasures - a comfortable, cosy home, good food, wine and friendly company - are mine too.

However, as an older reader this time around, I'm also relating to Aragorn more.
His desire to look out for the rather naive hobbits has a familiar parental feel about it.

Are you happy to continue?

Yes, yes, yes.
Although I'm pacing myself with this reread.

One - to enjoy the beautiful illustrated edition that I now have.
Two - to give myself ample time to read other books (for work) at the same time.
Three - to avoid the (usually self-imposed) blogging and reading pressure I feel when I join in challenges or readalongs. Reading (& blogging) should be fun, otherwise why are we doing it?!

Wednesday, 15 March 2017

Circle by Jeannie Baker

Circle is one of those amazing, gorgeous picture books that I love and adore...right up until the very last page.

But that last page does my head in every single time I read it. Before I go into the final page, let me tell you all the reasons why I love and adore the rest of the book.

Firstly, I had the very great privilege of attending the book launch and exhibition opening for Circle at the Australian Maritime Museum in Sydney last year. Being able to see Baker's collages up close and personal is a real treat that I would move heaven and earth to be a part of (I also attended the opening of her exhibition for Mirror six years ago).

The collages were hung between child and adult height for everyone to enjoy. They're not huge pieces, which makes the precision details in each one even more impressive. The colours, the textures, the perspectives are an aesthetic delight.

Secondly, Circle is the story of the bar-tailed godwit, a migratory bird that I knew nothing about until the launch/opening night. This incredible little bird takes a six day flight from Australia/New Zealand via the Yellow Sea to Alaska each year.

Thirdly, this is a story about our environment and our climate and what we have been doing to it and how it affects the smallest members of our planet. It's a story about our global ecosystem and how everything is connected. Circle is the ultimate tale of belonging.

And now the ending.

The very first illustration in the book shows us a boy in bed with a wheelchair beside him. We have no explanation for this. The assumption I made was that the boy had a permanent disability. There was nothing in the image to suggest to me that he was only injured for a period of time (i.e. wearing a cast for a broken leg, get well cards on the bedside table etc). Instead he is reading a book about birds and day dreaming about flying.

Baker refers to an injury in the teacher's notes provided on the night. If this had been obvious to me, I could have accepted this very same boy at the end of the book on crutches, rushing to save the godwit on the beach, dropping his crutches and suddenly walking/running. If I'd known he was recovering from a protracted injury, I could have applauded his hard work and apparent recovery.

The teacher's note conclude with 'thus, the bird's year long migration is given a human perspective'.

However it looked to me, like a child with a permanent disability who suddenly walked. It didn't make sense. I certainly didn't experience the human journey within the bird's journey that the notes indicated. It felt like it was something added on as an afterthought.

Part of judging whether a picture book for children has been successful or not is if the illustrations and the stories work alongside each other. According to the CBCA judging criteria for early childhood books, there needs to be a 'unity of purpose' where the issues in the text and the pictures revolve and resolve together.

Perhaps this is why Circle has been longlisted for the Picture Book of the Year award (which focuses on the illustrations) and the Eve Pownall Book of the Year (which focus on the information/non-fiction elements within the story) and not the Early Childhood Book Award.

+ Winner of the 2017 Australian Indie Book Children's Award.

Tuesday, 14 March 2017

Top Ten Tuesday - Autumnal Delights

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

This week we nominate our Top Ten Autumn reads (or Spring reads if you happen to live on the other side of the world). As per usual my list is top heavy with Australian authors.

The burning question on everybody's lips is how many of these books will I actually read in the next three months?

My Top Ten 2017 Autumn Reads are:

Dying by Cory Taylor (2016)

Shortlisted for this year's Stella Prize, I would like to read this before the winner is announced in mid April. Sadly Taylor died not long after this book was published last year.

Cory Taylor is one of Australia’s celebrated novelists, the author of the brilliant Me and Mr Booker (winner of the Commonwealth Writers Prize, Pacific region), and My Beautiful Enemy (shortlisted for the Miles Franklin Award).

At the age of sixty, she is dying of melanoma-related brain cancer. Her illness is no longer treatable. As she tells us in her remarkable last book, Dying: A Memoir, she now weighs less than her neighbour’s retriever.

Written in the space of a few weeks, in a tremendous creative surge, this powerful and beautifully written book is a clear-eyed account of what dying has taught Cory: she describes the tangle of her feelings, she reflects on her life, and she remembers the lives and deaths of her parents. She tells us why she would like to be able to choose the circumstances of her own death.

Dying: A Memoir is a breathtaking book about vulnerability and strength, courage and humility, anger and acceptance. It is a deeply affecting meditation on dying, but it is also a funny and wise tribute to life.

4 3 2 1 by Paul Auster (2017)

This one is as heavy as a brick, but I'm so excited to have a new Auster to look forward to and a weight training program all in one!

Astonishing, a masterpiece, Paul Auster’s greatest, most satisfying, most vivid and heartbreaking novel -- a sweeping and surprising story of inheritance, family, love and life itself. 

Nearly two weeks early, on March 3, 1947, in the maternity ward of Beth Israel Hospital in Newark, New Jersey, Archibald Isaac Ferguson, the one and only child of Rose and Stanley Ferguson, is born. From that single beginning, Ferguson’s life will take four simultaneous and independent fictional paths. Four identical Fergusons made of the same DNA, four boys who are the same boy, go on to lead four parallel and entirely different lives. Family fortunes diverge. Athletic skills and sex lives and friendships and intellectual passions contrast. Each Ferguson falls under the spell of the magnificent Amy Schneiderman, yet each Amy and each Ferguson have a relationship like no other. Meanwhile, readers will take in each Ferguson’s pleasures and ache from each Ferguson’s pains, as the mortal plot of each Ferguson’s life rushes on. 

As inventive and dexterously constructed as anything Paul Auster has ever written, yet with a passion for realism and a great tenderness and fierce attachment to history and to life itself that readers have never seen from Auster before. 4 3 2 1 is a marvelous and unforgettably affecting tour de force.


Maybe this might explain some of the random headaches I've been getting...

Kate Grenville had always associated perfume with elegance and beauty. Then the headaches started.

Like perhaps a quarter of the population, Grenville reacts badly to the artificial fragrances around us: other people’s perfumes, and all those scented cosmetics, cleaning products and air fresheners. On a book tour in 2015, dogged by ill health, she started wondering: what’s in fragrance? Who tests it for safety? What does it do to people?

The more Grenville investigated, the more she felt this was a story that should be told. The chemicals in fragrance can be linked not only to short-term problems like headaches and asthma, but to long-term ones like hormone disruption and cancer. Yet products can be released onto the market without testing. They’re regulated only by the same people who make and sell them. And the ingredients don’t even have to be named on the label.

This book is based on careful research into the science of scent and the power of the fragrance industry. But, as you’d expect from an acclaimed novelist, it’s also accessible and personal. The Case Against Fragrance will make you see—and smell—the world differently.

A Writing Life: Helen Garner and Her Work by Bernadette Brennan (2017)

Squeal! I was sooooo excited when my ARC for this one recently arrived from Text Publishing.

Helen Garner is one of Australia’s most important and most admired writers. She is revered for her fearless honesty in the pursuit of her craft.

But Garner also courts controversy, not least because she refuses to be constrained by the rules of literary form. She has never been afraid to write herself into her nonfiction, and many of her own experiences help to shape her fiction. But who is the ‘I’ in Helen Garner’s work?

Bernadette Brennan’s A Writing Life is the first full-length study of Garner’s forty years of work, a literary portrait that maps all of her books against the different stages of her life.

Brennan has had access to previously unavailable papers in Garner’s archive, and she provides a lively and rigorous reading of the books, journals and correspondence of one of Australia’s most beloved women of letters.

Exit West by Mohsin Hamid (2017)

I'm hearing mixed reviews about this one, but the cover has an autumnal tone, so here it is!

An extraordinary story of love and hope from the bestselling, Man Booker-shortlisted author of The Reluctant Fundamentalist 

In a city swollen by refugees but still mostly at peace, or at least not yet openly at war, Saeed and Nadia share a cup of coffee, and their story begins. It will be a love story but also a story about war and a world in crisis, about how we live now and how we might live tomorrow. Before too long, the time will come for Nadia and Saeed to leave their homeland. When the streets are no longer useable and all options are exhausted, this young couple will join the great outpouring of those fleeing a collapsing city, hoping against hope, looking for their place in the world . . .

The Patriots by Sana Krasikov (2017)

Another brick of a book, but an epic multi-generational Russian is right up my alley!

A sweeping multigenerational debut novel about idealism, betrayal, and family secrets that takes us from Brooklyn in the 1930s to Soviet Russia to post-Cold War America

When the Great Depression hits, Florence Fein leaves Brooklyn College for what appears to be a plum job in Moscow—and the promise of love and independence. But once in Russia, she quickly becomes entangled in a country she can’t escape. Many years later, Florence’s son, Julian, will make the opposite journey, immigrating back to the United States. His work in the oil industry takes him on frequent visits to Moscow, and when he learns that Florence’s KGB file has been opened, he arranges a business trip to uncover the truth about his mother, and to convince his son, Lenny, who is trying to make his fortune in the new Russia, to return home. What he discovers is both chilling and heartbreaking: an untold story of what happened to a generation of Americans abandoned by their country.

The Patriots is a riveting evocation of the Cold War years, told with brilliant insight and extraordinary skill. Alternating between Florence’s and Julian’s perspectives, it is at once a mother-son story and a tale of two countries bound in a dialectic dance; a love story and a spy story; both a grand, old-fashioned epic and a contemporary novel of ideas. Through the history of one family moving back and forth between continents over three generations, The Patriots is a poignant tale of the power of love, the rewards and risks of friendship, and the secrets parents and children keep from one another.

The Birdman's Wife by Melissa Ashley (2016)

This one is getting lots of lovely reviews here in Australia. And it has a gorgeous cover to boot!

Inspired by a letter found tucked inside her famous husband’s papers, The Birdman’s Wife imagines the fascinating inner life of Elizabeth Gould, who was so much more than just the woman behind the man.

Elizabeth was a woman ahead of her time, juggling the demands of her artistic life with her roles as wife, lover and helpmate to a passionate and demanding genius, and as a devoted mother who gave birth to eight children. In a society obsessed with natural history and the discovery of new species, the birdman’s wife was at its glittering epicentre. Her artistry breathed life into hundreds of exotic finds, from her husband’s celebrated collections to Charles Darwin’s famous Galapagos finches.

Fired by Darwin’s discoveries, in 1838 Elizabeth defied convention by joining John on a trailblazing expedition to the untamed wilderness of Van Diemen’s Land and New South Wales to collect and illustrate Australia’s ‘curious’ birdlife.

From a naïve and uncertain young girl to a bold adventurer determined to find her own voice and place in the world, The Birdman’s Wife paints an indelible portrait of an extraordinary woman overlooked by history, until now.

The Heart's Invisible Furies by John Boyne (2017)

It has been a while since I read a book by Boyne. The autumn colour scheme on the cover as well as my married name being referenced by the main character has me intrigued enough to include it here today.

Cyril Avery is not a real Avery or at least that’s what his adoptive parents tell him. And he never will be. But if he isn’t a real Avery, then who is he? 

Born out of wedlock to a teenage girl cast out from her rural Irish community and adopted by a well-to-do if eccentric Dublin couple via the intervention of a hunchbacked Redemptorist nun, Cyril is adrift in the world, anchored only tenuously by his heartfelt friendship with the infinitely more glamourous and dangerous Julian Woodbead. 

At the mercy of fortune and coincidence, he will spend a lifetime coming to know himself and where he came from – and over his three score years and ten, will struggle to discover an identity, a home, a country and much more. 

In this, Boyne's most transcendent work to date, we are shown the story of Ireland from the 1940s to today through the eyes of one ordinary man. The Heart's Invisible Furies is a novel to make you laugh and cry while reminding us all of the redemptive power of the human spirit.

Nutshell by Ian McEwen (2016)

More autumnal colours and another book with mixed reviews.

Trudy has betrayed her husband, John. She's still in the marital home – a dilapidated, priceless London townhouse – but not with John. Instead, she's with his brother, the profoundly banal Claude, and the two of them have a plan. But there is a witness to their plot: the inquisitive, nine-month-old resident of Trudy's womb.

Told from a perspective unlike any other, Nutshell is a classic tale of murder and deceit from one of the world’s master storytellers.

Havana: A Subtropical Delirium by Mark Kurlanski (2017)

After our trip to Cuba in January, Mr Books and I are constantly on the lookout for more books to feed our fascination. Kurlansky is an Australian journalist and I'm looking forward to reading about his impressions. 

Award-winning author Mark Kurlansky presents an insider's view of Havana: the elegant, tattered city he has come to know over more than thirty years. Part cultural history, part travelogue, with recipes, historic engravings, photographs, and Kurlansky's own pen-and-ink drawings throughout, Havana celebrates the city's singular music, literature, baseball, and food; its five centuries of outstanding, neglected architecture; and its extraordinary blend of cultures.

Like all great cities, Havana has a rich history that informs the vibrant place it is today--from the native Taino to Columbus's landing, from Cuba's status as a U.S. protectorate to Batista's dictatorship and Castro's revolution, from Soviet presence to the welcoming of capitalist tourism. Havana is a place of extremes: a beautifully restored colonial city whose cobblestone streets pass through areas that have not been painted or repaired since the revolution.

Kurlansky shows Havana through the eyes of Cuban writers, such as Alejo Carpentier and José Martí, and foreigners, including Graham Greene and Hemingway. He introduces us to Cuban baseball and its highly opinionated fans; the city's music scene, alive with the rhythm of Son; its culinary legacy. Once the only country Americans couldn't visit, Cuba is now opening to us, as is Havana, not only by plane or boat but also through Mark Kurlansky's multilayered and electrifying portrait of the long-elusive city.

I've just started 4 3 2 1 and I'm loving it so far. I can feel myself settling into this epic family story and can't wait for the parallel universe/stories to start.

What do you hope to read this autumn?

Saturday, 11 March 2017

CBCA 2017

It's that time of year again, when all the longlists and shortlists are making their appearances.

We've just had all the excitement of the Stella shortlist and Bailey's Women's Prize longlist - both announced on International Women's Day. But last week the Children's Book Council Australia outdid them all be releasing their MAMMOTH, HUGE, ENORMOUS list of Notable books for 2017.

This is the biggest longlist I've ever seen!

So sit back with a cuppa (or a stiff drink) and peruse this humongous list of Australian children's books! Which ones have you read so far?

The shortlist will be announced on the 28th March with the overall winners being announced during Book Week on the 18th August.

CBCA Older Readers Notables:

The Hounded by Simon Butters
Yellow by Megan Jacobson
Waer by Meg Caddy
Becoming Aurora by Elizabeth Kasmer
Words in Deep Blue by Cath Crowley
The Sidekicks by Will Kostakis
My Best Friend is a Goddess by Tara Eglington
Ocean of the Dead (Ship Kings #4) by Andrew McGahan
The Bone Sparrow by Zara Fraillon
The Stars at Oktober Bend by Glenda Millard
Lady Helen and the Dark Days Club by Alison Goodman
A Toaster on Mars by Darrell Pitt
Frankie by Shivaun Plozza
Everything is Changed by Nova Weetman
Our Chemical Heart by Krystal Sutherland
The Invisible War by Ailsa Wild
Forgetting Foster by Dianne Touchell
One Would Think the Deep by Claire Zorn

CBCA Younger Readers Notables:

Cybertricks by Goldie Alexander
Freedom Swimmer by Wai Chen
Rockhopping by Trace Balla  (R)
The Family With Two Front Doors by Anna Ciddor
Blueberry Pancakes Forever by Angelica Banks
Magrit by Lee Battersby
The Pearl-shell Diver by Kay Crabbe
Within These Walls by Robyn Bavati
Yong by Janeen Brian
Wicked's Way by Anna Fienberg
Fizz and the Police Dog Tryouts by Lesley Gibbes
Toad Delight by Morris Gleitzman
Iris and the Tiger by Leanne Hall
Daystar by Anne Hamilton
Daughters of Nomads by Rosanne Hawke
Lily in the Mirror by Paula Hayes
Fail Safe by Jack heath
The Unforgettable What's His Name by Paul Jennings
Theophilus Grey and the Traitor's Mask by Catherine Jinks
When the Lyrebird Calls by Kim Kane
Ruby Wishfingers Skydancer's Escape by Deborah Kelly
Elizabeth and Zenobia by Jessica Miller
The Lost Sapphire by Belinda Murrell
The Twins of Tintarfell by James O'Loghlin
Dragonfly Song by Wendy Orr
Mrs Whitlam by Bruce Pascoe
Pocket Rocket by Ellyse Perry & Sherryl Clark
The Other Christy by Oliver Phommavanh
Artie and the Grime Wave by Richard Roxburgh
Lizzie and Margaret Rose by Pamela Rushby
Tommy Bell Shoot-out at the Rock by Jane Smith
Captain Jimmy Cook Discovers Third Grade by Kate & Jol Temple
What's in a Name by Myles Walsh
The Secrets We Keep by Nova Weetman
The Shark Caller by Dianne Wolfer

CBCA Early Childhood Notables:

Zelda's Big Adventure by Marie Alafaci
Oh Albert by Davina Bell  (R)
Go Home Cheeky Animals by Johanna Bell
Where is Bear? by Jonathan Bentley
Pig the Winner by Aaron Blabey  (R)
Little Chicken Chickadee by Janeen Brian
All I Want for Christmas is Rain by Cori Brooke
The 12th Dog by Charlotte Calder  (R)
The Snow Wombat by Susannah Chambers  (R)
The Cat Wants Custard by Paul Crumble  (R)
Nannie Loves by Kylie Dunstan
Ducks Away by Mem Fox  (R)
Little Bear's First Sleep by Lesley Gibbes
Bear Makes Den by Jane Godwin & Michael Wagner  (R)
Home in the Rain by Bob Graham  (R)
Chip by Kylie Howarth
Bird and Bear and the Special Day by Ann James
Hello Little Babies by Alison Lester  (R)
Smile Cry by Tania McCarthy  (R)
Dream Little One Dream by Sally Morgan  (R)
Joey Counts to Ten by Sally Morgan
Twig by Aura Parker  (R)
Molly and Mae by Danny Parker  (R)
Agatha and the Dark by Anna Pignataro
Gary by Leila Rudge
Wild Pa by Claire Saxby
The Whole Caboodle by Lisa Shanahan
Ten Little Owls by Renee Treml  (R)
My Perfect Pup by Sue Walker
Take Ted Instead by Cassandra Webb
Together Always by Edwina Wyatt 

CBCA Picture Book Notables:

The Sisters Saint-Claire illustrated by Tamsin Ainslie
One Photo illustrated by Liz Anelli
Mechanica by Lance Balchin
Colours of Australia by Bronwyn Bancroft  (R)
Where is Bear by Jonathan Bentley
Blue Sky Yellow Kite illustrated by Jonathan Bentley  (R)
Don't Call Me Bear by Aaron Blabey  (R)
Molly and Mae illustrated by Freya Blackwood  (R)
Hattie Helps Out illustrated by Freya Blackwood  (R)
Something Wonderful illustrated by Karen Blair  (R)
The Fabulous Friend Machine  by Nick Bland  (R)
Reflection Remembering Those Who Served in War illustrated by Robin Cowcher (R) 
Captain Sneer the Buccaneer illustrated by Gabriel Evans  (R)
A Patch From Scratch by Megan Forward  (R)
Somewhere Else by Gus Gordon  (R)
Home in the Rain by Bob Graham  (R)
On the River by Roland Harvey
Mr Chicken Arriva a Roma by Leigh Hobbs  (R)
My Brother illustrated by Oliver Huxley  (R)
Grandpa's Big Adventure illustrated by Tom Jellett  
Blue The Builder's Dog illustrated by Andrew Joyner  (R)
Welcome to Country illustrated by Lisa Kennedy  (R)
A Soldier, A Dog and A Boy illustrated by Phil Lesnie
Archie No Ordinary Sloth by Heath McKenzie  (R)
Melbourne Word by Word by Michael McMahon  (R)
Pandamonia illustrated by Chris Nixon
Crusts illustrated by Matt Ottley  (R)
Spark illustrated by Andrew Plant
Smeck by Ben Redlich
Milo by Tobhy Riddle  (R)
The Patchwork Bike illustrated by Van T Rudd  (R)
Gary by Leila Rudge
Dog Lost illustrated by Brian Simmonds
Chooks in Dinner Suits illustrated by Craig Smith
Out illustrated by Owen Swan
Stanley by Colin Thompson  (R)
Small Things by Mel Tregonning
Cyclone illustrated by Bruce Whatley  (R)
New Year Surprise! illustrated by Di Wu

CBCA Eve Pownall Information Book Notables:

Resource Stories of Australian Innovation in Wartime by Jennet Cole-Adams & Judy Gauld
Spellbound Making Pictures with the A B C by Maree Coote
A Z of Endangered Animals by Jennifer Cossins
Socks Sandbags and Leeches: Letters to my Anzac Dad by Pauline Deeves
Boomerang and Bat by Mark Greenwood  (R)
The Gigantic Book of Genes by Lorna Hendry
Chooks in Dinner Suits by Diane Jackson Hill
Hello! by Joanna Karmel  (R)
Australia's Nightingale: Nellie Melba by Cassy Liberman & Sara Carter Jenkins  (R)
The ABC Book of Food by Helen Martin & Judith Simpson
Fabish The Horse that Braved a Bushfire by Neridah McMullin  (R)
Amazing Animals of Australia's National Parks by Gina M Newton
Degas An Art Book for Kids by Kate Ryan
William Bligh A Stormy Story of Temestuous Times by Michael Sedunary  (R)
Aliens Ghosts and Vanishings Strange and Possibly True Australian Stories by Stella Tarakson

Now that's a longlist!

(R) read by not reviewed

Thursday, 9 March 2017

The Boy Behind the Curtain by Tim Winton

Sometimes Tim Winton blows me out of the water with his writing. Other times I'm left scratching my head in bewilderment and bewutherment (thanks Bilbo).

However The Boy Behind the Curtain definitely falls into the OMG I love this man and his writing to bits camp.

I savoured each and every essay in this book. Most were deeply personal and memoir-ish in style, while others were more factual as Winton described his passion for environmental issues and gave us some insights into the writing process.

Perhaps the secret of Winton's writing is how he gives his personal stories universal meaning. He taps into the emotional base or the psychological truth behind the life story so that it resonates with us all.

Reading about some of the random chaos that the young Tim was a party to during his childhood with a policeman as a father, shows us how the strong desire that grew in him to create meaning, find patterns, draw parallels, to find security in words, actually grew out of this often unsafe, accident prone world.

Winton is at his strongest when discussing the environment. I have never been attracted to surfing, but after reading The Wait and the Flow, I almost felt tempted to have a go! His essay on Ningaloo Reef was also insightful and passionate.

The Boy Behind the Curtain is a book to dip into and to relish one story; one essay at a time.

Tuesday, 7 March 2017


This is my 1000th blog post.

That's a big number of anything!
Can you imagine how many words and hours have gone into writing 1000 blog posts?

I've been doing this blogging thing for nearly 8 years, however the bulk of my blog posts were in the last 4 or 5 years.

In July 2014 I celebrated 5 years of blogging and 500 posts.

The following 500 have happened very quickly indeed!

In that time:

  • I finally got my act together & co-ordinated my calender so that I could join in Dewey's readathon. I've now participated in all their readathons since 2014.
  • In April 2015 I joined the voluntary team of editors at the Australian Women Writer's challenge. My focus initially, was the History, Memoir, Biography section, but starting next month I will take over editing the Non-Fiction (general) category. My reading of Australian women writers has exploded in this time.
  • Reading the classics has waned a little in recent years (time issues not loss of interest), but I can still proudly say that I have participated in every single Classics Club #CCSpin. My five year classics reading challenge will come to end (officially) at the end of August. I'm 66/110 of the way through. I suspect I wont be able to read 34 classics in 6 months! How do I apply for an extension?
  • Meeting Melissa from Avid Readers' Musings in September 2014 during her trip down under was a big highlight in my blogging life. So many of the big book blogging events happen on the other side of the world from me. The network of Australian book bloggers may be small but it's also very supportive and dedicated. Despite this we still often feel that the action happens 'over there'. Meeting Melissa and her Huz helped to narrow the gap for me between 'over there' and 'here'.

What have I learnt from writing 1000 blog posts?

  • Keep it simple.
  • Write what you love.
  • Be authentic - stay true to yourself.
  • Your enthusiasm will wax and wane over the years. It's normal. Don't panic.
  • Writing takes time. So does editing.
  • Editing is important. Don't hit the publish button straight away.
  • Don't be afraid to experiment, try something new, take a break, join in or drop out altogether.
  • Don't compare yourself to others - there will always be better writers and bloggers than you.
  • Perfection doesn't exist.
  • An ordinary, regular, run-of-the-mill published post beats an amazing but unpublished post every single time.
  • Readers love lists (you've read this far haven't you?)
  • Don't get caught up in page views or how many followers you have. If you're doing something you feel passionate about then that's all that matters.
  • Join in. Read and comment on other blogs, participate in reading and blogging events that interest you, have a go at a few memes and reading challenges. It's a great way to meet like-minded people, to feel part of a community and it's simply a nice thing to do.


To all of you who I have shared readalongs, readathons, photos, spins & other book events with, I thank you from the bottom of my heart.

I feel blessed to have met you all.
You have enriched my reading (& blogging) life.

Thank you for travelling with me this's to many, many more shared book journeys!

Monday, 6 March 2017

Classics Club Spin #15

It's time!
Ring the bells, spread the news far and wide!
The Classic Club Spin #15 is here!

I've managed to join in every single spin.

For details on how to play, click on the link here.
The main things you need to know though, are to compile your list of 20 books by this Friday - the 10th March.

On that day a number will be randomly selected.
That's the book you read.

You have until the 1st of May to complete your book and review it.

Join in the fun by visiting the other players and commenting on their lists.
It's a great way to meet like-minded bloggers and explode your TBR classics wishlist!

My previous spins have been mostly successful and/or enjoyable. 
I've also had fun by reading my book with other Classic Clubbers during many of the spins.

#3 My Cousin Rachel (looking forward to the movie later on this year too).

#4 The Brothers Karamazov I gave up on this chunkster about halfway through, then I lost the book when we moved last year...serendipity, I say!

#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 Karen @Booker Talk - my first classic non-fiction spin.

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

#9 The Great World by David Malouf my first Australian classic spin.

#10 A Far Cry From Kensington by Muriel Spark.

#11 So Big by Edna Ferber with Christy where we both experienced the joys of rediscovering a forgotten award winning classic.

#12 Dubliners by James Joyce was too depressing and hopeless for my current state of mind.

#13 The Catherine Wheel by Catherine Harrower - my second Aussie #ccspin classic.

#14 The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnet

#15 Out of Africa by Karen Blixen

This time around I feel the need to tackle one of those trickier books lurking on my classics list that I've been putting off reading for one reason or another. In some cases it's the size of the book; for others it's a poor review or two that has me worried and the rest I'm not too sure about whether they're my kind of book or not.

Encouragement and support always welcome!

As you know, I like to read my spins with others, so if you spot a book or author we share in common, please let me know in the comments below.

My Classic Club Spin #15

1. Alice Adams by Booth Tarkington

2. The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov

3. The Berlin Novels by Christopher Isherwood         (reading with Lisbeth @The Content Reader)

4. Hunchback of Notre Dame by Victor Hugo

5. Fortune of the Rougon by Emile Zola                 (I will probably read this one regardless for Fanda's #Zoladdiction in April)

6. The Golden Notebook by Doris Lessing

7. Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes          (reading with Sara @The Steel Review)

8. Indiana by George Sand

9. Little Dorrit by Charles Dickens (reading with Margaret @Books Please & Crafts4Others)

10. Mary Barton by Elizabeth Gaskell            (reading with Tasheena @Dear Reader, Margaret @Books Please and Brittanie @A Book Lover)

11. Villette by Charlotte Bronte    (reading with Cathy @ What Cathy Read Next)

12. Out of Africa by Karen Blixen

13. A Game of Hide and Seek by Elizabeth Taylor        (reading with Juliana @The Blank Garden)

14. Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner             (reading with Emma @Words and Peace, Brittanie @A Book Lover & Anne @Head Full of Books)

15. This Side of Paradise by F Scott Fitzgerald           (reading with Jean @Howling Frog)

16. Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe

17. Swann's Way by Marcel Proust                  (reading with Rachelle @Fortified By Books)

18. Night and Day by Virginia Woolf

19. War of the Worlds by H G Wells              (reading with Emma @One Reader's Thoughts)

20. The Way We Live Now by Anthony Trollope


P.S. This post is my 999th post!! I wonder what will tomorrow bring!


The spin number is #12, which means Karen Blixen and Out of Africa.

I've been dreading this one.
I remember the movie as being difficult (although I was only a teen when I watched it hoping for an exotic romance & ended up with a disintegrating marriage instead). I picked up the book once not long after and gave up on it very quickly.

I'm hoping a more mature, realistic Brona will appreciate the complex, complicated relationships now!

'I had a farm in Africa, at the foot of the Ngong Hills . . . Up in this high air you breathed easily . . . you woke up in the morning and thought: Here I am, where I ought to be.' 
From the moment Karen Blixen arrived in Kenya in 1914 to manage a coffee plantation, her heart belonged to Africa. Drawn to the intense colours and ravishing landscapes, Blixen spent her happiest years on the farm, and her experiences and friendships with the people around her are vividly recalled in these memoirs. 
Out of Africa is the story of a remarkable and unconventional woman, and of a way of life that has vanished for ever.

My edition is part of the 2011 Penguin Essential range with a lovely watercolour cover by David Gentleman.

(Isak Dineson was Blixen's pen name when she wrote in English).