Monday, 27 June 2016

Gentlemen Formerly Dressed by Sulari Gentill

When I woke up on Saturday morning with a vague sensation that my cold from two weeks ago was trying to return, I knew that I had to do something drastic.

I needed comfort and I needed warm and cosy. 
And I needed it now!

I needed the cosy comfort of a dear friend. Someone I could curl up on the lounge with. And that lucky someone was Rowland Sinclair and his Bohemian pals.

Gentlemen Formerly Dressed is the fifth book in Gentill's Rowland Sinclair mystery series.

GFD picked up where Paving the New Road left off - with Rowly and his friends fleeing 1933 Germany to reach London, battered and bruised but alive to tell their tale.

However, London turns out to be not so safe after all. Fascists have infiltrated London society and a bizarre murder sees Rowland and his friends embroiled in intrigue and danger once again.

It was fascinating to read this particular Rowland Sinclair mystery as I also watched the Brexit referundum and its ensuing political fallout play out this weekend.

GFD highlighted a world of appeasement at all costs, fear of Jewish refugees, American isolationist policies and the rise of fascist groups spouting racist propaganda all in the name of science (eugenics).

It was quite disheartening to read the same rhetoric (just with different names) and with 80 years in between in this weekend's papers.

As per usual, though, it's Gentill's genteel mix of fact and fiction that makes these stories so much fun.

It's wonderful to discover in GFD that Rowly's English cousin is Rear Admiral Sir Hugh Sinclair, the chief of MI6 who bought Bletchley Park. They also find themselves socialising with Stanley Bruce, H. G. Wells, Evelyn Waugh and a prince of the realm or two.

If you haven't tried one of these delightful stories yet, do yourself a favour and start right now. They're the perfect holiday read - a great blend of historical fiction, gentle crime and humour.

My reviews for the first four books are here:

A Few Right Thinking Men
A Decline in Prophets
Miles Off Course
Paving the New Road


Sunday, 26 June 2016

Mr Huff by Anna Walker

Melbourne based author/illustrator Anna Walker has been shortlisted for this years CBCA Early Childhood category with Mr Huff.

Mr Huff shows us what can happen when you let negative thoughts take over. We see how a bad day can get worse or better depending on how you think about it.

As negative thoughts take hold of our young, anxious protagonist, Bill, we see the Mr Huff shadow grow bigger, darker and more dominant.

Walker takes us through the various things Bill tries to do to get rid of Mr Huff - he waits, he ignores, he tries to be brave, but none of these things really work and Mr Huff keeps getting bigger.

It looks like Mr Huff might be around forever.

Until, Bill suddenly stops. He looks at Mr Huff and he sees himself inside Mr Huff's tears.

At this point, I'm not sure if Bill is embracing his own sadness or seeing himself as others see him or responding empathically to someone else's sadness. Maybe it's all three.

However. it's enough to make a difference.

Bill looks up and around and begins to take notice of all the little things around him. He observes others dealing with the same day differently to himself and slowly, little by little, he begins to get involved with those around him.

And with every little thing that Bill does - from smiling at people, to talking and joining in, Mr Huff gradually gets smaller and smaller.

I loved Walker's previous book, Peggy, which was shortlisted for the CBCA Early Childhood book back in 2013.

There is something about the sensitivity and quirkiness of her books that appeal to young children (and their adult readers alike). Her pencil, ink and collage illustration are attractive and engaging. They subtly convey the various moods within the story.

When Mr Huff was first launched, an exhibition of Walker's collages was held at the No Vacancy Project Space in Federation Square.
Sadly the exhibition is now finished, but you can see some images of what looked like an amazing display here.

My CBCA shortlist post is here.

Friday, 24 June 2016

Ollie and the Wind by Ronojoy Ghosh

Ollie and the Wind is such a sweet story and a marvellous achievement by a debut author/illustrator, Ronojoy Ghosh.

Ghosh has worked as an art director in the advertising industry for the past 15 years.
He was inspired to write Ollie and the Wind for his young son who loves bedtime stories every night.

Many of us have felt this kind of inspiration thanks to the children in our lives, but very few of us are actually capable of producing a beautiful book that captures the simple joys of childhood as well as Ghosh has.

Ollie lives on an island and is used to solitude and finding ways to amuse himself. But one day the naughty wind steals his hat, then his scarf and balloon.

I was particularly enthralled by Ghosh's illustrations. Like Alison Lester, he uses simple, clean lines and shapes to convey movement and perspective.

Shortlisted for this year's CBCA Early Childhood category, Ollie and the Wind is a delightful read aloud book to share with young children.

My CBCA shortlist post is here.

Wednesday, 22 June 2016

My Dog Bigsy by Alison Lester

There aren't many Alison Lester books that don't eventually charm me.

In the case of My Dog Bigsy I was in love from the front cover!

Such a joyful, happy pup bounding across the page. Bigsy looks ready for cuddles and snuggles and tummy rubs.

My Dog Bigsy has been shortlisted for this years CBCA Early Childhood book of the year. The judging criteria states that:

Entries in this category may be fiction, drama or poetry and should be appropriate in style and content for children who are at pre-reading or early stages of reading.  

The front and end papers create a little map of the farm where Bigsy lives. The map shows us all the different animals who live on the farm with him.

The introduction page has arrows pointing out all of Bigsy's best features such as his 'wet, black nose' and his 'special scratching spot'.

Lester uses simple descriptive language and lots of fun onomatopoeia as Bigsy races around the farm waking everyone up.

Her illustrations are clean, simple shapes pasted onto fabric backgrounds.

Bigsy is lovable and fun and I think he's a winner already.

My CBCA shortlist post is here.

Monday, 20 June 2016

The Ladies of Lyndon by Margaret Kennedy

The Ladies of Lyndon (1923) was my very first Kennedy as well as being Kennedy's very first published novel.

When I recently spotted that Jane @Beyond Eden Rock was hosting a Margaret Kennedy Day today, I knew that this would be the perfect opportunity for me to jump on board the Kennedy bandwagon.

The Ladies of Lyndon is not without its flaws (bumpy jumps in time for instance), but, at its heart, it is oh so charming and amusing in a Noel Coward kind of way.

It's the kind of very English writing that I love - a type of comedy of manners, full of class consciousness and social conventions.

There's John:
He had always looked forward to marriage as a duty, inevitable, but infinitely boring and to be postponed if possible.
And Marian:
She had such a faculty for making nice things look insignificant.
and Marian again:
'Well, I don't want to criticize.' said Marian, who liked nothing better.

There was a touch of Edith Wharton's doomed melancholia to Kennedy's writing - just with more tongue-in-cheek humour and less of the trademark Wharton angst.

Her female protagonist, Agatha, was conflicted, prevaricating and constantly making misguided choices. She seemed to be constantly tossed about and easily influenced by events and other people. I wasn't sure if she was all sweet innocence, perfectly hapless or dangerously capable of tremendous self-delusion. The ending for Agatha is rather like a punch in the gut.

All the stuff about the comfortable, respectable family seat of Lyndon versus the newly rich Bragge with his ghastly Braxhall and farcical frescoes, felt like a precursor to Evelyn Waugh's Brideshead Revisited.

But, of course, as the title tells us, this is a story about ladies.

Young ladies, sisters, domineering mothers, widows, martyring step-mothers and maids. Kennedy gives us time inside all of their heads, and although we may not necessarily sympathise with all of them, we can empathise.

And that's where the secret to Kennedy's success lies - her authentic dialogue and believable characters. I'm curious to see where she takes me next with The Constant Nymph.

Book 5/20

Saturday, 18 June 2016

Every Man For Himself by Beryl Bainbridge

Every Man For Himself was one of those books that ticked many boxes for me.

It was my very first Bainbridge and I've been curious about her for quite some time now.

It also won the Whitbread (now the Costa Award) for 1996 and was shortlisted for the Booker (which I note was actually won by Graham Swift for Last Orders).

Furthermore it's a Titanic book, for which I have a bit of thing.

Every Man For Himself also allowed me to tick off another book for my #20booksofsummer (winter) challenge and join in Annabel's Beryl Bainbridge reading week.

I prefer Titanic stories that avoid romanticism and nostalgia. I prefer the curious but true, the psychology, or the everyday approach to this tragic human drama.

Every Man For Himself returned all of this in spades. Peopled by fictional characters who mixed with actual first class passengers and crew, Bainbridge explored the nature of class and courage and integrity, all mixed up with foolishness and snobbery and the mundane.

Mystery abounds, there are puzzling characters, snatches of overheard conversations, loads of drinking and buffoonery. Our narrator, Morgan spends a lot of time philosophising and pondering his future (even though the story is actually told from this future Morgan's perspective). He is insecure about his past, yet the hand of fate seems to play a big role in every thing that happens to him.

I wasn't sure how much I enjoyed this at first and puzzled over what star rating to give it on Goodreads.

Bainbridge provided sooooooo much foreshadowing that I nearly yelled out to her "enough already! I get it!" There was also a coolness in her writing style that kept me from engaging wholeheartedly.

However now that a couple of days have gone by, her attention to detail and startling descriptions keep popping into my mind. I also read somewhere that she suggested that her books should be read three times each. An artists conceit perhaps, but for an inveterate re-reader like myself, this was manna to my eyes.

I am now very curious to see what a re-read might reveal.

The other Titanic books that I've read and enjoyed are:

The Midnight Watch by David Dyer
Psalm at Journey's Ends by Eric Fosnes Hansen

You can also read the reports from the two enquiries at Titanic Inquiry Project.

Do you have any other Titanic suggestions for me?

P.S. I did not like the movie (too romantic and nostalgic), although I did find the information about how the ship split in two towards the end fascinating.


Friday, 17 June 2016

One Step At A Time by Jane Jolly

At the beginning of the CBCA shortlist period, I like to remind myself what the criteria are for the judges.

I try to keep these in mind as I read and review the books on offer each year.

The judging criteria were updated at the end of last year. Click here for the full information sheet.

One Step At A Time by Jane Jolly and illustrated by Sally Heinrich has been nominated for the Picture Book of the year award.

CBCA Picture Book of the Year awards will be made to outstanding books of the Picture Book genre in which the author and illustrator achieve artistic and literary unity, or, in wordless picture books, where the story, theme or concept is unified through illustrations. 

Unity seems to be the key word for this section. Which helps me to understand why, in the past, some of my favourite picture books (thanks to their glorious illustrations) haven't won. There needs to be that magic synchronicity between the words and the pictures for the book to actually win.

I confess that I wasn't really sure how a children's picture book about the landmine issue in Southeast Asia was going to work. And after my first reading of One Step At A Time, I was still somewhat doubtful. But several readings later, with some time for it to sit and work its magic, I have come to admire this picture book and it's aims a lot.

But it's a difficult topic to get just right in picture book format.

Heinrich's hand coloured lino cut prints are wonderful. I love her choice of colour palette, her use of borders and the sense of depth and texture in each block.

Each page is a work of art.

The story begins with one small step, followed by an act of violence - an image that we are spared as the violence occurs behind a black double page with a loud BOOM! splashed across it.

In my case, though, the imagined violence behind the BOOM! was probably worse than anything Heinrich and Jolly had in mind.

This is a story book for young readers, so there is no blood and gore on display. Which I, personally, don't mind as there is more than enough blood and gore in our movies and books and on the daily news.

But the almost pristine clean images in One Step At A Time seemed to deny any horror at all and it was to hard to see what awful thing had happened to young Mali, the elephant.

But of course, the horrible thing did happen.

And Mali's story is based on the real plight of Mosha, who is now nine years old and has just received her latest prosthetic leg to keep pace with her growing body.

Jolly, Heinrich and their publishers, Midnightsun, have created a webpage full of information about Mosha, landmine news, and book launch related news. They have teachers notes and information about SafeGround. And, wonderfully, whole posts about Heinrich's creative process with lots of photographs to pour over.

If I had any doubts left about how a story about landmines could be translated into Australian schools, the reams of drawings and letters from local schools that had tackled this topic under the conflict, violence and peace learning area were impressive and inspiring.

Jolly and Heinrich obviously worked closely together on this project.

There are times where Jolly's words reveal more than the prints, and others, like the final page, where Heinrich's illustrations convey the missing part of the story that makes you catch your breath when it is revealed.

Thought provoking, and, yes, a worthy nominee for this year's picture book award.

My CBCA shortlist post is here.

Wednesday, 15 June 2016

Phasmid by Rohan Cleave and Coral Tulloch

When I see titles like this on the CBCA Eve Pownall list I always do a little inward groan.

After all, why would I want to read a book about stick insects?

But then I actually take the time to read them and I'm blown away by the amazing natural world around us and the people who choose to work in these areas.

Phasmid: Saving the Lord Howe Island Stick Insect is one of those unbelievable but true stories about a near extinct insect brought back from the brink by a group of passionate, dedicated scientists.

The story is easy to read and surprisingly engaging. We follow the phasmid through its life cycle and life on Lord Howe Island. We learn about the arrival of rats via the early settlers' boats - a fast breeding predator of the phasmid that had wiped it out completely by 1930.

That is, until....a small group of scientists were climbing nearby Balls Pyramid in 2001 and discovered a small colony of phasmids at home in the crevices of the rock face. At this point there were less than 30 phasmids left in the wild.

This is the part I love the most.

Over the next 15 years this small group of devoted scientists created a program at Melbourne Zoo to breed the phasmids in captivity. This involved all night observations to learn what exactly the phasmid needed to survive and grow.

They now have over 12 000 nymphs and their program is famous around the world. They have had visits from Jane Goodall and Sir David Attenborough and, as of Feb 2016, they have eggs hatching at San Diego Zoo. Called 'insurance populations', off shore breeding helps to ensure the survival of the phasmid - more eggs have also been shipped to Bristol Zoo in the U.K. and Toronto Zoo in Canada.

The final four pages of the book contains stacks of interesting detailed information about the phasmids and the breeding program. 

Plans are underway to eradicate all the rats and mice from Lord Howe Island in the hope of establishing a phasmid community back on the island in the future.

Author, Rohan Cleave is an invertebrate keeper at Melbourne Zoo. He hopes that by highlighting the plight of one small animal at risk, he can get children interested in and concerned about the well being of all wildlife.

Illustrator Coral Tulloch, who won the CBCA Eve Pownall award with Alison Lester for their book, One Small Island, once again creates beautiful water colour landscapes as well as up close looks at the phasmid.

Produced by the CSIRO, Phasmid is a fascinating, hopeful look at environmental issues for young readers.

My CBCA shortlist post is here.

Monday, 13 June 2016

On the Beach by Nevil Shute

What a powerful reading experience!

On the Beach is an Australian classic set in Melbourne in the 1950's about the end of the world.

The Northern Hemisphere is gone.

A nuclear war between China, Russia and the USA has obliterated everything north of the equator. Australasia, South America and South Africa are now simply waiting for the cloud of fallout to drift south with the changing of the seasons.

The thing that really struck me about this post-apocalyptic book right from the start, was how polite and civilised everyone was about their imminent death. There was no panic, no fleeing, no looting, no disintegration of manners or ethics.

Everyone just got on with things. They went to work, raised their families, planted the garden with veggies for a season that they wouldn't be alive to enjoy.

Heavy drinking and reckless behaviours did start to creep in towards the end, but it was such civilised recklessness - downing copious amounts of 50 year old port and racing Ferrari's.

Despite my gentle jossing though, On the Beach is actually a rather disturbing read. The calm patience and knowing denial of our characters adds to the tension and the creeping sense of hopelessness. In an extraordinary act of will, the entire population has decided to not make a fuss. Instead they are determined to make the most of the time left to them. And it turns out that making the most of the time left to them looks rather like everyday life.

Spending time with your loved ones, pottering around the house and keeping busy with the usual things seems to mean the most to folks when you haven't much time left. Kindness and generosity and caring remained important for everyone right to the very end - which was such a pleasant relief after watching the end of the world as imagined by the makers of The Walking Dead where everyone becomes so vicious and cruel.

I was also profoundly moved by their careful preparations for their pets right at the end when they realised that the radiation affected animals at a slower rate than humans.

Shute used fictional places as well as real towns and cities. Falmouth, where the story opens, is based on Frankston, the town that Shute lived in on the Mornington Peninsula and the race track Tooradin is most likely, the race track on Philip Island.

Nancy @ipsofactodotme read On the Beach for AusReadingMonth a couple of years ago - her review is here.
And TJ @My Bookstrings reviewed it last year here.

P.S. The weather for our second weekend of #20booksofsummer was much better than the destructive #eastcoastlow and storms of last weekend.
Glorious winter sunshine with the temp. creeping up to about 20°C at lunch time. Lovely, although I've ended up with my first head cold for the year :-(


Sunday, 12 June 2016

Paving the New Road by Sulari Gentill

Paving the New Road is the fourth book in Gentill's charming cosy, crime series featuring Rowland Sinclair and his three Bohemian friends.

Usually set in Sydney in the 1930's I have thoroughly enjoyed these books for their fun mix of history and fiction, their art deco flair and jazzy lifestyles.

Paving the New Road proved to be no different, except that this time, Rowland and his friends were encouraged to leave the safe suburbs of Sydney for the dangerous streets of 1933 Munich.

Political intrigue and personal enmity abound as Rowland is sent to Munich to keep New Guard leader, Eric Campbell from meeting with Hitler in an attempt to keep Fascism from reaching Australia.

I really enjoy how Gentill allows her fictional characters to interact with real life figures.

Rowland manages to befriend a young, confused woman called Eva, who has a mysterious lover, Herr Wolf, who never seems to be around. Rowland also bumps into a journalist called Nancy Wake in a bar one night and helps Albert Goring stand up to a group of SA soldiers demeaning a group of prisoners. They attend a Munich book burning, meet with Unity Mitford and Egon Kisch (at different times of course) and Rowland gets his arm broken by Ernst Rohm.

You'll be delighted to learn that Rowly also, finally, gets some flying lessons with Kingsford-Smith.

What's not to love?

The perfect rainy weekend book choice.


Thursday, 9 June 2016

Mothering Sunday by Graham Swift


How have I not read anything by Graham Swift before?

(Assuming that is, that the writing abilities he displayed so gloriously in Mothering Sunday are also evident in his previous works.)

This is the best book I've read this year so far. Hands down. No contest.

Every single word was perfectly placed and felt like exactly the right choice for that sentence, that moment, that character.

The first half was beautifully sensual, languid and full of youthful abandon. Yet the shadows of the great war hang heavy.

Swift plays with time, starting the story with "once upon a time" and constantly shifting between now - the perfect day - to reflections of earlier days and big jumps forward into a future made different because of this perfect day. It could be disconcerting, but I found it breathtaking.

The writing has a circular, pacy feel. You're racing through and onwards and going around at the same time. Ideas of sliding doors and possibilities and chance tease you at ever turn. What if? becomes the central theme.

The final section turns more inward looking as our characters discuss the nature of truth and story and memory. We see the power of the mind to carry us away with alternate versions of our stories.

You are left pondering all the stories we tell ourselves about our own lives - all the fictions and possibilities that we run through in our mind that seep into our realities, that inform our decisions and choices even though they are merely figments of our imaginations.

If I hadn't finished this book at 1:30 in the morning, I would have turned it over and started it again straight away.

I cannot remember the last time a book had such a powerful effect on me.

Some readers may not enjoy the rather English class conscious writing style and some may be put off by the slim book/same price as a chunkster thing, but for me this book has been one of the most fulfilling, satisfying, enriching stories I've read in a long time.

A great English writer at the height of his creative powers will always be a joy to behold.

This slim volume packed a punch with every single word in a way that many of the current stock of chunskers fail to maintain for their entire wordy length.

Mothering Sunday also provided plenty of books in book action.

Jane was a reader and many books informed her later opinions and stories - the main ones being Treasure Island, Kidnapped and Youth by Conrad.

A note about the cover.
The Australian hardback edition comes with a stunning slip cover featuring a detail of Modigliani's Reclining Nude (red nude) (1917-18). It seems fitting that this painting that is a homage to sex, should grace the covers of this story. It captures the post-coital mood of the first half of the book perfectly.


Sunday, 5 June 2016

Sydney Writer's Festival 2016

Some times you see so much, hear so much and think so much it's hard to bring it all together into a coherent whole.

There were so many wonderful moments and details about my time at this year's Sydney Writer's Festival.

Now that I've had some time to reflect as well as discuss our shared experiences with my colleagues and customers, the one thing that it all keeps coming back to is that a lot of people really love books.

The festival consisted of a lot of great experiences and a few not so great (for some people) but it all boils down to a lot of people who love reading.

Every year the people who attend SWF love to catch up with their favourite authors but they're also willing to listen to authors outside their comfort zone, outside their usual genres, outside their usual experiences.

New connections are made. New loves get discovered. New ideas are explored.

I was fortunate enough to attend the launch of this year's Festival back in April. I hobnobbed with authors, booksellers, publishers and just a few media types.

The champagne flowed as we took in the vibe in the huge cavernous space that is Pier 2/3 at Walsh Bay.

This place that has become the home to storytellers of all kinds - dancers, playwrights, authors - it's a place that fosters storytelling and creativity.

This place that also has a story of its own to tell - if only the old timber walls and floorboards could talk.

And if only the ancient shell middens and rock engravings underneath all of that could tell us their stories too.

But for now, this night, the story was about books, or 'bibliotherapy' to be more precise. The theme and new logo for the SWF were revealed by Artistic Director, Jemma Birrell.

The spark for this year's theme came from a New Yorker article by Ceridwen Dovey, entitled Can Reading Make You Happier?

Dovey wrote about her experience with a bibliotherapist and discovered that,
Reading has been shown to put our brains into a pleasurable trance-like state, similar to meditation, and it brings the same health benefits of deep relaxation and inner calm. Regular readers sleep better, have lower stress levels, higher self-esteem, and lower rates of depression than non-readers.
The launch ended with a list of the authors attending this year's SWF and a video presentation from Kate Tempest, her words,
/I know Hell is empty cause all the devils are here/
captured my attention.

I exited the building to witness a glorious autumnal sunset - no devils here after all!

Jump ahead a few weeks to another glorious evening in May.
Monday night, my first SWF event was Austen's Women performed by Rebecca Vaughan.
A one woman performance piece featuring 13 of Austen's women.
This time my evening view was from Pier 4, looking back towards Pier 2/3 and the Harbour Bridge

Vaughan did a tremendous job in moving from one character to the next, using minimal props.
For lovers of all Austen's work (like me), this was a treat of the familiar brought to life.

Thursday was my day off work and my chance to enjoy a whole day at the festival.
I was reading Tempest's book to get into the right vibe for the week even though I was not planning on seeing any of her talks. See accompanied me to all my venues and made a great chatting prompt with others waiting in the lines.

Coffee and reading break

One of the free events I attended was a Meet the Writers chat. It featured some of the folk who had won awards at the previous evenings NSW Premier's Literary Award ceremony.
Magda Szubanski and Alice Pung were both in attendance.

This was a very personal discussion about two very different women, from very different generations and with very different backgrounds, who both shared in common the difficulty of being second generation children of refugees who fled war torn countries. 

They talked about their loneliness and sense of exclusion and how their families used humour to cover up their pain.
They discussed the role of gratitude and stoicism and survivor guilt. 
Vicarious trauma was something they both experienced as they grew up.
They both wrote to vent and to escape.
And they both spoke with great affection and understanding about their parents.

Although Pung won the NSW Premier's Award for her recent YA novel, Laurinda, after hearing her talk with Magda about her father, I would also love to read her memoir, Her Father's Daughter.

I then moved across the road to the Roslyn Packer Theatre for my next event.

This was one of my paid in advance events.
At the time I booked it I was focused on wanting to see Gloria Steinem live and didn't pay attention to who else was on the panel. And this is what I love about the SWF, the unexpected pleasures from the unknown. Because Indigenous poet Ali Cobby Eckermann and Jean-Christophe Rufin were both fascinating guests. I particularly enjoyed Rufin's talks about his time with Medicins san Frontieres and his big walk along the Camino de much so, that I bought his book.

Journeys was the theme and they all left us with little pearls of wisdom:

Gloria "The road blows away your preconceptions."
"You're not more important than anyone else, but also, you're not less important."

Jean-Christophe "Camino is like a virus - when you touch - you're infected."
"You become addicted to this life - this vagabond life - you don't think, your body thinks for you."

Ali "The road takes away social stigmas and labels. Friendship can bloom anywhere."
"The stories live in the land."

I went straight from this discussion to Peter Frankopan's The Silk Roads talk.
I was seated right at the back of the hall, so I spared you all the fuzzy far away photo of this event!

I have yet to read The Silk Roads, although I have been eyeing off the glorious cover ever since Christmas. 
And just quietly, between you and me, I knew nothing about Peter Frankopan, so I expected an old Oxford don type with messy hair and a faded but neat suit to walk out on stage.
Imagine my pleasant surprise to discover that Frankopan is only in his early 40's, likes to wear a tailored suit and looks rather dashing as he does so!

His aim with this book was to challenge the Eurocentric version of history.
He talked about why his title has a plural, why globalisation is nothing new and why it is important to study history.

Needless to say, I now also own a copy of The Silk Roads.

Mr Books then joined me for one of the evening sessions with David Marr. He interviewed Nikki Savva about her recent political sensation The Road to Ruin.
It was an interesting political discussion but mostly about how Savva wrote the book, collected her information and how she chose what to put in and what not, who to get on the record, who to leave off and her motivation for writing it in the first place.

Unfortunately this was one of the events marred by unfortunate timing as a live band began playing in another event further down the wharf about half way through the talk. We had to listen to two songs through the un-insulated walls before we could hear our speakers clearly again.

A minor annoyance quickly forgotten as Mr Books & I enjoyed a dumpling dinner with a glass of wine and a healthy bookish debate at our new favourite Lotus Dumpling Bar across the road.

Saturday night saw me at my final event for the festival.
This time at Town Hall, all lit up in preparation for VIVID.

Ferrante Fever was a panel discussion featuring translator Ann Goldstein. 
She discussed the publishing and reading phenomenon that is the Neapolitan tetralogy (we all fell in love with how she used this word!) I was fascinated to discover that Goldstein only learnt Italian in her 30's because she wanted to read, as you do, Dante, in the original.

Sharing the panel discussion with Goldstein were Emma Alberici, Susan Wyndham, Benjamin Law and Drusilla Modjeska. They all had little snippets of insight into character development and why the books have struck such a chord with English speaking readers.

The energy and excitement around this chat caused the organisers to announce that the talk would be extended for another half an hour. It also had the positive effect of convincing me to finally finish reading the series myself.

For me the buzz of the SWF's continued for at least a week afterwards as customers came into work asking for books from the authors that they heard. This led to lots of stimulating chats, comparisons and reading suggestions.

Many of the events eventually get turned into podcasts for general consumption. Check the website here for updates.

Saturday, 4 June 2016

The Story of the Lost Child by Elena Ferrante

It has taken me a while but here I am at the end of the Ferrante tetralogy.

With so much hype and frenzy surrounding the series and author, it was hard to come to these books with a fresh approach or low expectations.

My feelings and reactions have been complicated and mixed up to say the least. I was reluctant to get started and then reluctant to confess my lack of any amazeballs reaction.

I certainly don't hate the series either or think that it doesn't have any virtues. It just lacked something. A little something, that I haven't been able to work out yet.

I felt admiration for the writer and translator and fascination about the history and socio-cultural constructs. I also felt incredibly frustrated and annoyed at most of the characters, most of the time.

So much so, that I thought I would never actually read The Story of the Lost Child.

But at the recent Sydney Writer's Festival, I attended an event that discussed the Ferrante phenomenon. The exciting buzz from the event was enough to convince me that it was time to finally finish this series off.

And I'm glad I did.

Despite my misgivings at different times along the way, we finally see some personal growth and understanding from the main character, Elena.

The tension throughout this book as we wait to find out who the lost child is nearly unbearable. It's almost a relief when it finally happens.

I felt very connected to Dede by the end of the book. Her adult relationship with her mother was something that I understood and I finally had that little a-ha moment about why I had struggled with Elena all the way along.

Ferrante has created memorable characters who came to life thanks to the intimate details that she revealed about them along the way.

This series is entertaining and even ambitious, but, to my mind it's not a masterpiece.
Like Ferrante's characters, the books have issues and problems. But perhaps it is these very issues and problems that draw so many people in. Seeing the awkwardness, the rawness and the messiness of life reflected back at us via art can be very alluring and hypnotising - rather like watching a train wreck perhaps!

My reviews for My Brilliant Friend
The Story of a New Name
Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay
The Story of the Lost Child
also by Ferrante, The Days of Abandonment

Where do you fall on the continuum of Ferrante fever?

Friday, 3 June 2016

#CCSpin 13

Here we go again!

It's time for our next CC Spin book with the Classics Club (click on link for rules and conditions).

I can proudly say that I have participated in every single spin. And I'm not going to let a crazy, hectic schedule make me miss this one!

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

#1 The Magnificent Ambersons with Cat @Tell Me A Story.

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

#3 My Cousin Rachel.

#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 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 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

Out of curiosity I checked what the previous spin results were.

We've had 14, 6, 4, 10, 20, 1, 17, 13, 2, 5, 19 and 8.
Seven even numbers, five odd.
Six double digits and six singles.

I have a lot on in the coming months, so my reading plans feature slim volumes and trying to get through some of my TBR's.

Winter has also arrived with a vengeance in little old Sydney town. Gusty, wild, woolly winds and rain are predicted for this weekend.

Mr Books and I are doing dry June (we have too many dinner dates, gatherings and get togethers in July to make dry July a reasonable thing this year). I suspect my chocolate and green tea consumption may spike in June instead!

The first seven titles in my list are already books selected for my #20booksofsummer (or winter) reading challenge. 

For the rest, I've included books to help my #woolfalong reading plans, my Australian Women Writer's challenge, Austen in August and Paris in July.

1. The Tragedy of Korosko by Arthur Conan Doyle 

2. Our Man in Havana by Graham Greene

3. Villette by Charlotte Bronte
Reading with Jessica @The Bookworm Chronicles

4. Angle of Repose by Wallace Stegner

5. The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
Reading with Rebecca @Randy Runt of a Reader

6. On the Beach by Neville Shute

18. Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen
Reading with @Crafts4others

8. Diary of a Nobody by George and Weddon Grossmith

9. Pere Goriot by Honore de Balzac

10. Picture of Dorian Gray by Osacr Wilde

11. Stoner by John Williams

12. This Side of Paradise by F Scott Fitzgerald

13. A Glass of Blessings by Barbara Pym

14. The Song of the Lark by Willa Cather

15. The Catherine Wheel by Elizabeth Harrower

Twenty-five-year-old Clemency James has moved from Sydney to a chilly bedsit on the other side of the world. During the day she studies for the bar by correspondence; in the evenings she gives French lessons to earn a meagre wage. When she meets Christian, a charismatic would-be actor, she can see he’s trouble—not least because he’s involved with an older woman who has children. She is drawn to him nonetheless: drawn into his world of unpayable debts and wild promises.

First published in 1960, The Catherine Wheel
 is Elizabeth Harrower’s third novel and the only one of her books not set in Australia. In it she turns her unflinching gaze on the grim realities of 1950s London, and the madness that can infect couples.

16. War of the Worlds by H G Wells
Reading with Jessica @The Bookworm Chronicles

17. Night and Day by Virginia Woolf
Reading with Rebecca @Randy Runt of a Reader

7. The Silver Sword by Ian Serralier

19. The Sun King by Nancy Mitford

20. Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame 

I may jiggle and tweak the numbers around a little between now and Monday if it means I can readalong with a fellow clubber once again.

Happy Spinning!

Tuesday, 31 May 2016

20 Books of Summer (or Winter as the case may be)!

Cathy @746 Books is once again hosting her #20booksofsummer reading challenge.

It's actually winter here in Australia which is the perfect weather for curling up with a good book or two (although I'm sure my European and American readers will scoff heartily at my definition of winter and feeling cold!)

I always love the idea of this challenge but I struggle to stay motivated during the third month.

So I'm going to mess with Cathy's rules a little and only list 15 books so that the last five can be spontaneous, flexible picks to get me through my August angst!

1. The Bone Sparrow by Zana Fraillon

The Bone Sparrow is due for publication in July and my copy is an ARC.
My Hachette rep was VERY excited about this book and he has convinced me to keep this YA Australian refugee story at the top of my TBR pile.

2. Ruins by Rajith Savanadasa

Another ARC with a BIG rap from my Hachette rep; another July release; another Australian author.
I also adore Indian literature, so this one has the best of both worlds for me - a Sri Lankan born Australian with his debut novel set in Colombo.
Great cover too!

3. Mothering Sunday by Graham Swift (reviewed 9/6/16)

I've been hoping to get into this well-reviewed story sooner rather than later (and I can't wait to read JoAnn @Lakeside Musing's review when she writes it as her social media raves this weekend have been very tantalising :-)
This book has been languishing on my TBR for long enough now.

4. Truly, Madly, Guilty by Liane Moriarty

I love my reps!
My Pan Mac rep came through a week ago with an ARC of Liane's latest book.
Mr Books snaffled it straight away since I had just started The Story of a Lost Child.
He raced through it with great pleasure and is now eagerly awaiting our discussion when I finally read it.

5. Everywhere I Look by Helen Garner

Most Aussie readers will know (& most likely adore) Helen Garner.
I have her latest non-fiction personal essays tempting me from my bedside chair.

I'm up to the fourth book in this gentle crime series set in Sydney in the 1930's.
I love Rowland Sinclair and his Bohemian friends.
This series has become my comfort read. As the days get colder and darker, I can safely say that a comfort read will be required at some point!


8. Joan of Arc by Lili Wilkinson

I've had Lili's fictional bio for teens on my bedside chair ever since I read Green Valentine last year & discovered that she had written a much earlier story based on the life of Joan.
Louise @A Strong Belief in Wicker has a review of the book here.
I'm a BIG fan of Wilkinson and always intrigued by Joan.

9. The Tragedy of the Korosko by Arthur Conan Doyle

Carol @Journey and Destination first put me onto this beautiful looking book.
You may have already spotted the other theme developing with this list....
No chunksters to bog me down this winter!!

10. Our Man in Havana by Graham Greene

Mr Books turns 50 this year.
To celebrate, we're off to Cuba later in the year.
In the meantime we are now embarking on a personal Cuban reading challenge.
Suggestions always welcome.

11. On the Beach by Nevil Shute  (reviewed 13/6/16)

Nancy @Ipsofactdotme reminded me of this Australian classic about the end of the world, when she read it for AusReadingMonth three years ago. 
I've been meaning to read it ever since.

12. The Santiago Pilgrimage by Jean-Christophe Rufin

I went to a book event featuring Rufin during this year's Sydney Writer's Festival.
I was fascinated by his life story - as a founding member of Medecins Sans Frontieres, as a diplomat and as a novelist. He also recently went for a walk - a long walk - and wrote about it.
I want to know more.

13. Angle of Repose by Wallace Stegner

I read and loved, loved, loved Crossing to Safety four years ago.
I've been meaning to read another Stegner ever since.

14. The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

Another slim volume that has been lurking on my Classics Club list for long enough.

15. Villette by Charlotte Bronte

Jane Eyre is one of my all time favourite novels.
I've been meaning to read another story by Charlotte for such a long time and Villette has the added advantage of being slim!


Every Man For Himself by Beryl Bainbridge

This is how it happens.

Barely one day after compiling my list of 15 and leaving a space for 5 books in August, I have discovered that Annabel's House of Books is hosting a Beryl Bainbridge reading week from 13th-19th June.

The Bainbridge ended up on my TBR when Lisa @Bookshelf Fantasies told me about this Titanic story after we both shared our love for The Midnight Watch.


An Austen for Austen in August.....


The Catherine Wheel by Elizabeth Harrower is my #CCSpin 13 choice.


The Ladies of Lyndon by Margaret Kennedy    (reviewed 20/6/16)
so that I can join in Jane @Beyond Eden Rock's readalong.


I should finish The Story of the Lost Child tonight, so which book would be a good one to move on to next?