Tuesday, 23 January 2018

My Summer Reading Plans #1

The best laid plans and all that jazz.

This summer has been a bit of bummer when it comes to reading. Normally I love the lazy summer days as a great excuse to devour books by the bucket load - by the pool, on the beach or relaxing under the fan or air-con. But so far this summer, I've only had one whole day to do just that.

Life has continued it's hectic pace, with no let up in sight for the time being. *sigh*

My chapter a day #LesMisReadalong has been perfect and easy to fit into this new world order. But I miss finishing a book.

So I've been reading and reviewing various picture books on Goodreads to help me feel like I'm making progress (and to help me sound knowledgeable at work!)

Since I have no book reviews on the horizon (and no likelihood of a book review in the near future), I thought a picture book update was in order to keep these pages active.

My biggest find over Christmas, was the latest Rory the Dinosaur book. I fell head over heels in love with Rory and his dad and quickly hunted down the two earlier Rory books by Liz Climo.

Rory the Dinosaur Needs a Christmas Tree
I had resisted the charms of Rory and his dad - the simple drawings on the covers did not draw me in - but there was something about the joyful look on Rory's face as he was being tossed in the air by his Santa hat wearing dad that warmed the cockles of my heart this Christmas. 
So I opened the book. 
Oh, oh, oh, what an utter delight I found inside! 
How Climo manages to convey sooooo much emotion with little dot eyes is beyond me, but I'm completely heartbroken for Rory who realises he has to make do this Christmas without a Christmas tree. He and his devoted dad do everything they can to make it happen, but it doesn't work. The look on Rory's face as he goes to bed gazing at the spot in the loungeroom (with longing) where the tree should be just breaks my heart every single time I read the book (yes, I have read it multiple times this past month!)
Oh, oh, oh, but Rory's dad!!!
He wins the best dad in the whole wide world award for how he solves the problem.
It's a delightful laugh out loud, hug the book to your chest moment. You then immediately want to share the book with as many people as possible, to share the joy of Christmas with as many people as possible.
I am a doubter no longer.

Rory The Dinosaur: Me and My Dad
I'm now an official FAN of Rory and his marvellous dad. 
My love affair started with the more recent Christmas book, which to my mind, is the best of the three books, but this, the original story, is pretty fabulous too, I'm just not sure I can completely condone such helicopter parenting!

Rory The Dinosaur Wants a Pet 
It's hard not to love Rory and his dad.

Their simple lives, so delicately drawn by Climo, are genuinely touching and heartwarming but Rory comes across as being a little bit too simple in this story about finding a pet.

I wasn't sure whether I wanted to laugh or cry at Rory's solution to the pet problem. Perhaps his dad's helicoptering parenting style (as seen in the first book) isn't allowing Rory to make good choices for himself?
The solution is clever and tragic at the same time. 
Making do, compromise and acceptance are all good traits to develop, but some better decision making skills might help Rory achieve his goals 
I know, I know, it's a picture book for kids, right?
But I'm weirdly that invested in Rory and his dad, that I want things to turn out okay for both of them. I sincerely hope Climo is writing and illustrating book four as we speak!

Here We Are: Notes For Living on Planet Earth by Oliver Jeffers

A great way to start the new year! 
It's hard not to be seduced by the special whimsy and charm of Oliver Jeffers but now that he's a dad, the aww factor has multiplied to the nth degree.

Here We Are is a love letter to his new born babe, showing him his own particular place is this big wide, wonderful world. Jeffers trademark humour and quirkiness abounds at every point and his illustrations provide the adult reader just as much pleasure as the younger readers.

Jeffers fans will also recognise several of his regular characters making cameo appearances. 
I can see this gorgeous picture book being given to many a newborn/new parent.
A classic in the making.

Australian picture books will feature in the next update post later this week.

What do you do when life gets in the way of your usual reading pattern?

Sunday, 21 January 2018

Pompeii by Robert Harris

Pompeii by Robert Harris is my first bookclub read for 2018. 

I confess that Robert Harris is not a usual go-to author for me, although I've said that without ever having read any of his books before. I figured Pompeii would be okay as I'm always interested in anything Ancient Greek or Ancient Roman and Pompeii in particular has always fascinated me.

I visited Pompeii in 1991 on my grand European tour. It was an incredibly hot day which made it a little difficult to enjoy the sights and sites properly. But it left an impression on me that has lasted all these years.

Given that we all know what happened in Pompeii over those fateful few days in August 79 A.D. how could an author create enough tension or doubt to keep the reader guessing and turning pages?

By focusing on the role of the new aquarius for the Aqua Augusta, Harris achieves a great deal of suspense and believability in how someone might have actually survived the explosion. Knowing what happened also reminds us, the reader, of how futile and inconsequential our daily squabbles and conceits are in the face of complete annihilation. As aediles manoeuvered between power plays and slaves planned for the day they would be freed, as locals haggled for food in the markets and celebrated a public holiday, Vesuvius had even bigger plans that trumped anything and everything else. All of those schemes and hopes and dreams ended, leaving barely a trace behind. Human beings reminded once again, that our time here is brief and fragile and can be brought to an abrupt end by forces outside our control with barely a moments notice.

Lesson learnt?
By all means make plans for your future and dream about the things you'd like to do and be, but enjoy life NOW, act NOW and be the best you can be right NOW. Love where you are, who you are and the people you're with right NOW. All you really have is right NOW. Everything else once was or might be one day. All that stuff is fleeting and even as I write this, hundreds of moments of NOW have slipped by into my past, never to be retrieved again. The only person who cares about my NOW is me. So I might as well make it the best NOW that I can.

For me, right NOW, that's writing the best book post I can to reflect my reading experience with Pompeii.

The book wasn't necessarily the style of writing that I prefer, but the topic fired my imagination and prompted me to do some additional research - something that I LOVE to do. At times it felt like Harris stacked the story with as much of the information he had learnt about Pompeii as possible, but mostly Pompeii was an excellent yarn told by a storyteller who loves what he does.

My research found Pliny the Younger's letters about the eruption of Vesuvius as well as a recent article about the discovery of the charred and carbonised scrolls found in a library in Herculaneum - perhaps the same ones that Rectina was trying to save at the end of Harris' story.

In my search for the lost scrolls of Herculaneum, I discovered this interesting BBC documentary on the recent archaeological finds in the lesser known neighbour of Pompeii. If you have an hour to spare, I recommend taking a look; it complements the historical information included in Harris' novel beautifully. 

Tuesday, 16 January 2018

#LesMisReadalong Week 2 Chapters & Catch-ups

Week Two is still all about The Bishop.

I would hate to suggest that he was wearing out his welcome (see what I did there?) but I'm wondering when we might actually meet one of the BIG name characters I've heard about via literary osmosis over the years. (I think I'm the only #LesMisReadalong participant who hasn't read the book before OR seen the movie OR the musical. Everything is new and unknown to me.)

Below are some of the quotes from each chapter that caught my attention.

Vol 1 Book 1 Ch 8 A Philosopher in His Cups:
The Comte: 

There is neither good nor evil but only growth.

The immortality of man is a daydream, a soothing promise which you may believe if you choose.

In the end, whatever you do, the grave is waiting.

The only thing to do is live.

The man who has nothing else has God.

God is for the masses.

What was Hugo's relationship with Marxism I wonder?

Vol 1 Book 1 Ch 9 A Sister's Account of Her Brother:
Struggling to put aside my feminist lens as I read about 'two devoted women (who) subordinated their actions, their thoughts, even their timorous feminine instincts to his habits & purposes, without his needing to express them in words.'

And surely this was a ridiculous thing to say, even for it's time?
'that especial feminine genius which understands a man better than he understands himself.'

Although this attitude towards women is probably partly why Hugo was able to justify having so many extramarital affairs during his lifetime. 'They served him as the occasion required, and if the best obedience was to vanish from his sight they did so.'

Vol 1 Book 1 Ch 10 The Bishop Confronted By a Strange Light:
The Comte___:
'...man is ruled by a tyrant whose name is Ignorance'

'Conscience is the amount of inner knowledge that we possess.'
'I voted for the overthrow of the tyrant - that is to say, for an end to the prostitution of women, the enslavement of men, the dark night of the child....I helped to bring about the downfall of prejudice & error.'

'The French Revolution was the anointing of humanity.'

The Comte also mentioned the case of Cartouche's brother being hanged by the armpits until dead as being as 'grievous' a crime as the 'innocent child martyred in the Temple for the crime of being the grandson of Louis XV'.

But who was Cartouche? And why was his younger brother hanged?

It turns out the Louis Dominique Garthausen, aka Bourguignon, aka Cartouche was the leader of a gang that terrorised Paris around 1719. He was eventually 'broken on the wheel' for his crimes in 1721.
For two widely different versions of Cartouche's life and crimes check out Executed Today and The Bandit of Paris
His brother's death sounded rather ghastly too. It was meant to be a non-fatal punishment/humiliation that involved being hanged under the armpits with the rope about his chest, for two hours. Unfortunately the weight of his body caused all the blood to run to his feet. He was cut down dead before the two hours time had passed.

It was a savage time indeed to be alive!

Vol 1 Book 1 Ch 11 A Reservation:

A wealthy priest is a contradiction. A priest should be close to the poor.

Vol 1 Book 1 Ch 12 The Loneliness of Monseigneur Bienvenu:

They confound the brilliance of the firmament with the star-shaped footprints of a duck in the mud.

Vol 1 Book 1 Ch 13 What He Believed:

He believed as much as he could.

The Bishop's days overflowed with goodness of thought and word and action.

A garden to walk in and immensity to dream in - what more could he ask? A few flowers at his feet and above him the stars.

Vol 1 Book 1 Ch 14 What He Thought:

There are men who dig for gold; he dug for compassion.

But the REAL highlight about the end of Vol 1 Book 1 was a REAL life event. After being blogging buddies for about 7 years, Louise from A Strong Belief in Wicker and I finally met face to face.

It was an incredibly windy evening to be taking our copies of Les Mis on a ferry ride on Sydney Harbour, but we all survived intact! We enjoyed a fun evening talking books, blogging and life over a bottle of fine wine accompanied by some seriously delicious food (thank you Love.fish). Here's hoping it's the first of many such splendid catch-ups.

Louise has written a superb end of Vol 1 Book 1 wrap up post here.
Nick's Week One post about the Bishop is here, while his Week Two thoughts can be found here.

It's not too late to join in this magnificent readalong. Most of the chapters are only 2-3 pages long. Sixteen days in, I'm only up to page 82. If you've ever thought about reading this chunkster, but thought it was too overwhelming or too difficult, then think again. This slow, leisurely read is anything but overwhelming or difficult. It's very do-able and very enjoyable.

Sunday, 14 January 2018

#LesMisReadalong Week 2 - Translations

One of the things that fascinates me when reading a book that has been translated from another language into English is how the translator goes about the process (or art) of translating.

Do they translate word for word? Or provide the general gist of the story? Do they modernise? Do they add or delete to help the story make sense? Do they censor or clean up rude, offensive words? Do they improvise and take poetic licence?

There are pro's and con's for each. And in the end, it comes down to personal preference.

Personally, I'm not a stickler for exact translations.
I'm happy for the translator to take some liberties to make the flow of the story work better in English, as long as it remains faithful to the author's intent. I'd rather have the impurities and offensive passages left in. And I do not like abridged versions.

I'd like to know a bit about the translator, especially their religious and political views. I have heard that the translator's own beliefs have been known to influence their interpretation away from the author's intended meaning if they happen to disagree or disapprove. Attempting to translate a book that is embedded in religious, social and political themes like Les Miserables most definitely is, the hazards must have been many.

I suspect there are whole discussions posts and forums out there, discussing this very topic. Perhaps one day soon, I have will have time to explore this further than my own little comparison below.

I picked this brief passage from the beginning of Vol 1 Book 1 Chapter 4 as I felt the little joke about the Bishop's highness or grandeur could easily be interpreted in many different ways.

Translated by Wilbour (June 1862)

His conversation was affable and pleasant. He adapted himself to the capacity of the two women who lived with him, but when he laughed, it was the laugh of a schoolboy. 
Madame magloire usually called him Your Greatness. One day he rose from his arm-chair, and went to his library for a book. It was upon one of the upper shelves, and as the bishop was rather short, he could not reach it. "Madame Magloire," said he, "bring me a chair. My greatness does not extend to this shelf.

Translated by Wraxall (Oct 1862)

The Bishop's conversation was affable and lively. He condescended to the level of the two old females who spent their life near him, and when he laughed it was a schoolboy's laugh. Madam Magloire was fond of calling him "Your Grandeur." One day he rose from his easy chair and went to fetch a book from his library; as it was on one of the top shelves, and as the Bishop was short, he could not reach it "Madame Magloire," he said, " bring me a chair, for my Grandeur does not rise to that shelf."

Translated by Isabel F. Hapgood (1887)

His conversation was gay and affable. He put himself on a level with the two old women who had passed their lives beside him. When he laughed, it was the laugh of a schoolboy. Madame Magloire liked to call him Your Grace. One day he rose from his armchair, and went to his library in search of a book. This book was on one of the upper shelves. As the bishop was rather short of stature, he could not reach it. “Madame Magloire,” said he, “fetch me a chair. My greatness does not reach as far as that shelf.

Translated by Norman Denny (1976)

His conversation was friendly and light-hearted. He put himself on the level of the two old women who shared his life, and when he laughed it was the laughter of a schoolboy.
Mme Magloire was pleased to address him as Your Greatness. On one occasion he rose from his armchair to get a book which was on a top shelf. He was short in stature and could not reach it. 'Mme Magloire,' he said, 'will you be so good as to fetch a chair. My greatness does not extend so high.'

Translated by Lee Fahnestock and Norman MacAfee (1987)

His conversation was cheerful and pleasant. He adapted himself to the level of the two old women who lived with him, but when he laughed, it was a schoolboy's laughter.
Madame Magloire sometimes called him "Your Highness." One day, rising from his armchair, he went to his library for a book. It was on one of the upper shelves, and as the bishop was rather short, he could not reach it. "Madame Magloire," said he, "bring me a chair. My highness cannot reach that shelf." 

Translated by Julie Rose (2007)

In conversation, he was affable and cheery. He spoke at the same level as the two old ladies that spent their lives by his side; when he laughed, it was the laugh of a schoolboy.
Madame Magloire liked to call him Your Highness. One day, he got up out of his armchair and went to find a book. The book happened to be on one of the top shelves and, as the bishop was fairly short, he couldn't reach it. "Madame Magloire," he said, "bring me a chair, will you. My Highness doesn't extend to this shelf."

Christine Donougher (2013)

Thanks to our wonderful #LesMisReadalong host, Nick, I now have the Donougher version of this passage:

His conversation was affable and cheerful. He was sociable with the two old women who spent their lives with him. When he laughed it was the laugh of a schoolboy. 
Madam Magloire liked to call him 'Your Highness'. One day he rose from his armchair and went to his bookcase to fetch a book. As the bishop was rather small in stature he could not reach it. 'Madam Magloire,' he said, 'bring me a chair. My Highness falls short of that shelf.'

Victor Hugo (April 1862)

Sa conversation etait affable et gaie. Il se mettait a la partee des deux vieilles femmes qui passaient leur vie pres de lui ; quand il riait, c'etait le rire d'un ecolier.
Madame Magloire l'appelait volontiers Votre Grandeur. Un jour, il se leva de son fauteuil et all a sa bibliotheque chercher un livre. Ce livre etait sur un des rayons d'en haut. Comme l'eveque etait d'assez petite taille, il ne put y atteindre.
- Madame Magloire, dit-il, apportez-moi une chaise. Ma grandeur ne va pas jusqu 'a cette planche

Google translate (2018)

His conversation was affable and cheerful. He went to the side of two old women who spent their lives near him; when he laughed, it was the laughter of a schoolboy. Madame Magloire would gladly call it Your Highness. One day he got up from his chair and went to his library to get a book. This book was on one of the rays from above. As the bishop was rather small, he could not reach it. "Madame Magloire," he said, "bring me a chair. My greatness does not go up to this board.

I'm reading the Denny translation and thoroughly enjoying the language and style so far. But I believe I may strike a problem with a couple of sections that have been removed from the main text and transferred to an appendix. Although I can't actually find any appendix in my Penguin Classics hardback edition at all (reprinted in 2012).

Denny claimed to be primarily concerned with the 'author's intention' and 'readability'. He focused on showing the English reader the poetry of Hugo's writing. He explains that his translation is a 'slightly modified version of Hugo's novel designed to bring its great qualities into clearer relief by thinning out, but never completely eliminating, its lapses.'

During the week I picked up a used copy of the Julie Rose translation. I like the idea of her more modern retelling of the story - warts and all with all the gory details thrown in - but the online forums pan her liberal use of modern day slang in getting this message across.

Rose felt that she 'channelled' Hugo during the translation process in her home along the Parramatta River in Sydney. She likened the relationship to a 'marriage' and said she aimed to be 'faithful' to Hugo's purpose.

Denny was obviously less enamoured of Hugo's digressions and attention to the minute details than Rose was. Yet they both claim to be faithful to his intent.

I will stick with reading the Denny translation, but will dive into the Rose for the occasional comparison as I have the time (and the inclination!)

Which translation and edition are you reading?

How are you finding it so far? Did you have an introduction by the translator that gave you some insight into their process or thoughts about Hugo himself?

Thursday, 11 January 2018

Under the Net by Iris Murdoch

Hmmmmm, Under the Net by Iris Murdoch...where do I start?

Perhaps I should start with my expectations.

I expected an English-style comedy of errors featuring a bumbling, gentleman layabout.

I'm reading the Random Vintage classic version, so the back cover tells me that,

Jake, clever and lazy, makes a living out of writing translations and sponging off his friends. When he is kicked out of his latest lodgings he embarks on a series of fantastic and hilarious adventures around London involving movie stars, majestic philosophers, bookies, singers and a celebrity hound called the Marvelous Mister Mars.

In my mind I pictured Mr Bean, racing madcap around London, bouncing from one person, idea and purpose to the next. Or perhaps purposelessness would be a better term for what Mr Bean does and what I expected from Jake. I fully expected to see a Christmas turkey on Jake's head at some point!

Jake is a particularly English character. He tied himself up in knots of anxiety about his friendships and possible betrayals and all the social niceties that keep the (English) world ticking over. It was exhausting watching him move from one chaotic experience to the next without pause or reflection. Until he had time to pause, then her reflected and reflected and reflected until you could barely recognise the initial problem any longer! And like Jake, you could barely recognise the real person he he was thinking about any longer. Do we ever get to really know the people around us? That's a good question and one that Jake grappled with constantly with little success.

I did struggle around the halfway point to keep going with this story. Jake was annoying me with his bumbling, madcap antics, in pretty much the same way Mr Bean annoys me by the end of an episode. It was getting too ridiculous and silly and pointless!

So I did something I don't normally do.
I read some reviews by other participants of the #IMReadalong and on Goodreads.
They convinced me to persist.

I found myself chuckling about the ridiculous escapade on the fire escape, that quickly led to the bizarre madcap (that word again!) kidnapping of Mister Mars and the eventual fall of Rome!

But what was the point of it all?

I kept on.

And I'm glad I did.

One must just blunder on. Truth lies in blundering on.

So we blunder on to the lovely, poignant passage in Paris with Jake chasing his dream of Anna and his work at the hospital back in London where Murdoch finally begins to draw all the loose strings together. The final meeting with Hugo that gives Jake (and us the reader) all sorts of ah-ha moments and understandings were worth the long wait.

What is urgent is not urgent forever but only ephemerally. 
All work and all love, the search for wealth and fame, the search for truth, life itself, are made up of moments which pass and become nothing.

Round Up post by Liz with links to other reviews.

It has taken me two weeks to read this book which gives Under the Net the dubious honour of being my first book finished and reviewed for 2018. But now I get to experience for myself, Jake's emotions as he began Jean Pierre's award winning book,

Starting a novel is opening a door on a misty landscape; you can still see very little but you can smell the earth and feel the wind blowing.


Tuesday, 9 January 2018

Mount TBR Personal Challenge

Thank you to all the wonderful folk who took the time (and yes, it was a commitment) to scroll through my one and/or two massive TBR lists to help me make my 10 book selection for 2018.

I acknowledge that reading just 10 books from my stupendous TBR will barely make a dint on it, but I have to start somewhere.

Given the size of my TBR lists I was pleasantly surprised that enough books received multiple votes to make this little survey work.

The book that received the most votes with an outstanding FIVE nominations (and will, therefore, be my first TBR read for 2018) is...
84 Charing Cross Road.

Two books raked in FOUR votes apiece - 
Kafka on the Shore (which is perfect given my upcoming trip to Japan) and 
one of my Annotated Austen's (which I will choose and save for Austen in August).

THREE votes were given to Stoner and South Riding.

I could have made my entire choice from the number of books that received TWO votes each -
Till Apples Grow On An Orange Tree (which I will save for #AusReadingMonth in November)
Name of the Rose
Heart's Invisible Furies
Anything is Possible
The Count of Monte Cristo
Reading Lolita
Secondhand Time
Infidel (I will try to read these 3 non-fiction titles for #NonFicNov)
Far From the Madding Crowd
The Museum of Innocence

Plus any book by Barbara Pym (I'm planning a #Pymalong at some point in the near-ish future, so I will save these books for that time).

That's a GRAND total of 15 books. 

I plan to read 10 of them, so it's good to have some choices and some reserves if I manage to fit in more. To keep me motivated, I will join up to Adam @RoofBeamReader's TBR Challenge.

I can proudly say that we are ONE week into the new year and I have NOT added any new books to my TBR pile! I don't start seeing reps at work until the third week in January, so I should be able to hold out for one more week before surreptitiously adding new books to the piles and piles and piles of unread books.


Sunday, 7 January 2018

#LesMisReadalong Week One

I do not believe by any stretch of the imagination that I will complete 52 weekly Les Mis updates this year, but I will at least start the year with good intentions and unrealistic resolutions!

I've started off my Les Mis experience by trying to pull one or two significant quotes from each chapter. Google images helped with the rest. If you've been following along on Twitter, you will have already seen most of these chapter samplers already.

I'm also taking notes in an attempt to keep track of characters, places and themes.

I had planned to write much more about my first week with Les Mis and getting to know Monsigneur Charles-François-Bienvenu Myriel, but a HUGE weekend away has put a hold on that for now.

Nick has provided a Les Mis structure and history post to get us all started off on the right foot. He has also provided a week one twitter update post here. We've certainly rocked the twitter chat so far with the #LesMisReadalong. A supportive, encouraging community has evolved and I've met some new-to-me bloggers and tweeters. I hope we can maintain the enthusiasm.

Vol 1 Book 1 Ch 1 - Monseigneur Myriel 

"What is reported of men, whether it be true or false, may play as large a part of their lives, and above all in their destiny, as the things they do."
FRENCH SCHOOL, 19th Century, follower of Michel Martin Drolling
Portrait of Monsignor Myriel, Bishop of Digne, France (1754-1817)

Vol 1 Book 1 Ch 2 - Monseigneur Myriel becomes Monseigneur Bienvenu

"We do not claim that the portrait we are making is the whole truth, only that it is a resemblance."

Vol 1 Book 1 Ch 3 - A Hard Office for a Good Bishop

"Digne was a rugged diocese, with very little flat land, many mountains and, as we have seen, very few roads."

Vol 1 Book 1 Ch 4 - Works Matching Words

There are in France thirteen hundred and twenty thousand peasant cottages which have only three outlets, eighteen hundred and seventeen thousand which have only two, a door & 1 window, & three hundred and forty-six thousand which have only a door. This is due to something known as the tax on doors & windows. Consider the fate of the poor families, old women and young children, living in these hovels, the fevers and the maladies. God gives air to mankind & the law sells it.

**So I learnt something new in Ch 4. The reason why many old homes in France (and England) had bricked up windows (or huge walls with no windows at all) was to avoid the window tax. This tax was not repealed in France until 1926.

**I was wondering how long it would take for the guillotine to make an appearance in Les Mis. Turns out I only had to wait four chapters.

As for the bishop himself, the spectacle of the guillotine caused him a shock from which he was slow to recover.A scaffold, when it is erected and prepared, has indeed a profoundly disturbing effect. We may remain more or less open-minded on the subject of the death penalty, indisposed to commit ourselves, so long as we have not seen a guillotine with our own eyes. But to do so is to be so shaken that we are obliged to take our stand for or against.

Vol 1 Book 1 Ch 5

**Reveals the conundrums and nuances of translation that many of us are facing with this readalong...

"...including an essay on a line in Genesis - 'And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.' He contrasts this with three other versions: the Arabic, 'The winds of God blew'; that of Flavius Josephus, 'A wind from on high descended upon earth'; and finally the Chaldean version of the Rabbi Onkelos, 'A wind from God blew upon the the face of the waters.' 

Vol 1 Book 1 Ch 6 - The Guardian of his House

The fireplace, its wooden surround painted to resemble marble, was normally without a fire; it contained instead two ornamental fire-dogs, a form of episcopal luxury, embellished with flower vases and foliations that had once been silver-gilt.

**One of my favourite quotes to date....

'The beautiful is as useful as the useful.' Then after a pause, he added: 'More so perhaps.'

Vol 1 Book 1 Ch 7 - Cravatte


Thursday, 4 January 2018

Three Wishes by Liane Moriarty

Regular visitors to my blog know that at Christmas time I need safe, easy reads to get me through the crazy season in one piece. This year Three Wishes played its part perfectly.

The story of a set of triplets - two identical, one fraternal, seemed a bit contrived at the outset, but after a little settling in period, I was quickly on board with Moriarty's very first story concept.

She had me hook, line and sinker, by the time her characters were dancing to Bananarama's Venus - the song Mr Books and I danced to on our very first date 30 years ago! This book is also Moriary's most Sydney-centric story. Her characters go to Balmain markets (when that was the thing to do), eat out in the city, and live in houses with glimpses of the harbour. Reading books set in your own neighbourhood that make your own life and your own story seem book-worthy are powerful things indeed!

But the thing that makes Moriarty so readable is her authenticity. Her main characters are just so REAL. They could be your best friend, they could be your neighbour, they could be your colleague...they could be you. Her characters fart during yoga class, get drunk and make out with the boss and send emails and text messages when they shouldn't.

Relationships are what keep her stories spinning round - sisters, brothers, parents and children are the focus of this story with all the steps, halves and ex's that our modern society expects. Her characters love far more drama and self-imposed complications that I would be comfortable living with, but that's part of the fun. Revelling in the foolishness and over the top behaviour of others is what makes Moriarty's books just so darn enjoyable.

This may be Moriarty's very first book, but it's a stand out story and a very impressive debut. Her books always have plenty of heart and soul and humour - Three Wishes is no different. And I will never view forks and their projectile possibilities the same way ever again!

I'm now all caught up with Moriarty's back list. Which means waiting patiently for her next book...which I believe is scheduled for later this year - wahoo!

Chronological Order:

Three Wishes (2004)
The Last Anniversary (2006)
What Alice Forgot (2010)
The Hypnotist's Love Story (2011)
The Husband's Secret (2013)
Big Little Lies (2014)
Truly Madly Guilty (2016)

My Favourites - from most loved to not so much:

Monday, 1 January 2018

First Book of the Year 2018

Happy New Year!

May your 2018 be joyous, healthy and full of grace.

For the past few years Sheila @Book Journey has hosted a First Book of the Year meme. Participants simply send her a book selfie showing the book/s they will be reading on New Year's Day.

I will be reading Les Misérables, not just on the first day of 2018, but for the whole, entire YEAR!
I've decided to join Nick @Catholic Life in his chapter a day readalong of Victor Hugo's classic.
It's not too late to join in.
The 365 chapters are short and sweet.
If you miss a day or two, it will be easy to get back on schedule.
I'm looking forward to such a leisurely read in fine company.

Follow us on Twitter #LesMisReadalong

I plan to tackle my OUT OF CONTROL TBR pile in 2018.
Please help by voting for your suggestions here.
I will collate the stats in a week or so.

The other post I like to spend time with at this time of year is Sheila's My One Word.
I struggled a LOT with my word this year, so I will need some time to reflect on this and what it means for 2018 and beyond.

But now it's time for my first coffee for the new year and my first chapter of Les Mis!

Sunday, 31 December 2017

Your Urgent HELP Required with my TBR's

As many of you know, I have a TBR problem.
My stacks are out of control and all over the house.

I have all my classic unreads on the bookshelves mixed in with the read buddies (I like authors to stay together).
I have a stack of non-fiction & kids books tucked away in my clothes cupboard.
The chair by my bed has a delicately balanced stack of three, mostly containing Australian writers.
And under the bed are another two rows of book featuring new releases and maybes.

Perhaps you can help me?

I have to read more from my TBR pile!

Please have a look at my MOUNT TBR list here.

Pick FIVE - TEN books that you think I really SHOULD read in 2018.
Pop them into the comments below (or tweet them to me or add to my fb page).
Whatever is easiest for you.

I will collate the options into a list of TEN and vow to read them ALL before the end of the next year.


This idea was first spotted on Kristlyn's @Reading in Winter.

Friday, 29 December 2017

The Diary of a Provincial Lady by E M Delafield

E. M. Delafield was the thinly disguised pseudonym of Edmée Elizabeth Monica Dashwood, née de la Pasture. Look closely, I'm sure you'll work out the family joke here all by yourself!

Delafield was born in Sussex on the 9th June 1890  and died 2 December 1943, heartbroken after the death of her son Lionel in 1940. She was the daughter of a Count and married a Colonel, the younger son of a Baronet. She wrote over 40 stories and novels and was hugely popular in her day. Most of her stories have gone out of print, but her semi-autobiographical book The Diary of a Provincial Lady has never lost favour with the reading public.
E M Delafield by Howard Coster (1930's) National Portrait Gallery
Delafield became the director of Time and Tide, a feminist magazine in the 1930's. The editors were looking for more light stories to serialise, she promised to give it some thought, and before too long The Diary of Provincial Lady was born.

Many of the stories feature the children, Robin and Vicky, who were based on those of her own children, Lionel and Rosamund. The Diary also highlighted the financial difficulties of being married to a Baronet's younger son. The expectation by society and family to maintain a certain standard, but without any of the means to actually do so.

Lady B asks me how the children are, and adds, to the table at large, that I am 'A Perfect Mother'. Am naturally avoided, conversationally, after this, by everybody at the teatable. Later on, Lady B tells us about the South of France. She quotes repartees made by herself in French, and then translates them. (Unavoidable query presents itself here: Would a verdict of Justifiable Homicide delivered against their mother affect future careers of children unfavourably?)

Part of the charm of the book lies in the fact that her social dilemmas are ours. We've all been outwardly polite, but inwardly squirming, to the over-bearing busybody, the know-it-all or the bumbling aunt. We've all put on our best faces in public or gossiped about our neighbours. And we've all been shown up by the innocent comment of a child.

Delafield's characters feel real because they are, in fact, based on real people. How on earth she got away with it and was still able to walk down her local High Street remains a mystery!

In the preface to The Way Things Are (1927) Delafield wrote: "A good many of the characters in this novel have been drawn, as usual, from persons now living; but the author hopes very much that they will only recognise one another".

Perhaps our inability to see ourselves as others see us saved Delafield from social exclusion and accusations of slander.

Conversation turns upon Lady B. and everyone says she is really very kind-hearted, and follows this up by anecdotes illustrating all her less attractive qualities....Feel much more at home after this, and conscious of new bond of union cementing entire party.

I wasn't always convinced that I was enjoying this book as I read it though. However during the week or so it has taken me to prepare this post, I've come to appreciate it more and more. The daily vignettes, social niceties and character sketches have grown to be more meaningful and pertinent with each passing day. The book grows better on reflection. The pretty cover certainly helps too!

Exchange customary graceful farewells with host and hostess, saying how much I have enjoyed coming. 
(Query here suggests itself, as often before: Is it utterly impossible to combine the amenities of civilisation with even the minimum of honesty required to satisfy the voice of conscience? Answer still in abeyance at present.)

The Things I liked about Delafield and her Diary

  • how all the reasonable, practical domestic matters being discussed were done so in a reasonable, practical manner.
  • Delafield obviously adored her children, and let them be kids as long as possible.
  • the interesting references to women's issues of the time.
  • her sly observations about the snooty, superior women in her social circle.
  • The ironic, self-deprecation humour was funny to start, but then...

The Things I didn't like about Delafield and her Diary 

  • the ironic, self-deprecating humour that got tiresome by the end.
  • the lack of warmth (or maybe it was lack of detail) - I felt like I was being kept at an arms length the whole time.
  • the French phrases that I needed to google translate every single time!
  • I had also read too many reviews about how 'deliciously funny' she was, so my expectations were set too high. I was mildly amused many times, but also often annoyed or frustrated.
I'm glad I read it. I may even reread it one day, but I don't feel compelled to read the other Diary books or seek out the other 30-odd novels to her name.

The Diary of a Provincial Lady was my latest #CCspin book for The Classics Club. How did you fare?

Wednesday, 27 December 2017

Mademoiselle Fifi by Guy de Maupassant

Given the amount of media time being given to the inappropriate, sexual, bullying behaviour of some men towards women in work, social and online areas lately, the story of Mademoiselle Fifi reminds us that the problem is in fact, an age-old one that moved across cultural divides with ease.

Elisabeth Rousset (Simone Simon) and “Fifi” (Kurt Kreuger)
in Robert Wise’s Mademoiselle Fifi (1944)

Mademoiselle Fifi (1882) is a short story by French writer Guy de Maupassant. It's set in the winter of 1870 in Normandy during the Franco-Prussian War. The Prussian officers have taken up residence in a chateau and are slowly defacing and despoiling each room. The Major appears to be a cultured, moderate man, but his Captain is an unpleasant, lecherous, arrogant man. His outward handsomeness disguises the heart of a bully. His effeminate manners cause his comrades to nickname him 'Mademoiselle Fifi'.

He decides that life in the chateau is boring and plans a party to liven things up. He arranges for a group of women (prostitutes) to be procured from the nearby village.

The dinner quickly goes from bad to worse, although not exactly as Mademoiselle Fifi had planned.

De Maupassant regularly explored themes of class and the pointlessness of the war. In this case he used fairly stereotypical characters (both Prussian and French) to contrast the German way against the French way. You can probably guess which character type came off the worse!

The violence of war is clearly shown to not just exist on the battle field. The resistance of the locals and their defence of honour are seen as positive traits, yet still, the unhappy result is that violence always meets with more violence.

I've been enjoying my leisurely read of de Maupassant's stories. By reading one and at time and allowing each one to sit for a while, it has given me time to reflect and keep each one separate. In the past I've read short story collections all at once which has had the unfortunate effect of blurring the individual stories together into one big mass, leaving me with nothing more than a general impression of 'yes, I liked this authors writing' or 'no, I didn't'.

My responses to the first three stories, Boule de Suif (or Dumpling or Ball of Fat), Deux Amis (Two Friends) and La Maison Tellier (Madame Tellier's Establishment) in The Best Short Stories of Guy de Maupassant can be found here.

Monday, 25 December 2017

Merry Christmas

To all my wonderful readers, 
thank you for your kind, thoughtful comments over the year.

This blog has evolved into a way for me to keep track of my reading journey.
I'm delighted that I can share the journey with so many like-minded bookish folk.

I hope this holiday finds you with loved ones, in good health.

I'm celebrating Christmas in Mornington, Victoria.
We're missing two of our brightest stars this year, but they would not want us to be glum, so we will make the most of our time together and honour their memories.

We have plans for walking along the beach and lazing by the pool.
A big, extended family lunch will be followed by a quieter slide night at home, with old family photos.

Where are you be spending the Christmas period this year?

Whatever you do today, however you celebrate or spend this time, I hope it finds you with the ones you love or remembering the ones you have loved.

Seasons Greetings from sunny, warm Australia.

Friday, 22 December 2017

The Secret Life of Cows by Rosamund Young

You know you're in for a real treat when the book you pick up starts with a letter from Alan Bennett.

The Secret Life of Cows by Rosamund Young was first published in 2003 and is a lovely little book full of anecdotes about the cows (and hens, pigs and sheep) on her farm, Kite's Nest in Worcestershire.

Alan Bennett wrote about his reading experience with this book in 2006. He then added the diary entry to his 2016 biography, Keeping On, Keeping On. On the strength of this, the wonderful people at Faber & Faber decided to reprint The Secret Life of Cows.

I'm so delighted that they did and that they did so with such a lovely hardback, illustrated gift edition. (You can see some of Anna Koska's beautiful illustrations here.)

It's the perfect read for me at this time of the year when I'm SUPER busy at work and constantly feeling too tired to read anything complicated or challenging. It was also good for soothing my sometimes cynical and often jaded soul at this time of year.

Young and her family have a lovely, creative habit of naming each cow and bull. We meet Dolly I & Dolly II, Fat Hat, July Bonnet, Wizzie, Mr Mini, the Bishops of Gloucester and Worchester and the utterly charming Amelia, just to name a few of the characters that grace these pages.

Young provides amusing stories about cows who sniff car exhausts, learn to open gates or don't like muddy hooves, and more poignant ones like mothers who help their daughters calve, cows who seek out human help when in trouble and cows who grieve.

Kite's Nest was an organic, free-range farm before such terms were coined. The cows (& other animals) live good lives here. They are encouraged to eat what they like, when they like and they're allowed to roam (within reason) to seek out family, friends and favourite places to relax and socialise.

This is not a scientific treatise. It's a memoir with cows. As such, each lovely anecdote meanders on to the next, revealing quirky personalities, medical curiosities like their ability to self-medicate with thistles, willow and stinging nettles and the extraordinary, often life-long relationships that develop amongst the cows themselves, as well as with their human carers.

The Secret Life of Cows is perfect for anyone with a love of animals or the simple life, or for anyone who needs to be soothed and calmed by a gentle read.

Wednesday, 20 December 2017

First Book of the Year 2018

Shelia @Book Journey is hosting her lovely, lovely First Book of the Year meme for the 5th year. Details on how to participate are on her page - don't leave it to the last minute - make your first book of 2018 count - make it special - and send Shelia your pic!

I've been joining in for three years now.

It's easy and fun and a such a nice book-bloggerish way to start the new reading year.

2015 saw me holidaying on the North Coast of NSW and reading Coco Chanel on the beach.

2016 I was visiting family in Mornington, Victoria and started the year with Elena Ferrante...on the beach again.

2017 NYD was spent in Sydney for the first time in years. 
I was working the whole time (except for public holidays) but getting ready for our big trip to Cuba and Mexico, hence Our Man in Havana (& finishing off Salt Creek).

What will you be reading on New Year's Day?