Thursday, 26 March 2015

El Dorado by Dorothy Porter

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

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

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

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

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

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

my heart is falling
into her beautiful face

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

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

And his Sydney had always
loved him lavishly back.

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

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

Oh Sydney.

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

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

Monday, 23 March 2015

It's Monday

Another It's Monday; another week begins.

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

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

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

One Life by Kate Grenville

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This week I'm just in time for Bloggiesta!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Until next Monday,

Happy Reading!
And Happy Blogging!

Saturday, 21 March 2015

An Armadillo in Paris by Julie Kraulis

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This post is part of Dreaming of France with Paulita.

Thursday, 19 March 2015

The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro

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

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

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

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

I've only read two Ishiguro novels before this.

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

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

Where could Ishiguro possibly go after that?

Shall I tell you?


Go back.
Waaaaay back!

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, 17 March 2015

My Autumnal Reading List

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

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

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

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

All my recent reviews feel forced & flat.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What do you do when you have a writing slump?

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

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

Top Ten Tuesday have got in ahead of me!

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

Monday, 16 March 2015

It's Monday, Monday

What are you reading this week?

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

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

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

Yes Please by Amy Poehler should do the trick!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy Reading! 

Friday, 13 March 2015

Testament of Youth by Vera Brittain

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, 10 March 2015

King's March

I love a readalong.

And I love Stephen King.

Well, that's not quite true.

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

And it all began with Mr Books.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, 9 March 2015

It's Monday

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

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

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

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

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

The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro

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

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

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

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

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

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

mythical, mystical and still achingly real.

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

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

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

new talent in Australian writing.

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

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

Thursday, 5 March 2015

The Ghosts of Heaven by Marcus Sedgwick

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, 2 March 2015

Back to Blackbrick by Sarah Moore Fitzgerald

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Highly recommended for mature 12+ readers.

Tuesday, 24 February 2015

Top Ten Tuesday

Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.

This week's prompt is favourite heroines.

A heroine is (according to the freedictionary)

"a woman of distinguished courage or ability, admired for her brave deeds and noble qualities."

On that basis, I begin with....

10. Scarlet O'Hara from Gone With the Wind.

A little controversial I know.

Let's face it - Scarlet is not the nicest person. She's selfish, manipulative and careless with other people's feelings, but, damn it Rhett! She's strong and feisty and she never gives up. She gets the job done - even the nasty jobs.

Scarlett has courage to spare and oodles of ability, unfortunately though she falls down in the admirable & noble department. But flawed literary heroines are always far more interesting!

9. Ophelia from Ophelia and the Marvellous Boy By Karen Foxlee.

Ophelia is not your usual heroine.
She's a worrier, she has asthma, wears glasses & tends to be somewhat clumsy. But like, Scarlet, when push comes to shove, she does what has to be done. But Ophelia does it with heart, stoicism and logic. She is courageous but doesn't know it.

8. Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery.

What courage! What bravery!
To survive being orphaned & sent to live with strangers, yet to go in the hope of finding kindred spirits & kindness! Anne's determination to see the best in everyone meant that she eventually found the best in everyone.
She always learnt from her mistakes & she always soldiered on, even when in the throes of despair. Anne's generosity and loving kindness are noble qualities that this world needs more of.

7. Katniss Everdeen from The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins.

Strength, intelligence, determination, courage, independence and the ability to use a bow and arrow make Katniss a heroine in my eyes! Although she could use a little of Anne's loving kindness at times, Katniss makes huge personal sacrifices for those she loves. She is protective & pro-active with an unconscious charisma.

6. Janie from Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston.

Janie is a passionate woman who knows that she deserves to be loved well. She's a woman who refuses to settle for second best & even though her ideas of good loving are not necessarily mine, Janie knew what she wanted and she set out to get it. 
She showed determination & was prepared to go against popular opinion for something she believed in. Janie also knew when it was time to walk away.

5. Phyrne Fisher by Kerry Greenwood.

Smart, sassy, sexy. Phryne is a private eye based in Melbourne durng the 30's. She drives a sports car, can fly a plane and she know how to use a gun. She has many lovers and many more flirtations.
Phyrne is fun in a liberated, easy-going way.

4. Maisie Dobbs by Jacqueline Winspear.

Maisie is a British version of Phryne.
However Maisie is more hard-working, very conscious of her working class background and focused on the psychology behind a crime.
Maisie's past (as a nurse in WW1) has a stronger influence on her than she cares to admit & she finds it hard to commit to love. But like my other favourite heroines, she refuses to give up or give in.

3. Lisbeth Salander from The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.

Not an obvious choice for heroine as Lisbeth's good qualities are well-hidden to most people. But she is brave and courageous if not always noble or admirable. She's also very smart and very determined.
Considering the childhood she had, Lisbeth was never going to be a sunny Anne of Green Gables type. But she has guts & grit galore & lots of interesting flaws!

2. Scout from To Kill A Mockingbird.

How can we not admire young Scout?
She is willing to stand up for the underdog & prepared to question the way things are always done. Scout is curious, physically active and smart. She is kind-hearted, opinionated and willing to learn from her mistakes. She is careful but not fearful.

1. Most of Jane Austen's lead characters, but especially Elinor Dashwood, Elizabeth Bennet & Anne Elliot.

Yes! Anne Elliot.
A woman who learns from her mistakes, who learns to stand up for herself & to go after what she wants despite familial disapproval is a heroine in my eyes.  Also a woman who learns to overcome her natural shyness and to trust in her own abilities is worthy of my admiration.
Anne embodies patience, tolerance and thoughfulness. And she is someone who gets better with age.
Anne is a mature woman who fits beautifully inside her own skin.

Who are your favourite literary heroines?

Monday, 23 February 2015

It's Monday!

Another Monday, another new reading week which mean it's time for It's Monday! What Am I Reading? with Shelia @Book Journey.

My posts from the last two weeks involved two rather large tomes - The Brain's Way of Healing & Testament of Youth (plus an assorted choice of easier YA reads.)

I'm still happily reading my way through these books, but I will need some light relief along the way.

This week's diversions are the three gorgeous Womankind magazines that have been lying around my house ever since last August (when no. 1 was launched).

It's a quarterly magazine put out by the same lovely folk who publish the New Philosopher magazine (I also have a few of these lying around waiting to be finished!)

I feel in the need of some beauty and loveliness right now so I hope these go some way towards soothing my savage soul.


Mr Books & I have also bought ourselves a new house - which explains some of my busyness and preoccupation lately.
We're a little bit excited!!

Books like Starting Out With Natives, 12 Gardens, Colour Now & Home Improvements will become popular browsers for both of us over the coming weeks and months.

So, what are you reading this week?

Saturday, 21 February 2015

Stand Up and Cheer by Loretta Re

One of the many pleasures of being a bookseller, is meeting the authors and attending their book launches.

I've known about this little gem based on real life events in Albury, NSW for a while now.

Loretta lives locally and a year or so ago, she popped into our bookshop to discuss publication options and, eventually, cover design options.

Due to the regional nature of her story, Re's manuscript was rejected by several major publishers. In the end, her friend, Juliet, from The Wild Colonial Company, decided to publish it for her.

This week we had the Sydney launch of Stand Up and Cheer (the Albury launch was October last year). Juliet & author Sue Woolfe introduced Loretta and her book to a packed house, followed by the usual festivities and book signings.

Stand Up and Cheer is dear to my heart because Mr Books grew up in Albury & the story of the Dutch plane, Uiver's sudden landing in Albury in 1934 during the great round the world air race is a well-known town tale.

Even though we already knew how the story ended, Re created a lovely piece of tense writing that had me on the edge of my seat!

This is a small country town story, but its heart encompasses the whole world.

A truly great book, with a message worth saying, will transcend its setting. Stand Up and Cheer does this by emboding the universal themes of courage (physical & moral), friendship & innovation.

It's well-written, with oodles of great details that reflect just how much research time Re put into this book. The inside covers include photographs from the time & the end notes reveal the impact the abrupt landing had on the Netherlands as well.

A thoroughly enjoyable and absorbing tale for mature 9+ readers & for plane enthusiasts & Biggles lovers of any age the world over!

Thursday, 19 February 2015

Because of Winn-Dixie by Kate DiCamillo

Because of Winn-Dixie is such a well-known, highly awarded book that there is nothing new to reasonably add to the reviews already out there loving this heart-warming tale of friendship.

However I once listened to a podcast with DiCamillo talking about writing for children. She was asked about the sad themes that run through many of stories.
I loved her reply.

It was quite a long time ago, so I'm paraphrasing. But she said it's okay for authors to write about the sad things and the bad things that can happen in the life of a child, but that writers for children are duty-bound to finish with hope.

Something about that idea really struck a chord with me and I now use it as my litmus test for all children's books (as well as noticing how often it also features in my favourite adult literature).

Because of Winn-Dixie not only finishes with hope, but is infused with hope (& resilience & friendship) throughout.

Which isn't to say there isn't sadness, loss & fear.

As our sad young protagonist Opal says "I lay there and thought how life was like a Litmus Lozenge, how the sweet and the sad were all mixed up together and how hard it was to separate them out."

Sweet and sad are simply a part of all our lives. The trick is learning how to live with it.

Books like DiCamillo's show us how.