Tuesday, 17 October 2017

My Top Ten Foodie Books

The Broke and the Bookish host a weekly meme called Top Ten Tuesday.
Each week they nominate a topic to encourage those of us who love a good list to get all listy.
This week it's all about food.

My Top Ten Foodie Books 

I've been on a healthy food journey for most of my life.

Trying to find the balance between eating well and satisfying my sweet tooth has been a lifelong challenge. Combined with my environmental concerns about production, pesticides and waste, I have spent a lot of time researching, reading and trying to put into practice a sustainable way of living my life.

The two books that got me started on my food journey were gardening books purchased in the same year.
I was 24 years of age and had just moved into my own (permanent, non-uni) townhouse and I couldn't wait to start my own little herb garden.
These two books inspired me to move beyond the usual herbs as well as attempt to have a pesticide free garden (Companion Planting by Richard Bird).
What Herb is That? by John & Rosemary Hemphill also gave me recipe suggestions for how to use all those delicious herbs I was now growing.

A decade later I stumbled upon In Praise of Slow by Carl Honore.
Ten years into my professional career, life was hectic and I was feeling a little out of a control.
The title of this book screamed at me to buy it NOW!
In Praise of Slow helped me to get back in touch with seasonal living and helped me to rediscover the joy of growing and preparing fresh, homegrown foods.

A chance find in a second-hand bookshop, took me down the next path to eating well consistently.
Changing Habits, Changing Lives by Cyndi O'Meara really did change my life - slowly but surely - just as O'Meara said it would.

It wouldn't be a foodie book post without a book by Michael Pollan!
When I 'discovered' him in 2012, I was more than ready to hear what he had to say.
I started with Food Rules: An Eater's Manual.
Everything he said made sense and seemed practical.
It was quick and easy to read as well!

In Defence of Food by Michael Pollan was read in preparation for Pollan's visit to Australia in 2012.
Sadly, I don't remember very much about this book (& my post doesn't enlighten me either!)
A reread may be on the cards.

Love and Hunger by Charlotte Wood was recommended to me by good friend & fellow blogger, Girl Booker.
Charlotte Wood (as in the author of the dystopian novel The Natural Way of Things) is also a foodie.
This part memoir/part ode to comfort food/part joy in the sharing of meals together was just what I needed as I settled into my new role as wife and step-mum.

The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan took a while to read as it was my swim-bag book.
Curiously every time I think about this book, I smell chlorine!
The slow read gave me plenty of time to absorb and reflect on all of Pollan's thought-provoking points.

I still feel a little dubious about I Quit Sugar by Sarah Wilson, but it encouraged me (& Mr Books) to cut sugar out of our coffee and it changed my breakfast routine, so for that reason alone it deserves to be mentioned here.
I still make a toasted muesli based loosely on Wilson's granola recipe.
But I refuse to give up fruit or dried fruit completely.

Given my desire to practice a more mindful and slow approach to food, The Fast Diet by Michael Mosley and Mimi Spence may not seem like a logical choice.
But we were a perfect match from page one.
The 5:2 diet is one that suits my lifestyle and the science seemed reasonable too.

To finish up my top ten, I'm heading back into the realm of food fiction.
The best foodie novel I've ever read goes to Like Water For Chocolate by Laura Esquivel.
Recipes that promote love and good will and end with amazing sex...what's not to like?

What's your favourite foodie read?

Previous post - #AusReadingMonth Q&A
How much do you know about Australia?

Sunday, 15 October 2017

#AusReadingMonth - Q&A

It's time to let everyone know that #AusReadingMonth is fast approaching.

Many of you may have Aussie authors and Aussie books on your TBR piles, but some of you may need to visit the library, bookshop or plan your Netgalley reading to include a book from Australia in your November reading plans.

To give you plenty of time to get ready (& get excited) I thought it might be fun to have a bit of a question and answer post to find out what your plans are for #AusReadingMonth and what you know about Australia?

If you're thinking of joining in, or even just hoping to join, post your Q&A responses between now and November.
Pop back here to add your post to the linky.
Then spread the Aussie spirit by tweeting, commenting and sharing as much as you can.

1. Tell us about the Australian books you've loved and read so far.

2. When you think of Australia, what are the first five things that pop into your mind?

3. Have you ever visited Australia? Or thought about it? 
What are the pro's and con's about travelling to/in Australia for you?
What are/were your impressions? 

4. If you have been or plan to visit, where will you be heading first?
If you already live in this big, beautiful land, tell us a little about where you are, what you love (or not) about it and where you like to holiday (or would like to visit) in Australia.

5. Do you have a favourite Australian author/s or book/s?
Tell us about him/her/it.

6. Which Aussie books are on your TBR pile/wishlist?

7. Which book/s do you hope to read for #AusReadingMonth?

8. It came to my attention recently (when I posted a snake photo on Instagram) that our overseas friends view Australia as a land full of big, bad, deadly animals.
Can you name five of them?
What about five of our cuter more unique creatures?
(For the locals, which five animals from each category have you had an up close and personal with)?

9. Can you name our current Prime Minister (plus four more from memory)? 
No googling allowed!

10. Did you know that Australians have a weird thing for BIG statues of bizarre animals and things?
Can you name five of them?

Flyby Night
If time is of the essence, one book from the BINGO card may be the prefect option for you.
A quick getaway is better than none!

With their compact swags, backpackers need to travel light.
If this is you, simply select one line (horizontal, vertical of even diagonal) on the BINGO card and read three books about our country.

Grey Nomads 
If you have more time up your sleeve join the grey nomads in their self-contained campervans as you travel around this big, brown land of ours. 
With every crossroad on the map, there's a choice to be made; you cannot do it all, so select two lines on the BINGO card to be eligible for Grey Nomad status.

The Whole Hog
If you're feeling a little touched by the sun, then the Whole Hog may be for you.
Read NINE books this November from all of the 8 states and territories plus one freebie.
The FREEBIE can be any book by an Australian author or a book written by an overseas author but set entirely in Australia.

Photo source

Some of you might like to take advantage of next weekend's Dewey's 24hr Readathon to get a head start on your #AusReadingMonth books (I know I will be!)
The readathon is celebrating 10 fantabulous years this October while #AusReadingMonth is celebrating 5 amazing years of Aussie, Aussie, Aussie.

Also hitting the 5 year mark is my other favourite thing to do in November - Non-Fiction November.

Why not combine all 3 and read a fabulous non-fiction Australian title for the 24hr Readathon!

Saturday, 14 October 2017

A Dangerous Language by Sulari Gentill

Most of you know my love for the Rowland Sinclair series. I've had to wait nearly 12 months for the latest instalment, A Dangerous Language...and it was so worth the wait!

I had the pleasure of hearing Sulari Gentill talk about her books recently and was thrilled to hear that she has long term plans for Rowland and his friends that will take us all the way through to the end of WWII. Initially she planned to write a book set in each year from 1932 - 1945. However we have now just finished book 8...and we're still in 1935!

One of the things I love about this series is the mix of fictional and real life characters. Gentill talked about how she always sticks to the known facts but that her stories exist in the gaps in between.
A quick wiki search on the journalist Egon Kisch shows that he did in fact jump from his ship in Melbourne in 1934 and break his leg. Gentill has simply added Rowly and his friends to the picture with a plausible reason about why Kisch may have 'jumped'.

Having an historian as a husband has kept Gentill honest in all matters relating to these times. It's this authenticity that makes Rowland feel so real...and the fact that he is such a lovely, lovely man. It must be wonderful to carry him around in your head all the time, as Gentill does.

This particular story is mostly set in Victoria and Canberra as Rowly and his friends help the members the Movement Against War & Fascism get Kisch into the country to speak his 'dangerous language'. Naturally, Rowland's brother, Wilfred, is not happy about this turn of events, but there are many others even unhappier. This unhappiness quickly turns into violence and places our much loved characters in many dangerous situations.

Poor Rowly has been shot, stabbed, tortured, kidnapped and hit over the head so many times, it's amazing that he's still standing. It's getting a little harder to classify these books as 'cosy crime' or 'gentle crime', perhaps historical fiction that just happens to have crime and political intrigue is a more apt description.

Gentill is getting better and better with each of the Rowly stories. I love how she brings to light little known historical events for her characters to engage with. Fact and fiction are woven together seamlessly and gracefully and her main characters are being allowed to evolve into nuanced, complex individuals. Does anyone else feel that little break/ache of their heart every time Mrs Sinclair calls Rowland, Aubrey?

Sense of place is a another thing that I love about these books. Gentill's good eye for detail brings 1930's Sydney to life (or in this case 1930's Melbourne and Canberra). I have a real sense of walking beside Rowly and his friends, seeing what they see and feeling what they feel.

As for Rowly and Edna? It's so obvious that the adore each other, but will they ever be able to work things out? They are the Mulder & Scully or the David & Maddie of 1930's Sydney!

Any of these stories would be great choices for this year's #AusReadingMonth BINGO card. Most of the books are set in Sydney, NSW, except for Book 4 that took us to Munich, Germany and this latest one.

#1 A Few Right Thinking Men
#2 A Decline in Prophets
#3 Miles Off Course
#4 Paving the New Road
#5 Gentlemen Formerly Dressed
#6 A Murder Unmentioned
#7 Give the Devil His Due
Prequel - The Prodigal Son (e-book only - download your copy here.)
#8 - A Dangerous Language
#9 - due for publication Sept 2018

Thursday, 12 October 2017

#AusReadingMonth - which book?

To help you find the right book for your #AusReadingMonth challenge, I've listed a selection of Aussie books by genre with their State or Territory. 

Which BINGO challenge will you be trying?

Flyby Night
If time is of the essence, one book from the BINGO card may be the prefect option for you.
A quick getaway is better than none!

With their compact swags, backpackers need to travel light.
If this is you, simply select one line (horizontal, vertical of even diagonal) on the BINGO card and read three books about our country.

Grey Nomads 
If you have more time up your sleeve join the grey nomads in their self-contained campervans as you travel around this big, brown land of ours. 
With every crossroad on the map, there's a choice to be made; you cannot do it all, so select two lines on the BINGO card to be eligible for Grey Nomad status.

The Whole Hog
If you're feeling a little touched by the sun, then the Whole Hog may be for you.
Read NINE books this November from all of the 8 states and territories plus one freebie.

The FREEBIE can be any book by an Australian author or a book written by an overseas author but set entirely in Australia.

For the crime lovers amongst you:

Comeback by Peter Corris - NSW
The Rowland Sinclair series by Sulari Gentill (historical crime) - NSW (mostly)
Roger Rogerson by Duncan McNab (true crime) - NSW
Crucifixion Creek by Barry Maitland - NSW

Wimmera by Mark Brandi - VIC
The Phyrne Fisher series by Kerry Greenwood (historical crime) - VIC (mostly)
Jack Irish novels by Peter Temple - VIC
The Dry by Jane Harper - VIC
To Know My Crime by Fiona Capp - VIC

The Sunken Road by Garry Disher - SA
Bitter Wash Road by Garry Disher - SA

Olmec Obituary by L. J. M. Owen - ACT

Three Crooked Kings by Matthew Condon (true crime) - QLD
Can You Keep a Secret - Caroline Overington - QLD
Last Drinks by Andrew McGahan - QLD

Before it Breaks by Dave Warner - WA
Taking a Chance by Deborah Burrows (historical crime) - WA

The Build Up by Phillip Gwynne - NT
Gunshot Road by Adrian Hyland - NT

Bay of Fires by Poppy Gee - TAS
Fatal Impact by Kathryn Fox - TAS

General fiction options:

The Thorn Birds by Colleen McCullough - QLD
Elianne by Judy Nunn - QLD
Rain Music by Di Morrissey - QLD
The Forgotten Garden by Kate Moreton - QLD

Tiddas by Anita Heiss - NSW

Maralinga by Judy Nunn - SA
Hello From the Gillespies by Monica McInerney - SA

Skylarking by Kate Mildenhall - ACT

The Silent Country by Di Morrissey - NT
Territory by Judy Nunn - NT

The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman (historical fiction) - WA
Jasper Jones by Craig Silvey (historical fiction) - WA
The Woman Next Door by Liz Byrski - WA

The Alphabet of Light and Dark by Danielle Wood - TAS
Family Secrets by Liz Byrski - TAS
Tiger Men by Judy Nunn - TAS

If romance is more your thing try:

Secrets Between Friends by Fiona Palmer (fiction) - WA

Northern Heat by Helene Young - QLD
Beyond the Orchard by Anna Romer - QLD

The Greatest Gift by Rachael Johns (fiction) - NSW
Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty - NSW
The Ladies of Missalonghi by Colleen McCullough (historical fiction) - NSW
Cleanskin Cowgirls by Rachael Treasure (rural fiction) - NSW
The Farmer's Wife by Rachael Treasure (rural fiction) - NSW
The Naturalist's Daughter by Tea Cooper (historical fiction) - NSW
The Cedar Cutter by Tea Cooper (historical fiction) - NSW
Sara Dane by Catherine Gaskin (historical fiction) - NSW

Down the Dirt Roads by Rachael Treasure (memoir) - TAS

Jewel in the North by Tricia Stringer (rural fiction) - SA
Paycheque by Fiona McCallum (fiction) - SA

A Town Like Alice by Neville Shute (fiction) - NT
Outback Heart by Joanne van Os (rural fiction) - NT

Finding Hannah by Fiona McCallum (fiction) - VIC
I Know My Love by Catherine Gaskin (historical fiction) - VIC

Talk of the Town by Rachael Johns (rural fiction) - WA

Children's books:

I Can Jump Puddles by Alan Marshall (junior fiction) - VIC

Looking For Alibrandi by Marlena Marchetta (YA) - NSW
Alexander's Outing by Pamela Allen (picture book) - NSW
Alphabetical Sydney by Hilary Bell &         (picture book) - NSW
Playing Beatie Bow by Ruth Park (junior fiction) - NSW
Seven Little Australians by Ethel Turner (junior fiction) NSW
My Place by Nadia Wheatley (picture book ) - NSW
Mirror by Jeannie Baker (picture book) - NSW
Pastures of the Blue Crane by R. M. Brimstead (teen) - NSW

The Girl Most Likely by Rebecca Sparrow (YA) - QLD
Don't Call Me Ishmael by Michael Gerard Bauer (teen) - QLD
Where the Forest Meets the Sea by Jeannie Baker (picture book) - QLD

Into That Forest by Louis Nowra (junior fiction) - TAS

Meet Alice: Our Australian Girl by Davina Bell (junior fiction) - WA
Lochie Leonard by Tim Winton (teen) - WA
Blueback by Tim Winton (junior fiction) - WA
The Deep by Tim Winton (picture book) - WA

Storm Boy by Colin Thiele (junior fiction) - SA
Rockhopping by Trace Balla (picture book) - SA

The Year it All Ended by Kirsty Murray (YA) - SA
Meet Nellie: Our Australian Girl by Penny Matthews (junior fiction) - SA

If you'd like to read some Indigenous literature, try this fabulous new site I just read about today (thanks Sue) called Writing Black @if:book Australia. The writing is contemporary and downloadable. Some of the writing will be set in a specific place, but many of the pieces could fit the FREEBIE box as well.
Magabala Books is an Indigenous publishing house with a great selection of titles.
The University of Queensland Press also has a great list of Black Australian Writing here.

Tuesday, 10 October 2017

The Blue Castle by L.M. Montgomery

The first time I read The Blue Castle, I read it soooooooo fast that I recall very little of the detail. I had just found out about the controversy surrounding this book and my long-time favourite Colleen McCullough book, The Ladies of Missalonghi. Therefore I read The Blue Castle constantly comparing and looking for similarities and differences; I didn't read it for itself.
(Please click on the two book links above to get the backstory for this controversy.)

This reread, however, was all about enjoying The Blue Castle purely and simply for itself. Thanks to a hectic life schedule atm, I was looking for a quick, easy, comforting read to sink into.

The chance to also reread it with two others (Naomi @Consumed By Ink and Sarah Emsley) who clearly love this story as much as I do, was an added bonus.

My first observation is that The Blue Castle was a much richer, emotionally satisfying story than I remembered. Yes, it's predictable and sentimental, but it's done so well and hits just the right note when one is in the mood for this kind of book.

It was also a love letter to the woods 'up back' of Canada.
Once or twice night overtook them, too far from their Blue Castle to get back. But Barney mad a fragrant bed of bracken and fir boughs and they slept on it dreamlessly, under a ceiling of old spruces with moss hanging from them, while beyond them moonlight and the murmur of pines blended together so that one could hardly tell which was light and which was sound.

Whitt Island, Lake Muskoka, Ontario

There is something so satisfying in owning a whole island. And isn't an uninhabited island a charmng idea? I'd wanted one ever since I read Robinson Crusoe. It seemed to good to be true. And beauty! Most of the scenery belongs to the government, but they don't tax you for looking at it, and the moon belongs to everyone.

Valancy looked - and looked -  and looked again. There was a diaphanous, lilac mist on the lake, shrouding the island. Through it the two enormous pine-trees that clasped hands over Barney's shack loomed out like dark turrets. Behind them was a sky still rose-hued in the afterlight, and a pale young moon.

A question though - how do you pronounce Valancy? Is is Vuh-lan- cy, Val-arn-cy or Val-ancy? I'm leaning towards the latter as it roles of the tongue quite nicely. Is Valancy a traditional Canadian name or is it a significant name in L.M. Montgomery's own backstory?

(I just found this post with very helpful, interesting comments all about the name Valancy. God, I love the world wide web!)

The lesson we learn from Valancy about conquering your fears and being true to yourself, remains a powerful one that transcends time and place. Sure there's an ugly duckling/wish fulfilment element here as well, but dreams do come true, just not easy, as Valancy also found out.

She was no longer unimportant, little old maid Valancy Stirling. She was a woman, full of love and therefore rich & significant - justified to herself. Life was no longer empty & futile, and death could cheat her if nothing. Love had cast out her last fear.

Which kind of makes Valancy a Canadian Jane Eyre.

I loved this quote in particular:
Valancy was in the midst of realities after a lifetime of unrealities.

Valancy had spent her life dreaming about and fantasising about another life; a better life that took place in her Blue Castle. Her life was stifled, suppressed and repressed by her family and by societal standards of the time. Without knowing it, her life was on hold, in limbo. So many of us feel this at some point in our lives; at least I did for most of my childhood years.

And that is where it's success and beauty lies. For anyone who has felt like the ugly duckling or unnoticed or fearful about life, The Blue Castle gives hope and inspiration. We all have the power to do-over, make-over and reinvent ourselves. We can all rise above the mores of the world around us and be true to ourselves. That is the path to happiness.

The Blue Castle is a book that deserves to be in a leisurely manner. I'm glad I waited for the right weekend and the right to mood to fall into this little treasure once again. Along with The Ladies of Missalonghi (to be reread for #AusReadingMonth) I now have two delicious stories to turn to when in the mood for a charming, nostalgic romance.

Visiting Canada or Prince Edward Island is not an easy proposition when you live in Australia, but one of my sisters visited PEI in 2008 for the 200th anniversary of Anne of Green Gables. She knew exactly which big sister would love these coasters the most!


Saturday, 7 October 2017

#6degrees October

#6degrees is a monthly meme hosted by Kate @Books Are My Favourite and Best.

Oftentimes I haven't read the starting book for this meme, but I can assure you that I only play the next 6 books with ones I have actually read. 
If I've read the book during this blogging life, then I include my review, otherwise, you just have to take my word for it!

This month the starting book is Like Water For Chocolate by Laura Esquival.
Are you game?

Old image alert - Kate @Books Are My Favourite & Best now hosts #6Degrees but this is a good refresh of the rules.

Like Water For Chocolate was a huge favourite of mine in 1992. Like many other fans, it was no doubt thanks to the film that came out that year. The book was actually first published in 1989 and became a runaway bestseller in Mexico and the States. The 1992 movie then introduced this delicious story to the rest of the world.

After seeing the movie, I quickly purchased the book and devoured it several times in greedy, compulsive sittings. Mexico and magic realism was suddenly my thing.
I wanted more.

Not long after my binge reading of LWFC, I discovered The Milagro Beanfield War by John Nichols in my local bookstore.

I was rather taken with the cover and with Robert Redford's name on the cover. 
In my twenties I had a slight obsession with Robert Redford movies and watched most of his backlist as well as those he was now directing and producing himself. My ignorance of the lower states of America at that time, also meant that I thought that New Mexico was actually, you know, in Mexico.

I loved the beginning of this book, it was quirky and fun, but I remember getting tired of it's rambling nature by the halfway mark. 
Back then I always finished books that I started - especially if I had paid good money for it - but it was a struggle. And I never bothered to watch the movie version either.

In a reverse link, Robert Redford's wonderful movie version of Out of Africa was a movie that I wished I hadn't bothered with the book.

The movie pulled together stories and information about Blixen's life from various sources, not just the book. The book was no where near as cohesive or satisfying.

Another book that I found unsatisfying and lacking in cohesion was Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro.

Even though I read this during my blogging years, I failed to write a review for it. 
After loving The Buried Giant and The Remains of the Day so much, my disappointment left me speechless! However, that doesn't stop me from being delighted that Ishiguro won this year's Nobel Prize for Literature.

Ishiguro's nomination boosted my stats for Reading the Nobels. Until last night, I had only read 19 Nobel Prize winners; now I have read 20!
The earliest Nobel winner that I've read to date is Rabindranath Tagore from the 1913 awards.

I read his most well-known book The Home and the World during a fabulous readalong last year.
It reminded me why I love Indian literature so much, but also revealed how much I still don't know about the history and culture of this ancient country.
In an attempt to rectify this situation, I have started Inglorious Empire: What the British Did to India by Shashi Tharoor.

It coincides with my recent readings about early Australian history from the Aboriginal perspective.
History is usually written by the victors to explain how this came about. 
Assumptions, prejudices and justifications get in the way of the so-called facts.

It's not easy for other voices or other perspectives to be heard.
Naturally, these other voices also have their own assumptions, prejudices and justifications, but it is important that the dominant narrative is challenged by these other stories and versions of history.

Dark Emu Black Seeds: agriculture or accident? by Bruce Pascoe is one such challenge.

This ended up being quite a well-travelled #6degrees, taking us from Mexico, to New Mexico, Kenya, a dystopian English boarding school, India and finally home again to Australia.

Where did you end up this month?

Friday, 6 October 2017

Just Saying...

...that I, for one, am thrilled and delighted that Kazuo Ishiguro has been named this year's Nobel Prize for Literature recipient.

The Nobel Prize in Literature 2017 was awarded to Kazuo Ishiguro "who, in novels of great emotional force, has uncovered the abyss beneath our illusory sense of connection with the world".

I loved and adored The Buried Giant in 2015 and The Remains of the Day is one of my favourite reads from 15 years ago. 

Never Let Me Know was one that I felt rather more ambivalent about but I have high hopes for Nocturnes, An Artist of the Floating World and The Unconsoled on my TBR pile.

The Guardian's article about Ishiguro's win is here, Japan Times here and NY Times here.


Thursday, 5 October 2017

My #AusReadingMonth Possibilities

As many of you know, my TBR pile is out of control. A bigly number of those books are by Australian authors (I feel safe using bigly now that 1. we know that Trump actually said big league and 2. that bigly is a real work, although archaic and rarely used.)

I thought I'd list some of them, focusing on the state, territory or town that each is predominantly set in, to help our overseas #AusReadingMonth participants.

Since I haven't read any of these books yet, I'm using their blurbs and goodreads reviews to help me work out where they're set. If anyone would like to correct me, please feel free to let me know in the comments below.

Aunts Up the Cross by Robin Dalton (memoir) - Kings Cross, Sydney, NSW
The Ladies of Missalonghi by Colleen McCullough (historical fiction) - The Blue Mountains, NSW
The Dyehouse by Mena Calthorpe (fiction/classic) - Sydney, NSW
Mirror Sydney by Vanessa Berry (non-fiction) - NSW
The Timeless Land by Elenor Dark (fiction/classic) - NSW
Watershed by Fabienne Bayet-Charlton (fiction) - NSW, I think.
True North by Brenda Niall (biography) - NSW (& elsewhere)
Home by Larissa Behrendt (fiction) - NSW
1788 by Watkin Tench (history/memoir) - NSW

Everyman's Rules of Scientific Living by Carrie Tiffany (fiction) - VIC
The Pea-Pickers by Eve Langley (fiction/classic) - VIC
Sisters by Ada Cambridge (fiction/classic) - VIC
The Danger Game by Kalinda Ashton (fiction) - Melbourne, VIC
The First Book of Samuel by Ursula Dubosarsky (historical fiction)- Melbourne, VIC
Conditions of Faith by Alex Miller (fiction/memoir) - Melbourne, VIC predominantly

A Child's Book of True Crime by Chloe Hooper (historical fiction) - TAS

The Commandant by Jessica Anderson (historical fiction/classic) - QLD
It's Raining in Mango by Thea Astley (fiction) - QLD
The Slow Natives by Thea Astley (fiction) - QLD
The White Earth by Andrew McGahan (fiction) - QLD
Omega Park by Amy Barker (fiction) - QLD
Journey to the Stone Country by Alex Miller (fiction) - QLD

A Dangerous Language by Sulari Gentill (historical fiction/crime)- ACT predominantly

Shallows by Tim Winton (fiction) - WA
Benang by Kim Scott (memoir/fiction) - WA
Coonardoo by Katharine Susannah Prichard (fiction) - WA
My Place by Sally Morgan (memoir) - WA

Island Home by Tim Winton (memoir/essays) - FREE - it covers various areas of Australia, although being Winton it will probably be predominantly WA based.
Maurice Guest by Henry Handle Richardson (fiction/classic) - FREE - an Australian writer with an overseas setting.
My Love Must Wait by Ernestine Hill (historical fiction/classic) - FREE - a fictional story about Matthew Flinders
Cabin Fever by Elizabeth Jolley (fiction) - FREE - an Australian writer with an overseas setting.
The Swan Book by Alexis Wright (fiction) - FREE - futuristic novel set in Australia
The Rose Grower by Michelle de Kretser (historical fiction) - FREE - an Australian writer with an overseas setting.
Dancing with Strangers by Inga Clendinnen (history) - FREE - all of Australia.
The Bush by Don Watson (non-fiction) - FREE - all of Australia.

As you can see, I actually need a year-long AusReading event to come close to reading all these books! Can you recommend any of these books? Which one should I tackle first?

My Top Ten all-time favourite Australian books.

Wednesday, 4 October 2017

Heather, the Totality by Matthew Weiner

I have never actually watched a full episode of Mad Men, but Mr Books was a fan, so I saw some scenes in my periphery at different times. My impression was that it was set in a misogynistic world full of moneyed, privilege people taking advantage of those less fortunate. Mr Books assures me it was more complex than that.

I kind of feel the same way about Matthew Weiner's (the creator of Mad Men) debut novella, Heather, the Totality.

It had an underlying misogyny. It combined the conscious and unconscious privilege of wealth with the lengths that parental love will go to protect their offspring.

There was a careless attitude towards others who are deemed lesser, even by Heather who was proclaimed as being so empathetic. The rich got away with stuff, while the poor stayed stuck in victimhood. It was a story of excesses and extremes.

Extreme neglect and excessive love.

It was also a story of men.

The main female characters didn't feel real, whereas the two men were fully realised despite the short story form. 'Women had been a a mystery to Mark' and that's how they are seen all the way through the story. The fear and tension was between the men and how they were perceived and acted.

It was a curious read. Quick, bite-sized paragraphs that kept you at arms length.

Ten days later I'm still thinking about it though.

Mr Books enjoyed the read until the ending which he described as being like a TV series that had just been told they weren't getting the funding for another season so they wrapped it up quickly. It wasn't that the end was inconsistent, but it felt a little convenient and I, for one, wasn't sure what the point was. (Mr Books said not all stories have to have a point - the point is the telling of a story.)

I particularly enjoyed the contrast in childhood experiences of Heather and Bobby. The divide between haves and have-nots was wide and almost completely beyond the control of anyone to change. Both sides were completely unable to see things from the other perspective. It was this divide that created the fear and tension in the novella.

Weiner built this tension up carefully and quite masterfully. He led you off in one direction at the start and I was actually quite relieved it didn't go the way he first suggested. Perhaps that makes me just like Mark and Karen though.

And perhaps that was the point after all.

Heather, the Totality is a November release for Allen & Unwin in Australia.

Monday, 2 October 2017

Getting Ready For AusReading Month 2017

It's that time of year again.
Time to start thinking about how many Australian books can we read in November.

This year it's time to get in touch with our country. 
Let's pack our bags and travel this big, beautiful land by book.
Fiction, non-fiction, poetry, plays, travel guides and children's book can transport us to every state, city and major town in Australia.

To make it more interesting and (hopefully) fun I've developed a BINGO card for this year's #AusReadingMonth to help our journey around Australia.

Flyby Night
If time is of the essence, one book from the BINGO card may be the prefect option for you.
A quick getaway is better than none!

With their compact swags, backpackers need to travel light.
If this is you, simply select one line (horizontal, vertical of even diagonal) on the BINGO card and read three books about our country.

Grey Nomads 
If you have more time up your sleeve join the grey nomads in their self-contained campervans as you travel around this big, brown land of ours. 
Select two lines on the BINGO card to be eligible for Grey Nomad status.

The Whole Hog
If you're feeling a little touched by the sun, then the Whole Hog may be for you.
Read NINE books this November from all of the 8 states and territories plus one freebie.

To help you with your selections you could try the 12 must read Australian books as decided by Australian Geographic 'representing a cross section of Australian literature, meditating on landscape, history and what makes us Australian.'

I've read 8 and a bit out of the 12 while Voss, Carpentaria and Autumn Laing are all on my radar if not already on my TBR pile.

Check out The Guardian's Top 10 books about Australia bush here.

10 Australian Poets You Should Know are to be found here.

If picture books are easier for you to source try this list of 40 of the best Australian Picture Books.

Throughout October I will post more suggestions for books set in each State and Territory to help you with your selections.

If you have an Aussie book lurking on your TBR pile and you're not quite sure which state or area it's set in, let us know about it in the comments below. Our community of readers may be able to help.

Are you in?


Friday, 29 September 2017

I Am Reading...

I'm very excited to have a copy of book 8 of the Rowland Sinclair series in my hands for this NSW October Labour Day long weekend.

The series has had a recent change of cover style. I miss the old art deco style covers, but I think these darker covers show the crime side of the story off more.

My previous reviews for the first seven books plus prequel can be found here, but for now here's a little taster for A Dangerous Language.

Volunteering his services as a pilot to fly renowned international peace advocate Egon Kisch between Fremantle and Melbourne, Rowland is unaware how hard Australia's new attorney-general will fight to keep the "raging reporter" off Australian soil. 
In this, it seems, the government is not alone, as clandestine right-wing militias reconstitute into deadly strike forces. 
A Communist agent is murdered on the steps of Parliament House and Rowland finds himself drawn into a dangerous world of politics and assassination.
A disgraced minister, an unidentified corpse and an old flame all bring their own special bedlam.

Once again Rowland Sinclair stands against the unthinkable, with an artist, a poet and a brazen sculptress by his side.

Gentill's epigraph is one from George Bernard Shaw.

Like Rowland, GBS was anti-war and socialist in nature. One of the meanings of 'fellow traveller' is someone who is a communist sympathiser, but not a member of the Party, which sums up Rowland perfectly.

Time to stop chatting and time to start reading.

What are you reading?

Thursday, 28 September 2017

Chasing the Sky edited by Dean Dewhirst

Chasing the Sky: 20 Stories in of Women in Architecture was a surprise read for me. Let's face it, the cover is not that enticing, but in my role as Non-Fiction editor at the Australian Women Writer's Blog, I'm very aware of the dearth of AWW non-fiction titles being read and reviewed at the moment. So I decided to lead by example!

Inside this plain cover was a treasure trove of magnificent full page glossy photos of the twenty women's work, complete with their bio's and thoughts about architecture in general.

Their passion was obvious, as too their dedication, creativity and hard work. They were concerned with environmental factors, social justice issues and the role of aesthetics and functionality.

The book is truly beautiful, full of fascinating and inspiring women. But is it wrong of me to still wish that it had a nicer cover to entice more people to open it up?

My only other beef with the design were the photo blurbs that were turned sideways on the page. It was annoying and awkward turning the soft cover book around every page to read them.

Image: Jessica Lindsay / Maven Publishing

Maven Publishing is a new Sydney-based publishing house who focus on storytelling and documenting about the built environment - financial, design and construction.

The book is a successor and companion to Dewhirst’s earlier work, From the Ground Up: 20 Stories of a Life in Architecture (2014), which adhered to a similar format but contained only five women architects. Research published in 2012 by Gillian Matthewson found that only 20.6% of registered architects were women. In a lecture on equality in architecture delivered in 2011, Senior Lecturer in Architectural Design at the University of Melbourne Dr Karen Burns said: “Examination of gender representation in the architectural profession reveals [a] curiosity: only very small numbers of women occupy senior positions […] The statistics from the architecture profession confirm a broader social trend within professions and business. Many of these areas report a gap between women’s access to education and subsequent professional achievement.”

The book is edited and introduced by Dean Dewhirst with a foreward by Maryam Gusheh. All twenty women then tell their own stories within a generous 10-12 pages spread. A small 'Life Lessons' tab in the middle section highlights a number of their key points for quick reference.

Each woman was obviously given a brief about the kind of content required for the book with a few key areas to cover. We learnt about their background and introduction to architecture (I was interested to note that the majority had a parent or family member already involved in architecture, design or creative pursuits somehow). They talked about their education and any challenges they had getting started. Passion, reward and ambition were three words referenced by nearly all twenty women.

Gender parity was discussed; most agreed that they had not really experienced any disadvantage by being a women, except for when children were born. They were all fortunate that their partners embraced the concept of shared parenting, but it wasn't easy for the men to do this with our society's current model for work. As Abbie Galvin said, 'work/life balance simply cannot be a woman's issue. It must be an issue that faces men, women, the old, the young, those with family and those without.'

The twenty architects were: Emma Williamson, Camilla Block, Hannah Tribe, Rachel Nolan, Stephanie Little, Tara Veldman, Penny Fuller, Sarah Ball, Debbie Ryan, Rachel Neeson, Sue Carr, Melissa Bright, Lisa-Maree Carrigan, Clare Cousins, Abbie Galvin, Ingrid Richards, Annabel Lahz, Christina Na-Heon Cho, Kerstin Thompson & Virginia Kerridge.

Image: Jessica Lindsay / Maven Publishing

I think I must have a frustrated architect lurking inside of me as my obsession with this book became a little OTT. I found myself jotting down quotes from nearly every architect on Goodreads - a few of which I will share with you below.

Penny Fuller - It wasn't important to know everything, that is impossible. However, you need to develop a process to find out what you don't know from day one.

Tara Veldman - Throughout history, people have built environments that simply provide shelter. Function does not deny good design in fact they are symbiotic. Architecture is both the process and the product of planning, designing and constructing....The built-environment has a physical impact on everyone who experiences the space for generations to come.

Emma Williamson - I am always very conscious of the fact that a building will last longer than I will. Once the project is over the buildings needs to have a full and happy life with its users. For that to happen the building needs to reflect the client's aspirations not just an idea imposed by an architect.

Image: Jessica Lindsay / Maven Publishing

Sarah Ball - The moments of visiting site and realising the drawing come to life is like an injection of pure wonderment. It goes beyond the physical realisation of if it looks exactly how you hoped it would. It is more a feeling of place - it gives me goose bumps.

Melissa Bright - current standards of building...are not good enough. Apartments are built for selling, not for making the homes for residents of our cities in the future....If we are to live more closely to one another, good innovative design is essential to ensure the living quality is not reduced.

Kerstin Thompson - This involves encouraging even the most private projects to provide a public benefit and support community life. Broader questions need to be asked about the way buildings are designed. How does this building contribute to its neighbourhood?Is it kind to its neighbours? Does it increase the quality of the street it's in? Is what's being proposed better than what's already there?

I so wish a few more architects, developers and home owners asked themselves these questions before embarking on a project or home renovation!

Chasing the Sky is a coffee table book, despite it's soft, nondescript cover. Inside it is elegant and informative and feels quite luxurious as you're reading it.

Highly recommended to anyone interested in creativity, design and building.

Tuesday, 26 September 2017

Stories and Shout-Outs

After taking a bit of a break from joining in things - to give myself time to get ready for AusReading Month in November (warm up post coming very soon) - a few bookish events, readalongs and readathons have now come along and caught my eye.

The fine folk in Canada recently celebrated Science Literacy Week. Their website had a great list of science books to browse - check it out. My wishlist just got in touch with its inner big bang theory and exploded!

Naomi @Consumed By Ink is also getting into the 2017 Giller Prize longlist which celebrates fine Canadian literature.

I've been eyeing off the 100 Day Project for a few years now, but I have never been able to come up with an original idea let alone being capable of actually sticking something out for a hundred whole days!

Kim @Sophisticated Dorkiness decided to tackle the challenge this year with 100 bookstagram reviews on instagram. She writes about her experience here. I really enjoyed watching and reading her 100 days - it was a huge achievement and very inspirational.

It's big excitement time for the upcoming October 21st Dewey Readathon. They're hosting a #30DaysofReadathon to get everyone in the mood. Post it, instagram it, tweet it - share the buzz!

There's a L.M. Montgomery The Blue Castle readalong with Consumed by Ink and Sarah Emsley coming up too. The idea is to read (or reread as the case may be) the book before November so that you can blog/tweet about it with Naomi & Sarah using #ReadingValancy.

I don't need much excuse to reread The Blue Castle, but their timing is impeccable. Because I cannot read The Blue Castle without revisiting it's Australian cousin, The Ladies of Missalonghi by Colleen McCullough...which is a perfect book for this year's #AusReadingMonth with it's Blue Mountains setting.

I do agree with Naomi though, The Blue Castle has never had a good cover. Mine is a shocker.

I spotted this fab post with an amazing infographic (below) from Global English Editing about World Books last night. They've listed the most iconic book set in 150 countries around the world. Their choices will no doubt garner much discussion and debate, but personally I am very happy to see Cloudstreet represent Australia and delighted to see Pride and Prejudice come out on top in the UK.

I would have preferred to see Huck Finn instead of Tom Sawyer for the US. Japan's Tale of the Genji is about the twenty-third time I've now been recommended this as a must read book before visiting Japan, so I guess I should look into that some more.

I also liked the mix of fiction, non-fiction, poetry and plays in this list. For anyone, like me, who likes to read books in or about the country they're visiting, or hoping to visit, this is the perfect way to scratch that itch!

During our recent time in Cuba, we stayed with a friend of a friend and her husband in their B&B in Trinidad. They were incredibly generous and welcoming hosts and we had a ball the two nights we stayed with them. Hurricane Irma has had a huge, but fortunately not drastic, effect on their home and garden, Casa Los Mangos.

Fiona writes about their experience of living through the storm here.

Today I learnt about the difference between a tiger snake and highland copperhead. Our neighbour thought this might have been a baby tiger snake thanks to the shape of its head. But after posting the pic on instagram, a snake handler came back to me with the correct identification.

This particular baby copperhead was spotted on the top step of our mountain getaway on the weekend. Baby or not, it scared the bejesus out of me!

I consider myself to be very lucky - nearly 50 years of age and this was my first up close and personal with a snake - a cute little, sleepy, sluggish baby snake at that! The best kind.

Wishing you all a reptile-free, rewarding reading and blogging week.