Thursday, March 5, 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 follow 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 bewteen 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, March 2, 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, February 24, 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, February 23, 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, February 21, 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, February 19, 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 throughout.

Which isn't to say there isnt 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.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

The Head of the Saint by Socorro Acioli


The treasures you find lurking at the bottom of your TBR pile!

To clarify, I have several TBR piles.

My Australian & International fiction & non-fiction are hidden discretely behind the mirror in my bedroom (this pile is the biggest. Did I say biggest? I mean out of control!)
My classic TBR's are shelved on the bookshelf already (they are definite keepers to be read and reread over my lifetime.)
My kids and YA TBR pile is on my computer desk (with another box hidden under the table!)

The Head of the Saint was on the bottom of the pile on my desk.

But is it teen/YA fiction?

I know that publishers like to market books by genre and who will read it. But The Head of the Saint is going to be one of those books that defies any kind of pigeon-holing.
Perhaps like Jasper Jones and The Book Thief and even To Kill a Mockingbird, this is one of those stories that fits everywhere and nowhere all at once.

It is very embedded in its setting - Brazilian - hot, poor, chaotic - full of priests, saints and mysterious events.

It follows the basic tenets of a coming-of-age story - a young boy orphaned when his mother dies, leaving him with an address with which to find his father.

There's a road trip full of hunger, despair and hardship.

There's some gorgeous writing that survives the translation process:

"she took Mariinha in with a hug that was silent but filled with all the words the girl needed to hear."

"The tune unlocked something in Samuel's chect, a drawer full of ancient dreams."

It's also a love story about family, friendship, belonging, truth and lies.

Stunning lino cuts by Alexis Snell adorn the beginning of each chapter and the cover.

It also boasts an author who was personally selected by Gabriel Garcia Marquez during the 2006 'How to tell a Story' workshop in Cuba for the synopsis of this story. An author who won Brazil's Jabuti Prize - a prestigious prize for children's literature.
An author who I thought was a man until the last few chapters (when I flipped ahead to read the author and translator bio's at the back).

I would recommend this book to anyone of any age who loves a well told, well written story that makes your heart sing. I, personally, couldn't put it down.

Monday, February 16, 2015

It's Monday!

Happy Monday!

Before I see the movie, I need to read the book....which is a problem when the book is a huge chunkster! But never let it be said that I shied away from a challenge!
Seeing this particular movie has become even more desirable since I found out that 'you know nothing' Jon Snow (aka Kit Harington) is the young male lead!

This week I've decide it's time to get started on it...

Testament of Youth by Vera Brittain

In 1914 Vera Brittain was 20, and as war was declared she was preparing to study at Oxford. Four years later her life - and the life of her whole generation - had changed in a way that would have been unimaginable in the tranquil pre-war era. 

TESTAMENT OF YOUTH, one of the most famous autobiographies of the First World War, is Brittain's account of how she survived those agonising years; how she lost the man she loved; how she nursed the wounded and how she emerged into an altered world. 

A passionate record of a lost generation, it made Vera Brittain one of the best-loved writers of her time, and has lost none of its power to shock, move and enthral readers since its first publication in 1933.

I'm sure this beast of a book will keep me going all week, but if some lighter relief is called for I have a pile of YA books to dip into including: 

Back to Blackbrick by Sarah Moore Fitzgerald

Cosmo's brother Brian died when he was ten years old. His mum hides her grief by working all the hours God sends and Cosmo lives with his grandparents. 
They've been carefree days as Granddad buys him a horse called John and teaches him all he knows about horses.

 But the good times have to come to an end and although he doesn't want to admit it, Cosmo knows his Granddad is losing his mind. So on one of the rare occasions when Granddad seems to recognise him, Cosmo is bemused that he gives him a key to Blackbrick Abbey and urges him to go there. 
Cosmo shrugs it off, but gradually Blackbrick draws him in...

Cosmo arrives there, scared and lonely, and is dropped off at the crumbling gates of a huge house. As he goes in, the gates close, and when he turns to look, they're rusty and padlocked as if they haven't been opened in years. 

Cosmo finds himself face to face with his grandfather as a young man, and questions begin to form in his mind: can Cosmo change the course of his family's future?

Because of Winn-Dixie by Kate DiCamillo

Kate DiCamillo’s first published novel, like Winn-Dixie himself, immediately proved to be a keeper — a New York Times bestseller, a Newbery Honor winner, the inspiration for a popular film, and most especially, a cherished classic that touches the hearts of readers of all ages.

The summer Opal and her father, the preacher, move to Naomi, Florida, Opal goes into the Winn-Dixie supermarket--and comes out with a dog. A big, ugly, suffering dog with a sterling sense of humor. A dog she dubs Winn-Dixie. 

Because of Winn-Dixie, the preacher tells Opal ten things about her absent mother, one for each year Opal has been alive. 
Winn-Dixie is better at making friends than anyone Opal has ever known, and together they meet the local librarian, Miss Franny Block, who once fought off a bear with a copy of WAR AND PEACE. 
They meet Gloria Dump, who is nearly blind but sees with her heart, and Otis, an ex-con who sets the animals in his pet shop loose after hours, then lulls them with his guitar.

Opal spends all that sweet summer collecting stories about her new friends and thinking about her mother. But because of Winn-Dixie or perhaps because she has grown, Opal learns to let go, just a little, and that friendship—and forgiveness—can sneak up on you like a sudden summer storm.

The Door that Led to Where by Sally Gardner

 AJ Flynn has just failed all but one of his GCSEs, and his future is looking far from rosy. So when he is offered a junior position at a London law firm he hopes his life is about to change - but he could never have imagined by how much.

Tidying up the archive one day, AJ finds an old key, mysteriously labelled with his name and date of birth - and he becomes determined to find the door that fits the key. 

And so begins an amazing journey to a very real and tangible past - 1830, to be precise - where the streets of modern Clerkenwell are replaced with cobbles and carts, and the law can be twisted to suit a villain's means. 

Although life in 1830 is cheap, AJ and his friends quickly find that their own lives have much more value. They've gone from sad youth statistics to young men with purpose - and at the heart of everything lies a crime that only they can solve. But with enemies all around, can they unravel the mysteries of the past, before it unravels them?

A fast-paced mystery novel by one of the country's finest writers, THE DOOR THAT LED TO WHERE will delight, surprise and mesmerise all those who read it.

The Ghosts of Heaven by Marcus Sedgwick

The spiral has existed as long as time has existed.

It's there when a girl walks through the forest, the moist green air clinging to her skin. There centuries later in a pleasant greendale, hiding the treacherous waters of Golden Beck that take Anna, who they call a witch. 
There on the other side of the world as a mad poet watches the waves and knows the horrors the hide, and far into the future as Keir Bowman realises his destiny.

Each takes their next step in life. None will ever go back to the same place. And so, their journeys begin...

The Head of the Saint by Socorro Acioli
After walking for days across the harsh Brazilian landscape only to be rejected by his last living relative, Samuel finds his options for survival are dwindling fast - until he comes to the hollow head of a statue, perfect for a boy to crawl into and hide...

Whilst sheltering, Samuel realises that he can hear the villagers' whispered prayers to Saint Anthony - confessing lost loves, hopes and fears - and he begins to wonder if he ought to help them out a little. 
When Samuel's advice hits the mark he becomes famous, and people flock to the town to hear about their future loves. But with all the fame comes some problems, and soon Samuel has more than just the lovelorn to deal with. 

A completely charming and magically told Brazilian tale, sure to capture your heart.

I jumped on board a fun getting-to-know-you meme going around the book blogging world at the moment called I Moustache You Some Questions. If you'd like to join in simply visit my link and copy the questions to your own blog.

What will you be reading this week?

This post is part of It's Monday! What Am I Reading?

Sunday, February 15, 2015

I Moustache You Some Questions

I stopped by Jean @Howling Frog Books blog today & spotted this sweet little meme.

I've had a hugely busy weekend & this seems like the perfect thing to do to wind down at the end of it.

Four Names People Call Me Other Than My Real Name:
  1. Brona
  2. Bron
  3. Babycakes
  4. Miss (when I was still teaching - I don't miss that one at all!)
Four Jobs I’ve Had:
  1. Sorting corn cobs at Edgell's one summer.
  2. Counting cars at a busy intersection for the RTA when I finished Uni (a roundabout was installed soon after thanks to my efforts!)
  3. Keeper of the Gate (aka ticket collector) at the Bathurst 1000 one October.
  4. Early Childhood Teacher (18 yrs).
Four movies I have watched more than once:
  1. When Harry Met Sally
  2. Love, Actually
  3. Four Weddings and a Funeral
  4. An Affair to Remember (the original with Deborah Kerr & Cary Grant)

Four books I’d recommend:
  1. The Paper Garden by Molly Peacock (one of the best bio's I've ever read).
  2. The Railwayman's Wife by Ashley Hay
  3. The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins
  4. To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee

Four places I have lived:
  1. Ettalong Beach, NSW
  2. Cowra, NSW
  3. London, UK
  4. Mudgee, NSW
Four places I have been:
Bali - yes, they are my reclining toes!
  1. China
  2. Turkey
  3. Hawaii
  4. Vanuatu
Four places I’d rather be right now:
  1. Paris
  2. Bali
  3. Italy
  4. Broome, WA
Four things I don’t eat:
  1. Scrambled eggs (vomitrocious!)
  2. Celery
  3. Kidneys
  4. Tomato sauce (or ketchup for those in the US)
Four of my favourite foods:
  1. Chocolate
  2. Cheese
  3. Toasted muesli
  4. Chicken chips
Four TV shows that I watch:
  1. Game of Thrones
  2. Walking Dead
  3. West Wing (still, any chance I get!)
  4. Grand Designs (Australian & UK versions).
Four things I am looking forward to this year (2015):
  1. Seeing Girl Booker's brand new baby in the flesh.
  2. Vietnam
  3. Buying a new house
  4. The end of the HSC (for my eldest booklet!)
Four things I’m always saying:
  1. Put your clothes away.
  2. I'm so tired!
  3. What are you reading?
  4. Just let me finish this, then....
Four people I tag:
  1. I'm going to copy this one straight from Jean as she said it first & best...I don't like tagging people.  I admit that it is silly to participate in these things and then refuse to tag people but that is how I roll.  So there.
  2. No tagging, but if you'd like to join in, please feel free to do so. 
  3. Simply leave your link in the comments below so I can see what you've been up to :-)  

Saturday, February 14, 2015

The Cleo Stories by Libby Gleeson & Freya Blackwood

Back to school is a busy time of year in a bookshop.

As the teachers are planning their term lessons and families are getting back into school routines, everyone suddenly becomes concerned about whether their children are reading enough.

We are inundated with requests for early readers, simple chapter books and 'quality' literature for primary kids. And although I'm the first to love a well-written, beautifully realised story with gorgeous illustrations, I understand that not everyone has the same taste as me (i.e. 9 yr olds will always think differently!)

As a former early childhood teacher I also know that reading should be fun.

If the child does not like the book, they will not read it or even more tragically, they come to see reading as a chore not a pleasure. It saddens me to see how many kids get turned off reading by well-meaning adults.

If your child wants to read all 84 books, plus bumper editions of Beast Quest, then let them. They're reading, they're engaged & they're keen to read more. Or if they decide that reading every single Rainbow Magic story is important to them, let them.

Part of learning to read is repetition and practice.

Huge series like these have formulaic storylines that work because they allow for lots of repetitive reading practice. They give your emerging reader confidence.

The other key to reading success is you.

Children should see you reading (& enjoying it) and any chance you get to read aloud with them, do it. This is when you can get the books that you like to read or the books that you'd like them to be reading. You will only enjoy the reading aloud experience if you are reading books that you also like.

My primary school librarian continued to read aloud to my year until Year 6. These were magic times and she introduced me to books I would never have picked up by myself...To Climb A Lonely Hill, The Hobbit, Ash Road were some of the more memorable ones.

Never underestimate the power of the read aloud.

Which leads me to my book review for today.

The Cleo Stories is a lovely little hardbook picture book presented as an early reader (much like the Ruby Red Shoes books). There are two chapters inside titled The Necklace and The Present.

The front and end papers are covered with a detailed neighbourhood map (I love a book with a map or a family tree!)
Both stories relate an incident of importance to young Cleo - birthday party envy and anxiety. They show Cleo problem-solving and experiencing delayed gratification as Cleo learns that the true art of giving begins with listening.

The themes centre around belonging, giving & respect.

Blackwood's illustrations are gorgeous as always with lots of things to spot through windows & in the background.

The Cleo Stories are read aloud gold!

Friday, February 13, 2015

A Decline in Prophets by Sulari Gentill

A Decline in Prophets is book 2 in the Rowland Sinclair series which has now become my gentle crime/comfort read of choice!

Set in Sydney during the 1930's, it's full of art deco, political & cultural references, 4 central loveable characters & in book 2 - a Cary Grant sighting! What's not to love?

This time we see Rowly and his friends enjoying life on the high seas.

Time in Europe has helped them to recover from their run-in with the New Guard in Sydney before they left town (see my review of book 1 here) but before too long they are caught up in a new mystery.

A crime wave hits the RMS Aquitania - murder, theft and mysterious 'accidents' - with Rowly right in the middle of it all!

Real life events and people are woven seamlessly into the story, with appearances by Annie Besant & Charles Leadbeater of the Theosophical Society, the aforesaid, Cary Grant during their New York stop-over and Norman Lindsay hosting one of his famous soirée's in the Blue Mountains.

Gentill has created a delightful, easy to read series complete with gorgeous covers. Do yourself and favour & give one a go - you'll be pleasantly surprised.

This post is part of my Australian Women Writers challenge.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Stella Longlist 2015

The 2015 Stella Longlist has just been announced. Click on the link to see who the judges are and their comments to date.

I've read (& enjoyed) three of the titles so far, with another three on my TBR pile.
Links will take you to my reviews.
The Stella tab along the top will take you to my list of previous Stella longlists.
Have you read any of these books? What did you think?
Do you have a favourite? Or a top pick?
Which one should I read next?

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed

I first heard Strayed speak about her Dear Sugar column at the Sydney Writer's Festival two years ago, so when her book of Tiny Beautiful Things turned up at work before Christmas I was instantly curious.

But it has been a slow read.

I find that I can only read a couple of letters and responses at a time. The dramas and emotions and complications of other people's lives often overwhelms me.

Other times, I'm the one already feeling overwhelmed by complications and the emotions in my own life, so I read a couple of her columns & I somehow feel soothed and understood.
Even if the problems under discussion have nothing to do with me, there will be one phrase, or maybe one of Strayed's comforting hard truths, that hits home & heals.

Strayed is like an old, trusted friend. A survivor - tough but loving.
She's there for you, but she's not going to blow smoke up your butt! She throws your words back at you, she makes you face what you already know & then she tells you it's time to get moving. She adds validity & perspective to most of her advice columns with stories about her own life. She also tells you it's okay to feel the way you do, but not to wallow.

Her wisdom resides in honesty, openness & loving kindness. Some of her words are hard to hear. Some of her personal stories are even harder to hear. They can shock and confront. But she also touches your soul with her generous humanity & integrity.

Strayed's credo's of acceptance, responsibility, truthfulness and ethical living are all good and worthy things to be reminded of regularly.
She also reminds us that it is the small, tiny things that can make a difference and that beauty can be found in the most unlikely of places & situations.

Tiny Beautiful Things is a book to be dipped into and out of as your situation requires, whenever you feel alone and need to be connected to the human race again, for inspiration or comfort.

Monday, February 9, 2015

It's Monday!

It's Monday which means it's time to plan my reading week.

I read The Brain That Changes Itself by Norman Doidge a number of years ago.

In fact my memory of reading this book is very specific and linked to a very strong sensory experience - I read a chapter every Wednesday afternoon whilst my youngest booklet was doing his swimming lessons.

Whenever someone now mentions this book, I am immediately overwhelmed by the smell of chlorine and I feel once again the warm, syrupy humidity of our local indoor pool. It was a lovely bonding time for the two of us & Norman Doidge is now forever connected to this moment of family history.

And, in fact, this experience is a prime example of what he was talking about in his book,

 "We have seen that imagining an act engages the same motor and sensory programs that are 
involved in doing it. We have long viewed our imaginative life with a kind of sacred awe: 
as noble, pure, immaterial, and ethereal, cut off from our material brain. Now we cannot be so sure 
about where to draw the line between them. Everything your “immaterial” mind imagines 
leaves material traces. Each thought alters the physical state of your brain synapses 
at a microscopic level."

 "As we age and plasticity declines, it becomes increasingly difficult for us to change in response 
to the world, even if we want to. We find familiar types of stimulation pleasurable; we seek 
out like-minded individuals to associate with, and research shows we tend to ignore or forget, 
or attempt to discredit, information that does not match our beliefs, or perception of the world, 
because it is very distressing and difficult to think and perceive in unfamiliar ways." 

There was so much for me to love about this book, so you can imagine my delight when I heard late last year that there was a sequel due out. And as you imagine my delight, think about how many synapses have just been triggered & how many different ways our brains have just been altered :-)
The Brain's Way of Healing by Norman Doidge

In The Brain That Changes Itself, Norman Doidge described the most important breakthrough in our understanding of the brain in four hundred years: the discovery that the brain can change its own structure and function in response to mental experience—what we call neuroplasticity. His revolutionary new book shows, for the first time, how the amazing process of neuroplastic healing really works. It describes natural, non-invasive avenues into the brain provided by the forms of energy around us—light, sound, vibration, movement—which pass through our senses and our bodies to awaken the brain’s own healing capacities without producing unpleasant side effects. 

Doidge explores cases where patients alleviated years of chronic pain or recovered from debilitating strokes or accidents; children on the autistic spectrum or with learning disorders normalizing; symptoms of multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, and cerebral palsy radically improved, and other near-miracle recoveries. And we learn how to vastly reduce the risk of dementia with simple approaches anyone can use.

For centuries it was believed that the brain’s complexity prevented recovery from damage or disease. The Brain’s Way of Healing shows that this very sophistication is the source of a unique kind of healing. 

As he did so lucidly in The Brain That Changes Itself, Doidge uses stories to present cutting-edge science with practical real-world applications, and principles that everyone can apply to improve their brain’s performance and health.

No doubt this will take me quite a few weeks to read, so don't watch for a review too soon!
And I hope we get a few more hot summery days so I can pack this book into my swim bag for when I go to the pool to do my laps.

My light relief read for the week is book 2 of Sulari Gentil's Rowland Sinclair series, A Decline in Prophets.

In 1932, the R.M.S. Aquitania embodies all that is gracious and refined, in a world gripped by crisis and doubt.

Returning home on the luxury liner after months abroad, Rowland Sinclair and his companions dine with a suffragette, 
a Bishop and a retired World Prophet. The Church encounters less orthodox 
religion in the Aquitania's chandeliered ballroom, where men of God rub shoulders 
with mystics in dinner suits.

The elegant atmosphere on board is charged with tension but civility prevails...until people start to die. 
Then things get a bit awkward.

And Rowland Sinclair finds himself unwittingly in the centre of it all.

What will you be reading this week?

This post is part of It's Monday! What Am I Reading?

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Butterfly by Sonya Hartnett

I've just realised that I've had a butterfly theme going on with my reading this week.

First Euphoria with the butterflies across the cover (see review below), then Butterfly by Hartnett and now, this weekend, I've been browsing through the launch issue of Womankind magazine...with its gorgeous cover of Simone de Beauvoir made from butterflies.

Metamorphosis and fleeting glimpses of life have been the common themes in all three.

In Butterfly we see young 14 yr old Plum Coyle flutter around, trying to find where she belongs and discover her power.

Set in the late 70's, this world is instantly recognisable to me. I get the pop culture references and staright away I'm back there...a not quite 14 yr old too tall, too sensitive and trying not to care.

I wasn't really in the mood for a coming of age story when I picked this one up; and I usually prefer Hartnett's more fable like stories; so I approached it a little reluctantly.

But the thing about Hartnett is that she has a sly and subtle way of getting under my skin.

Even when I'm feeling resisitant or distracted, a few pages into her world & I'm hooked - just like that!

And I soon feel the need to finish her story in one greedy gulp.

Hartnett's stories do not contain a lot of action. The drama is internal and psychological in nature. It's the every day pains and heart aches and vulnerabilities that Harnett explores so well.

Plum's awkwardness and insecurities open up a vein to one's own teenage angst. It's uncomfortable reading...tinged with a sense of relief that one is finally past all that.

Except for Maureen that is. The lonely stay-at-home neighbour who has reached the supposed security of adult life, only to realise it's not all she had hope for.

As Maureen helps Plum to find her wings, she sees her own dreams and hopes flutter away.

However like all Hartnett's stories, there is a hint of something more mysterious. This is not just a real-life suburban story. There is a suggestion of something supernatural; magical moments appear to hover just out of reach.
And an ambigious ending hints at dangerous, even violent possibilities (if anyone would like to discuss the ending please attach a spoiler alert in your comment and do so! I would love to dissect what happened.)

Butterfly was shortlisted for the 2010 Miles Franklin Award which I confess I find a little curious.
As much as I enjoyed it & love Hartnett's writing, Butterfly doesn't fit the usual Miles Franklin mold.