July 30, 2008

The Booker Prize - 2008

The longlist for The Man Booker Prize - 2008 has just been announced and there are two Australian based authors on the list.

The Lost Dog by Michelle de Krester has won several major awards in Australia and is a book I have been meaning to put on my "to read" list but I think other (perhaps "easier" books) have been pushing it aside.

I have seen A Fraction of the Whole by Steve Toltz around but again, I think I have been avoiding this one too - mainly because of it's size.

Lucky I'm not a judge for the Booker!

July 29, 2008

40 Random Things Meme (or is it 37??)

Thanks to Charlotte for the idea for this one...

1. My uncle once: smoked cigarettes.
2. Never in my life: have I ridden an elephant.
3. When I was five: I was given my very first Barbie doll.
4. High school was: a rollercoaster experience.
5. I will never forget: the beauty of Bath.
6. Once I met: Helen Garner.
7. There’s this girl I know: who's growing up fast.
8. Once, at a bar: I met a boy...
9. By noon, I’m usually: wanting to go home.
10. Last night: I went to a pliates class in a blackout.
11. If only I had: my very own bookshop.
12. Next time I go to church: Will probably be for a funeral or wedding, hopefully the latter.
13. What worries me most: being stuck and uninspired.
14. When I turn my head left I see: a white cupboard door.
15. When I turn my head right I see: a window with a view down my street.
16. You know I’m lying when: I tell you I'm lying.
17. What I miss most about the Eighties is: bubble skirts and Wham!
18. If I were a character in Shakespeare I’d be: Hamlet - always questioning instead of just getting on with things.
19. By this time next year: I will be about to go overseas - yay!
20. A better name for me would be: Anything but the one I have.
21. I have a hard time understanding: ignorance.
22. If I ever go back to school, I’ll: study international relations.
23. You know I like you if: I laugh with you.
24. If I ever won an award, the first person I would thank would be: My boy.
25. Take my advice, never: drive with your eyes closed.
26. My ideal breakfast is: pancakes and strawberries.
27. A song I love but do not have is: the new Carla Bruni song.
28. If you visit my hometown, I suggest you: Go out dancing.
29. Why won’t people: Drive properly!
30. If you spend a night at my house: expect to talk about books.
31. I’d stop my wedding for: John Cusack.
32. The world could do without: intolerance.
33. I’d rather lick the belly of a cockroach than: go bungy jumping.
34. My favourite blonde(s) is/are: my best friend and god daughter.
35. Paper clips are more useful than: staples for really big documents.
36. If I do anything well it’s: Talk.
37. And by the way: My head hurts now!

July 27, 2008

The Guernsey Literary & Potato Peel Pie Society

What a gem! I bought The Guernsey Literary & Potato Peel Pie Society yesterday after reading about it in a bookshop catalouge and I have spent every free moment since then devouring it. It is one of those books you read greedily because it is so wonderful but at the same time you are mourning it's eventual end.

The story in this book is told entirely through the use of letters sent between the various characters but primarly from the main character, Juliet Ashton. Juliet is a writer who has spent the years of World War 2 in London writing a regular newspaper column. With the end of the war (the book is set in 1946) Juliet is looking for a new writing task - and in many ways, a new life focus and direction. A letter for Juliet arrives out of the blue from a man by the name of Dawsey Adams, a resident of the Channel Island, Guernsey. Dawsey has purchased a second hand book that once belonged to Juliet and has written to her to talk about his love for this book and the unconventional literary society that he belongs to in Guernsey. The story told within the book about how the society came into being is wonderfully told - you meet other members of the society along the way and Juliet herself is drawn into their world.

The book touches on some tragic and deeply moving topics, particularly around the occupation of Guernsey by German forces during the war and the impact this had on the residents of the Island - not only during the war but also after it had ended. But the book is also very funny - all of the characters richly drawn - although Juliet is a clear favourite for me.

I can't recommend this book highly enough and sadly and unfortunately there will most likely not be a follow up as the retired librarian author of this beautiful novel died shortly before it's publication. The author's niece (an author herself) did assist in the editing process of the book after her aunt's death.

July 24, 2008

Speak - Laurie Halse Anderson

Our latest bookclub genre is adolescent fiction and the title that was picked out of the hat at our last meeting was Speak By Laurie Halse Anderson. I must admit I had never heard of the book or even the author but have since learnt that the book is on the required reading lists for many high schools - even in Australia. Having said that I still had to purchase the book through Amazon as I couldn't find it in any of our local bookshops which was a little frustrating.

Speak is an amazing story - for adolescents and adults.

The story is told from the point of view of Melinda - a 13 year old who is just starting high school as the story begins - don't we all remember (not always fondly) that time in out lives! A party has taken place just prior to the beginning of the school year and we learn more about the events that went on at that party as the story unfolds - it is enough to say that the events of the party lead to painful outcomes for Melinda as school begins.

The writing in this book is amazing - short, punchy, funny and lyrical at the same time. You feel Melinda's pain and you also feel her reaching out at times. The scenes with her art teacher and her lab partner are particularly beautiful.

Looking forward to sharing this book around.

July 22, 2008

The Forgotten Garden - Kate Morton

I was eagerly awaiting this second novel from the Australian author of The Shifting Fog (or The House at Riverton for those in the UK and US) but I have to say that The Forgotten Garden was a little disapointing for me.

It's true, I did read it very quickly and as far as that goes it was an easy and quite entertaining read but overall I felt the plot was predictable and the characters and settings forced and a little unbelievable.

The story moves between three main time periods and locations, early 1900's in London and the Cornwall coast, the mid 1970's in these same locations and then present day Brisbane, Australia and London and Cornwall. We hear the story from the perspective of a few different characters as well - each a little disjointed I felt. Nell, a 21 year old girl and then an older woman - struggling with the news that she is not the biological child of the parents who raised her and Nell's grandaughter, Cassandra who continues the search for her grandmother's (and ultimately, her) true history and identity. Through Cassandra and Nell we hear from Rose and Eliza, cousins growing up in the early 1900's in England - two women intricately linked to Nell and Cassandra.

Although the story was interesting and engaging to a point I never really felt connected to any of these characters or their ultimate outcomes.

July 19, 2008

Melbourne and New Books

I have been away from home and the blogging world, in Melbourne for 5 days for a conference (and shopping of course!).

Melbourne is one of my very favourite places in the world and has some of the most amazing bookshops so I really feel I was quite contained in only coming home with two new purchases.

I found The Piazzas of Florence by Lisa McGarry and just knew it would be coming home with me. I have a bit of an Italy obsession even though I have not been there (yet).

I found my other new purchase on a trip to the National Gallery of Victoria (NGV) to see there latest exhibition - Art Deco. My purchase wasn't related to that exhibition though, I found a new book about my favourite artist, Frida Kahlo. Frida Kahlo The Still Lifes by Salomon Grimberg looks like a stunning book and I just couldn't resist!

July 09, 2008

Lost in a Good Book - Jasper Fforde

I am really loving this series! Lost in a Good Book is the second book in the "Thursday Next" detective/science fiction/fantasy series by Jasper Fforde. As I said in the earlier post about the first book in the series, The Eyre Affair, these are not usually the types of books I enjoy but I am just flying through these ones at the moment at the expense of my other reading plans!

Lost in a Good Book continues to tell the Thursday Next story but I feel this book probably gets a little more personal in terms of the events that are taking place in her life - the character is expanding as is the plot to the series. I love the literary references throughout the novel and I particularly liked the references to Sense and Sensibility made in the later stages of the book when Thursday "travels" into the novel and has a very pleasant encounter with Marianne Dashwood.

Maybe that's why I'm loving these books so much - I am wishing I was Thursday Next!

July 07, 2008

The Year of Magical Thinking - Joan Didion

The Year Of Magical Thinking has been a book I have been meaning to read for quite some time. I bought it ages ago and have carried it around with me on various trips and holidays - it has been waiting to be opened.

I finally opened it last week and have basically finished it in two sittings. Joan Didion's writing about the sudden death of her husband and the serious and prolonged illnes of her daughter is haunting. Her grief is palpable and heartbreaking. The magical thinking of the title refers to the belief Joan continues to hold following the death of her husband John that he will return to be with her even though she clearly understands that he has died, that he is dead. In one part of the book she writes about not wanting to give away his shoes as he will need those shoes when he returns.

This book resonated with some of my own experiences of grief and certainly some of the experiences of grief that I have been privledged to hear from my clients in the past.

Heartbreaking and honest I would definitely recommend this book to others.

July 04, 2008

The Eyre Affair - Jasper Fforde

The Eyre Affair By Jasper Fforde was not a book I was looking to read but I was browsing in a book store last week (as I often am) and discovered one of the later books in the Thursday Next series (Thursday Next is the name of the main character in the Eyre Affair and subsequent books in the series). This more recent book has a plot revolving around Pride and Prejudice and as I am drawn to any literary reference to Jane Austen and her books I wanted to read it but thought I should do things by the book (excuse the pun) and read the first Thursday Next book first! So I have, and I enjoyed it so much i will definitely be reading the rest of the series.

As you may already know I am not a keen science fiction/fantasy reader - I like my books set in "reality" in some way. But I am a huge Harry Potter fan and I have also really enjoyed reading Neil Gaiman's books so I have come to a conclusion regarding my reading in this genre - I enjoy it as long as the characters (for the most part) are actually human and that there is some link to the world as I know it.

The Eyre Affair fits this criteria for me and as it also centres around the world of books and literature I'm hooked. The main character, a feisty 30-something year old woman by the name of Thursday Next is a likeable, passionate "Spec Ops" agent in a version of Great Britain in 1985. As one of the quotes on the back of my copy of the books states; "Forget the rules of time, space and reality; just sit back and enjoy the adventure" - and I found myself able to do this.

Thursday works as a "Litera Tec" - a special agent designed to investigate crimes related to books and literature. The main literary crime in this story is the theft of the orginial Jane Eyre manuscript and an attempt by the thief to wipe out the character of Jane altogether. Sounds fanciful I know but it works so well.