December 30, 2010

The Top 10 of 2010

The time has come to list my top 10 reads of 2010 - and the process wasn't actually as hard as I thought it was going to be. I did have to cull a few books to get the list down to only 10 but I think my top reads really stood out for me this year. My list is not necessarily a list of the "best" books or what would be considered literature - but they are all books that have stayed with me long after reading them.
So, my top 10 read of 2010, in the order in which I read them:

1. Mrs Dalloway - Virginia Woolf - My first Woolf read and I was captivated by her writing style and characterisation straight away.

2. The Hours - Michael Cunningham - Following on from my new found love of Woolf and Mrs Dalloway I was excited to read this homage by Cunningham - almost as good as the original for me.

3. The World Beneath - Cate Kennedy - The only Australian novel and author on my list this year.

4. The Help - Kathryn Stockett - I had stayed away from this book for a long time because of the hype surrounding it but I was pleasantly surprised to find that the hype and praise was well deserved.

5. The Hand That First Held Mine - Maggie O'Farrell - I have yet to read a book by this author that has let me down although I think this may be my favourite of hers so far.

6. Hearts and Minds - Amanda Craig - This is probably the book that has stayed with me the most this year - a brilliant story.

7. Great House - Nicole Krauss - I was eagerly awaiting this new book by the author of The History of Love and I was not disappointed at all.

8. Madame Bovary - Gustave Flaubert - This book opened my eyes to the importance of translation in literature - a beautiful edition of a brilliant book.

9. The Portrait of a Lady - Henry James - My first Henry James novel but definitely not my last.

10. The Age of Innocence - Edith Wharton - Another classic read that captured me this year.

Happy new year everyone - may 2011 be another fantastic year of reading!

The Portrait of a Lady - Henry James & The Age of Innocence - Edith Wharton


I don't know how I managed it but my last two reads of 2010 have not only been two of my best reads of the year but possibly two of my best reads of all time.

The Portrait of a Lady and The Age of Innocence have been two books I have been meaning to read for quite a while now and for some reason they both fell into my hands at about the same time. I was taken by the similarities between the two even though they were written at different times (Portrait was first published in 1881 and Innocence in 1920 - although it does focus on the era of the 1870's). Both stories have young, inexperienced heroines (although one seems to be clearly seeking the expected path of marriage and family while the other tries hard to steer a different course at first) and both focus on the society of the time and the way in which rules and expectations impact on the decisions and behaviours of the characters.

The Portrait of a Lady was my first experience of reading Henry James and it was pure bliss! How could I not have known what I was missing out on??! I have heard quite a few people list him as one of their favourite authors and I think I will become one of them now.

I was hooked from the very first line of the book;

Under certain circumstances there are few hours in life more agreeable than the hour dedicated to the ceremony known as afternoon tea.

I couldn't agree more! Of course the book does explore deeper topics than the joy of afternoon tea. The heroine of the novel, Isabel Archer is a young American woman brought to England by her aunt, Mrs Touchett, after the death of her father. Isabel becomes close friends with her uncle and her cousin Ralph and when Mr Touchett dies soon after Isabel's arrival in England he leaves her (at the request of Ralph) a considerable fortune to enable her to live out her life goals of exploration and travel. Isabel is approached by several young men with marriage proposals but she refuses them all - until the arrival of the older and more charming Gilbert Osmond. Isabel accepts Osmond's proposal even after the disapproval of her family and friends is voiced to her, especially Ralph's;

'You were the last person I expected to see caught'.

'I don't know why you call it caught'.

'Because you're going to be put in a cage'.

'If I like my cage, that needn't trouble you,' she answered.

Of course soon after the marriage Isabel realises that Osmond is not the person she thought he was but it is too late and her family and friends watch her turn from a bright, passionate woman into a faded version of her true character.

I loved Isabel but I was frustrated by her at the same time - when she agreed to marry Osmand I found myself yelling out loud "NO - Listen to Ralph!!!". But then the novel would not have been what it was without that decision. The second half of the book is painful to read as we witness Isabel's awful marriage and see Ralph's prediction come true - she is caught in a cage with no sign of release and yet she finds that maybe she doesn't like it so much after all.


I decided to read The Age of Innocence after finishing The Portrait of a Lady because I wanted to stay in a similar era with my reading (truth be told I really wanted to go back and start The Portrait all over again I loved it so much!). This novel again focuses on women characters and the impact of their decisions to marry certain people but told from the perspective of a male character. Newland Archer is a member of upper class New York society in the 1870's and as the novel begins his engagement to May Welland is just about to be announced - an event that coincides with the return to New York of May's cousin, Countess Olenska who has scandalously left her brutal marriage to a Polish nobleman.

Countess Olenska raises thoughts and feelings in Newland that have been rising for a while - why is society so structured and rule bound - why must women (and men for that matter) be constrained to act and behave in certain ways even when that goes against their natural instinct?

Newland begins to see the constraints of his upper class society and he himself begins to feel constrained by it - he falls in love with the Countess but marries May anyway because it is what is expected of him.

The novel is really about the games that the members of the upper classes played at this time to keep their society and it's structure intact - through Newland's newly opened eyes we are able to see these games for what they really are - and yet no one ever stops playing them!

It is the conventions of this society that stops Newland from following his heart - even at the very end.

I cannot recommend either of these two books highly enough - and I think I will be re-reading them again myself very soon!

December 28, 2010

The Start of the Lists

I love this time of year in the blogging world - so many people putting together so many lists for me to drool over and get more reading ideas. One list that I always look forward to reading is the one one of my favourite journalists, Leigh Sales, on the ABC website recommending her top reads for the year.
Leigh's top 5 fiction reads for this year were:

1. The World Beneath - Cate Kennedy. I loved this one too - my review is here.
2. Brooklyn - Colm Toibin - another one I loved when I read it last year.
3. A Gate at the Stairs - Lorrie Moore - I can't say I have heard anything about this one before now - has anyone read it??
4. The Imperfectionists - Tom Rachmann. Loved this one too!
5. Solar - Ian McEwan - I have started my Ian McEwan phase this year so this one might need to be next on my list from him.

December 26, 2010

Beyond Black - Hilary Mantel


I don't think I could have chosen a better book for my Christmas time reading than Hilary Mantel's famous ghost story - Beyond Black. I always find that this is a hard time of year to keep my head in a book - I want to read but there are so many other distractions going on around me that it is often hard to concentrate on a story. I didn't have that problem with Beyond Black as it kept me intrigued from start to finish.

The book tells the story of English psychic and medium, Alison Hart who meets up with recently divorced Colette at one of her shows at a local club and takes her on as her assistant/manager/carer. As Colette slowly begins to take over Alison's business and personal life we learn more about Alison's current life and career as a messenger for the dead and her past life and traumatic childhood that led to her being in this position. As Alison begins to let in memories of her childhood her connection with the spirit world changes and it begins to have a greater impact on her life in the here and now.

I found this book fascinating and engrossing without being too sensationalist - I can imagine that it is a hard task to achieve with this sort of subject matter. I became increasingly connected to Alison and her story as I similarly began to despise Colette and the control she was trying to exert over Alison's life. The story built tension beautifully and I was hooked to the very (satisfying for me) end.

December 24, 2010

Happy Christmas!

Happy Christmas to everyone!
We have had a lovely, quiet day at home opening presents, eating seafood, drinking wine and now eating chocolates and drinking cups of tea! The wet weather that was forecast for our area did not come through and we have had a bright, sunny and a very warm day - a perfect Australian Christmas.
I'm now relaxing with my new copy of the BBC edition of Pride and Prejudice on DVD while glancing over at our Christmas tree to admire the gorgeous decorations - especially the Royal Doulton tea cup and teapot given to me by my best friend and my boy - they know me so well!






Harbour - John Ajvide Lindquist

I have The First Tuesday Book Club Show on ABC to thank for my latest reading success. The host of the show, Jennifer Byrne, mentioned the book on the final show for the year stating it was one of the books she was looking forward to reading over the Christmas holidays and the way she described it made it sound intriguing.
Harbour is set in a small Swedish Island community called Domaro. The book starts with a day trip across the snow to the lighthouse at Gavasten by Anders, his wife Cecilia and their 6 year old daughter, Maja. While the family is visiting the lighthouse Maja disappears completely - one moment she is there and the next there is absolutely no sign on her.

The rest of the book focuses on Anders search for Maja and in the process the unravelling and discovery of the secrets of Domaro and the people who live there.

It is difficult to place this book in one hard and fast genre - there are certainly elements of mystery within it, it is dramatic and contains many scenes highlighting the impact of relationships on our lives and yet there is also a sense of the paranormal about it as well.

I was hooked by this story - it is not a book I would normally choose to read but I loved it and became completely absorbed in it, so much so that even when events occurred that would normally require me to suspend my beliefs about certain things I was able to run with it easily.

At times I did feel that the author was trying to possibly tell too many stories and introduce too many different characters but to his credit he did seem to bring them all together by the end.

I loved this one so much I am now going to start on the author's earlier book, Let The Right One In, although I have heard it is a lot scarier...

December 18, 2010

Persephone Secret Santa - 2010


This was my second year joining in the Persephone Secret Santa fun organised by Claire.

I have heard that some people are still waiting for their books to arrive due to the rather extreme weather the UK is experiencing at the moment but my secret santa must have been very, very organised as I received my package quite a while ago now and of course I was so excited that I opened it straight away!

A very big Persephone thank you to my santa, Natalie from Coffee and a Book Chick - I feel very spoilt as Natalie was extremely generous and sent me two books, The Victorian Chaise-Longue by Marghanita Laski and The Far Cry by Emma Smith. Both of these books sound wonderful and I am going to enjoy reading them over my Christmas break - thank you so much Natalie!

On a superficial note - I also adore the endpapers, and therefore the bookmarks, of each of these books too - right up my alley!!

December 17, 2010

Oprah Interlude


I have been a little absent from the blogging and general internet world over the past week or so. This week has been my last week at work before a two week break (yay!) so things have been pretty hectic and on top of that I also spent the first two days of the week in Sydney as I was one of the people lucky enough to score a ticket one of the shows being put on by Oprah on her recent trip to Australia.

I have been an Oprah devotee since my school and university days - and I've always been a close follower of her Bookclub and reading suggestions. It was an amazing experience to see her live on stage - she has such a presence and a warmth about her it is easy to see why some people go a little crazy when they see her (although I have to say as a mental health professional I was a little worried about the extreme reactions demonstrated by some people in the audience!!).

My best friend and I had a great time - and the diamond necklaces given out by Oprah as a gift to her audience was a very nice surprise!

I am also happy to see that Oprah's latest book club selections are two of Charles Dickens' most famous novels - A Tale of Two Cities and Great Expectations. One of my reading goals from this year was to read more Dickens and with only a few days to go in 2010 I am way, way behind on this goal - so thank you to Oprah for giving me the much needed kick to get started on my Dickens reading!

December 07, 2010

Summer is Here!

Summer has taken a while to arrive this year and while it is being predicted we are going to be having quite a rainy season at the moment the true summer weather seems to be kicking in - and bringing with it some of my very favourite things...

Time to read...


Fresh flowers inside...
And out


Summer fruits


And Christmas!


December 04, 2010

Reverb10 - One Word


I have come across this wonderful blog project today - Reverb10 - a way of reflecting over the year that has been and thinking ahead to the year that is fast approaching. Every day in December the authors of the blog will set down a prompt for a reflective blog post for that day. I think it is a great way to think about what has been my 2010 (I can't believe it is almost at an end!!) and plan for an even better 2011. This month has already begun to be crazy busy so I can't promise that I will be on board each day but I'm going to give it a go.

The prompt for the 1st December was; One Word. Encapsulate the year 2010 in one word. Explain why you are choosing that word, Now, imagine it's one year from today, what would you like the word to be that captures 2011 for you? (Author: Gwen Bell)


My word for 2010 would be balance - not necessarily because I have always achieved it but because I have at least tried to be more aware of it in my every day life. I have thought more than ever this year about reducing my work load and concentrating on other areas of my life that drain me less and bring me much more pleasure. Hopefully 2011 will keep that on track!

The word that I would like to be able to describe my 2011 would be accomplishment. I'm planning to take on new work and study projects in 2011 and I would like to be able to succeed in these - whilst still maintaining balance! I think this word is also something that can be applied to my personal life - and certainly my reading where I would really like to be able to challenge myself to read more widely and in areas I might not have thought of before.

November 29, 2010

Perfect Lives - Polly Samson


I wasn't much of a short story reader before I began blogging and I'm not sure if it is the blogging itself that has made me take the leap into this genre or more so the great recommendations I get from reading other bloggers experiences with short fiction.

I first read about Perfect Lives over at Dovegreyreader and her review tempted me to pick up my own copy of this collection. Unlike Dovegreyreader though I greedily read through these stories one after the other - I just couldn't bring myself to put them down and leave the English seaside village.

Perfect Lives reminded me a lot of Olive Kitteridge in terms of its structure - it is a collection of short stories but all of the stories are based on characters living in a particular village in the English countryside so that a peripheral character you meet in one story might become one of the main character's in another story and so on so that there is an interwoven community of characters and story lines created.

My favourite stories of the collection were the first story in the book, "The Egg", whose revelation part way through actually made me gasp out loud and "Ivan Knows" which focuses on a little boys infatuation with and adoration of his babysitter. But having chosen favourites I now feel sad for the other stories that did not get chosen - as they were so very wonderful too and certainly not lacking in detail and emotion. I think with short stories in particular there is a strong instinctual feeling about what you connect with as a reader - there is a such a skill in being able to capture and hold the attention of your audience in such a brief period. I will now be going back to find Polly Samson's first short story collection - and hope that she writes another one very quickly!

November 28, 2010

Saturday - Ian McEwan


I have continued my Ian McEwan fest this week by reading Saturday, his novel that focuses on one Saturday in the life of London based neurosurgeon, Henry Perowne.

The personal and the political collide in this novel as it is set after the tense period of 9/11 and on the day that millions took to the streets to protest the predicted invasion of Iraq by the allied forces. In amongst this political activity is the "normal" Saturday routine of Henry as he looks forward to playing squash with a colleague, check in on the condition of his patients, attend to his roles as parent and husband and prepare a meal for a family reunion that will take place at his house later that night.

Except it is evident from the beginning that this Saturday is possibly not going to follow the regular path when Henry is, for some unknown reason, woken very early to witness a burning plane from his bedroom window.


The narrative of the novel weaves between the action taking place on the Saturday in question to Henry's memories and recollections of his recent and not so recent past. It is in this way that we learn about Henry's wife, Rosalind and his two adult children, Daisy and Theo and the significant parts they play in Henry's life. We also learn about Henry's job as a neurosurgeon and the passion and commitment he has for this role. Apparently McEwan spent two years following an actual neurosurgeon around watching him at his job and this clearly shows in the detail and precision McEwan conveys about neurosurgery in the book.


I quite enjoyed this particular detail (I have worked in a neurosurgery ward of a major hospital and it was a joy to see the area detailed so accurately) however some of the other intense details portrayed in the book (such as learning step by step how to make a fish stew!) I could have done without.


McEwan built the tension in this story wonderfully - the balance between what was happening in Henry's day corresponded nicely with what was happening in greater London at the time and it was clear that something was building to crisis point which kept me hooked into the story. I was left wondering if it was all just a little too dramatic though??


I'm still a huge McEwan fan - he builds and tells fantastic stories and characters - I might just take a break for a little while and read something a little less threatening to the heart!

November 21, 2010

Madame Bovary - Gustave Flaubert


I had originally ordered the new Lydia Davis translation of Madame Bovary so that I could take part in Frances's read along but unfortunately my book did not arrive in time for me to join in. However, it did mean that I was able to take my time with the gorgeous book and even though I have read Madame Bovary before this time the reading experience was much more pleasant.

For a start (and I know this probably shouldn't matter but it so does!) the book looks divine - the cover design is perfect and suits the tone and subject matter of the book. Moving on to the content I have to say that this is my first experience of really seeing how important a translator's job is. I have previously not given much thought to what particular translation of a classic book I buy or read - I have always thought it couldn't possibly make that much of a difference. How wrong I was! Even though this was my second reading of Madame Bovary it felt like me first - this reading felt like a completely different story and approach and I was hooked!

I think the sadness and tragedy of the story struck me so much more this time - I was practically crying for Emma from the very beginning and begging her not to make certain choices. I felt so much more engaged with the story and the character of Emma in particular this time around. I felt frustrated by the social and historical period that placed women in this situation in regards to marriage and choice - although I can also see many parallels to today's society and the emphasis on marriage and partnership as the only valid life path for women.

November 16, 2010

Amsterdam - Ian McEwan


I didn't have a lot of time to devote to reading over the past weekend so I was on the look out for a sharp, quick read that would hold my interest and satisfy my lust for a good story.

Amsterdam was the perfect choice! The only other book by McEwan I have read is Atonement - which I think is a wonderful book in so many ways but for some reason I have never read another novel of his up until now (maybe I was afraid another book would ruin the image of almost perfection I had for his writing??).

Amsterdam starts off with two old friends, Clive and Vernon, attending the funeral of another one of their long time friends - and lover to both of the men at various stages in their lives - Molly.

The funeral scene enables McEwan to set up the history of the friendships and the relationships between these three characters and others who have been a part of their history and present.

Clive is a composer about to finalise a symphony he is writing to celebrate the upcoming millennium and Vernon is a newspaper editor - both men are successful in their careers and clearly see their professional roles as a defining part of who they are.

Throughout the novel both Clive and Vernon's careers - and their dedication to them - will come into question as they are both placed in the position of making two very different moral decisions that will impact on their careers, and subsequently, their lives.

I found this book gripping - I think McEwan has a fantastic ability to write the inner minds of characters in such a way as to make you feel you are in their space with them. Reading other reviews of this book it seems that many readers were not happy or convinced by the ending of this book - and if I was being completely honest I would probably have to agree with most of them but the way that McEwan draws you in to this story made it virtually impossible for me not to stay with him right until the very end. That's the sign of a brilliant story teller for me.

I'm definitely on the look out for more McEwan reading now - can you tell me where you think I should look next?

November 12, 2010

Testimony - Anita Shreve


Testimony is a book I have had on my shelf for the longest time - pretty much since it was released in 2008 (in fact I think it was a Christmas present from my parents that year). I must have been waiting for just the right time to read it because when I had a day off from work a few weeks ago I managed to read the whole book in one day, and in pretty much one sitting.

The way Testimony is written and structured encourages the "one sitting" reading. It is narrated alternatively by different characters and as each chapter is read we learn a little bit more of the story from a slightly different angle and with a slightly different focus that just makes us want to keep reading to get the next little piece of the puzzle.

The book is set in an exclusive New England boarding school which is thrown into a scandal when a video tape is discovered and distributed showing several of the students engaged in sex acts - the students being 3 boys and 1 girl (and another student who has captured it all on camera).

The book focuses on telling the story of what happens after the tape has been made public from the viewpoints of the students involved, teachers, parents and other students and community members.

As I was reading this book I found I was thinking about it from different angles myself. As a reader I was impressed with Shreve's ability to build a story and create controversy and debate by having different characters hold very different views and opinions about the acts that had taken place - I think this would be a fantastic book for a reading group to take on. On the the other hand I was also reading it as a feminist, a woman and a social worker who has worked with women and men who have experienced sexual assault and from that perspective I found myself becoming very angry and frustrated with some of the views that were expressed by some of the characters. I think this passion only contributed to my reading experience though as I found myself fully engaged with this book and the final outcome. I'm not sure why I left it on my shelf for so long!

November 11, 2010

Great House - Nicole Krauss


I am going to go out on a limb (although personally I don't really feel as though it is that big!) and say that I have found my best read of 2010 and possibly one of my all time top ten favourite reads - I loved Great House that much.

My first Nicole Krauss read was The History Of Love - which I also adored saying about it at the time; "It is simply stunning" and at the risk of sounding like a broken record I am definitely going to have to echo that sentiment in regards to Great House.

Great House weaves several people's stories together with the central and connecting character being a large wooden desk which is first introduced to the reader in this way;

I looked across the room at the wooden desk at which I had written seven novels, and on whose surface, in the cone of light cast by a lamp, lay the piles of pages and notes that were to constitute an eighth. One drawer was slightly ajar, one of the nineteen drawers, some small and some large, whose odd number and strange array, I realized now, on the cusp of their being suddenly taken from me, had come to signify a kind of guiding if mysterious order in my life, an order that, when my work was going well, took on an almost mystical quality.

The desk is described in varying ways by different characters - depending upon their relationship to and connection with it. The author of the above quote is Nadia - an American writer who originally acquired the desk from the Chilean poet, Daniel Varsky when he returns to his homeland. The desk is meant to be on loan but when Varsky is arrested and then disappears Nadia ends up holding on to the desk and building it into her writing routine and success.

The book is told in alternating chapters from different characters who have had a connection with the desk in the past - or who are going to have a connection to it in the future. In their stories the desk becomes far more than just a simple piece of furniture and we see the meaning it holds for each of the characters and how it has impacted on their lives and decisions.

The writing in Great House is haunting and memorable and the structure is perfection. Each character was so richly drawn and their memories, purpose and goals were clearly portrayed to the reader - although not so much that I didn't feel as though I could not attach my own meaning to the story through my reading.

I love, loved, loved this book and am already ready to go back and read it all over again.

November 07, 2010

Weekend


My beautiful roses from last weekend have succumbed to nature - but I did manage to make use of their gorgeous petals before they said goodbye.
The weather has once again been toying with us this weekend - Saturday was wet and miserable but today spring made an appearance again.
I took the opportunity of having to be inside on Saturday to start reading my new copy of Madame Bovary. Unfortunately it did not arrive in time for me to join in with Frances's read along but I am enjoying my reading of it now just the same. I totally agree with what JoAnn posted recently about the importance of translation - I have read Madame Bovary before but I do not remember it being this fluid and emotional - I am so caught up in the writing and the story this time around.
My fluffy boy has even been tempted to dive in...

November 01, 2010

The Distant Hours - Kate Morton


Kate Morton has her winning formula and her latest book, The Distant Hours, shows she's sticking to it - and why wouldn't she? It's creating one bestseller after the other. As in her two previous books, The Shifting Fog and The Forgotten Garden Morton weaves together story lines from the present and past, has a heroine in each time period - each more lovelorn than the other, sets the majority of the book in a beautiful and historical part of the English countryside and throws in a long lost secret (usually involving the writing of a letter or a book) to be uncovered.

Now that I think about it - it definitely does sound like a winning formula - at least it was for me in relation to the first two books, unfortunately for The Distant Hours the formula has now become a little boring and predictable.

The heroines in The Distant Hours are varied and numerous, the two main ones being Edith (Edie)Burchill a young woman working for the publishing business in London in the present day and Juniper Blythe, a talented and ethereal woman who goes to London at the outset of World War 2 and falls in love. These two characters are brought together by Edie's mother, Meredith, who at the start of the war is sent to the countryside as part of the evacuation of children from London to stay with Juniper's family in their family home, Milderhurst Castle. Juniper's father is the world famous children's author, Raymond Blythe and his impact on Juniper and her two older half-sisters, Persephone and Seraphina is felt by Meredith and later relayed to Edie who stumbles upon the castle in the present day and thereby bringing the connection full circle.

The Distant Hours was a compelling and easy read - it is a large book at 499 pages but I found myself half way through it in almost no time at all - the problem being that I never felt as though anything of any significance was happening. I felt I had worked out the formula, and therefore the conclusion, very early on in the piece and the characters themselves were too stereotypical and predictable to interest me.

Definitely a great holiday read for when you just want to tune out and not have to work too hard with your reading but if you are after substance and originality it might be best to look elsewhere.

October 31, 2010

Spring Has Sprung

Another busy and full weekend is about to come to an end but I don't feel quite as sad about that as I normally would. Unlike last weekend where we enjoyed a fleeting hint of spring/summer weather this entire weekend has been glorious.
To go with the wonderful weather we have packed our weekend with visiting a new baby nephew born on Friday afternoon (he is massively cute!), visiting our older nephews and other friends and family - as well as some reading thankfully!
I think I am also feeling a little brighter because I have successfully negotiated cutting down my hours at work which means more time for me! I have also just enrolled in my Master of Communication degree to start next year - something I have been wanting to do for a long time now. Maybe spring is bringing more than just brighter weather...
The beautiful flowers in my photos are courtesy of my mother-in-laws garden and they smell and look divine - they have helped bring spring well and truly into our house.

October 27, 2010

Fall Girl - Toni Jordan


I had read Toni Jordan's debut novel, Addition, in early 2009 and loved it - so much so that I have been waiting ever since then for her to release her second book.

Fall Girl was released last week in Australia and I devoted my reading time over the past weekend solely to it.

The fall girl of the title is Della Gilmore, a young woman living with her extended family of con artists in the suburbs of Melbourne. The Gilmore family have always been in the conning trade. Della's father is the patriarch of the bunch and Della has learnt most of her trade secrets from him, her brother, aunt and uncle and cousins. They rely on each other for their work and their income and it has all been going pretty swimmingly by the sound of things.

Della's latest con is to parade herself as an award winning science academic and researcher - Dr Ella Canfield - in order to score a $25,000 research grant to search for the existence of the Tasmanian tiger - a creature that has been listed as extinct for over 70 years. If she is going to win the grant Della has to convince the administrator of the grant, the sexy, confidant, intelligent and wealthy Daniel Metcalf, that she is the real deal.

I'm sure you can see where this is heading.

I was so disappointed with this book. Whereas in Addition Jordan created an original, flawed, interesting main character I found the opposite to be the case in Fall Girl. True, you don't come across a suburban con artist in everyday life (at least I hope I don't!) but that was really the only original aspect to this book and the character of Della/Ella.

There seemed to be too many characters and sub plots and relationship details to enable to reader to focus on the main story - maybe the author was trying to pull a con of her own and confuse the reader with smoke and mirrors??! The ending for me was just the icing on the disappointing cake - I'm not sure where it came from at all as it seemed to introduce a desire of the main character that hadn't been explored at all in the novel up until that point.

Certainly an easy to read book - but there was very little substance for me unfortunately.

October 24, 2010

Friends, Shoes and Books

I'm writing this post on my brand new computer (with thanks to my IT savvy partner for setting it up for me so beautifully!). I feel some sense of loss having to say goodbye to my old computer, it had been my faithful sidekick for 5 years now but unfortunately it had no more capacity for growth so it had to be replaced. So far so good with my new piece of technology - I'm settling into its style - I just need a name for it - any suggestions??
I've had a lovely weekend - although the weather hasn't always been so lovely. A gorgeous spring day on Saturday - the perfect day to catch up for brunch with one of my best friends and go shoe and book shopping!
I headed to one of my favourite shoe shops, Nine West and bought some gorgeous summer sandals (I was supposed to be looking for new work shoes but these were much more fun!).I also treated myself to two new books, Shall We Dance by Maggie Alderson and A Tiny Bit Marvellous by Dawn French.

October 23, 2010

Our Kind Of Traitor - John le Carré


I have vague memories of reading, and enjoying, le Carré's classic novel The Spy Who Came In From The Cold way back in my high school days but I have never really ventured into the whole spy/espionage genre of fiction apart from that. No reason in particular for my avoidance - I just haven't gone there.

The description of Our Kind Of Traitor spoke to me though when I was looking for a book to keep my attention in the past few weeks when reading time and energy has been in short supply. The book follows the adventures of English academic, Perry Makepiece (I love this name!) and his lawyer girlfriend Gail after they bump into a Russian criminal and millionaire, Dima, while enjoying a tennis holiday in Antigua. Perry and Gail become enmeshed in Dima's world and end up acting a go between for him with the British Intelligence Service as he tries to rustle up a deal that will put him and and his family safely in London away from his criminal cohorts. The book travels from the island of Antigua to London to Paris and to Switzerland - it is fast paced but at the same time it doesn't get lost in the movement - each character is developed and explored without rushing.

I have absolutely no idea if the events in le Carré's book could or would ever plausibly happen - and I don't care! This book had me riveted from start to finish and I am now on the lookout for more of le Carré's books - any suggestions gratefully received!

October 19, 2010

Space and Time...


When did life become so hectic and out of control???!!! I have been looking back over my blog posts for the past couple of months and have noticed them dwindling in number and energy. I find myself having less and less time to really sit down and become absorbed in my blog writing and reading - and I don't like it!

I have still been reading and have some reviews to come (hopefully soon) but I am finding that work and other "must do" tasks are taking up more and more of my time - and importantly, my energy.

I am always talking with my clients about their values and prioritising and helping them to create lives that are full of the things they really want to be in them - and not just things they think "should" play a part - I find it interesting that when it comes to myself I don't always adopt these same guiding principles!

Time for some changes I think...

October 11, 2010

Never Let Me Go - Kazuo Ishiguro


Kazuo Ishiguro has been a bit of a 'hit and miss' author for me - I absolutely loved The Remains of The Day but his latest book, Nocturnes really did nothing for me.

I know Jackie and Simon have both recently read and reviewed Never Let Me Go and I was interested in their reviews of this one but I am also really keen to see the movie when it comes out and I hate reading a book after I've seen the movie version which is the main reason I picked this book up now.

Never Let Me Go sets its premise but stating that it is about "a group of students growing up in a darkly skewed version of contemporary England". One of the students, Kathy H is relating her story and that of the students she grew up with at the age of 31 - coming to a turning point in her life as she prepares to move from the role of a carer, a role that she has held for the past 11 years. Terms such as "carer" take on a slightly different meaning in the world Ishiguro has created in this novel - there are other common place words and terms that become known in different ways throughout the book - this has the slightly unsettling effect of making you feel safe and comfortable with the world you are being led through - up until a point - then you realise that things are a little more concrete in the world in which Kathy H is telling us about.

I had a really hard time connecting with this book and the way in which it was being narrated. I realise this is probably the whole point given the setting, tone and purpose of the book but I couldn't relate to Kathy and the way in which she was telling her story. She was constantly going back to events in the past in a way which made me feel as though she wasn't present in the here and now - it all felt very forced. I did keep engaged enough to read this book quite quickly but I think part of that was me wanting to get to a stage where I felt something was happening now rather than in the past. That did eventually happen and the last section of the book was by far the best for me.

This book is definitely a "thinker" - I liked the fact that it has made me reflect on many social issues that are present and relevant for us in our society and communities today - I just didn't really enjoy or get much reading pleasure from the way the story was told which is a big part of reading for me.

October 09, 2010

Freedom - Jonathan Franzen


Before writing this entry for Franzen's new novel I went back to look at my reflections on his other novel, The Corrections , which I read two years ago as I wanted to try and work out which book I would say I "liked" the best. Unfortunately my thoughts from two years ago didn't really help me all that much when it came to which book I would rate above the other - I think it has only confused me further!

Freedom is a book gaining a lot of press and attention at the moment, Oprah has chosen it as her new Book Club selection and even Australian reviewers are slogging it constantly in their columns. At 562 pages it is certainly an epic novel in terms of size and the themes it covers could also be considered as overarching and wide spread.

The novel starts with an overview of the upper middle class suburban Berglund family - husband and wife, Walter and Patty and their two teenage children, Jessica and Joey - with the narrator stating; "There had always been something not quite right about the Berglunds".

After the initial plot building chapter where we learn that the Berglund families situation has gone off the rails somewhat we are taken back in time to Patty's childhood as she relates her story of growing up in Westchester County, New York - an sport talented outsider in her artistic and intellectual family. Patty tells the story of moving to Minnesota to attend College (a school chosen because it was far away from home and because she knew it would annoy her mother) and meeting serious, studious Walter and his best friend - lead singer in a burgeoning rock band, Richard Katz.

The relationships between these three characters, Patty, Walter and Richard is at the heart of this book and it is what propels the story forward - and makes it stagnate at times. The story is told from the perspectives of all three (with my favoured being Patty) which allows you to see the same event from the viewpoint of all of them - a technique I do tend to like.

I had a real love/hate relationship with this book - there were times (particularly at the beginning) where I was loving it and couldn't put it down but the very long middle section really dragged for me - and then the ending redeemed it again. I thought it was way too long and overly repetitive in places but I also can see how all of this narrative was needed to develop the ideas being put forward by the author so I'm not sure what the solution is there!

The idea of freedom and who has it and how it can be achieved is explored through all of the characters and there are many different ways in which freedom is portrayed throughout the story - personal and political. Ultimately I found that the idea of freedom may not really be something we have any control over - ironically enough!

It was a labour - not necessarily always of love - to get through this book but I feel happy to now be able to think about the story that has been put forward and get involved in a discussion about the latest Franzen.

October 03, 2010

Started Early, Took My Dog - Kate Atkinson


Kate Atkinson is an author I discovered quite late - so when I finally found her I went about reading almost everything of hers I could get my hands on - then I had to wait for what felt like ages for her new book, Started Early, Took My Dog, to be released.

Started Early, Took My Dog is Atkinson's latest book with ex-police officer, current private detective Jackson Brodie as one of the main characters. Each of these books could really be read exclusively in any order but I think you would miss out on so much of the back story and character development if you did this - reading these books "in order" would be the best way to go.

This latest story finds Brodie on the hunt in the UK for the true story and parentage of a woman now living with her own young family in New Zealand. It's a job he is not particularly keen on but in true Jackson Brodie style he finds himself in the midst of it anyway - along with some other complications and characters.

Brodie's story and work becomes intertwined with middle aged security chief (also an ex-police officer) Tracy Waterhouse who, finding herself with an almost unheard of opportunity in the middle of a shopping centre one day, takes the opportunity and changes the whole course of her life and the story to come. There is also Tilly, an elderly and flailing actress whose own story and memories give life and direction to the outcome of Started Early, Took My Dog.

Atkinson is a brilliant writer but I think her biggest talent is being able to weave and build a particular story (or stories) to breaking point in a way that just makes you want to keep reading and reading. Each character is full and rich but it is the way their stories combine that makes this a special read. My only sadness is that I will now have to wait an age for her next book to be released!

September 28, 2010

By Nightfall - Michael Cunningham


Spring has sprung in eastern Australia - a time I love because of the relief it brings from winter dreariness but a time I hate because it brings on my annual bout of hay fever and allergies which seems to go on and on and on... I typically lack all energy and enthusiasm during this time - even blogging has been a real effort unfortunately - and going outside is a dangerous activity so I have been diving into my reading as a way of comfort and escape - and thankfully finding some great books in the process.

By Nightfall, the new book by Michael Cunningham , has been one of those finds. I first discovered Cunningham through his amazing book The Hours earlier this year so I feel very blessed to be able to read a new work of his so soon after falling in literary love.

By Nightfall tells the story of Peter Harris, a middle-aged art dealer living in New York with his wife, Rebecca. For all intense purposes Peter's life appears to be travelling along quite well as the story begins, he certainly isn't as huge a player in the art world as he might like to be but he is making a comfortable living and enjoying a fairly up market lifestyle. His relationship with Rebecca may be lacking some spark after the twenty odd years they have been together but they have a comfortableness about them that seems safe and pleasantly happy - if occasionally resigned.

The story of Peter and Rebecca's present day life is interwoven with stories and reflections of their childhood and family life - all told from the perspective and focus of Peter. Peter is clearly smitten with Rebecca's bohemian and slightly eccentric upbringing - as compared with his dull, ritualised suburban childhood and he admits at one point that in marrying Rebecca he was in turn taking on her family - an act he wasn't at all unhappy about.

It is Rebecca's younger brother, Ethan, who come along to play a larger part in Peter's story. Ethan (or Mizzy as he is known - short for "mistake" - alluding to the fact that he was conceived 20 years after the then youngest child of the family had been born) has just returned from a soul-searching trip to Japan after his latest attempt to join middle class society had failed. It seems that in line with his name, Mizzy is constantly making mistakes (according to others) in terms of his life choices and unlike his siblings he has become trapped in a world of drug abuse and addiction and we learn that it isn't really a world that he wants to escape from - despite the protestations of his sisters and Peter.

It is through Mizzy's story and his actions that Peter starts to see his own life choices and plans reflected - and it is then that things start to take a turn - for better or worse??

I can't say that I fell in love with By Nightfall in the same way that I did with The Hours - but then, that was a very special and rare thing and it shouldn't take anything away from Cunningham's latest book which is a fantastically told story.

September 19, 2010

The Believers - Zoe Heller


The Believers is a book I have had on my shelf for a while now - I'm not even sure why I purchased it in the first place but it was what I pulled out when I was in a mood for a really good character driven book during the past week - it definitely hit the spot!

The novel focuses on the members of the New York living Litvinoff family - Matriarch and UK born and bred Audrey and her radical lawyer husband Joel and their three children, Karla, Rosa and Lenny. Each member of the family plays a very different role in terms of their own lives but also in terms of the dynamics and structures of the family unit and we see these roles played out after a significant event occurs soon after the beginning of the book.

I loved this book for many reasons but one of the main reasons would have to be the different types of strengths displayed by the main female characters. The Litvinoff daughters are struggling to try and find their own place in the world separate and distinct from the lifestyle and choices their strong willed and viewed parents have steered them towards. I enjoyed the real sense of struggle that was portrayed in these two characters especially.

The mother and wife of the Litvinoff family, Audrey, would have to be one of my favourite fictional characters ever! She is so horrible in so many ways - harsh, abrasive, rude and judgemental but I still lover her! She just seems so real and solid - she never wavers and I believed in her for that.

The male characters in the novel really seemed to take a back seat in the storyline - even though they were the basis for so many of the actions and choices made by the female characters the narrative seemed dominated and driven by the females to me.

If you are a lover of strong, character driven novels then I think you would really enjoy this book - it is a novel that made me think about the issues while at the same time it allowed me to get lost in the lives of the characters. I'm looking forward to reading more of Heller's novels.

September 15, 2010

Splurge!

It's been quite a while since I have taken a trip around The Book Depository website and had a little splurge so today I did just that! Here is what I will be keeping an eye out for at my front door:


Madame Bovary - Gustave Flaubert (translation by Lydia Davis) - this book looks just divine and I will hopefully have it in time to read along with Frances and others.

Coco Chanel - Justine Picardie - I have been waiting for the release of this one for what feels like the longest time!

The Fashion File - Janie Bryant - One of my most beloved obsessions at the moment (apart from reading) is the TV show Mad Men and everything associated with it - especially the fashion.

September 13, 2010

The Forgotten Garden - Kate Morton


The Forgotten Garden was the selection for my Book Club last month and I have to say that when I first heard it was the book we would be reading I wasn't all that excited. I had already read this book when it first came out after reading, and loving, the author's first book - The Shifting Fog (or The House at Riverton as it is named in the UK) and I was disappointed that I was going to be "forced" to read a book that I hadn't enjoyed all that much the first time all over again! I had initially felt let down by Morton's second novel - on my first reading I hadn't felt that The Forgotten Garden was as powerful or as original as The Shifting Fog - but my second reading has definitely redeemed the book in my eyes.

The Forgotten Garden (as does Morton's first book) moves between locations, time periods and characters. As the book starts we are introduced to Nell O'Connor who is living in the Australian city of Brisbane in 1930, about to turn 21 and marry her young sweetheart. On the night of her Birthday party her father tells her a secret that he has been keeping from her since she was a young girl - a secret that will eventually send Nell to the English countryside to discover the truth about her history.

Linked in with Nell's story is the story of her granddaughter, Cassandra who learns some of Nell's story after her death and then travels to England herself to track down more of the story and the story of a two young women who despite growing up in very different circumstances in the early 1900's England are intricately linked with each other and with Nell and Cassandra's story.

Ahh the links! They are really the crux of the success (or failure) of this story and for some reason I felt they worked better on the second reading for me - even though I knew how everything turned out in the end! The stories are woven together with themes of art, fairy tales, the essence of truth and connection and loss. It might have been a case of the right book at the right time for me on this occasion but I felt the themes and links worked well to produce a great story and an enjoyable read.

September 10, 2010

Room - Emma Donoghue


Room is a novel that has been receiving a lot of praise and interest lately - not least because it has been short listed for the 2010 Man Booker Prize.

The premise of the book is definitely intriguing - a 5 year old boy, Jack, and his mother (Ma) are imprisoned in a small room that measures eleven feet by eleven feet - it is the only world and life that Jack has ever known and his language and ideas demonstrate this;

We have a pretty busy morning, First we undo Pirate Ship that we made last week and turn it into Tank. Balloon is the driver, she used to be as big as Ma's head and pink and fat, now she's small like my fist only red and wrinkly. We only blow up one when it's the first of a month, so we can't make Balloon a sister till it's April. Ma plays with Tank too but not as long. She gets sick of things fast, it's from being an adult.

Monday is laundry day, we get into Bath with socks, underwears, my gray pants that ketchup squirted on, the sheets and dish towels, and we squish all the dirt out. Ma hots Thermostat way up for the drying, she pulls Clothes Horse out from beside Door and stands him open and I tell him to be strong.

Donoghue has done an amazing job of creating and portraying Jack's voice and his world - I believed in the existence of this child and his narrow view of what the world is.

The book is unbelievably powerful and affecting - how could it not be when it is written so well? I was captured by it but at the same time annoyed by it! I believed in Jack's voice and his story but it was actually Ma that I wanted to hear more from - maybe because I am an adult with no children of my own it was the adult voice that I wanted to hear more of in the story?? The book certainly does focus on the experiences of Ma too - but is always through Jack's eyes, voice and language. This certainly doesn't take away from the brilliance of the book - I guess my reading focus just wanted the other side of the story more so I felt a little frustrated that this did not come through. Having said that though this is really my only (very personal and selfish!) critique of the book - it is an amazing story that is deserving of all the positive attention it has been receiving.

September 07, 2010

Trespass - Rose Tremain


I feel so lucky in my reading choices lately - virtually every book I have been picking up I have been connecting with straight away and just loving (it has been difficult to put the books down and keep turning up for work each day really!). I largely have to thank the Man Booker Prize 2010 long list for my reading success of late as most of my reading has been coming from this selection with the latest fantastic read being Trespass by Rose Tremain.

Trespass is set mainly in the Cérvennes region of Southern France (not an area I have ever been to physically but through Tremain's brilliant descriptions I certainly feel as though I have been there, at least in spirit, now).

Aramon Lunel is a lonely alcoholic man who is haunted by the deeds and memories of his past life and is looking to sell his family farmhouse and land - the Mas Lunel. Aramon's sister, Audren lives in a small bungalow on a piece of the family land given to her by her father when he died and she is devastated and terrified by the thought of the property being sold into a strangers hands.

The possible stranger in question is Anthony Verey, a wealthy English man who is trying to escape some failures in his life in London by moving to France to be closer to his beloved sister, Veronica or "V". Anthony is staying with V and her partner Kitty - who makes little secret of the fact that she can't stand Anthony (and in particular the focus he takes away from her in the eyes of Veronica) and it is in this context that Anthony starts to look for his own property and comes to the Mas Lunel through a real estate agent.

The two brother and sister combinations in the novel are explored through their past and current relationships with each other and their parents - particularly their mothers. The idea of trespass is explored through the many different ways in which a trespass can occur - against a person, their body, their land, their ideas, their relationships and their future - I thought the weaving of the title and the theme of trespass was woven so well throughout the whole book.

This novel was above all else for me a wonderful story of characters and how the choices they make - and the choices that are made for them - can affect their whole lives. I was brought into the story from the very beginning but I did not see just how complex and interwoven the story would become at that time. I thought that the book was clever, shocking and absorbing and I was sad to finish it - I am definitely on the lookout for more Rose Tremain books now - any suggestions for where to go next?

September 04, 2010

Melbourne Memories

It seems like so long ago now but it was only a couple of weeks ago that my partner and I spent a beautiful long weekend in wintry Melbourne.
There were of course books purchased;
February by Lisa Moore (long listed for the 2010 Man Booker Prize), A Moleskine book journal which I just couldn't resist even though I haven't ever really kept a hand written log of my reading - I would like to begin and No and Me by Delphine De Vigan which has recently been named as a book in the upcoming Richard and Judy Bookclub - not something I knew when I purchased the book.
There was also art viewed. We managed to get to the Tim Burton exhibition at the ACMI at Federation Square which was definitely more something that my partner enjoyed but I could certainly appreciate the talent and imagination that comes from Burton. We also went to the European Masters exhibition at the NGV of which my two favourite paintings were Henri Rousseau's The Avenue in the Park of Saint-Cloud c. 1908 and Monet's Houses on the bank of the River Zean 1871.
There was much food and tea and coffee consumed! The Tea Room at the NGV was visited...
and dinner was eaten at the Jamie Oliver Fifteen restaurant in the city...

and after all that there was still room for cupcakes!

September 02, 2010

The Slap - Christos Tsiolikas


The Slap has already won a stack of prizes and awards and most recently was named on the Man Booker Prize Long List for 2010. The book has also generated a lot of discussion amongst Australian readers, bloggers and literary critics and some of my close friends have read the book and have had very strong views on it - but despite all of this I still hadn't read The Slap myself. I've changed all that now though and I am so glad!

The Slap literally starts with a slap. A group of friends and family are gathered in a Melbourne suburban backyard for a BBQ, a children's game of cricket turns feisty and one of the adults slaps a young child who is not his own. From this action we continue to follow the group as they return to their own homes and carry on with their lives.

The book is told in the voices of different characters in alternate chapters and I felt this was a great narrative technique for this book as it helped us see the event at the BBQ from the viewpoint of different players such as the "slapper" himself, the child's mother, the family whose house the BBQ took place at etc...

This book is so rich in detail and characterisation - I felt each character in this book could have been fleshed out even further and had a book devoted just to them. The suburban world is created fully and I felt as though I could walk down the street the next day and run into any of these characters - they felt that alive and real.

The story itself was brilliant - such a simple concept in many ways but it is so complex in the thoughts, views, opinions and emotions it raises in the characters - and readers. This is a book that stayed with me even when I wasn't reading it - and it has definitely stayed with me now that I have finished it. For me, The Slap deserves all of the praise that has come its way - I can't wait to read more from this author.

August 30, 2010

Starter For Ten - David Nicholls


Starter For Ten was recommended to me by Jackie after I had read and really enjoyed the author's latest book, One Day, earlier this year.

Starter For Ten is again set during the 1980's - obviously a time in history that the author has a great affinity for - and focuses on Brian Jackson who has just moved out of home for the first time after finishing high school and starting university. The book covers all those coming of age moments that occur when we start to become adults and yet still cling to many of our childhood friends, habits and comforts. The difference with this book is that the writing is incredibly funny and moving - making a great combination of laugh out loud moments and reflective periods when I could really empathise with Brian and the humiliations and conflicts he was going through.

This is an author I am really glad to have discovered.