March 31, 2010

BookBath Turns Two - Present Time!

Today is BookBath's second Birthday!

I know it might not seem like such a big Birthday but I feel there are definitely reasons to celebrate. When I started blogging two years ago I really did not have many expectations for where I wanted my blog to go or what I really wanted to get out of the experience - it was simply a spot for me to record my thoughts and impressions about the books I was reading and to celebrate my favourite hobby.

Now I feel that my blog offers me a creative outlet in my life - something I was crying out for but didn't even know it! BookBath has also allowed me to connect with a wonderful worldwide book blogging community - I feel like I have made some amazing 'book buddies' through this experience.

So, as a small way of saying thank you to you all (but in particular one of you!) I would like to offer my very first book giveaway. I will send a copy of one of my favourite reads so far this year - The Legacy by Kirsten Tranter which I reviewed here to one lucky person. This offer is open to anyone anywhere in the world! You just need to leave a comment to this post telling me what has been your favourite read of 2010 so far (so that I can add to my ever growing TBR pile!). Please include your email address in the comment too.

I will randomly draw a winner on Saturday 10th April.

March 30, 2010

Mad Men - Series Two

I have written about my obsession with the show Mad Men before. The third series of the show has recently started on Australian pay tv but I am a little behind the times as I have just finished watching series two on DVD - I binged on the whole series over three nights while my partner was in Sydney for work last week so that I could start to catch up.
The show oozes charm and style, the costumes and sets are gorgeous and refined and the characters and the script are sharp. New York in the 1960's is definitely a time I would like to visit (if I'm truly honest just for the clothes and the cocktails!) but I am realistic enough to know that my role as a woman in that society would most likely have been restricted to the role of housewife or secretary - neither of them roles I would enjoy or excel at I fear.
My favourite character and actress in the series is Christina Hendricks who plays feisty Joan - a woman with definite power in series one but I have found it interesting the direction in which her character has been taken in this second series - I feel some of the power has been lost - to a man none the less. It will be interesting to see where this heads in series three.

March 28, 2010

Garden Spells - Sarah Addison Allen

We are supposed to be at the beginning of autumn in Australia at the moment but we have been experiencing some gorgeous summer weather instead so I took the opportunity to take my first book for the Once Upon A Time Challenge, Garden Spells, out into our garden this weekend.

Garden Spells in set in a small US town, Bascom, North Carolina where the community is clearly divided into types of families. The Waverley family is known as the "strange" family of the town - they have a weird apple tree in their back garden that produces fruit that when eaten brings on visions, they use the flowers in their garden to create food that enables spells to be performed on the individual who eats it and they have a "crazy" cousin who is compelled to give strange gifts to people in the town.

The two adult Waverley sisters, Claire and Sydney couldn't be more different on the surface. Claire has stayed on in Bascom to create a thriving business - haunted by an early unstable childhood before her sister was born and Sydney has recently returned to Bascom with her young daughter in an attempt to escape a violent relationship. The book focuses on the sister's attempts to heal their damaged relationship as well as the creation of other relationships in their lives.

I really felt that this book was not much more than a "sweet" story. I found the stereotypical descriptions of the different families and individual characters frustrating and predictable. Surprisingly enough it was actually the "fantasy" or magical elements of the story that I was able to get board with easily - it was a shame the human elements didn't uphold their part of the story. I'm not put off by the genre as a whole though - I'm keen to read more - I just need to look in a slightly different direction I think.

March 24, 2010

Inside The Whale - Jennie Rooney

I have had Inside The Whale on my shelves for a while now - it even travelled over to the UK and France with us on our trip last year - but I had not yet got around to reading it. I ended up lending it to my best friend who read it quickly and said that I had to read it - soon! I took her advice and actually finished the book today in virtually one sitting - it is a beautiful, and a beautifully told, novel.

The novel is told from the alternate perspectives of the two main characters, Stevie (Stephanie) and Michael as they meet just prior to the start of WW2 and then as their lives progress through the war years and into adulthood and old age. The author plays with the narrative - moving backwards and forwards in time so that we actually "meet" Michael for the first time as an elderly man in a hospital bed whereas Stevie starts telling her story as an adolescent on the day that war is declared in 1939. This technique works perfectly for this story - a linear progression would not have been as effective - the story is not that simple. Each character has a clear and distinctive voice and story - they both fill the reader in on their childhood's and their histories - the decisions and actions taken both by themselves and others that have led them to each separate stage in their stories. The reader can see both Stevie and Michael as individuals and then there is a third character - their relationship which develops genuinely.

I loved this book - it has left me feeling and wanting more and yet at the same time it was just right - perfectly satisfying, sad and honest.

March 23, 2010

A Real Challenge For Me...

I have thought about this for a few days and I have decided to jump into the Once Upon A Time Challenge being hosted, as always, by Stainless Steel Droppings. I have thought long and hard about participating in this challenge partly because one of my reading plans this year was not to over commit myself to challenges but the main reason is that the fantasy and fantasy related genres are not usually my thing - at all! My partner reads almost exclusively in this area so I will have no shortage of options around me but I really do feel like stretching my reading a little at the moment and one of the best ways I have found of doing this is by participating in reading challenges or read alongs. The group atmosphere and levels of support with these blogging activities always encourages me.

I have decided to join the challenge at the Quest The First Level which requires you to read at least 5 books from any or all of the fantasy, folklore, fairy tale or mythology genres and the challenge runs from March 21st until June 20th.

Now on to my (possible) reading list:

I realise these might not seem like very brave choices to true fantasy readers but I don't want to scare myself off!

Any suggestions for my fifth book??

March 21, 2010

Ransom - David Malouf

Ransom by Australian author David Malouf is a re-telling of the epic story, The Iliad. As you can tell from the photo above I do own a beautiful copy of The Iliad which I bought quite a while ago now after deciding to participate in my own classics reading challenge inspired by the book Classics by Jane Gleeson-White. Needless to say my challenge sort of fell by the wayside - which is why I was glad that I came across Ransom - a book to make the classic it is based on more accessible I thought.
Malouf's telling of the original story of Troy is moving, compassionate and interesting - it has a modern twist in terms of the storytelling style but I think it still plants the reader firmly in the world in which it is based. I really enjoyed it - it was quick to read and yet there was nothing superficial or fluffy about it at all. I am now wondering if I should give the original Iliad a go??? What do people think? Has anyone read The Iliad and lived to tell the tale?

March 18, 2010

Shades Of Grey - Jasper Fforde

I am a huge fan of Fforde's Thursday Next series but I was not so sure about diving into his latest release, Shades Of Grey. I admit that the Thursday Next series really hooked me with it's references to books and literature and after reading the summary of Shades Of Grey I thought it might be a little too "out there" for my tastes. I have to say now that I have finished the book I am glad that I took the risk and dove in.

In Shades Of Grey Fforde has created a world based on our own (loosely!) but where the hierarchy of the community is based on their vision and what types, and amounts, of different colours they can see. The main character of the book, Eddie Russett, is classified as a Red - not as high up as a Purple but definitely not as low down as the Grey's who are unable to see colour in any great detail.

As I was reading this one I felt there were a lot of similarities with the latest Margaret Atwood books I have read, Oryx and Crake and The Year of the Flood. All books take elements from our current world but project them into a future that has twisted and turned. I felt Fforde offered a lot more humour in his vision than Atwood though!

The first half of the book just flew by for me - I was really enjoying how Fforde was introducing and explaining the world he had created and there was so much to take in and process about how the community was structured. The middle section got a little bogged down I thought but the ending redeemed the book and has left the way wide open for the next two planned books in the series. Overall I really enjoyed this one - a great humorous read but also a very insightful commentary and reflection on our own current community and the way in which we "rate" and prejudice people and groups in society.

March 17, 2010

The Hours - Michael Cunningham

Just when I thought a book would never come along to topple Mrs Dalloway off it's perch for me I find The Hours. I know it is probably sacrilegious to list an emulation of a Woolf classic as higher than the classic itself - but I did fall completely in love with Cunningham's writing, his version of the story and his amazing creative talent in bringing the stories and character's together.

Cunningham takes Woolf's Mrs Dalloway and creates a modern interpretation of the novel by telling the stories of three female characters; Clarissa who lives in 1990's New York is in the midst of planning for a party to take place at her apartment that night, Laura Brown a young housewife and mother suffocating in the existence of 1940's suburban Los Angeles and Virginia Woolf herself, also living in the suburbs ,as a tonic for her health, and who is in the process of writing Mrs Dalloway.

Each chapter of the book is told from the perspective of each character in her own voice - and the voices are clear and distinct and yet in many ways containing a similar essence. The women are separated by time and place and yet they share common dreams and pains - the desire to be free, to be loved for who they are and to make their own choices. Cunningham uses simple, every day tasks and events to illustrate the inner worlds of the characters. I thought some of the most effective and painful parts of the narrative were the scenes where Laura is going through the process of making a cake for her husband's Birthday party;

Still she had hoped to create something finer, something more significant, than what she's produced, even with its smooth surface and its centered message. She wants (she admits to herself) a dream of a cake manifested as an actual cake; a cake invested with an undeniable and profound sense of comfort, of bounty. She wants to have baked a cake that banishes sorrow, even if only for a little while. She wants to have produced something marvelous; something that would be marvelous even to those who do not love her.

She has failed. She wishes she didn't mind. Something, she thinks, is wrong with her.

I felt such connection with these characters, Laura in particular even though she is probably the one I have the least in common with in life (apart from her desire to just escape her life for a while and read her beloved book in bed!).

I was so sad when this book ended - partly because of the pain it had touched on in each of the characters but mostly because I just wanted to keep reading more about them. I am definitely glad that I waited to read The Hours until after I had read Mrs Dalloway - the book would stand alone perfectly but it has so much more meaning for being able to connect it to Woolf's writing. I will be reading this one again, and again and possibly even again.

March 14, 2010

Alice in Wonderland - Movie

My partner and I spent an afternoon in a jam packed cinema this weekend watching the new Alice In Wonderland movie. I have to firstly confess that I don't think I have actually read the books all the way through - I am certainly familiar with the stories but as for having sat down and read the book - that is something I am going to have to go back and do now!

The movie was certainly an adventure but I can't say that it met all of my expectations - not that this is necessarily a bad thing. I was thinking the movie's PG rating would mean it was a bit of a let down content wise but I actually think a lot of the movie would have been lost on younger children and thinking of the primary school aged children in my life my main thoughts were that they would have been bored through a lot of it. We saw the movie in all of it's 3D glory (this is only the second feature film I have seen in this way - the first being Avatar) and I do think this format adds some magic to the experience (if also an awful headache from wearing those ghastly glasses!).

The young Australian actress playing Alice, Mia Wasikowska, was divine - I thought she brought the right combination of innocence, confusion and fiestyness to the role and I also thought she helped to create a real feminist message to the role, and the movie in a way. Johnny Depp was, as expected, clever and wacky as The Hatter and he has made me want to throw a tea party in the not too distant future! The costuming (always one of the highlights to a movie for me) was gorgeous and innovative. All in all a satisfying movie experience - now to move on to the book.

March 12, 2010

Major Pettigrew's Last Stand - Helen Simonson

I am going to set the tone of my review from the start by declaring Major Pettigrew's Last Stand as my favourite read of 2010 so far, totally delightful is the term that jumped into my mind as soon as I had finished reading the book this afternoon and I have to admit that I then went into a period of mourning wondering what book I was going to pick up next that would come close to my experience of reading this one.

Major Ernest Pettigrew is a 68 year old widower living in the English village of Edgecombe St. Mary and as the novel starts he has just received news of the sudden and unexpected death of his younger brother, Bertie. It is at this time that the local shopkeeper, Mrs Jasmina Ali, also widowed, knocks on the Major's front door to collect his weekly paper money. This chance meeting at such a time of emotional vulnerability and need sets these two wonderful characters on the road to developing a relationship - although all does not go smoothly of course. The Major and Mrs Ali find snippets of time to be with each other to share their mutual love of good tea and good literature and they also find themselves brought together, quite unintentionally, by the organising of the annual golf club dance. The prejudices of the local community as well as their own family and friends erects barriers to their feelings for one another and the progression of their relationship and the conflicts these scenes bring to the novel only strengthen it as a whole.

I almost didn't pick this book up thinking it would be too light and fluffy with little substance - I couldn't have been more wrong. The writing, in particular the characterisation is strong and honest - and extremely funny in many places. The Major himself is a wonderful character with much to love - there are some resemblances to Alexander McCall Smith in both the content and characters of this book but I have to say that I think Simonson has out McCall Smithed McCall Smith! Simonson keeps her eye on the main storyline but there are plenty of other sub-plots to keep the reader interested and I felt that the author brought it altogether at the end (even if the last few scenes were a little needlessly dramatic - I was prepared to forgive almost anything by that stage!). This is a book I could go back and read again tomorrow and not be bored - beautiful!

March 11, 2010

The Painter From Shanghai - Jennifer Cody Epstein

The Painter From Shanghai is a book that was chosen by a new book club/group I have been invited to join by one of my best friends and her sister-in-law. It's been a while since I have been a part of a book club and I am looking forward to having an arena to discuss literature face-to-face again but I think my favourite part of belonging to a book club (just as in being a part of the book blogging community) is discovering books that otherwise might have completely passed me by.

The Painter From Shanghai is one such book. I had definitely heard of it and seen it's gorgeous cover before but nothing really jumped out to say "read me". The book is a fictional biography of the Chinese painter Pan Yuliang who came to prominence with her daring and creative work (especially her nude portraits of women) in the early twentieth century. The author's website displays some of Pan Yuliang's work and also goes into the story about how she came to write about the artist which I found set the tone for my reading of the book beautifully. The book covers Pan Yuliang's early life and childhood and the turning point in her young life when she is sold to a brothel by her uncle. The early parts of the book are painful to read but they also clearly demonstrate Yuliang's strong spirit and even the early development of her artistic talent.

The relationships Yuliang becomes connected in and with during her life are fleshed out - particularly her relationships with men - both the ones she is forced into and the ones that she chooses. The economic and political times of both China and the western world are inter weaved into the book with ease and the author always makes you feel informed without going into too much detail that would detract from the main focus of the book.

I loved the narrative flow of the book and the way that Yuliang's own voice is developed and strengthened throughout the novel in conjunction with her painting skills. A beautiful book that has made me want to seek out more of this artist's work.

March 09, 2010

Time Off For Reading

I am having some minor surgery tomorrow and after that I will have a few days off work to recuperate where I will not really be able to do much but read (a chore for some but not me!). I have gazed over what is currently on my TBR pile and along with what I am currently reading I have picked out the above selections for possible good reads over this time - absorbing but maybe not too intense??

The White Garden - Stephanie Barron - Continuing on with my all things Woolf reading obsession as the moment!

Major Pettigrew's Last Stand - Helen Simonson - This one sounds like such a beautiful read and I have heard lots of good things about it already.

The Hours - Michael Cunningham - See my point from the first book!

The Swan Thieves - Elizabeth Kostova - I have not read the author's first novel but the subject matter of this one does sound interesting to me.

What do people think? Have I made good selections? Are there other books you have read and loved recently that you might suggest?

March 08, 2010

Writing, Workshops & Revelations

As many of you know I spent one day this week attending a writing workshop with one of my new favourite authors, Kirsten Tranter whose first novel, The Legacy was a big hit with me when I read it a few weeks ago.

During the first part of the workshop Kirsten spoke about the process of obtaining a literary agent and sending in submissions of your work to agents for review. Kirsten's mother is actually quite a successful literary agent in Australia and Kirsten has worked for her agency reading and reviewing manuscripts in the past so it would be obvious to think that she had a significant leg up in the publishing world but it was interesting to hear her talk about her own process of finding an agent and how she did not automatically go to her mother. I found hearing about the whole publishing process really interesting and it led to a revelation for me - as others in the class were asking about how they could get themselves and their writing accepted by an agent I just found myself wanting to hear more about the selection, editing and publishing process. I realised I am much more of a reader than a writer! This felt like such a liberation to me! I do love writing but I realised I do not have a deep desire or life time goal to have a book or piece of writing published as many others in the workshop did. I realised I do want my next career to be in the book industry though and I am planning to do further study to pursue this goal next year - I just have to decide what course to do now...

Kirsten spent time talking openly about her process of writing The Legacy and I found this really interesting too. The Legacy is an interpretation of The Portrait of a Lady by Henry James, a book I had read long ago in my university days but am now very keen to re-read. Kirsten also spoke about some of her favourite authors such as Kate Atkinson and John Banville and their writing techniques that she finds effective and engaging.

Overall I found the workshop interesting, informative and inspiring - exactly what you want a workshop to be!

March 06, 2010

Vanessa & Virginia - Susan Sellers

Following on from the Woolf In Winter Read Along I am keen to keep reading Woolf's novels and any other Woolf related fiction, biography etc.. That's why I jumped at the chance to read the latest selection from The Not The TV Book Group's reading schedule - Vanessa & Virginia being discussed this weekend over at Other Stories.

Vanessa & Virginia is a fictional account of the lives of the sisters Vanessa Bell and Virginia Woolf and it captures the period from their childhood up until adulthood and Virginia's death. I think having a vague understanding of knowledge of the background to the sister's lives was helpful in reading and enjoying this book but certainly not essential. I think the author has created a beautiful stand alone story of the lives of two sisters - loving companions but also rivals in their creative and personal lives. The fact that the story focuses on two such famous and interesting people is a bonus for me!

Susan Sellers' writing style and descriptions are divine - from the beginning of the story I was hooked and I had entered the world of the characters completely. I find this an amazing skill that some writers have - to make me care about what is happening within the story - to care about the outcome. I thought it was particularly clever in this situation when the story and the lives of the characters are so well known to many.

I could open any page of this novel and quote a beautiful, lyrical passage - I found the way the author paralleled her writing style with the creative pursuits of Vanessa and Virginia wonderful;

The frame of a window, blue paint blistering in the Mediterranean sun. I am arrested, dazzled by colour, the cascading searlet of a pot of hibiscus, the glaring whitewash of a wall. It is as if the colours, first separately, then collectively, strike a series of notes that sets up a resonating chord in me. I am impelled to paint it.

An amazing book in both content and structure and one that has only made me want to continue my Woolf reading even further.