December 31, 2008

2008 - The Best of The Best

I have managed to read 73 books in total this year - I'm pretty happy with that but admit I would like to do even more reading in 2009 if possible. I find I am having less and less time to read so I will have to look into that!
When going through my list to find my best reads of 2008 I was keeping note of quite a few books but I am going to be brutal and just list my top five reads of this year.

1. The Book Thief - Markus Zusak
This book just simply blew my mind when I read it early in the year - I raved about it to everyone I met. In some ways such a simple premise (having 'death' as the narrator of the story) but the setting, characters and storyline combine to make this book incredible and moving. I rarely cry when reading books but this one had me sobbing. That's not to say it is all doom, gloom and tragedy - there is a lot of hope written throughout this story. Easily my best read of 2008.

2. Unaccustomed Earth - Jhumpa Lahiri
When I read this book in August I claimed that I had found a new favourite author and I'm going to stand by that claim now. I was not a short story reader at all before discovering Lahiri's work but I sure am now. These stories are so simple and yet amazing at the same time. If you haven't read this one I suggest you do!

3. A Room With A View - E.M. Forster
I read this book for the Classics Challenge (which I unfortunately didn't finish in time but that's another story!). I had seen movie versions of the book before but this was my first time actually reading the story - and I absolutely loved it. I am an E.M. Forster convert now and am currently reading Howards End.

4. The Hour I First Believed - Wally Lamb
It had been a long wait for a new Wally Lamb book so, the truth be told, I was probably going to have this on my list no matter what it was like! Having said that though, this book was an epic, fantastic read.

5. Case Histories - Kate Atkinson
The book that brought me back to the crime genre - an area I hadn't really read in since my high school days. Kate Atkinson's writing is so absorbing - I found myself not being able to put this one down until I had reached the end - and then I just wanted more!

So, there it is - my top 5 reads of 2008. I keep looking over my list and seeing so many wonderful books that have missed out - maybe I should have done a top 10...

December 27, 2008

When Will There Be Good News? - Kate Atkinson

I think the discovery of Kate Atkinson has been one of my greatest reading discoveries this year. When Will There Be Good News? was my third book of hers read this year and I loved it just as much as the other 2 books in the Jackson Brodie "series".

The description of the book from the author's website:

In rural Devon, six-year-old Joanna Mason witnesses an appalling crime. Thirty years later the man convicted of the crime is released from prison. In Edinburgh, sixteen-year-old Reggie works as a nanny for a G.P. But Dr Hunter has gone missing and Reggie seems to be the only person who is worried.Across town, Detective Chief Inspector Louise Monroe is also looking for a missing person, unaware that hurtling towards her is an old friend -- Jackson Brodie -- himself on a journey that becomes fatally interrupted.

I am not usually a crime reading type of gal - this is an area I am now working in to some degree so I like to take my reading for fun away from this subject - but I am loving Kate Atkinson's novels. Her writing is funny, sharp and sarcastic (all traits I possibly see in myself at times!). For whatever reason I find myself connecting with the characters and the story lines. I'm only hoping there is more Jackson Brodie to come...

December 25, 2008

Happy Christmas!

Happy Christmas everyone!

We had a lovely Christmas day and everyone was extremely spoilt! I actually didn't receive all that many bookish presents apart from the new Anita Shreve book, Testimony, from my parents.

My favourite present came from my boy - a gorgeous Royal Albert collectable tea cup and saucer set (I collect tea cups and love having tea parties and pretending I live in the early 1900's!).

Hope everyone's day was peaceful and happy.

December 20, 2008

Weekend Book Buying

To celebrate my Birthday my partner took me away for a beautiful weekend in Sydney - staying in gorgeous accommodation in the city, partaking in High Tea and a fancy dinner, a trip to the art gallery and of course - book shopping!

I actually didn't spend up too big but did come away with some purchases;

The Annotated Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen - ever since I knew this book was available I having been looking forward to reading it. Pride and Prejudice isn't even my favourite Jane Austen but I think it will be interesting to read this version.

I Was Told There'd Be Cake By Sloane Crosley - this is a book I've heard about in the blogging world a bit and it sounds like my type of humour so thought I might appreciate it.

How To Live Like An Italian by Annalisa Coppolaro - in keeping with my love of all things Italian I had to pick this book up. A bit of a cheesy cover but I'm hoping the content will be better!

December 17, 2008

Turning 34

Tomorrow is my 34th Birthday - and I'm not dreading it!

Ever since I was a young age I dreaded the 30's - turning 30 was a big step for me but I do seem to have survived it intact - and now I am even looking forward to being 34 - the almost mid 30's!

I think it is true what many people say about being in your 30's - you do feel (generally) more confidant and sure of who you are and what you want - and that's a pretty nice feeling!

So, I think I will truly celebrate tomorrow - not just the fact that it is my Birthday but also my age. 34 and happy about it!

December 14, 2008

The Tales of Beedle The Bard - J.K. Rowling

There was never any doubt that I was going to be buying The Tales of Beedle The Bard the day it came out. I have been a huge Harry Potter fan since the early days (although love the earlier books a lot more than the later ones in the series).

I was quite surprised when I saw The Tales of Beedle The Bard - it's only a small book, 108 pages in all with large print. I think I had been waiting so long for the book I was expecting more!

The book consists of 5 fairytales or parables about behaviour and what can happen to you if you are selfish, rude and heartless. I finished the book in one sitting last night and when I put the book down my partner asked me if it had been a good book - my answer was that it was "cute" - not sure if that is the effect J.K. Rowling was after but there you go! I can't say that the book rocked my socks off but I did enjoy it as another small piece of the Harry Potter world.

December 11, 2008

After Dark - Haruki Murakami AND Challenge Completed!

After Dark by Haruki Murakami was the last book I needed to read to complete the Orbis Terrarum Challenge - yay me!

My friend over at Thyme for Tea has also read this one and recommended it to me. This book is definitely a different reading choice for me - I tend to stay grounded very firmly in the "real" world - not reading very much fantasy/science fiction type novels and certainly not branching out into surreal worlds such as the one where Murakami takes you in this novel. Having said that, I didn't actually find reading this book such a struggle in the end - the writing is conversational and easy to follow (even if the plot wanders a little).

The main story in After Dark seems to be the relationship between two sisters, Mari and Eri. Mari is spending the night in the city - she claims she is not tired and we find out that she has reasons for not wanting to return home that night. Eri is Mari's older and more beautiful sister, she has been in a deep, sleeping beauty like sleep for two months now and Mari fears that Eri does not want to ever wake up.

Other characters enter the worlds of Mari and Eri throughout the story, probably the most likeable being the musician and budding law student, Takahashi who supports Mari at various stages throughout the long night and encourages her to talk about herself.

This book is surreal - TV's coming on for no particular reason, the narrator being able to swap views seemingly at will - but I actually didn't find it all that far removed from reality at the end - I was able to focus on the human emotion without getting caught up in the surreal elements, or at least not letting them distract me too much. I'm not sure if that is how you are supposed to read a Murakami book but it allowed me to enjoy the novel so I guess it can't be a bad thing!

December 08, 2008

Magazines can be helpful!

As well as my addiction to books I also have a growing addiction to magazines - can't get enough of them! Now that we have a local Borders store my addiction for the latest UK and American magazines can be met.

A recent purchase was the latest edition of the O at Home magazine which contains an article written by the author Ann Patchett titled "One Woman's Work". Ann writes about the battle to sustain your creative endeavours when also required to take on board the role of wife and house cleaner. This is a constant theme for me in my life - not that I'm a wife and nor do I consider myself much of a housecleaner! But I guess I'm really just really focusing on the "chores'' and duties of everyday life and how they can begin to take over - if you let them.

Ann writes;

While I had nothing but respect for homemakers, I knew I was never going to be one. Sure, I aced home ec, but it was Bellow and Roth I had really fallen for. As soon as chores were done, I would throw myself across my neatly made bed and read. I planned to follow in the footsteps of Jane Austen and Eudora Welty and Flannery O'Connor - no children, no husband.

The article is really inspiring and interesting to read as Ann Patchett seems to have found a way to reconcile the different requirements of her life;

When I was a child, I had a strong idea of what a writer looked like (a lonely garret in Paris, a neatly mended cardigan) and what a housewife looked like (a blur of helpful activity). But seeing as how both images are born of useless cliches, I think it's time I stopped trying to live up to either one of them.

Sounds like good advice to me - although I still rather like the sound of that lonely garret in Paris...

December 07, 2008

The White Tiger - Aravind Adiga

The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga (the winner of the 2008 Man Booker Prize) was my second last book for the Orbis Terrarum Challenge which ends on the 20th December.

I was so glad after finishing this book that I decided to read it as my India selection for the challenge - a great book!

The White Tiger tells the story of Indian man, Balram Halwai - well, it is actually Balram who is the narrator of his own story - a conversational technique that makes the book so engaging. Balram becomes known as The White Tiger when, as a school boy, his village school is visited by a local school inspector. The inspector is poorly disappointed in the majority of the students at the school but Balram impresses and the inspector tells him he is like a white tiger - rare and special. Balram takes this message to heart and in an extremely difficult and hostile environment he moves from village resident to driver for a wealthy business man in Delhi.

This book engages the reader in Balram's story and his life - I was acutely aware at times that we were clearly being presented with only one side of the story but I think as opposed to taking away from the story this style only made it stronger.

The White Tiger is a brilliantly narrated and engaging story - looking forward to more from this author.

December 05, 2008

The Fairy Godmother Meme

I saw this meme over at Charlotte's Web and it was first developed by Aphra Behn - looks like a fun thing to think about given the gift giving and receiving season is about to be upon us!

What good gift did your Fairy Godmother actually give you?
I would have to say persistence - I tend to keep going and going until I get what I want (or what I need).
What good gift do you wish she’d given you instead?
I'd like to hold on to the persistence but I wish I also had a little patience.
What bad gift did the wicked Fairy give you?
The gift of procrastination - I have this one in droves so I feel like some others are probably missing out - I've taken their allocation!
What bad gift do you wish she’d given you?
Selfishness - or at the very least the ability to say no more often.
And finally: if you could have one magical item, what would it be?
Definitely a magic wand!

December 04, 2008

A Room With A View - E. M. Forster

I have started A Room With A View several times and have never finished it before but for some reason on this reading of it I didn't even want it to end I was enjoying it so much! I think that says a lot for reading the right book at the right time and in the right circumstances.

A Room With A View was my third book read for the Classics Challenge, I had recently watched a 2007 TV production of the novel and I absolutely loved it - much more than the Merchant Ivory film that came out a while ago - and I think this prompted me to pick up the book again.

The book tells the story of Lucy Honeychurch, a young English woman on her first trip to Italy with her obsessive and suffocating cousin, Charlotte. Whilst staying at a Pensione in Florence Lucy and Charlotte become acquainted with several other tourists, among them a Mr Emerson and his son, George.

The scenes of the book that are set in Italy are just beautiful;

From her feet the ground sloped sharply into the view, and violets ran down in rivulets and streams and cataracts, irrigating the hillside with blude, eddying round the tree stems, colecting into pools in the hollows, covering the grass with spots of azure foam

And the room with the view itself;

It was pleasant to wake up in Florence, to open the eyes upon a bright bare room, with a floor of red tiles which look clean though they are not; with a painted ceiling whereon pink griffins and blue amorini sport in a forest of yellow violins and bassoons. It was pleasant, too, to fling wide the windows, pinching the fingers in unfamiliar fastenings, to lean out into the sunshine with beautiful hills and trees and marble churches opposite, and, close below, the Arno, gurgling against the embankment of the road.

After the trip to Italy Lucy returns home to England and becomes engaged to a man whom everyone approves of but who nobody likes, even though her affections are clearly still with another.

A Room With A View is a beautiful, funny and engaging story - I'm so glad I took the time to get through it this time as it has now become one of my favourite books.

Book Lust

I was browsing through the bookshop this afternoon and found this gorgeous new book by Tessa Kiros - Venezia: Food and Dreams. Given my love of all things Italy I think this might have to be a book I buy as an early birthday present to myself - too gorgeous to resist!

December 02, 2008

Be Near Me - Andrew O'Hagan

Be Near Me was a book I was reading by Scottish author, Andrew O'Hagan, for the Orbis Terrarum Challenge.

I had first heard Andrew O'Hagan speak on one of our national radio stations and apart from being totally mesmerised by his gorgeous Scottish accent I was also drawn in to how passionately he spoke about books and writing.

Be Near Me tells the story of Father David Anderton, an English priest who has moved to a small Scottish town to work in the parish there. The story moves back and forth between the present day and David's early life growing up with his parents, his university days at Oxford and his early life in the priesthood in Rome. In present day David is clearly a lonely and disconnected man which leaves him open to building a tenuous relationship with some local high school children who in their own ways are feeling disconnected from their families and their lives. This growing friendship forms the basis for what happens in the latter parts of the story and the flashback scenes to David's past help inform us in seeing how David got to this stage of his life.

I did not find this an easy book to read in terms of the structure - it did come together at the end and all made sense but I struggled with seeing the author's path at times. Having said that, this writing is beautiful and strong - it is probably not a book that hits you with it's impact straight away (well, not for me anyway) but I know I will be thinking about it's style and content for a while to come. I will also be on the look out for more Andrew O'Hagan novels.

December 01, 2008

Challenge Progress

I have two challenges due to be completed by the end of December and I must admit I am starting to wonder if I am going to make it! I only have myself to blame - I keep getting side tracked by other books!
The first challenge due to finish is the Orbis Terrarum Challenge. This is the first challenge I signed up for after I started writing in the blogging world and I have really enjoyed it. I still have 3 books to finish before the challenge ends on December 20th. I am half way through The Mandarins by Simone De Beauvoir (France) and Be Near Me by Andrew O'Hagan (Scotland). I will probably finish Be Near Me in the next day or so but I have been reading The Mandarins for a while now and although it's really interesting I'm finding it hard going at the same time. The last book on my list for this challenge is A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth. This is a book I have had on my shelf and have been meaning to read for a while now but as it is over 1000 pages of quite small print I don't think I have any chance of completing it and doing it justice for this challenge!
I would like to read something from India for my last book for this challenge though - I was thinking maybe The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga - what do people think? Any other suggestions for me?
The other challenge I am participating in that is due to finish this month is The Classics Challenge. I really wanted to participate in this challenge to, ironically, challenge and expand on my reading in this genre. I have read two books so far, Small Island by Andrea Levy and Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte, which means I still have 4 books to read for this one!
Does anyone have some "quick" classic reads they can recommend? I really want to finish these challenges - I hate the idea of not completing a challenge!

November 30, 2008

Loving Frank - Nancy Horan

Loving Frank was a book I had seen in bookshops and had been drawn to - partly because of it's stunning front cover, a beautiful depiction of a stained glass light designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. I then had a recommendation from Nutmeg who was reading the book for her bookclub and really enjoying it so I decided to go ahead and pick it up.

Loving Frank tells the story of the love affair and relationship between Frank Lloyd Wright, renowned American architect of the early 1900's and Mamah (pronounced May-Mah) Borthwick Cheney, a feminist scholar. Both Frank and Mamah were married at the time of their meeting - Frank was hired to design a house for Mamah and her husband, Edwin.

This novel is a fictionalised account of the story but Nancy Horan has used many sources in putting together her account of this story (a list of which she provides at the end of the book). The voices in the novel come through strongly - I had some rough ideas of the course of the real story before reading this novel but I have to admit that most of my knowledge centered around Frank Lloyd Wright - I knew he had had an affair and a long term relationship with a married woman whilst he himself was still married but I had never known anything about the identity of this woman and her place in the world. I think it is fantastic that Nancy Horan has chosen to centre this story not only on the relationship between Frank and Mamah but she has also given Mamah her own strong voice and story.

It was very interesting to have read this novel just after finishing Gift From The Sea by Anne Morrow Lindbergh. In Loving Frank a major focus of the story is the battle Mamah goes through, both with herself and people close to her, about the need for her to establish her own identity and profession separate from the men in her life and her children. For the time in which Mamah lived (the early 1900's) this was seen as quite a radical idea to pursue and one that Mamah was quite clearly punished by society for.

Loving Frank is a wonderfully written and expressed novel - definitely recommended.

November 26, 2008

Gift From The Sea - Anne Morrow Lindbergh

I had never heard of Gift From The Sea before until I read about it in a book I read earlier in the year, The Piazzas of Florence, where the author quoted from it frequently.
Gift From The Sea is a gorgeous little book, first published in 1955 I think a lot of it's main messages remain relevant to women today. The book is basically a reflective piece of writing by the author or what it means (for her) to be a woman in "today's" society - the difficulties of finding a balance between work and home life, finding time for the different roles that encapsulate who we are but also finding time for ourselves to just be. I was taken aback by how much this book spoke to me in the present day when I realised that it had been written over 50 years ago!

The author talks about how rare it is to be able to find time to ourselves and how undervalued this time actually is:

If one sets aside time for a business appointment, a trip to the hairdresser, a social engagement, or a shopping expedition, that time is accepted as inviolable. But if one says: I cannot come because that is my hour to be alone, one is considered rude, egotistical or strange

This message is accompanied by one that demonstrates just how full we make our lives:

The space is scribbled on; the time has been filled. There are so few empty pages in my engagement pad, or empty hours in the day, or empty rooms in my life in which to stand alone and find myself. Too many activities, and people, and things. Too many worthy activities, valuable things and interesting people. For it is not merely the trivial which clutters our lives but the important as well.

I don't feel that the author necessarily talks about solutions for these issues but the read is a thought provoking one.

One Good Turn - Kate Atkinson

After finishing Case Histories I was very keen to read more of Kate Atkinson's books - and other people were also recommending this plan. One Good Turn was not a disappointment. I don't know what it is about this author's writing but she seems to be able to take the most mundane circumstances, events or even people and make them seem extremely interesting!

I'm not usually a murder-mystery reader but I loved this story of inter-woven plots and characters. A blurb from the author's website:

It is summer, it is the Edinburgh Festival. People queuing for a lunchtime show witness a road-rage incident — a near-homicidal attack which changes the lives of everyone involved: the wife of an unscrupulous property developer, a crime writer, a washed-up comedian. Jackson Brodie, ex-army, ex-police, ex-private detective, is also an innocent bystander — until he becomes a murder suspect.

One Good Turn sees the return of Jackson Brodie, the character we first meet in Case Histories. I have to say I didn't bond with Jackson as a character quite as well in this book - he seemed to just be in the way a lot of the time, but the new characters more than make up for this. I highly recommend these books - especially this one for the twist at the end which I did not see coming at all.

November 23, 2008

The Hour I First Believed - Wally Lamb

The Hour I First Believed by Wally Lamb is simply an amazing book - my best read of 2008 without a doubt. I read (i.e. devoured) the 740 page novel within a week and after finishing it I immediately wanted to go back to the beginning and start all over again!

Wally Lamb is am amazing story teller - the level of empathy he creates in and demonstrates through his characters is at such an incredible level that I am expecting to run into these characters in my local street - they feel that real and alive.

The Hour I First Believed covers some huge social and political events in American (and indeed, global) history and contemporary society, the American Civil War, the Korean War, the Columbine High School shootings, 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina to name a few.

The principle character in the novel is school teacher Caelum Quirk - an engaging and humanely flawed character dealing with not only his own personal and family history but also with the direct, immediate and long term impacts of the Columbine High School shootings on himself and his wife Maureen. Whilst Caelum was not present at the school on the day of the shootings Maureen (the school nurse) was and she was a direct witness to the violence inflicted on her students and colleagues. Whilst Caelum and Maureen are fictional characters Lamb does also write about real life people who were involved in this tragedy and names the students and teacher who were injured or killed.

The story follows the short and long term impact of this violent event on both Maureen and Caelum - how they deal with it as individuals and as a couple. As a social worker who has worked with and supported people following involvement in a violent or traumatic incident I was greatly impressed by the construction of trauma presented by Lamb and the holistic way in which it can impact on individuals, couples, families and communities, long after the trauma has occured.

The novel contains much more than just this main storyline - Caelum's family history takes on a much more central role in the second part of the book and it provides a view into how hidden trauma can impact on an individual's identity.

The novel is full of unique symbolism and metaphor - the role of butterflies and the praying mantis in particular - but to fully appreciate Lamb's techniques I will need to read this one again - the story had me too captivated the first time around!

If I am being completely honest and unbiased I would have to say that the second half of the novel probably didn't flow as well as the first half, but having said that, once I had finished the book I could see where the overlap and connections lay.

A brilliant read!

November 19, 2008

Weekend Away

We are having a much longed for weekend away in the vineyards this weekend to celebrate my dad's 60th Birthday. I'm sure some reading will also get done amongst the drinking and tasting!

Despite what I said in my earlier posts I just couldn't resist the new Wally Lamb book and I have now almost finished The Hour I First Believed. I will post my review of this one after the weekend but can I just say before then - totally amazing reading experience, one of the most powerful reads ever for me. I hope the ending doesn't let me down!!

Now I need to think about a book (or two) to take away for the weekend... I am thinking of taking One Good Turn by Kate Atkinson, just picked it up at the library this week after loving Case Histories and hearing several of you recommend this one. Or I could take along Past Imperfect by Julian Fellowes, another library find which will be a different read for me I think.

Happy weekend reading everyone!

November 15, 2008

Case Histories - Kate Atkinson

Case Histories by Kate Atkinson is my second book completed for the New Classics Challenge and my first Kate Atkinson book read. I am really enjoying the New Classics Challenge because it is getting me to read books I have seen before and thought about adding to my "to be read" pile but for some reason or another they have just never quite made it into the actually being read pile.

Case Histories is a book about a series of seemingly unconnected stories, or cases, that are eventually connected in one way or another through the common link of a Police Detective turned Private Investigator, Jackson Brodie. I really don't know how to talk more about the plot without giving too much away except to say that the book is fantastic, one of those can't put down until you finish types. The separate stories are all told in such a way that you feel immediately connected to the people in them - you want to know how things turn out for these people and how Brodie can sort out his own life as well as those of his clients.

Definitely a classic story (or collection of stories) from my perspective.

November 13, 2008

Lighter, Brighter Reading

Even though I have been discovering and reading some fantastic books lately I have begun to notice a theme emerging - all the books seem to have death, destruction, trauma and grief contained within them. Now I have nothing against these sorts of books, I read a lot of them and enjoy books that don't skirt around reality but I'm feeling it's time for a little change - something a little lighter and brighter perhaps!

I purchased Wally Lamb's new book The Hour I First Believed last night and although he is one of my all time favourite authors and I have been waiting for this book to arrive for what seems like forever, I'm just not sure I can take on the subject matter at the moment.

So, I have also purchased The Friday Night Knitting Club by Kate Jacobs and I am thinking this book might be the one to take my reading focus to a lighter area - am I correct??

November 10, 2008

Man in the Dark - Paul Auster

I have not read any of Paul Auster's novels before but if they are written anything like Man in the Dark I think I will have to pick some of them up.

I've finished this short novel (180 pages) in two sittings and although I am left wanting more - more of the characters not necessarily the story - I am by no means disappointed.

Man in the Dark is told from the perspective of 72 year old August Brill, an American man currently living with his daughter Miriam and granddaughter Katya after a serious car accident in which one of his legs was shattered. The household is submerged in grief - August's wife, Sonia died just over a year ago, Miriam is still coming to terms with her divorce from Kayta's father and Katya's boyfriend, Titus has been murdered - the details of which become clear at the end of the book.

The book is told over the course of one sleepless night - in order to stop his mind from turning to personal tragedies and painful memories August (a retired book critic) tells himself a fictionalised story of a man by the name of Owen Brick, a magician who finds himself caught up in an America in the midst of civil war in present day times. The premise of the story is that the events of 9/11 have not happened and instead of going to war with Iraq America turned on itself after the 2000 presidential election. An interesting premise indeed!

An emotive, intriguing and absorbing novel - highly recommended.

In The Woods - Tana French

In The Woods by Tana French is not really the type of book I read anymore - gruesome, psychological thrillers with dead bodies detailed throughout - but I had read such good things about this book in the blogging world I just had to give it a go.

I'm really glad I did - even if I have had a few very strange and chaotic dreamy sleeps over the past few days!

The description of the book from the author's website

As dusk approaches a small Dublin suburb in the summer of 1984, mothers begin to call their children home. But on this warm evening, three children do not return from the dark and silent woods. When the police arrive, they find only one of the children, gripping a tree trunk in terror, wearing blood-filled shoes, and unable to recall a single detail of the previous hours.
Twenty years later, the found boy, Rob Ryan, is a detective on the Dublin Murder Squad and keeps his past a secret. But when a twelve-year-old girl is found murdered in the same woods, he and Detective Cassie Maddox – his partner and closest friend – find themselves investigating a case with chilling links to that long-ago disappearance. Now, with only snippets of buried memories to guide him, Rob has the chance to unravel both the mystery of the case before him and that of his own shadowy past.

This book was engaging to the point of distraction and while I found the ending a little disappointing I am really looking forward to dipping into Tana French's new book - The Likeness - I'm just going to wait for a time in my life when I don't need to rely on such good quality sleep!

November 08, 2008

Weekend Reading

I will admit to watching quite a bit of trashy TV this weekend but in amongst all of that brain drain I have been doing some reading as well.

Looking back on my reading choice for this weekend I think I might have a valid reason for watching endless re-runs of "Will and Grace" and "Sex and The City". I have been reading In The Woods by Tana French - a psychological thriller of the highest order! I hadn't heard of this book or author before reading about it in the blogging world but it seemed to be getting a lot of praise so I picked it up from my library last week. I have not been disappointed. The writing is tight and yet quite lyrical for this genre of novel (at least to my recollection). I used to read this type of book a lot in my teenage years but as an adult I have tended to steer away from them - I think my area of work has had a lot to do with this decision. In The Woods is actually quite confronting to me at the moment as I am about to begin work in a forensic mortuary/medicine service in a little over a months time - but I just can't stop reading this book - it's just too good!

So, I have obviously needed the trashy TV as a little light relief - good to keep a bit of balance in one's life I think!

November 05, 2008

First Ever Blogging Award!

I was very excited today to meet a new blogging friend from Australia and to receive my very first ever blogging award! Awards are always exciting so thank you very much Suzie from Munch+Nibble.

Along with the award comes a meme;

7 things I did before

1. Played the organ and guitar (not well!)

2. Worked as a nanny

3. Drank vodka, lime and sodas

4. Bottle fed lambs

5. Rode a push bike

6. Write

7. Read

7 things I do now

1. Read

2. Pilates

3. Teach

4. Travel

5. Drink Pinot Grigio

6. Drive a car

7. Dream...

7 things I want to do

1. Travel around Italy in a Fiat

2. Live in Bath

3. Meet Jane Austen

4. Read

5. Write

6. Read some more

7. Live happily ever after

7 things that attract me to the opposite sex

1. Sense of humour

2. Genuineness

3. Loyalty

4. Intelligence

5. Gorgeous hands

6. Strength

7. The ability to laugh at themselves

7 Favorite Foods

1. Mashed Potato

2. Peaches

3. Strawberries

4. Chocolate

5. Pasta

6. Oysters

7. Watermelon

7 things I Say Most Often

1. A word I probably shouldn't print here

2. Seriously

3. Sure!

4. No worries

5. Love you

6. Ewok

7. Can I go home now?

And now the seven people I would like to tag for this award and meme:

1. Tamara at Thyme for Tea - the most creative person I know

2. Jill at Under The Dresser for her always funny and entertaining blogging

3. Iliana at Bookgirl's Nightstand for her creative book blogging and making

4. Andi from Tripping Toward Lucidity for her creative thinking and writing

5. Tanabata from In Spring it is The Dawn for her glorious photos

6. Nutmeg at Another Nutter for her thought provoking blogging

7. Bethany at Ex Libris for her many and varied posts that always get me thinking

November 04, 2008

Suggestions Anyone?

I am searching for the perfect read - not the perfect book (if one of those even exists) but just the perfect read for me right now. Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated!

As I have written earlier, I have struggled a little since finishing American Wife which I thought was brilliant - it's been a while since a book made me stay up way past my bedtime to finish it like that.

I'm looking for a book with strong characterisation - don't really care about plot all that much - and it has to be a real page turner with some depth to it - something to draw me in and keep me there.

Ideas anyone??

November 02, 2008

Small Island - Andrea Levy

Small Island by Andrea Levy is a book I was reading for both the Classics and Orbis Terrarum Challenges. In regards to the Classics Challenge the book had been put forward as a future or "should be" classic and I completely agree.

The book is set in the time period just before, during and after WW2 predominately in England and Jamaica and there are 4 main interwoven and connected characters that tell the story from their perspectives.

Queenie Bligh is an English women living in London at the time of WW2, taking care of her fragile father-in-law while her husband, Bernard is in India for the war.

Gilbert Joseph is a Jamaican man who has fought as a member of the British RAF during the war and is now trying to establish a life for himself in London.

Hortense Roberts is Gilbert's new wife, a Jamaican woman with a teachers education behind her, joining Gilbert in London and Bernard Bligh, Queenie's husband.

The book is structured in a way that allows each character to tell their story of certain events in their own voice - each chapter is headed by the name of one of the 4 main characters. The book moves back and forth between the present and the past which allows for a beautiful building of the story.

This story is, on the surface, clearly about the extensive and overt racism that was perpetrated against black people by the English during this time period. Some of the scenes in the book are brutal and (I am sure) very realistic -depicting the harsh, senseless and ignorant beliefs of a whole community against another simply because of the colour of their skin.

As well as race relations the book also tells the story of relations between genders at this particular time in history and it is interesting to see some of the choices made, particularly by the women characters, in relation to marriage, relationships and work.

There are many other levels to this story however, the connections and relationships that are built between people in a time of trauma and pain and the ways in which relationships can be broken down, or simply revealed for what they really are.

I was completely absorbed in this book - I think it is a must read for every person and most definitely a classic.

November 01, 2008

Weekend Reading

I have been in a real reading mood this weekend - unfortunately life and other plans haven't really enabled that mood to be satisfied!

I must admit that we did have pay TV installed on Friday afternoon so that has probably eaten into a little more of my time than is healthy - oh well, I'm sure the novelty will wear off soon! I can't blame it all on the TV though - I've had a few family commitments this weekend which although necessary and important have taken me away from a new book I have become really interested in.

I started reading Small Island By Andrea Levy on Friday and I am really hooked. This is one of my books for Trish's Classics Challenge and I put it on my list mainly because I had heard it was one of those books that should be considered a classic and "should" be read. I don't usually follow the "shoulds" but I can definitely see where this one came from. Fantastic writing, great characterisation and deep issues being dealt with - looking forward to getting back to it...

October 30, 2008

Nice to Come Home To - Rebecca Flowers

This week has been pretty full on work wise so I needed a book to get me through that wouldn't take up too much energy or brain power - Nice to Come Home To provided just that.

I guess this is what you would call "Chick Lit" although I hate using that term - sounds so derogatory and trivial when in fact, some of the best books I have ever read would have been classified in this genre (Marian Keyes earlier books come to mind).

Nice to Come Home To is really all about 36 year old Pru Whistler and the drama that has become her work and love life. When the book opens she has just lost her job and her boyfriend (not that I think this last loss is particularly tragic given the boyfriend in question) and Pru is now doing the whole "Where is my life going" reflection.

I have to admit I really didn't like Pru to begin with - I found her whiny and annoying - but I am glad I persisted with her story - she grew on me after a while.

Not an amazing work of fiction in my view but a great quick, fun story to get you through a busy week.

October 25, 2008

Life in Seven Mistakes - Susan Johnson

I have been in a bit of a reading ditch since finishing American Wife - I was so captivated by that book and the author's writing style that everything I have tried to pick up since has not been able to grab my attention at all.

Thankfully I remembered Life in Seven Mistakes the latest novel by Susan Johnson which I had bought a while ago but had forgotten I had (see, there can be a positive side to buying too many books!). I have previously read The Broken Book by the same author which I really loved and which had led me to buy Life in Seven Mistakes without even really knowing what it was about - that's how good The Broken Book was.

It turns out that Life in Seven Mistakes is a very different book - in both style and subject matter - but they still share a few similarities.

Life in Seven Mistakes tells the story of the Barton family - a quite financially well-off wealthy middle-class Australian family. The novel swaps between the present time where the family have gathered at the Gold Coast apartment of their parents for Christmas and back to the past where we read about the formation of the family from the meeting of the parents, Nancy and Bob.

Nancy and Bob meet after the end of WW2 in Sydney, they marry and have 3 children, Elizabeth, Robert and Nick. As in all families, there are some tensions and grievances - past and present and these all play out at the Christmas gathering in obvious and subtle ways.

The characters are richly drawn - sometimes so much so that you really find yourself connecting with their stories. The book reminded me of the book The Children by Charlotte Wood which I read last year in that they both cover very similar themes, family tension and love - although I would say that The Children is by far the darker of the two books. Both fantastic reads though.

October 22, 2008

Northanger Abbey - Jane Austen

I absolutely love Jane Austen's Northanger Abbey - love, love, love it! I will admit that a fair bit of my affection comes from the fact that quite a lot of the novel is set in Bath, one of my favourite places in the world.

So, when AustenProse started the Go Gothic reading month of Northanger Abbey I was in! Any excuse to re-read a Jane Austen novel and to travel to Bath through fiction, particularly as I was actually in Bath a little over 12 months ago myself and I have been mourning the anniversary of my time there - wishing I was there again right now.

I do love Northanger Abbey for other reasons apart from the setting. I really like the heroine, Catherine Morland. For a start I can truly relate to a young girl obsessed by the world of books - particularly novels - I love reading about her immersion in the world of her reading and how sometimes this carries over (a little too far!) into her reality. I probably do exactly the same thing a lot of the time and I'm not 17 anymore!

I also love that there are characters to strongly dislike in Northanger Abbey too, John and Isabella Sharpe and Captain Tilney (although my strongest dislike is reserved for Isabella - what a horrid, horrid girl!).

My favourite Jane Austen novel after Persuasion (also set partly in Bath....).

October 21, 2008

American Wife - Curtis Sittenfeld

I am not sure exactly what drew me to American Wife - I had previously tried to read one of Curtis Sittenfeld's earlier books, Prep, but I just could not get into it at all. American Wife was the exact opposite - in fact, I stayed up very late last night just to get it finished - I had to know!!

American Wife is drawn from the life story of the current first lady, Laura Bush, a woman I must admit I knew virtually nothing about before starting this fictionalised account of her life (I have since toured Wikipedia to learn more!). I actually didn't realise that the book was based on Laura Bush when I started to read and I am glad about that because I probably wouldn't have even started the book if I had known that - which would have been a huge shame. My political leanings are very far from the American Republican party (Go Obama!) and I think I might have steered away from the book because of that. But, as the author portrays, the fictionalised first lady in the novel also shares some concerns about her husband's political leanings and decisions.

This book is simply wonderfully written - a real character story which is something I love.

I could absolutely love a book even if it was set in one room and contained one scene for the entire novel as long as the characters are expressive and reflective and true - does this make sense?

That's not to say that American Wife is not also full of story and plot - it is, but I think the characters - particularly that of Alice Lindgren/Blackwell are so expressive and moving that you want to stay on the ride just for them and their experiences.

If you want to read an amazing story read this book!

I now need to go and find something new to read that will keep me just as engaged. Any ideas greatly appreciated...

October 17, 2008

The Book of Lost Things - John Connolly

The Book of Lost Things was a book I had heard and read a lot about - I wasn't sure if it was really going to be my cup of tea but everything I was reading about it sounded fantastic so I decided to give it a go - and I'm so glad I did.

The book starts of in "our" world which is actually England at the beginning of WW2. We learn about a boy called David;

Once upon a time - for that is how all stories should begin - there was a boy who lost his mother.

David is a 12 year old boy with a great love for books and stories. He lives in London with his mother and father and life is great - until his mother dies after a slow and painful illness. The voice of David as he tells the story of the life and death of his mother is poignant and innocent. As his mother is dying David starts to engage in various rituals and routines in the hope that this will save his mother;

He created a routine, and he tried to keep to that routine as closely as possible, because he believed in part that his mother's fate was linked to the actions he performed. He would always get out of bed by putting his left foot on the floor first, then his right. He always counted up to twenty when he was brushing his teeth, and he always stopped when the count was completed.

Of course, these routines do not stop David's mother from dying and he is left devastated by her loss - turning to the beloved stories that they shared when his mother was alive for comfort and protection from his grief. David's father eventually takes another partner, Rose, and David and his father go to live with Rose on the outer edges of London when his baby half-brother, Georgie, is born.

David does not feel connected to his new life or his new family at all - he grieves for the loss of his mother and his life. It is then that David begins to hear his books whispering and speaking to him - talking to him of other lands and stories that sound much more inviting than his own.

Through the actions of a German air raid David comes upon the opportunity to pass through to another land through the sunken garden at the bottom of his yard. This new land is filled with demons, beasts and challenges for David - as well as protectors and friends.

I saw this story as a metaphor for a journey through grief and loss for David - he has to take the hard, painful way through to find some acceptance of his life as it currently is.

This is a beautiful, haunting (and at times scary!) story which I loved - highly recommended.

October 12, 2008

Looking into the Future...

I'm always a little wary of the "self-help" array of books. That's not to say that I haven't found some really helpful and useful ones - I've just also seen some very dodgy ones!

I found this recent purchase in a small gift shop in one of my town's popular cafe streets and thought it might come in handy given I have been doing a lot of thinking about where my life is heading at the moment. Any instruction and advice willing to be received at this point in time!

5 is one of those books that is set to become a classic. It's the kind of book that comes with exciting possibilities and fresh starts. A books that rouses you to map out your course and set your own coordinates.
Each year life offers itself to us in an endless number of ways. Each moment comes to us with both hands filled with gifts, marvels, opportunities and adventures, but we seldom see or accept more than a tiny fraction of the exciting possibilities around us. The truth is, most of us are so busy doing what we think we have to do that we never get around to doing what we really want to do.
This book celebrates the "want to's," the "choose to's" and the "I can't wait to's" in your life. Whether you're just finishing school, starting a new venture, celebrating a milestone or envisioning your retirement, you are the hero of this story.This is your life, your one-and-only life. You determine what's possible. Make choices, ask questions, take steps... today is the day.

Sounds interesting!

October 11, 2008

Holly Would Dream - Karen Quinn

As I have written about before my week of planned holidays was turned upside down and inside out by job interviews and applications etc... Can't be helped but it has been disappointing.

However, my boy and I did manage to get away to Sydney for a couple of days and indulge in some eating, drinking, sight-seeing and book buying! This trip at least made me feel like I had been able to have some sort of a break before work starts in earnest again tomorrow.

In the holiday spirit one of the books I purchased made me dream of venturing further than Sydney for a much needed break. Holly Would Dream by Karen Quinn grabbed my attention with it's cover depicting a very Audrey Hepburn like character and a back cover description talking about:

The sparkling Mediterranean and the eternal city of Rome as the backdrop, this romantic fashion caper starring the calamity-prone Holly is filled with intrigue, comedy and plot twists galore.

Sounds like my perfect holiday ending read! And it turned out to be pretty close to this. I finished reading the book in less than a day and feel immensely satisfied.

Holly Would Dream focuses on the character of Holly Ross, an extremely likeable, if frustrating at times, fashion historian working for a museum in New York. Of course when the novel begins Holly is in a bit of a mess, a complete loser for a fiance, a mega-witch for a boss and a promised career promotion going to someone else. In the vein of an Audrey Hepburn movie the heroine does work things out in the end - via a luxury cruise around Turkey, Greece and finally Italy (why don't all of my disasters involve solutions like this??!!).

I really loved this book, yes it was predicatable but it was cute and sweet - if you love Audrey Hepburn movies such as Roman Holiday and Sabrina I'm pretty sure you would enjoy this book as well.

October 07, 2008

The Wishing Year - Noelle Oxenhandler

I'm not really sure what made me pick up The Wishing Year but whatever it was - I wish I hadn't listened to it!

The book outlines a year in the life of the author where she is actively wishing for certain things/feelings to come into her life, namely, a boyfriend/lover, a healed soul and a house of her own.

Now I can get on board with these wishes - they all sound quite reasonable and realistic to me - but I now know I really don't need to hear all about this wishing process from another person - mainly because it is boring and self-absorbing. I guess I should have expected this in this type of book but for some reason I expected so much more.

Not my cup of tea. I have heard this book compared to Eat, Pray, Love which I have listed to read in one of my challenges - can people tell me what they think if they have read either of these. I might have to bump Eat, Pray, Love off my challenge list.

The Heretic's Daughter - Kathleen Kent

The Heretic's Daughter will have to be rated one of my best reads of 2008 - it probably would have been number one if I had not read The Book Thief this year also.

This book just had me mesmerised and hooked from the very beginning. The writing is simply stunning - what I would give for a gift like this! And although the story is captivating it never feels like the telling is being rushed - you arrive at the ending just when you need to get there and not a moment before.

The Heretic's Daughter tells the story of the Salem witch hunts of the 1690's from the perspective of the Carrier family and in particular the eldest daughter of the family, Sarah. The author is actually a descendent of this particular family and she grew up hearing the stories of her strong female relatives who were persecuted by the intolerant, fearful and ignorant religious community of the time. This family connection might possibly be what helps this story come to life - you certainly feel as though the author has a stake in the telling of this story.

The voice of Sarah is extremely strong and, to me, rings very true - you feel for this young girl, her passions, her weaknesses and her fears. I think this is what makes the book and the narrative so strong - for me at least - you want to hear what Sarah has to say about her and her family's experiences.

An absolutely stunning book - I can't recommend it highly enough.

October 05, 2008

One Fifth Avenue - Candace Bushnell

I have not read any of Candace Bushnell's books before although I am a huge fan of the TV Show, Sex and the City which was orginally based on one of her books. New York is also a place I would love to visit one day so I thought One Fifth Avenue would be a book I would most likely enjoy - and I did!

There are plenty of characters to keep you occupied and interested and each character is written distinctly and with a certain style and presence so I was always clear about what was happening to who and when which is something I sometimes struggle with when there are a lot of characters in a book.

A description of the book from Amazon:

From one of the most consistently astute and engaging social commentators of our day comes another look at the tough and tender women of New York City--this time, through the lens of where they live.
One Fifth Avenue, the Art Deco beauty towering over one of Manhattan's oldest and most historically hip neighborhoods, is a one-of-a-kind address, the sort of building you have to earn your way into--one way or another. For the women in Candace Bushnell's new novel, One Fifth Avenue, this edifice is essential to the lives they've carefully established--or hope to establish. From the hedge fund king's wife to the aging gossip columnist to the free-spirited actress (a recent refugee from L.A.), each person's game plan for a rich life comes together under the soaring roof of this landmark building.
Acutely observed and mercilessly witty, One Fifth Avenue is a modern-day story of old and new money, that same combustible mix that Edith Wharton mastered in her novels about New York's Gilded Age and F. Scott Fitzgerald illuminated in his Jazz Age tales. Many decades later, Bushnell's New Yorkers suffer the same passions as those fictional Manhattanites from eras past: They thirst for power, for social prominence, and for marriages that are successful--at least to the public eye. But Bushnell is an original, and One Fifth Avenue is so fresh that it reads as if sexual politics, real estate theft, and fortunes lost in a day have never happened before.
From Sex and the City through four successive novels, Bushnell has revealed a gift for tapping into the zeitgeist of any New York minute and, as one critic put it, staying uncannily "just the slightest bit ahead of the curve." And with each book, she has deepened her range, but with a light touch that makes her complex literary accomplishments look easy. Her stories progress so nimbly and ring so true that it can seem as if anyone might write them--when, in fact, no one writes novels quite like Candace Bushnell. Fortunately for us, with One Fifth Avenue, she has done it again.

The book was witty and sharply written - there were characters to hate, characters to feel sorry for and characters to relate to. Can't say that I particularly loved any of them but I loved the pacing of the story and the wrtiting. The ending was a little neat and disapointing but I can forgive that when the rest of the read was so enjoyable.

My Amalfi Coast - Amanda Tabberer

My Amalfi Coast By Amanda Tabberer is a stunningly presented book - it would look gorgeous on any coffee table but I do have to agree with one local reviewer who was disappointed that the book has been produced in this format as it would have made a great guide book to take on a trip to the Amalfi Coast - as it is, it's coffee book size and weight would unfortunately not allow for that.

Having said that, this is still a wonderful book for any person infatuated with the Italian culture, food, language and custom. Amanda Tabberer starts the book with a general overview of her time in Italy, and more specifically the Amalfi Coast and Positano. She talks about her work (mainly in the area of fashion but she also spends time working as a waitress in a popular local restaurant owned by her partner's family), her love affair and partnership with an Amalfi Coast local and the birth of her son, Marco.

The bulk of the book however is spent detailing the towns along the Amalfi Coast and what they have to offer the traveller and tourist as well as the locals. The book is filled with gorgeous photos which only enhance the feeling of wanting to book a plane ticket to Italy pronto!

October 04, 2008

Holidays on Hold

Some mixed news in our household over the past few days. I found out that I have an interview for a job I applied for not so long ago - which is great - but the day of the interview is smack bang in the middle of our planned holiday to the coast - which is most definitely not so great as we have now had to cancel our holiday. I didn't realise how much I was looking forward to this holiday until it was taken away!

So, I have spent the last couple of days mourning my holiday and generally being down in the dumps - but I have decided to snap out of that! I still get a week of time with my boy and we are now planning some day trips away so that we can still have some fun and give me time to prepare for my interview. It's not all bad!

And, I can still do plenty of reading!

October 01, 2008

Go Gothic!

I've decided to join in the Go Gothic - Northanger Abbey reading month being hosted by Austenprose. Even though I have read Northanger Abbey a few times it is definitely one of my favourite Jane Austen novels - maybe even my second favourite after Persuasion. The reading month was originally going to involve reading The Mysteries of Udolpho by Ann Radcliffe (the book that Catherine Moorland is reading in Northanger Abbey) as well but it was apparently taken off the agenda due to a month not really being enough time to take in both books. I have The Mysteries of Udolpho down for one of my reading challenges so I will try and start it soon anyway - might be the perfect time being inspired by Northanger Abbey and Catherine!

The Lieutenant - Kate Grenville

I became a huge Kate Grenville fan after reading The Secret River last year so I was very keen to read The Lieutenant when it was recently released - and I was not disappointed.

Both books focus on a similar time period and geographic area - the late 1700's and early 1800's in Sydney, Australia after the invasion of the land by the British. The topic area of both books is also very similar - the impact of the invasion of the land by white man on the Indigenous Australian's and also on the British invaders.

The Lieutenant in the book is Daniel Rooke, an extremely intelligent and sensitive man - not someone really cut out for the British armed forces in this, or any, time period. Rooke travels to the colony of New South Wales as a soldier but also a novice astronomer with a goal of recording the celestial events in the new land. Once in New South Wales Rooke isolates himself from the main camp and begins to build tentative relationships with some of the Indigenous people, in particular a girl by the name of Tagaran. This relationship and the dialouge between the two really is the core of the book.

I loved this seemingly simple but powerful book - even though this is a fictionalised account based on the life of a real person, William Dawes, I think it can still possibly inform us of some of the events and feelings of this traumatic and often violent part of this countries past - obviously still from the perspective of a white person which needs to be taken into account in our reading of this book.

September 30, 2008

The Independence of Miss Mary Bennet - Colleen McCullough

I finished The Independence of Miss Mary Bennet last night and I'm still not really sure what to make of it.

Definitely a page turner - I have not read any of Colleen McCullough's books before (probably not something a book loving Australian should admit to) so I have nothing of hers to compare the writing or style of this book to. I did have to stop comparing the book to a Jane Austen novel though because that comparison was getting me nowhere!

The premise of the book is that we now get to follow the story of Miss Mary Bennet, 20 years after the end of Pride and Prejudice. The book still however follows the stories of the other Bennet sisters and their illustrious parents and associates. I'm not even completely convinced that Mary Bennet was the focus of the story - and definitely not the Mary Bennet of Jane Austen's story!

The book follows what I thought was a really strange storyline for a "traditional" Austen sequel - kidnappings by religious sects and murder just to name a couple of examples. But maybe that is just the point - McCullough was trying to take the story beyond the traditional.

As I said before - I was completely hooked into this book and finished it quickly - but I had to suspend my belief about this being an Austen story with her traditional characters in order to do so. I would think that Jane Austen purists might have a real problem with this one!