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.