April 30, 2009

To Read or Not To Read...

I am in a quandary - I purchased a copy of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies last night for my partner - he thinks the whole concept is hilarious and he can't wait to read it. But my problem is - should I read it or not??

There has been so much talk about this book in the blogging world - and the book world in general. Even when I bought the book last night the sales assistant who served me was reading the book himself (and was loving it). Most of what I have heard about the book sounds positive - even staunch Austen addicts like myself seem to be getting on board and taking the book in the spirit in which it was intended - I'm just not sure I can do it! I keep having visions of Jane Austen turning over in her grave at the thought of what Elizabeth and Darcy have been reduced to. I don't want anything to ruin Austen for me!

So, advice gladly accepted - should I go here or not??

April 27, 2009

Library Loot This Week

As I am sure many people can consistently relate to I keep picking up more and more books from my library even though I still haven't finished (or in some cases even started) the books I picked up at my last visit - it's like a compulsion to collect and stock pile as though some book related nuclear event is about to fall down upon us! Oh well!

The two books I have collected (so far!) this week are:

Beijing Blur by James West - the story of an Australian journalist in China. I picked this one up when I saw it because not only does it look like an interesting book but I still haven't read any books for The World Citizen Challenge so I need to get a move on!

The Suspicions of Mr Whicher by Kate Summerscale - I have heard so many terrific things about this book and I have been meaning to read it for ages. I am also going to hear the author speak at the Sydney Writers Festival at the end of May so I want to have finished it by then.

April 26, 2009

The Women in Black - Madeleine St John

I am ashamed to say that I had never heard of the Australian author Madeleine St John before being attracted to the recently re-released cover of The Women in Black. This was her first novel published when the author was 52 years old in 1993 and has been re-released with a forward by Australian film maker Bruce Beresford and an obituary by the author's publisher (St John died in 2006). St John also had a book short listed for the Booker Prize in 1997 - The Essence of The Thing.

The Women in Black is the author's only book set in the country of her birth - Australia. It follows the lives of a group of female sales assistants working in the high class Sydney department store, Goodes, in the 1960's. Goodes is a fictional store but it is believed that St John based her setting on the real David Jones department store of the time.

Mrs Williams (Patty) and Miss Baines (Fay) work with others in the Ladies Cocktail Frocks section of the store - an area that is becoming increasingly busy as Christmas draws near as the book opens. The group is joined by temporary staff member, Lesley (who prefers to be called Lisa) a young girl who has just finished her leaving certificate at high school and is waiting anxiously to see if her results will be high enough for her to earn a scholarship at university.

The gorgeous, exotic and voluptuous Magda works in the Model Gowns section of the store (one of a kind gowns sold to women who do not want to attend a function looking like anyone else) and she enters the lives of these women in Ladies Cocktail Frocks in subtle - but no less dramatic ways.

I can't believe I have not discovered this book before - I devoured it in basically one sitting yesterday and I just wanted it to keep going - although the ending was divine and I wouldn't have wanted it any other way. I think it helped that I have spent quite a bit of time at the David Jones department store in Elizabeth St in Sydney so even though this book is set in a time before I was born I still feel like I had a familiar context firmly in mind as I was reading the book. Lesley/Lisa is a gorgeous character and over the short course of the book you do see her develop which is lovely to watch. Just a gorgeous, sweet, beautiful read!

April 25, 2009

The Luminous Life of Lilly Aphrodite - Beatrice Colin

The Luminous Life of Lilly Aphrodite is a book I could not ignore - the cover is gorgeous and tempting and the title evocative and intriguing - who could avoid the temptation? Not me!

I did do a little more research beyond the cover and the title though - there have been lots of good reviews about this one floating around the blogging world - The review from Farm Lane Books is one that I can remember at the moment and the setting of the book did interest me. I am always looking out for novels set in the early 20th Century and I am interested in the setting of the novel - Germany - during this time.

Lilly is born on the very first day of the new century but is quickly orphaned and sent to live in an orphanage run by the first love of Lilly's life, Sister August. It is here that Lilly meets her friend Hanne who will play a part in the rest of her story to come.

I have to say that this book, for me, was bleak - I did not find Lilly's life particularly luminous and I would be really interested to hear why the author chose to use this word. Lilly is certainly resilient and strong but life deals her some pretty awful hands. Just when you thought something was finally going right for her - it didn't.

I found the actual structure of the story quite clunky - the chapters didn't really flow for me and I thought coincidence played too great a part in the events and story line. Having said all that though, I really did enjoy reading this book - something about Lilly kept me hanging in there.

April 19, 2009

Weekend Book Buying

While many of you have been caught up in the world of the read-a-thon this weekend I have been spending time catching up on housework (not fun EVER!) and spending a day in Sydney with my boy visiting all of our favourite bookish haunts. I was surprisingly restrained in the book buying department but I did come home with a couple of new purchases:

Of Human Bondage by W. Somerset Maugham - thanks to Claire I was hunting out these gorgeous Vintage editions of Maugham's work. I have actually never read any of his books before so I thought it was appropriate to start with one with an absolutely divine cover like this.

Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi - this is my first adventure into graphic novel reading and I have heard this is a great book to start with.

April 17, 2009

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie - Alan Bradley

I first read about The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie (how fantastic is that title??) over at Dove Grey Reader - the source of a lot of my reading inspiration lately.

This is a novel set in an English countryside village, Bishops Lacey, in 1950 and it is told from the perspective of 11 year Flavia de Luce - amateur detective, chemist and large pain in the rear end for her older sisters Ophelia and Daphne (I would read this book again simply for the gorgeous names of all of the female characters!).

Flavia's world is really quite isolated - she lives in the run down family estate, Buckshaw, just outside of the village, her father locks himself away pouring over his stamp collections, her older sisters either ignore her or torment her, her mother died when she was only very young and her best friend seems to be her beloved bike - Gladys. Despite all this Flavia is a vivacious, outgoing, intelligent, creative and, some would say, precocious child - I loved her!

The mystery of the novel centres around the discovery of a dead body in the garden of Buckshaw by Flavia herself. Flavia steps in to work out the events that led up to the death - which actually go back a lot further than the present time.

The actual mystery plot was neither here nor there for me - I just cared about hearing more from Falvia about her adventures! I am pleased to hear that Alan Bradley has at least 2 more Flavia books on the horizon - can't wait!! A pure delight to read - I only wish those other books were out now!

April 13, 2009

Library Loot This Week

I haven't participated in Library Loot for quite a while now - even though I have regularly been making collections from my library.

Today is my last day off before returning to the working world tomorrow so I made a trip to the library this morning and picked up the following:

Brick Lane by Monica Ali: This is a book I have been meaning to read for a very long time now and I have tickets to see Ali when she is speaking at the Sydney Writer's Festival next month so I thought it was about time I actually read this one!

The Lollipop Shoes by Joanne Harris: Chocolat was a huge favourite of mine when I first read it a long time ago so I thought I would give the sequel a go. I might need to re-read Chocolat before diving into this one though.

The Luminous Life of Lilly Aphrodite by Beatrice Colin: I have heard lots of great things about this book - and the title and the cover are so gorgeous how could I resist?

The Unbearable Lightness of Scones - Alexander McCall Smith

Isn't this one of the most fantastic titles for a book?? The Unbearable Lightness of Scones is the latest book in the 44 Scotland Street series by Alexander McCall Smith. This is a series I became a little hooked on earlier in the year - I devoured the first few books and then found I was getting a little bored by the characters so I took a little break before reading this latest offering. I'm so glad I did because I was delighted by this book when I finally picked it up this week. I was enjoying reading about the little (and not so little) antics of the crowd in and around 44 Scotland Street again. I'm still feeling a little frustrated by Bertie and his suffocating, obnoxious mother Irene - if ever a character needed removal this woman is one! But overall I was once again loving McCall Smith's style of writing - so simplistic and yet so funny, clever and engaging at the same time.

I'm not sure if McCall Smith is going to be writing another book in this series - does anyone know?? I am thinking there are still a few unanswered questions that could be addressed in another book so I'm hoping he picks up his pen...

April 12, 2009

Enough: Breaking Free From the World of More - John Naish

Enough: Breaking Free From the World of More sounded like a book with an interesting premise:

Ever get the feeling that you've had enough?

For millions of years, humankind has used a brilliantly successful survival strategy. If we like something, we chase after more of it: more status, more food, more info, more stuff. Then we chase again. Its how we survived famine, disease and disaster to colonise the world. But now, thanks to technology, we've suddenly got more of everything than we can ever use, enjoy or afford. That doesn't stop us from striving though and its making us sick, tired, overweight, angry and in debt. It burns up our personal ecologies and the planets ecology too. We urgently need to develop a sense of enough. Our culture keeps telling us that we don't yet have all we need to be happy, but in fact we need to nurture a new skill the ability to bask in the bounties all around us.

Sounds interesting doesn't it? I'll be the first to admit that I am definitely a consumer - I love to shop and while I know it isn't always the healthiest option - I still love it! I have been thinking of late that there are probably (possibly?) better ways to spend my time and my hard earned money - maybe, just maybe, I have had enough. In steps this book - which is not just about the perils of too much shopping. The book takes in many areas of our lives where we always seem to be seeking more, more, more - work, stuff, technology and information, food and even happiness. The author covers each topic area in a separate chapter while providing what I am sure he thought were extremely original and helpful ideas for combating the over seeking of each of these areas in our lives (I didn't find the majority of them either helpful or original). The chapter that I probably found most useful was the chapter relating to information overload - this chapter definitely resonated with me. I did also find some of the psychological research quoted and described in the book interesting and informative and it was these sections of the book that gave me the most food for thought. On the whole though I found the book a little preachy (something the author ironically talks about not wanting to come across as towards the end of the book) and unoriginal. I think some good points are raised about our cultures and communities - particularly in relation to the vast differences that are evident in western developed nations and developing nations - but overall the book the did not grab me. Maybe I was expecting too much - was the book not "enough"? Maybe I need to reflect on what "enough" means for me in my own way? Maybe I'm just not in the right mindset at the moment to accept the message being delivered? Questions to ponder...

April 11, 2009

Favourites - again, and again and again...

I am in the middle of a glorious long, long weekend and I am flying through my reading - might actually take a bit of a break today to get some other things done!
When I am on breaks from work I always feel drawn to not only reading great new books but also revisiting the old favourites - the books you keep going back to and can read numerous times without getting sick of.
For me any Jane Austen book fits into this category - I could read her books over and over again and never tire of them. I also find that I discover something new in each re-reading - depending on my mood, the time at which I am reading it or what is happening in my life at the time. Persuasion is always my favourite Austen novel but I find I "save" this book for special re-reads - I don't want to wear it out! I'm more likely to re-read Pride and Prejudice for some reason.
What about others - what are your favourite re-reads??

April 10, 2009

The Room of Lost Things - Stella Duffy

I first read/heard about The Room of Lost Things over at Dove Grey Reader and it has taken me a little while to track down a copy of the book in Australia but I finally managed to find it in a trip to Sydney for work this past week - and I am so glad I did.

The Room of Lost Things is essentially a portrait of a specific area of London and the characters/people that live and work there. I have only been to London once (a sad fact I plan to rectify when I visit there again in September) and then it was really only a quick stop over, a browse through some tourist areas and then on to our next destination. But I know deep down that London is a city for me - I would love to live there one day. The London portrayed in Stella Duffy's book is the modern day south London an area described by one reviewer on the back cover of the book as "a part of London usually demonised as home to muggings, shootings and feral gangs".

The two main characters in the novel are Robert, a man in his 60's reflecting back on his life as her prepares to sell his dry cleaning business to Akeel, a young, married Muslim man just starting out in life after finishing his university degree.

Through the, at first, tentative interactions between Robert and Akeel we start to learn a little about their dreams and secret lives as we are also introduced to the various residents of the area who are customers of the dry cleaning business.

The main and outlying stories build beautifully, and in some cases painfully. I started to build up a concrete picture in my mind of this area and the people who lived there - I was enjoying the visit and really didn't want to story to end. But it does end - in a wonderful way I thought. I will definitely be looking out for more of Stella Duffy's work - and would love to hear other reading recommendations for great books set in modern day London.

April 09, 2009

The Journal of Dora Damage - Belinda Starling

I had previously read about The Journal of Dora Damage over at Danielle's Blog quite some time ago and I remember thinking then that this was a book I would be interested in - just can't get enough of books set in Victorian England/London! So, it has taken me a while but I have finally gotten around to reading this one - and am very glad that I have.

Dora Damage is a young woman married to a book-binder, living in a poorer, working class area of London in the 1860's. As the novel begins we see that Dora's world is consumed by the care of her husband, her house and especially her young daughter Lucinda who has regular seizures - an illness that for that time period was considered worthy of institutionalisation.

Dora's world changes when her husband Peter becomes so affected by his rheumatism that he is unable to work any longer. In order to ensure that they don't go without food, and so they are able to repay their numerous debts, Dora begins to take on book-binding work from some pretty unsavoury characters and she becomes the book binder herself. Dora finds herself drawn to the work - she is particularly good at it - and even though the nature of the work she is binding (expensive pornography for the upper classes) causes her some moral dilemmas she relishes her new role as worker for money.

The book is particularly detailed in relation to the book binding trade and even the nature of the housework that Dora is required to complete. I would normally find this quite intrusive and boring but it only helped to connect me more to Dora and her way of life - I felt her connection to the book binding work and the immense satisfaction she received for completing the various tasks involved in completing a book.

The nature of the difference between the expected roles of women and men in this era is clearly displayed. Dora is shunned by her community for taking on this work and it is assumed by many that she is selling more than just her work as a book binder. The book contains many reflections by Dora on her awareness of these differences between the sexes:

Finishing is the way the book presents itself to the world and gets noticed; the forwarding is more like the women's work, for one never notices it unless it has been shoddily done. (p. 82)

If I stopped to think too carefully I would probably say that at times the plot of the book felt a little contrived and forced - some events that happened made me stop and think "would this have actually happened?" but overall this did not detract from the reading. I was totally engaged with Dora and what would happen to her - I wanted her to triumph in the end!

Thetruly sad thing about this book is that the author, Belinda Starling, died suddenly soon after completing the book at the age of 34. A true tragedy for her family and the reading public who will not be able to enjoy any more of her great writing.

April 06, 2009

The Best So Far...

I have been receiving some great reading recommendations from fellow bloggers lately - Claire and Steph to name just two. Which has got me to thinking - why do all the hard work of finding great books to read by myself when there are so many readers of wisdom out there who could do it for me!
So, I am posing the question - what is the best book you have read so far in 2009? What is the book you would recommend to your best friend without hesitation? If you can't decide on just one I am more than happy to hear about two or three books that have blown you away so far this year. The easter long weekend is coming up so I am hoping I will have some time to fit in lots of reading.
I won't be completely lazy and let everyone else do the work - I'll put my own suggestions into the ring.
My favourite book so far this year would have to be The History of Love by Nicole Krauss - too beautiful to describe.
Other great reads for me have been Affinity by Sarah Waters and Wanting by Richard Flanagan - both books I would recommend in a heartbeat.

April 05, 2009


I have been very fortunate to receive two awards from two of my favourite bloggers lately.

The first is The Sisterhood Award from Iliana at Bookgirl's Nightstand - thank you so much Iliana!

I would like to pass on The Sisterhood Award to bloggers I feel a reading connection with (there are so many of course but I will restrain myself!). My Sisterhood awards go to:

1. Kiss A Cloud - Not only have I had some wonderful reading recommendations from Claire but her blog is always letting me in on great books ideas - thanks Claire!

2. Farm Lane Books - we seem to share similar reading tastes and this blog is always putting forward thoughtful reading and reading related ideas.

3. MariReads - I love Mari's blog and I regularly pop over there to see what she is reading next.

4. The Evening Reader - this is a relatively new blog find for me but I am loving it already. The posts on Gone With The Wind has me hooked and I knew we were going to have similar reading tastes!

5. Urban Bachelorette - Amanda is another blogger I have discovered fairly recently but I am loving reading through her posts and have found we share a lot of the same reading tastes.

My second award was from Farm Lane Books and it was The Zombie Chicken Award! I must admit this one took me a little by surprise (I don't even like chickens!!) but once I read the description of the award I felt very honoured:

“The blogger who receives this award believes in the Tao of the zombie chicken - excellence, grace and persistence in all situations, even in the midst of a zombie apocalypse. These amazing bloggers regularly produce content so remarkable that their readers would brave a raving pack of zombie chickens just to be able to read their inspiring words. As a recipient of this world-renowned award, you now have the task of passing it on to at least 5 other worthy bloggers. Do not risk the wrath of the zombie chickens by choosing unwisely or not choosing at all…”

So, my Zombie Chicken Awards go to:

1. Thyme For Tea - Even in the face of zombie chickens I know Tamara would still be producing an interesting and enlightening blog!

2. Trish's Reading Nook - As with Tamara I know Trish will always have high quality posts - definitely excellence being displayed for me.

3. Little Breeze - there is definitely grace, persistence and excellence over at Megan's blog.

4. Books and Cooks - anyone who can cook and has great reading recommendations deserves a zombie chicken I think!

5. Laura's Reading Reflections - for grace, persistence and excellence.

April 04, 2009

The History of Love - Nicole Krauss

The History of Love was recommended to me by Claire at Kiss A Cloud when I was in the midst of my reading slump a little while ago. I had remembered reading Claire's review and thinking what an intriguing and gorgeous book this one sounded like - I had seen the book before in shops and shelves and my interest had been tweaked but I am so glad that Claire kept reminding me about this one - thank you Claire!!

I would encourage you to pop over and read Claire's glorious review of this book - I defy anyone to try and not read this book after reading her review!

I have to join in and echo Claire's (and many others) thoughts about this book - it is simply stunning. As I was reading it I was actually trying to find flaws in it because I thought a book just cannot be this good - every word and sentence was perfectly placed and constructed - and yet nothing seemed forced or contrived. In many ways this is such a complex book but the ideas and themes behind it were quite simple and things that we can all relate to - love, loss, connection, death and loneliness. I certainly don't mean to make the book sound depressing - I guess it could be seen in this light but I didn't feel this way at all. When I finished the book this morning I felt hopeful rather than hopeless.

I realise this review is rather vague but I think this is a book that every reader needs to experience for themselves - and I would encourage you to do so - soon!

April 03, 2009

Gentlemen & Players - Joanne Harris

When I was talking about my reading struggles a little while ago many of you stopped by to offer recommendations to get me kick started again - thank you so much! One of the recommendations was from Steph who suggested Gentlemen and Players by Joanne Harris as a book that had kept her turning the pages earlier this year. I have read most of Joanne Harris' other books and have loved every one of them. I think I had stayed away from Gentlemen and Players in the past because I thought its subject matter seemed so far removed from her other books (Joanne Harris even makes a comment about this on her website) that I might not enjoy it as much. So, I have to send a big thank you to Steph for steering me in the direction of this book because it was fantastic! I feel like I am moving out of my reading slump now!

The book is set in St Oswald's, an old boys grammar school in northern England - full of history, convention and secrets. The narration swaps between present time within the school and events of 15 years before that have set in motion what is about to happen in the present time.

I am finding it difficult to think of ways to describe and review the book without giving away its wonderful structure and techniques - which I think you have to read for yourself as opposed to hearing about in order to fully enjoy the magic. I was completely absorbed by this book - a real page turner! Harris builds the suspense wonderfully - I didn't want the book to end but at the same time I didn't want to stop reading.

Although I haven't ever been a student at an old English boys school (being a female and an Australian hasn't helped!) I can imagine this setting so well. Joanne Harris is herself an ex-teacher and I think that this fact has obviously helped her to create a setting that feels so honest and authentic.

I definitely recommend this book - and am now on the look out for my next great read!