June 27, 2009

The Easter Parade - Richard Yates

Inspired by Claire's post about the Vintage Classics editions of Richard Yates' books I went out searching for one. I fully confess to seeking out the books based only on their glorious vintage/retro covers - truly shallow I know but at least I am being honest! I have been tempted to see the movie of Yates' Revolutionary Road (mainly for the gorgeous and talented Kate Winslet) but I have heard so many scary stories about the movie being quite "dark and depressing" that I have stayed away from the movie version and the book.

The book store I visited yesterday only had a couple of the Vintage Classic editions so I ended up buying The Easter Parade - first published in 1976.

From the opening lines of the book I was hooked;

"Neither of the Grimes sisters would have a happy life, and looking back it always seemed that the trouble began with their parents' divorce. That happened in 1930, when Sarah was nine years old and Emily five"

From the very outset you certainly have a clear picture that this book is not going to be a happily ever after kind of book - and yet I loved it. It felt honest and raw and sharp - you were in this story for better or for worse.

The book covers the lives of the Grimes sisters from the time of their parents' divorce until they are middle aged women - each with very different life experiences and outlooks. The book is told from the perspective of the younger sister, Emily, and it is told with brutal honesty for the most part even though you sense, at times, that Emily really doesn't have a lot of insight into her life.

I absolutely devoured this book and I will be looking out for all of Yates' other work - starting with Revolutionary Road.

June 26, 2009

Valley of Grace - Marion Halligan

I had seen Valley of Grace on bookshop shelves around town and was drawn to its wispy, dreamy cover of French terrace houses. I then heard the author, Marion Halligan, speak on the ABC Radio National Book Show program and I decided to give this one a go based on this interview and the cover - two of the factors I often take into account when deciding whether or not to read a book. My friend Tamara has also read and reviewed this one and her review tempted me even further to see what this book was all about.

Valley of Grace is a series of interconnected short stories - connected through the characters and their various relationships and contacts with each other, and the setting of a particular area of Paris and surrounding suburbs.

The characters are also connected by their longings for certain things in their life - children, security, love and a sense of family being some of the main themes explored.

I found the writing direct and clear while at the same time very lyrical. I enjoyed the setting of the stories and even though I have never visited Paris (as yet!) I felt that I had a vivid picture of where these stories were taking place. I particularly enjoyed the scenes in the antiquarian bookshop - I want to go there!

I would recommend this book if you enjoy reading about characters inner lives - their thoughts, dreams, hopes and fears. I loved this one and would love to see a sequel developed as well so I could follow the characters some more.

June 24, 2009

Coco Chanel

I do like living in the town/city where I live - it has many things going for it and many things that I enjoy about it. But there are also many things that frustrate me about it. In particular being able to see movies that I want to see without having to travel to Sydney! I have so been looking forward to seeing the Coco Chanel movie that comes out in Australia this week but of course - it is not showing in my home town. I am so disappointed. So, in order to see the movie I would need to travel to Sydney - which is ordinarily not a problem but our weekends are full for the next month at least so there will be no opportunities to travel there.

So I am going to have to live vicariously - have any of you seen this movie or heard anything about it?

June 23, 2009

Everything Austen Challenge

I had promised myself not to commit to any more reading challenges for the rest of the year - but promises are made to be broken - especially where Jane Austen is concerned!

Stephanie at Stephanie's Written Word is hosting the Everything Austen Challenge which is just way too tempting for me - so I'm in!

The challenge runs for 6 months from the 1st July 2009 - 1st January 2010 and involves reading or watching any book, movie, series etc... that relates to Jane Austen.

My 6 items at this stage will be:

1. Prada and Prejudice by Mandy Hubbard

2. Austenland by Shannon Hale

3. Intimations of Austen by Jane Greensmith

4. Jane Austen Ruined My Life by Beth Pattillo

5. Becoming Jane Austen by Jon Spence

6. Not quite sure just yet...

June 22, 2009

Envy - Anna Godbersen

Envy is the third book in The Luxe series by Anna Godbersen and after devouring the first two books fairly quickly it was inevitable that I was going to move on to this one too.

Envy continues the story of the wealthy socialite families the Hollands, Schoonmakers, Hayes etc... etc... The girls are still seeking that ultimate love affair - and ultimate prize that goes along with that affair - a rich, influential, and hopefully attractive, husband. Some win the prize and others - well, they don't do so well.

The author has moved much of this book from the familiar setting of New York to Florida as the group goes on holiday. I'm not sure this change of scenery did that much for me - I couldn't really see the purpose in it apart from change for changes sake (and to show the fact that these people have so much money they can do what they like when they like) and I would have preferred the comfortable, well established New York setting to continue.

But having said that, I'm well and truly hooked into this gossipy story now and I will be joining in to read the fourth book in the series when it arrives.

June 21, 2009

Brooklyn - Colm Toibin

Brooklyn is the latest book from Irish author Colm Toibin - and the first book of his that I have read.

Brooklyn is the story of a young Irish woman, Eilis Lacey, who migrates from her small Irish town to Brooklyn in the 1950's in search of employment and opportunity. This decision is in some ways forced upon Eilis by her older sister, Rose and her mother who clearly want her to achieve but are desperate for her to stay at home with them at the same time. There are hints and glimpses into the life of Eilis's family - her 3 older brothers have all moved to England for work and her father died in the not too distant past - but despite these glimpses we don't really learn all that much about the extended family.

When Eilis arrives in Brooklyn she is struck by culture shock and homesickness and the narrative of this section of the book is all about her attempts to fit in and make a life for herself in America.

This book is so simple in many ways - the story of a girl who moves away, she goes to work, goes home to the boarding house she resides in with other young women, she goes to night classes and she goes to the parish dance on a Friday night. All things that I imagine would have been quite common place for young, single women living in Brooklyn in the 1950's. When I write this description here I think how boring it all sounds - but I did not find this book boring at all. Eilis has to make many choices over the course of the novel and it is these decisions and the ultimate choices that connect the reader to Eilis and her story - I wanted to know what she was going to do - and I also thought about the roads not taken - how the story could have been so different. The writing flowed beautifully - I really felt as though I was sitting down with a good friend listening to the story of their life. I will definitely be looking out for more of Toibin's work.

June 20, 2009

Rumours - Anna Godbersen

I couldn't help myself - as soon as I finished The Luxe by Anna Godbersen I had to go out and get the sequel - Rumours. Another gorgeously tantalising cover - and it promised to answer some of the questions left hanging over at the end of The Luxe - how could I resist really?

This author has me so hooked that even when Rumours started off a little disappointingly I still kept reading on - and I was glad that I did. Rumours doesn't quite have the pizazz that The Luxe delivered - the premise and the characters weren't as new and interesting anymore - but I was still enjoying the ride.

Needless to say I am going to keep reading this series - the books aren't going to win any Pulitzer prizes but they sure are entertaining me so that's all I can ask for. I would call it a guilty pleasure but the fact is, I don't feel at all guilty - I'm loving it!

June 14, 2009

The Luxe - Anna Godbersen

Keeping in the spirit of my light and easy reading of late I picked up my copy of The Luxe which I have had on my shelf for a while now. I do enjoy reading young adult fiction and the gorgeous cover of this one had me interested right away. I must admit I didn't really have very high hopes for this book - I just thought it would be a nice gossipy, easy read for a cold, dismal weekend. It was a nice gossipy read but I also thought it was quite a good book overall (I've already picked up the second book in the series so it must have hooked me in).

The Luxe is set in New York in 1899 and starts with the funeral of high society girl, Elizabeth Holland who has died suddenly and mysteriously just days before her wedding to fellow high society member - Henry Schoonmaker. The rest of the novel takes us through the days leading up to this event - filling us in on other members of New York society and their secrets and relationships. I found the writing tight and well structured - even though the focus is on the relationships and crushes of 18 year olds I didn't think the writing became overly soppy (something that would have made me stop reading right away!). The writing and dialogue is by no means appropriate to the era in which the book is set but the author talks about her intentions behind steering away from this style in a special section at the end of the book.

Some reviews have talked about this book as being a cross between Jane Austen and Gossip Girl - it is definitely more Gossip Girl than Austen for me but I still really enjoyed this book - much more than I thought I would.

June 13, 2009

Lucia, Lucia - Adriana Trigiani

I am on a bit of a roll with this author! After reading and loving her latest book, Very Valentine, I went out searching for her earlier books. Don't you just love it when you discover a new great author and they have plenty of books waiting for you to pick up??

I went straight for a book from her collection that is again set in Italy and New York (how could I resist?), is again set in an area of the fashion world (a New York department store) and is set in the time of the 1950's - a favourite era of mine for fiction and movies.

Lucia, Lucia is the story of Italian American girl Lucia Sartori - the youngest child and only girl in a big family. Lucia is rare for her day and age in that she has a career as a seamstress in a New York department store and she is keen to hold on to this no matter what - marriage is not such a high priority for her, until she meets the charming John Talbot. Things start to go a little topsy turvy from here.

Trigiani's writing is not perfect - there are some forced metaphors in places and the plot devices can feel a little controlled at times - but I really didn't care. I was hooked into Lucia's story and I wanted to see where things went in her life. I have also loved the endings in both of her books that I have read so far - a little bit of romance and completion but the endings have felt "real" and possible in a non -Hollywood, happily ever after way.

I will try and move on from Trigiani books now but have loved reading these two!

June 12, 2009

Very Valentine - Adriana Trigiani

I have not read any of Adriana Trigiani's books before but I couldn't resist two things about this book:

1. It's cover (the one in the picture above - different to the US copy I think)

2. It's locations (New York and Italy)

I was thinking even if the book wasn't so great I would enjoy being transported to these places. Turns out that Very Valentine was a great book!

Valentine Roncalli is an Italian American woman in her mid-30's living in and working in Greenwich Village. Valentine lives and works with her grandmother in the family shoe company - Angelini Shoes - making wedding shoes for the women of New York since 1903. Valentine loves her work and has dreams of taking the business further - but the company is in financial trouble and may have to close its doors before Valentine gets her chance to move things forward.

There are of course the family and relationships sub plots as well but the real focus of this book for me was Valentine - and the choices she has made, and will make, in regards to her life and her future.

It was so refreshing to read a "chick lit" book that did not focus on the main female character in pursuit, or in the midst of, being a wife and/or mother at the expense of everything else in her life. Not that there is anything wrong with these pursuits - they are just not usually characters that I can connect to or care about as much. Valentine was a strong, independent woman - sure, she made some mistakes (don't we all?!) but I loved reading about her and her story. Apparently there is a sequel in the wind - can't wait to read it!

June 09, 2009

When I Am Not Reading...

These days I am becoming a little obsessed with the TV show Mad Men and it is taking up a bit of my non reading time.

For those of you who don't know the show is set in New York in the 1960's and the main focus is an elite advertising agency where the men make the ads and the women support the men - at work and at home. Despite the era that the show is set in (or maybe because of it) the strength of the women characters comes through in so many ways - and the fashion is gorgeous! I can actually watch this show and imagine myself in these outfits. I'm only mid way through series one at the moment so I'm looking forward to more to come!
I am loving watching a show set in the 1960's so I am wondering if anyone can suggest some great books set in this era??

June 08, 2009

Look at what I Did Not Buy...

How strong am I??? These shoes are divine, pretty and ON SALE and I still left them in the store... I just had to put them up here - I'm still not completely over them!

That's not to say that absolutely no purchases were made today. I showed my partner the Penguin Fine Books and we came away with a copy of Crime and Punishment.

So, not a no shopping day but definitely a step in the right direction!

June 06, 2009

Gorgeous Books

I found these beautiful books from Penguin at Borders today (apparently they are exclusive to Borders in Australia).

Each book has a different hard cover fabric design and the titles are:

Madame Bovary – Gustave Flaubert

Great Expectations – Charles Dickens

Wuthering Heights – Emily Brontë

Sense and Sensibility – Jane Austen

Cranford – Elizabeth Gaskell

Tess of the d'Urbervilles – Thomas Hardy

Pride and Prejudice – Jane Austen

Crime and Punishment – Fyodor Dostoyevsky

Jane Eyre – Charlotte Brontë

I know I am on a reduced book shopping diet but I am very tempted...

June 05, 2009

The Piano Teacher - Janice Y. K. Lee

I have to admit that I picked up The Piano Teacher mainly because of it's stunning cover - I know this is something you should never do but a great cover will grab me every time. I had also read some good things about this one in the blogging world - mainly from Matt - so I did have something to go on besides the beautiful cover!

The Piano Teacher is a book set over two main time periods - 1942 and then 1952/3 in Hong Kong. Will Truesdale is an English man who has come to Hong Kong and fallen in love with Trudy, a wealthy and privileged Eurasian woman, in the period just before the invasion of the Japanese. In 1952 we meet Will again, now working as a driver for an influential couple who have hired Claire, a recently married woman and new in Hong Kong, as a piano teacher for their daughter.

There are some significant events and plot constructions in the novel but for me the real content of the book was the development and "showing" of the characters - just simple dialogue between them was what I enjoyed reading - it wasn't really until the end of the book that I stopped and thought about the plot.

I have to say that I don't think my reading patterns with this book really did it justice. I started it weeks ago and then got distracted/bored with the middle section of the book so I put it aside for a while and picked it up again last night when I finished the second half of the book in one sitting. I think this says more about my need to be reading a book that suits my mood at the time more than anything else.

The characters in The Piano Teacher are intriguing and complex, and written beautifully - at the end of the book I still felt like I had so many questions in relation to each of them - particularly Will and Trudy.

I would call this a subtle book - it crept up on me and I will be thinking about it long after finishing.

June 03, 2009

How To Give Up Shopping - Neradine Tisaj

For those of you who don't already know - I love to shop. Books certainly, but I also have a weakness for shoes, clothes, shoes, bags and shoes. I wouldn't go so far as to say I have an addiction - but there is a definite fondness there. My partner and I have been on a savings plan for our overseas trip later in the year and so some of the shopping joy has had to be cut back - painful but necessary. So, when I saw How To Give Up Shopping (or at least cut down) I thought this was the perfect read for me.

The author is an Australian woman working in the media industry and she is candid and open throughout the book about her shopping experiences. Tisaj states from the outset of the book that she is not a psychologist or a financial expert - the expertise she brings to the book is her experience of over-shopping and where that has led her. I found the book honest and easy to connect to - I identified with quite a few of Tisaj's stories and anecdotes (scarily so!) and the narrative style of the book made it quick and easy to read. I can't say that I felt that any earth shattering or new advice was put forward in relation to cutting back on shopping habits but then maybe that's not the complete point of the book. It did make me think about my shopping and the place and space it takes up in my life - and what I could be spending my money on if I didn't have so many pairs of shoes!

June 01, 2009

Atonement - Movie

I have finally watched Atonement. After reading, and absolutely loving, the book last year for lots of reasons I have been putting off and putting off watching the movie version. My best friend saw it as soon as it came out in Australia and she has been pestering me ever since to watch it myself - I even bought the DVD as soon as it was released and have had it sitting on my shelves since then, waiting and waiting...

I'm not really sure what was stopping me from watching it except for the fact that I loved the book so much I didn't want anything to spoil it. I'm glad to report that I loved the movie. I'm still glad that I left so much time between the reading and the watching but I am ultimately glad that I finally gave in. The movie is gorgeous in so many ways - not least of all the magnificent English country home and estate that plays the part of the Tallis home so well. And that green dress worn by Cecilia - if only I had one myself! I thought the roles were cast beautifully - who could go wrong with James McAvoy really??!

I often find I am so disappointed by movie productions of my favourite books but this one really hit the mark for me.