August 31, 2009

What My 2009 Reading Says About Me...

I have seen this on a few blogs but I first noticed it over at Danielle's.

Using only books you have read this year (2009), answer these questions. Try not to repeat a book title. It's a lot harder than you think!

Describe yourself: Fire In The Blood (Irene Nemirovsky)
How do you feel: Wanting (Richard Flanagan)
Describe where you currently live: The Room of Lost Things (Stella Duffy)
If you could go anywhere, where would you go: The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie (Alan Bradley)
Your favorite form of transportation: The Flâneur (Edmund White)
Your best friend is: The Piano Teacher (Janice Y. K. Lee)
You and your friends are: We Are All Made of Glue (Marina Lewycka)
What's the weather like: Butterfly (Sonya Hartnett)
You fear: The Lost Life (Steven Carroll)
What is the best advice you have to give: I Capture The Castle (Dodie Smith)
Thought for the day: Affinity (Sarah Waters)
How I would like to die: Nocturnes (Kazuo Ishiguro)
My soul's present condition: Tales From Outer Suburbia (Shaun Tan)

This one definitely made me think - lots of fun!

August 30, 2009

French Milk - Lucy Knisley

French Milk is a cross between a book, journal, travel memoir, comic and graphic novel - you get so much for your money!

I first heard about this book from (I think!) Iliana and although it sounded delightful I couldn't track down a copy in Australia. But, then on a trip to Sydney a few weeks ago for work I found a copy hiding in the travel section of Dymocks in the city - so I grabbed it quickly!

Through this book Knisley has shared the experience of 5 weeks living in and exploring Paris with her mum as they help each other to celebrate their Birthdays. The book is made up of drawings, quotes, journalling and photos which makes for a great, and varied, experience for the reader. I loved the way Knisley was so honest about her experiences and her thoughts - it really was like sneaking a look inside someones journal. The author was a little self-indulgent at times - but that's what being in Paris in your early 20's is for surely?? It didn't detract from the book for me.

As I am going to be in Paris for the first time myself in only a couple of weeks it was a great way to get me in the mood for this amazing city.

August 29, 2009

Two Caravans - Marina Lewycka

After reading and loving Marina Lewycka's latest book - We Are All Made of Glue - I quickly went out and looked for her two earlier books. I have decided to take A Short History of Tractors in Ukranian with me when we go overseas (in only 7 sleeps!) but I couldn't hold out to read Two Caravans.

Two Caravans tells the story of a group of immigrant workers who have come to England for varying reasons but mainly because they see it as a place of opportunity. The two caravans of the title form the homes for the workers - one caravan for each gender - at the end of their day of strawberry picking on an English farm.

I loved the beginning of this book - each character is introduced beautifully and I thought the scenes at the start really help to define and establish the individual traits and hopes of each person. The backgrounds of each character is also told really helping the reader to get a sense of these characters and what has driven them, or lead them, to become strawberry pickers in the English countryside.

Lewycka has also used her humorous tone and narrative in this book which made me fall in love with the first book of hers I read - although I found this book a lot harder to laugh at and with as it went on. I found Two Caravans a much more serious book in many ways - the plight of these immigrant workers and the atrocious situations they are forced into is no laughing matter. A scene in the middle of the book set in a chicken farm and factory "Buttercup Meadow" has also put me off eating chicken for a VERY long time. Having said that, I really like the way Lewycka puts forward very serious issues in an enjoyable format - I was engaged with this story but it has also made me want to read more about this situation in reality.

The book was not without its flaws for me - I felt it lacked structure after the first section and sort of meandered towards the ending. But even with this it was still a book that I kept enjoying to the end - I think because of the great job Lewycka had done establishing the characters and making me care about what happened to them.

I'm definitely looking forward to Tractors now...

August 24, 2009

Wolf Hall - Hilary Mantel

There has been a lot of discussion about Wolf Hall both before and after it was selected in the long list for this years Man Booker Prize. I was interested in reading the book as soon as I heard it was going to be released but then I saw the size of it and I became a little put off! The debate that has followed, the reviews (both positive and not so great) from fellow bloggers and my genuine interest in this period of history drew me back in though and I ended up starting the book a little over a week ago.

I have to say I am very, very impressed! This is my first Mantel read but if this is indicative of her writing style in general and her connection to her characters and the story she creates I will be reading others. That's not to say I didn't have some issues in my reading of Wolf Hall - but for the most part I loved the book and really didn't want it to end.

Wolf Hall focuses on the period in Tudor England when King Henry VIII is tiring of his first wife, Queen Katherine, and is setting his sights on the delectable Anne Boleyn. The protagonist of the novel is Thomas Cromwell, a common man who has risen to the ranks of advisor to the King and who plays an influential role in the shaping of England and the monarchy at this time.

Before reading this I felt that I had a fairly good (but still basic) level of knowledge about this period in history and the key players in it - I think this was needed for me to be able to connect with the story in Wolf Hall. Even though Mantel includes a list of characters at the start of the book (all 5 pages of them!) I think I would have struggled to follow along without knowing at least the basic gist. Having said that, I don't think this book is only for those with some knowledge of this time period - Mantel builds her characters and their motives really well - by the end of it you do feel that you know each of the characters as individuals in their own right. No mean feat for the author considering how many people she is following!

Cromwell was not really someone I had thought about in the context of this story before - even though I can see the important role he played I guess I always thought there were far more juicy and interesting people to focus on. I really enjoyed reading about Cromwell's thoughts and actions - albeit fictionalised - in Wolf Hall. I felt connected to the time period and what it might have been like for a man in his position - connected to the King but never really one of the upper classes. The family life of Cromwell is portrayed with sensitivity, humour and reality - I felt I had a sense of where he had come from and why he was the person he was.

At 650 pages this is definitely a big read (which is why I am including it in my Chunkster Challenge 2009!) and I did feel it started to drag a little in the middle section. But this was redeemed by the last section of the book - and I thought the ending was perfect! Left me wanting more and yet I still felt it was concluded beautifully.

All in all a really enjoyable and stimulating read - recommended if you have even the slightest interest in this period of English history.

August 20, 2009

Adolescent/Young Adult Fiction - Ideas??

One of my best friend's little boy is turning 1 next week and his parents have had a great idea to help celebrate his Birthday. All of the guests to his party are asked to bring along an item that will be placed in a time capsule for him to open on his 18th Birthday.
I have decided I would like to put a book in the time capsule - a book that an 18 year old young man might be enjoying in 2009 - so that when he opens it he can get an idea of what was being read by teenagers when he was just a bub.
So, that's where I need your help - what do you think would be a good book to place in the time capsule?

August 14, 2009

We Are All Made of Glue - Marina Lewycka

I have not read any of Lewycka's books before but I have always been drawn to their titles and covers. When I saw that Samantha at RubyRed Books had enjoyed her latest novel, We Are All Made Of Glue, I thought it was about time I gave this author a go.

I am so glad I did!! Lewycka is now definitely one of my favourite authors - absolutely loved this book and her writing style.

We Are All Made Of Glue is set in present day London where the main character, Georgie Sinclair, is trying to adapt to life without her husband, Rip, who has left her after an argument about a toothbrush holder. Georgie's separation from Rip leads to a meeting with an elderly woman from the neighbourhood, Naomi Shapiro. Georgie is quite unintentionally drawn into Naomi's world and begins to discover secrets about her past and the grand, but very run down house that she lives in.

The author is trying to cover a lot of ground and subject areas in this book - politics, religion, war, the meaning of home, and family relations are just some of the topics covered in more or less detail. Usually when an author does this I just end up feeling lost and dissatisfied but I feel Lewycka covered the areas she chose to include well and did justice to them all in some way.

I love the use of humour in this book too - I laughed out loud on more than one occasion when reading this one which caused a lot of funny looks in my workplace lunch room!

August 10, 2009

Fire in the Blood - Irene Nemirovsky

When you're twenty love is like a fever, it makes you almost delirious. When it is over you can hardly remember how it happened... Fire in the blood, how quickly it burns itself out.

I actually finished Fire in the Blood a while ago now so my memory being what it is means my recollection of it has faded somewhat - not ideal for writing a review!

I do remember that this book seemed way too short - I wanted so much more, not that I felt it ended unfinished in any way.

I first discovered Nemirovsky's writing in Suite Francaise - a book I completely devoured - and when I saw a practically perfect copy of Fire in the Blood in a local second hand bookshop I picked it up quickly.

Fire in the Blood is set in a rural French town in Burgundy and it follows the deceptively simple but increasingly complex story of Silvio and his extended family. At first I thought this book was going to be a reflective story of this family - but it takes an unexpected turn and goes down (what was for me) a completely different path.

The writing was elegant and helped me to develop a clear picture of each character while at the same time allowing parts of them to be kept hidden until the right moment.

Another beautiful Nemirovsky book for me - have other people read any of her other work?

August 09, 2009

The Taste of Sorrow - Jude Morgan

I did not know a great deal about the lives of the Bronte family before reading The Taste of Sorrow. I had read (and loved) Daphne by Justine Picardie which reflected on the family - and in particular the only son and brother, Branwell, and one of my favourite books of all time is Jane Eyre, but apart from that I was a little in the dark.

I acknowledge that The Taste of Sorrow is fiction and is Morgan's interpretation and understanding of what may have occurred within the family but I really feel (don't ask me how!) as though the author has captured an essence of this famous family that rings true and is totally believable.

The book starts with the death of the young Bronte children's mother, and as such sets up a constant theme of the family story - death, and the sorrow that accompanies it is never far away. From this early loss the children are brought together - they become connected almost as one;

The children obediently fold their hands in prayer - they all know how to do that. Still they do not range themselves. Rather they draw together in a peculiarly precise huddle, as if they stand on a rock, just big enough for them, above an encircling sea.

Morgan creates the sense of interdependence amongst the siblings, while at the same time clearly demonstrating their individual personalities, perfectly. Throughout the book I had a strong image of each of the children growing together - even when physically apart they were connected through the creations of their imagination - and the loss that is felt when one is taken away (in actuality or metaphorically) is acute.

I found the writing throughout absolutely stunning - without wanting to sound cliched - the writing was like a beautiful piece of music - it flowed and carried you along with it. In paricular I loved reading the sections where the inner minds and outer thoughts of the character's were portrayed:

Branwell asked: 'What was it like there? Maria would never really say'.

It was a beautiful day to be on the moors. A skylark invited location somewhere above, a glinting needle of song in a haystack of blue. The turf yielded fragrantly; bees rode the warm air. But Charlotte only had to think a moment, and the cold doors clanged around her. Branwell watched her face.

'You couldn't get near the fire,' she said at last. 'The big girls shut you out so. You hung about, hoping... But mostly you had to imagine yourself warm. You had to have the fire inside'.

I tried a new method of reading with this book. I had felt so flat and despondent with my reading lately that I decided to just slow down and concentrate on one book at a time - and I chose a wonderful book to initiate this method! This book captured me completely - I didn't want to focus on anything else for fear of missing some of the magic in this book. I now want to go back and read Jane Eyre and the other Bronte novels - I will be reading them through new, more informed, lenses.

August 05, 2009

Suggestions for Travel Reading Please!

It is now less than 5 weeks until we fly away on our trip to Ireland, the UK and Paris (but who's counting??!!) and I am starting to think about a book (or books) to take away with me.

I have already put The Secret Garden onto my ipod as an audio book - I gave a beautiful copy to my goddaughter for her recent 4th Birthday but I am ashamed to say that I have never read the book myself. I know an audio book is probably not the best way to appreciate and experience this one but I thought it would be a nice, light option for the plane or for when I'm feeling too wiped out for anything else.

I would love to hear from all of you about any suggestions you may have for other books I could take with me - both audio and hard copy. On my last trip overseas I actually did quite a bit of reading in those times at 3 and 4am when jet lag would not let me sleep! I am thinking I would like to have books set in the countries I am visiting - especially the UK (a place I love reading about even when I am not there) and I would love a book that isn't too heavy and yet has really good character development and involvement. I'm also thinking a nice historical novel from one of these countries or areas might be good?? I was thinking about taking The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters but I am thinking it might take up a bit too much room in the bag.

Any suggestions and ideas greatly appreciated!

August 02, 2009

The Spellman Files - Lisa Lutz

The Spellman Files was not a book I had ever intended to read - not that I had ever intended not to read it either - it just wasn't really on my reading radar at all. That was until I stepped into a bookshop in Sydney last weekend that had a very clever promotional stand for The Spellman Files and Lutz's other books in this series. As you have probably heard me say before - I am a marketer's dream - anything set up to attract customers and I will fall for it - particularly when it comes to books.

In the case of this book though, I am happy to say, I feel comfortable with the fact that I was drawn in to handing over my hard earned cash.

The Spellman Files is the first book in a series focusing on the Spellman family - and in particular the eldest daughter in the family, 28 year old Izzy. Izzy's family run their own private detective agency with all the family except for Izzy's older brother David joining in to solve the mysteries that come their way - some more exciting than others.

I loved the fact that although this book could probably come under the category of "chick lit" there was nothing really saccharine sweet about it - the writing was sharp and the author has utilised several different narrative techniques which I found kept me interested in the plot and the character development.

I found this book clever and witty - I'm not sure if I will move on to the other books in the series at this stage but I would definitely keep them in mind when I was looking for a fun, light read in the future.