November 27, 2011

Advent with Austen

Yvann over at Reading, Fuelled by Tea and others have had a brilliant idea of reading and celebrating Jane Austen during Advent. I think any time is a perfect time to celebrate Austen and her work so I am definitely in for this one! This year celebrates a very specific Austen event - the 200th anniversary of the publication  of Sense and Sensibility and so, even though I have to admit it is not one of my favourite of Austen's books, I will be starting my Advent with this. Hopefully this re-reading will bring a new appreciation for Sense and Sensibility...

November 22, 2011

The Week That Was...

I am running a little behind with my weekly photo post this week. My boy and I just got back from a lovely long weekend in sunny Brisbane and it is taking me a while to get back into reality I think...

November 11, 2011

Ruby Blues - Jessica Rudd

After reading and enjoying Jessica Rudd's debut novel, Campaign Ruby, last year I wondered at the end of my review if a sequel would be in the future - I'm not sure if I was the catalyst but a sequel has indeed just been released.
Ruby Blues starts 2 years after the end of the previous book. Ruby has been working for the Prime Minister, Max Masters, since his election win and she has also been in a relationship with his previous Chief of Staff, Luke. Unfortunately for Ruby, but fortunately for the reader, all is not well in her political or personal worlds. The glow of the election win is starting to wear off the government and Ruby's boss looks very much like losing his job at the next election if some major image and policy readjustment does not take place. Ruby's relationship with Luke is also travelling poorly in the polls with Ruby's busy schedule keeping them apart more often than not. Of course these tensions are just what is needed to drive the story along and give the reader something to care about and follow.
Rudd's writing is sharp, witty and engaging. As with the first book there are definitely quite a few plot twists that can seem a little on the coincidental side but somehow Rudd pulls them off without the book falling into the farcical zone.
Ruby herself is funny, energetic and at times just a tad annoying - but lovable all the same. Some new characters enter this book - with my favourite having to be political intern, Bettina who feels the need to express herself primarily in acronyms much to the disgust of Ruby.
A really enjoyable, fun read.

November 03, 2011

Death Comes To Pemberley - P.D. James

It was pretty much a given that as soon as I saw this book at the shops over the weekend that it was coming home with me - I was looking for something light and comforting in the reading department and my Jane Austen obsession hadn't been fed in quite a while.
Death Comes To Pemberley is set in 1803, six years after the end of Pride and Prejudice and the double wedding of Darcy and Elizabeth and Jane and Bingley. The two couples live not far from each other in their rambling, magnificent estates and when the book starts preparations are under way for the annual ball at Pemberley. The book scans the main characters that are well know to Austen's readers and introduces a few new ones who will become more prominent in this sequel.
In her author's note at the start of the book P.D. James writes:
I owe an apology to the shade of Jane Austen for involving her beloved Elizabeth in the trauma of a murder investigation....
No doubt she would have replied to my apology by saying that, had she wished to dwell on such odious subjects, she would have written this story herself, and done it better.
After finishing the book there is no doubt in my mind that Austen herself would have done a far better job - but I wonder if she would have wanted to attempt it? I have not read any of P.D.James's non-Austen related crime novels so I admit I have nothing to really compare her work to - as I don't think it is fair to compare her to Austen herself.
The story starts well enough, the scene is set, the tension is built and the crime occurs. For me there was never really any element of mystery to the plot - I had taken a pretty good guess at what was going on in the story very early on and as it turns out I was spot on in my guesses. The development of Austen's original characters was threadbare and one dimensional - I never really thought I was reading about Austen's characters, their names were merely being used. All in all this book was a little disappointing - and a reminder that only Austen can truly pull off an Austen story.

October 30, 2011

The Week That Was

Another week, and looking back over my photos it seems to have been quite food focused...

October 25, 2011

The Hare with Amber Eyes - Edmund de Waal

The Hare with Amber Eyes is one of those books I have been hearing/reading/seeing lots of little tid bits about but I hadn't actually read a comprehensive review of the book when I picked it up for myself. After finishing it I can imagine it being one of those books that you either fall in love with - or you don't. I am definitely in the "fallen" category!
The Hare with Amber Eyes is the story of a collection of netsuke - small, ornamental Japanese carvings which were originally collected by a member of the author's family in Paris in the 1800's. The book tells the story of how the netsuke collection were handed down among the generations of the family until the author himself came across them in the home of his great uncle in Tokyo in the 1960's. I actually first thought the premise of the book sounded a little dull - how much story could there really be behind a collection of figurines??  It turns out - quite a big one. de Waal writes beautifully about the history of his family during two world wars, Hitler's rise to power and the persecution of the Jewish people and how the family hangs on to the netsuke, a final symbol of their wealth and prosperity. The geographic range of the story helps to make the book even more captivating as you are taken through Paris, Vienna and Tokyo.
The beginning and ending are definitely the strongest parts of the book and although some of the middle bits sagged a little for me I was still hooked by this story and the way in which it was told.

October 24, 2011

The Week That Was...

I can't believe how fast the weeks are flying by - I've already had invitations for Christmas celebrations with some friends and all the gift brochures are starting to arrive in the mail...
Despite the Christmas craziness starting to kick into gear I have had some time for tea drinking and reading and the past weekend was the first one in ages that my boy and I had to ourselves. We went out for breakfast, went shopping, drank wine and generally lazed around - just perfect!

October 18, 2011

Annabel - Kathleen Winter

Annabel was, in my view deservedly so, shortlisted for this years Orange Prize for Fiction, a prize eventually won by The Tiger's Wife (again, a book I thought definitely deserved to be there). It is also one of those books that has been languishing in my "To Be Blogged About" pile so I fear this will be less of a review and more of a reflection on my feelings about the book.
To put it simply - I loved it. It was a challenging book in many respects, content and style being up there but I felt that Winter held the reader's hand (and not in a patronising way) as she leads us through her vision for this book.
The book starts in 1968 in the remote coastal community of Labrador in the far north-east of Canada. Like Sarah Moss in Night Waking Winter does a brilliant job of setting the scene of a remote and isolated landscape which is so important for the story. In this community Jacinta Blake gives birth to her first baby, a baby that has no clear male or female sexual organs. Jacinta and her husband, Treadway, make a decision to raise their baby as a boy - Wayne -  but, particularly for Jacinta, there are always flashes of the little girl Wayne might have been. As Wayne reaches puberty his body starts to change in ways which awaken his dreams and thoughts about who he is, and his place in his family and his community.
I found this to be an amazing book, thought provoking and beautiful - I am definitely looking forward to Winter's next piece of fiction.

October 17, 2011

Reading Madame Bovary - Amanda Lohrey

I fully admit to being drawn to this book by it's title and the gorgeous cover. I have said it before, but I will say it again - I am a publishers dream!
Reading Madame Bovary is a collection of short stories by Australian author, Amanda Lohrey, published last year and read oh so long ago by me but only now being dug out from the "to be reviewed on blog" pile.
The book is pitched as a collection which "explores the dilemmas of modern life" and I found something in almost every story and character that I was able to relate to in some way.
Each of the stories is written impeccably - they feel timed just right. Lohrey talks about the stories being quite long for the traditional short story form and how she envisaged some of the stories actually being written as novels. This depth of characterisation and plot development is obvious - I found myself wishing that some of the stories were novel length - I just didn't want them to end.
For anyone who thinks you may be interested in reading this one I recommend you listen to the interview, or read the transcript of Lohrey talking on The Book Show for ABC Radio National - reading this interview has made me want to go back and read these stories all over again. A beautiful collection.

October 15, 2011

Pigeon English - Stephen Kelman

Pigeon English is one of the shortlisted book for this years Man Booker Prize and it would have to be the first book from the list that I have been disappointed in.
Pigeon English has been compared to Room (which I was also disappointed in) and The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time (which I loved completely) so I went into the read thinking I had a 50/50 chance of coming out with a winner. I think the only real reason for the comparison between the three books is that they all use a child as the key narrator.
The narrator of Pigeon English is Harrison Opuku, a year 7 student living in the housing projects of London. Harrison, his mother and older sister Lydia have immigrated to England from Ghana and the rest of their family, including their father and 1 year old sister remain in Ghana. The book opens with the murder of a boy who Harrison knew in a distant way:

Me and the dead boy were only half friends, I didn't see him very much because he was older and he didn't go to my school. He could ride his bike with no hands and you never even wanted him to fall off. I said a prayer for him inside my head. It just said sorry.

Harrison and one of his friends become fixated on trying to work out who killed the boy through the use of their amateur detectives skills and knowledge. Harrison introduces us to his neighbourhood, his friends and his enemies at school and his family. It is through his often naive, trusting and young eyes that we begin to see what may have happened to the boy who died and what might be going on in Harrison's own family that he is not aware of. The pigeon of the title is in fact a pigeon that lives around Harrison's tower complex, Harrison sees the pigeon as a friend and ally and the pigeon (who can speak english as the title suggests) sees itself as a type of guardian for Harrison.
I loved Harrison and his voice in this book - I loved hearing from him and about him and I loved seeing his perspective of the world. For some reason though this was not enough for me to fall in love with this book and be carried away by the story. I found myself feeling bored in places, and then extremely engaged and interested in others - maybe it was this lack of consistency that made this book a little disappointing for me.

October 09, 2011

Stasiland - Anna Funder

I am definitely going through a German reading phase at the moment so if any one has any suggestions for great books set in this country could you please send them my way.
Stasiland is a book I have had on my shelf for quite a while - since it was first published actually. I had caught the author doing a radio interview as part of her tour for the books release and I was fascinated by the subject area but also the way Funder spoke about her research for and her process of writing the book. I eagerly rushed out to buy a copy but then like so many other books, it was pushed aside for other reading choices - a victim of the "so many books, not enough time" dilemma we face on a daily basis.
Luckily for me Stasiland was one of the required reads for a course I was doing this semester on creative non-fiction as part of my masters so it has finally made it to the read pile of my bookshelves.
Stasiland tells several personal stories of the devasting impact of the Stasi (the East German secret service) in the life of the German Democratic Republic. Funder has interviewed people from all sides of the story, GDR citizens who were affected by the regime and  Stasi informants and members who carried out the work.
In the 1990's Funder was working for a television station in Germany when she became interested in the stories of the people who had been ruled by the Stasi:

Later, Frau Hollitzer told me about Miriam,  a young woman whose husband has died in a Stasi remand cell nearby. It was rumoured the Stasi orchestrated the funeral, to the point of substituting an empty coffin for a full one, and cremating the body to destroy any evidence of the cause of death. I imagined paid-off pallbearers pretending to struggle under the weight of an empty coffin, or perhaps genuinely struggling beneath a coffin filled with eighty kilos of old newspapers and stones. I imagined not knowing whether your husband hanged himself, or whether someone you now pass in the street killed him. I thought I would like to speak with Miriam, before my imaginings set like false memories.

The transparency of Funder's research and interviews are shown through out the book - Funder herself is very much present as a character in the book and her emotions of shock, anger, frustration and sadness echo those that we are feeling as a reader as we hear about the atrocious acts committed against the East German people under the Stasi. There is also a strong tone of resilience and hope to the book which helps to balance it and adds to the feeling of authenticity and genuineness.
Funder's writing style is engaging, honest and lively - you can clearly see each of the people as they tell their stories and Funder has a lovely sense of humour which comes across as nice relief in some stages of the book.
I would recommend this book to anyone that has a slight interest in this period of history - it has certainly added to my knowledge and understand and has only left me wanting to learn more.

October 02, 2011

The Week That Was....

I can't believe it is October already! Where has 2011 gone?? I have had my head in the books this past week - both for pleasure and for study purposes. My last two assignments for the year are due in over the next two weeks - then it will be on to more of the pleasure kind of reading! Spring is supposed to have arrived here on the east coast of Australia - and it did peep it's head in for a little while - and then it crept away again to leave us with an awful, wintery long weekend. Here's hoping for more sun this week!

September 30, 2011

Past The Shallows - Favel Parrett

There was so much about Past The Shallows that I just couldn't go past. The title for a start, so simple, so beautiful, so tempting. The fact that this is the first novel of a young, female Australian author - a group of writers I like to support whenever I can. The cover, gloriously colourful and yet discreet at the same time. And then there is the author's name - how gorgeous and unique is it?? You will be pleased to know that after all that the content did not let me down.
Past The Shallows is the story of Harry, the youngest of three brothers living with their father on the remote south coast of Tasmania after the death of their mother. Harry is the observer and recorder of the family history - it is through his eyes that we learn of the difficulties in his family, how much his father is struggling, emotionally and financially and how the three brothers are each trying to carve out an existence in an isolated family and environment.
The sea is a constant presence in the story - it is the way Harry's father earns a living and it is also a big source of comfort and pleasure for each of the boys in some way. Parrett is obviously extremely knowledgeable about this landscape and the essence of the water and the way each character interacts with and responds to it comes across clearly in the story.
The characters all came across strongly in the story but Harry was especially powerful, It was interesting to read Parrett talk about the character of Harry in an interview after the book was published;
"I love Harry very much. Sometimes it still makes me cry when I think about him. He is a very special character to me - some kind of gift really"
It is so lovely to hear an author speak this way about a character she has created - and this passion certainly comes through in the character of Harry and the story he creates.
In some ways this is such a simple book - in its structure and prose - but in other ways it is deeply complex - and definitely very moving.