January 30, 2011

The Tall Man - Chloe Hooper

The Tall Man is a book on the reading list for one of my upcoming university courses. It is a book that I have always had an interest in reading but have ultimately stayed away from - my thinking being that it will be too "dark and depressing" and why would I want to put myself through that?

It is a common theme I have noticed throughout my reading choices - some books sound amazing and relevant and topical but I think it will be all too much for my reading senses so I avoid them at all costs until they somehow end up in my lap - and they turn about to be the best books I have ever read - books that linger and stay with me long after I have finished them.

The Tall Man is definitely one of those books. Written by Australian author and journalist Chloe Hooper the book follows the story of the death of an Aboriginal man, Cameron Doomadgee from the remote northern Queensland community of Palm Island who is found dead while in police custody in 2004 and the subsequent Coroner's inquest into his death and the criminal trial against the police officer charged with his death, Senior Constable Chris Hurley. Cameron's death had a huge impact not only on his own family but on the entire community of Palm Island (who are mainly Aboriginal people)and it highlighted the gap between black and white, powerless and powerful on the Island.

I remembered this story from the media surrounding it while it was taking place, Hooper herself won a Walkley award for an essay she wrote for an Australian publication during that time - an essay that went on to form the basis for this book. As with any high profile legal process that is comprehensively covered in the media there was discussion about it in some of my social groups of the time - but north Queensland is almost like another country for us "southerners" and I felt a certain distance from the events that were going on "up there".

The Tall Man brings those events and the people involved in them much closer to home.

Hooper becomes close to Cameron Doomadgee's family - his siblings and aunts and uncles - and through this connection she learns about Cameron's life on Palm Island - a life that is replicated through much of the Aboriginal community living there. A life of violence, alcohol abuse and hopelessness. Hooper also hears about the other side of life for Aboriginal people - the life of the dreaming and close connection to the land and ancestors.

The life of the Aboriginal community in Palm Island - the racism, prejudice, violence and poverty they are subjected to, as well as the close family bonds - comes through clearly in Hooper's book. The life of the mainly white, anglo-saxon police officers who are put in charge of these remote communities comes through less clearly - possibly because of Hoopers lack of access to the main police officer in question, Chris Hurley, who refused to meet with Hooper at all.

That is not to say that this is not a complete and well-rounded book - because it is. Hooper provides her experiences and interpretations while at the same time putting all the information out there - allowing the reader to explore their own thoughts.

The history of relations between the Aboriginal Australians and the anglo-saxon immigrants is ever present in the telling of this story - where we have come from in terms of our systematic betrayal and destruction of Aboriginal people has led to where we are today - mistrust and scepticism that is especially evident in rural and remote communities where Aboriginal people experience a lower quality of life, lower life expectancy and higher rates of illness and contact with the legal system when compared to white people in the same communities.

The Tall Man is a book that highlights these inequities but it is also a book that shows how there are some people in this country - black and white - who are prepared to stand up and fight to try and change this.

A powerful read - one I am glad to have finally read.

January 26, 2011

Poser - Claire Dederer

In the lead up to my university course which starts in March I have begun to read and seek out a lot more non-fiction. I am always drawn to non-fiction books but I always seem to place novels above them - there is something about non-fiction that can seem a little "worky" - and that's the last feeling I want to be having when I am reading for pleasure!

I can happily report that there was nothing worky about reading Poser - although I do feel as though I have learnt a lot from it and will be taking the book with me in my mind for a long time to come.

Poser is a memoir by American woman Claire Dederer who started to practice yoga when she experienced a back injury not long after the birth of her first child. I have attempted yoga in the past - more out of a feeling that it was something everyone else seemed to be doing, enjoying and excelling at and so I should get on board. I found out very quickly that I wasn't getting on board! Yoga just wasn't for me I'm afraid - although I am tempted to give it another go after reading this book.

Poser is not only a book about yoga - it is really a reflection on the author's childhood, current relationships and choices she has made through her life told through her journey of learning and incorporating yoga into her life. It is never preachy or boring - the author comes across as honest, funny and genuine not only with her struggles with yoga poses and theory but also in what she shares about herself and her life. This book is informative and reflective without being over indulgent - it is a learning process for the author and the reader.

As Dederer says at the beginning of the book;

Taking up yoga in the middle of your life is like having someone hand you a dossier about yourself. A dossier full of information you're not really sure you want.

I love the story and the way in which it was told - I will definitely be looking out for more of this author's work.

January 25, 2011


Me! by KB1812 featuring heart jewelry

I found this fun site and have spent some time creating a collage that represents me! So much fun (if a little time wasting!).

January 23, 2011

The Night Bookmobile - Audrey Niffenegger

I am not usually a big reader of graphic novels - I love art but when it comes to books words are my true love. However I do make an exception for Audrey Niffenegger as I think her artistic interpretation, her amazing imagination and story telling skills make for a great combination.
The Night Bookmobile is given an intriguing and compelling introduction from Neil Gaiman;

The Night Bookmobile is a love letter, both elegiac and heartbreaking, to the things we have read, and to the readers that we are. It says that what we read makes us who we are.

I couldn't agree more! As with Niffenegger's previous graphic story, The Three Incestuous Sisters, The Night Bookmobile is not a children's story - despite the childlike quality of it's illustrations and the gentle way in which the story starts and looks as though it will be a light and breezy tale of how books impact on our world.

The Night Bookmobile follows Alexandra, a young woman who, after an argument with her partner one night goes for a long walk to get over her anger and discovers a bookmobile which contains every piece of literature and written material that she has ever read. Alexandra becomes entranced by the bookmobile and the idea of finding it again - which she does some years later. She reflects on her life through the books she has consumed - and in a way her reading and her love of books starts to consume her.

This is a magical, if a little scary, story and I was completely taken in by it. Niffenegger writes in the After Words;

When I began writing The Night Bookmobile, it was a story about a woman's secret life as a reader. As I worked it also became a story about the claims that books place on their readers, the imbalance between our inner and outer lives, a cautionary tale of the seduction of the written word.
I think this is a must read for all readers and book lovers everywhere - it raises some great questions and gave me pause for thought about the place reading and books take in my life.

January 19, 2011

The Tortoise and the Hare - Elizabeth Jenkins

My head cold continues and therefore so does the comfort reading - although my latest choice was a little heartbreaking to be put entirely into the comfort read category!

I have had The Tortoise and the Hare on my shelf for quite a while now after reading positive and interesting reviews from dovegreyreader, Book Snob, A Few Of My Favourite Books and others.

I echo what some others have commented on in relation to the modern cover of this book shown in my post - it is probably not entirely appropriate for or reflective of the rather serious content written inside. Having said that, I do quite like it and it gave me a little bit of light relief to be able to gaze at it from time to time when the reading got a little heavy going.

The Tortoise and The Hare was first published in 1954 and tells the story of an upper middle class English marriage in the period following World War 2. Evelyn Gresham and his wife, Imogen, have been married for about 12 years when the novel begins and they have an 11 year old son (mini Evelyn in training) who is about to go off to boarding school. The family have a comfortable home in the countryside which Evelyn commutes to London from in order to fulfill his role as a successful barrister. As the novel begins Imogen introduces her husband;

He was everything Imogen admired;not only had he all the qualities she instinctively looked for in a man who was to take the direction of her life, but he had them in an unusual degree. When at twenty-seven, she had met him at forty-one, even handsomer if less interesting than he was now, she had been fascinated by his appearance, then riveted by the attraction of his personality and then filled with delight at his passion for herself, but she had never entirely lost her head about him: held back, perhaps, by the fact that he never wished it. Sympathy he wanted, usefulness, complete devotion, but not infatuation.

We see quite clearly through the book what it is that Evelyn expects, and demands, from his wife - and we see her trying to give that to him, no matter what it does to her sense of self which is virtually unexplored in the tight cage she is living in in the marriage.

Living next door to the Gresham's is the "elderly" Blanche Silcox, a 50 year old single woman with significant money and property to her name. Evelyn develops a friendship with her - a friendship that seems to offer him everything that Imogen can't - and everything she had no idea he wanted in the first place.

The novel follows the progress of the relationship between Evelyn and Blanche and the devastating, and yet hopefully not all destroying, impact it has on Imogen.

This was a brilliantly paced and told story - I am in complete awe of the skill Jenkins has shown in telling this tale which she has described as autobiographical "not in fact, but in feeling".

January 17, 2011

The Past and Other Lies - Maggie Joel

Never fear, I am still reading my way through A Suitable Boy. I was just suffering through a head cold over the weekend and was in need of some quick comfort reading.

I had read Joel's latest book, The Second Last Woman in England last year and while there had been some flaws in the storytelling for me I had still found it compelling and quite addictive reading.

I found Joel's earlier book, The Past and Other Lies just as compelling and addictive and it definitely helped me get my mind off my cold!

The book is about 3 pairs of sisters from 3 generations of one English family. The youngest pair of sisters, Jennifer and Charlotte are in their teens in the 1980's and are experiencing things that can typically occur at that stage of life - relationships, family conflict, school dramas and their connection as sisters and sometimes friends/enemies. The book starts with quite a confronting incident that in some way sets the tone for the rest of the book. The book crosses through time periods to focus on Jennifer and Charlotte's mother and her sister and on their grandmother and her sister.

As the title of the book suggests it portrays some of the stories that become part of a families history and how these stories can come from different viewpoints and experiences.

This book was quick and easy to read and the narrative was strong and kept the story flowing. Some of the scenes and events in the book didn't always ring true and it was as though they were being placed there to suit the author's purpose rather than because they flowed from the action of the story - but this didn't stop this from being a fun read for me.

January 15, 2011

New Toy

My reading time has been eaten into a little bit over this weekend as I have a new toy to play with.

I have debated whether or not to get an iphone for the longest time - I wouldn't exactly call myself "tech savvy" and my partner is more likely to be the one with the new gadgets - but something finally caught me and I gave in to the iphone craze!

I have been learning the ways of my new phone (and grieving for some of the ways of my old phone which I did love dearly) but some of the gizmos on the iphone are keeping me happy - especially the applications that allow you take old time photos - very cool!

Are there any other applications that you would recommend? Are there any book/writing applications that are particularly good?

January 09, 2011

This Is How - M.J. Hyland

For those of you who have read my previous post, don't despair - I am still attached to, and enjoying my read of A Suitable Boy. I had just collected some books I had on hold at the library over the weekend, one of them being This Is How and after I had briefly skimmed the description of it and then read the first lines I couldn't stop until I had read the whole thing! A common reading problem for me! For the life of me I can't remember who's blog I recently read a review and made a comment on about this one - if it was you could you please jog my memory?? I do remember saying that I thought the subject matter of this one might be a little dark for me right now so I'm not sure why I even put it on hold at the library - but I am so glad I did.

I have tried to think about a way to talk about the book without giving away the plot (a plot that is fairly commonly known anyway I think?) but I am completely failing so I will just send out a warning instead - if you don't want to know too much (apart from the fact that I think this is a brilliant read, don't read any further!).

This Is How starts in the simplest of ways;

I put my bags down on the doorstep and knock three times. I don't bang hard like a copper, but it's not as though I'm ashamed to be knocking either.

The porch light comes on and the landlady opens the door. She's younger and prettier than I expected.

'Hello,' I say. 'I'm Patrick.'

The simpler the beginning the more I am hooked - I just want to know so much more, who is Patrick? Why is he knocking on the door of this house? Why is he so nervous about the style of his knock? etc...

The book is set mainly in an English seaside town in an era that is never definitely defined but I placed it sometime in the 1970's. Patrick is a man in his early 20's who has moved from his hometown after the breakup of a relationship to live in a boarding house by the sea. We get the sense from him that he is wanting to start afresh but it is clear that Patrick has trouble forming and keeping relationships and that his interpersonal skills in some instances are put to the test.

The simple yet in depth narrative - told from Patrick's perspective - lets us see inside his mind to the thoughts that are troubling him on a fairly constant basis - he lacks trust in himself and those around him. The middle of the book culminates in Patrick killing another one of the tenants in the boarding house - a young man who he has struggled to form a friendship with.

The actual murder is stark and simple and the rest of the book follows Patrick as he goes through the legal system in an attempt to be cleared of all charges laid against him.

I'm not sure how the author did it - I look back over the prose and it seems so simple (that word again!) but maybe that is the magic of it - no bells and whistles - just a clear, concise narrative from the mind of a young man.

I was afraid that this book would be too dark for me but I did not find it that way at all. It was certainly sad and tragic in many ways but there were also elements of hope - particularly in the ending.

January 08, 2011


I have finally taken the plunge into A Suitable Boy - a book I have had on my shelf and my TBR list for the longest time. I think the size of the book has made me procrastinate in regards to starting it - my reading tastes tend to swerve and change according to my moods and what is going on in my life at the time so I have been hesitant to commit myself to such a long read (1474 pages!!) as I have wondered if I have the stamina to stay married to only one book for an extended period of time. But, so far, so good! I have found myself totally immersed in the story and the characters and I have not wanted to stray away - as yet!

The book is set in post colonial India and begins with the marriage of Pran and Savita. The author introduces us to the other main characters in the story through a review of the wedding guests and family members. The genograms at the start of the novel show the details of the four main families that the book will follow, the Mehra's, Kapoor's, Khan's and the Chatterji's.

I am realising as I read on that my knowledge of Indian politics and history is lacking - but my reading doesn't seem to be affected too much by that so far. I feel there has been just enough explanation and back story given to allow an ignorant reader such as myself to have enough knowledge to follow along.

I am finding the story to be totally engrossing - like a vivid soap opera with all the dramatics, sorrow and playfulness that go along with that genre. I am already discovering favourite characters (Lata, Savita's younger sister and the girl needing "a suitable boy" according to her mother, is already a firm favourite for her fiestiness).

I'm 345 pages in and enjoying the ride!

January 04, 2011

The King's Speech

We went to our first movie of 2011 last night, The King's Speech, one I have been waiting to see ever since I first heard about it several months ago.

The movie focuses on the story of King George VI (played wonderfully by Colin Firth) from the time before he becomes King after the abdication of his brother Edward up until the start of World War 2. King George, or Bertie as he is known affectionately by his family, has a significant stutter which greatly impacts on his ability to perform his public duties and make important speeches. The impediment is of great embarrassment to him and his family and once he begins speech therapy with the unconventional Lionel Logue (played by Geoffrey Rush) we begin to see the origins of the problem and why it is has been so difficult for him to overcome.

It sounds like such a simple premise to take up the length of a whole movie but it is done brilliantly - there is tension galore and the suspense leading up to the King's first speech after the announcement of World War 2 is immense. The real focus of the movie is on the relationships formed by the King with those around him, including his wife Elizabeth played by Helena Bonham Carter (the real start performance for me) and that of his speech therapist, Lionel.

It is a beautifully made and performed movie - highly recommended!

January 02, 2011

Minding Frankie - Maeve Binchy

Well, 2011 is certainly in full swing, the Christmas tree and lights have been taken down (always a very sad time for me!), it's back to work tomorrow and the first book of the year has been read.

I have not read a Maeve Binchy book before but her latest, Minding Frankie, was a Christmas present from my parents. I started it with my early morning cup of tea a couple of days ago and I pretty much didn't put it down until it was finished.

Binchy's style is certainly suited to holiday reading - a nice light style and pace without being too fluffy I think.

Minding Frankie is about new born baby Frankie and the various friends and family members who pull together to help care for her after the death of her mother on the day that she is born. Frankie's father, Noel, is a recovering alcoholic and as such there is an over zealous social worker, Moira, keeping her eye on his parenting skills just waiting for him to stuff up so that she can whisk Frankie off to foster care. Moira was probably the only major problem I had with this novel. As a social worker myself I am probably a little over sensitive to how social workers are sometimes portrayed in works of fiction but Moira takes the cake for me! She is practically on Noel and Frankie's door every day to do a "check up" visit. I'm not sure how child protection services work in Ireland really but if they offer even 1% of the type of service Moira is offering in this case I'm sure their children at risk will all be safe and sound! I'm certainly not trying to make light of such a serious subject but Moira's professional behaviour was way out of hand and I found myself wanting her to be dis registered quick smart!

Now that my little rant is over I would definitely recommend this book if you were looking for a reasonably light and quick read - there are many and varied characters to follow (even if for the most part they are quite one dimensional) and I think at the heart of the novel is a really nice story about what goes into making up a true family.

January 01, 2011

Happy 2011!

Welcome to 2011 everyone! My partner and I had a lovely quiet night together at home for New Years Eve, watching DVD's and then the magnificent fireworks display over Sydney Harbour at midnight (I would love to be there in person next year).

I have taken the time to look over the reading goals/plans I set for 2010 here and I have realised that my reading personality probably doesn't really match with setting too many rules and guidelines!

The first two goals I set were around reading more Charles Dickens and also (finally) reading A Suitable Boy which I have been meaning to read for the longest time. Sadly I didn't manage to get to either of these goals! I am disappointed that I didn't read A Suitable Boy so I have made a commitment that this is the very next book I am going to pick up - it will be read in 2011!

In regards to some of my other plans I did manage to read and collect more cookbooks during 2010 and I certainly limited my involvement in challenges. So, I guess I wasn't a total failure!

I think what this has told me about myself is that there is really no point in setting reading plans and goals that are too firm or restrictive - I'm going to read how I want, when I want! And that's not such a bad thing. One of my favourite things about being a part of the book blogging community is discovering new authors and books that I would not have come across in any other way - I love this and I want to be able to follow my reading whims wherever they may take me.

Another factor to my reading this year will be my Masters in Communication degree which I will be starting in March - there will be plenty of prescribed reading involved in this so I think that it will be even more important for my reading for pleasure to take me wherever I feel like going.

Whatever happens in regards to my reading for this year I am very much looking forward to seeing where it will take me and hearing about all of your reading experiences along the way.

Happy New Year everyone and happy reading!