It’s Monday! What Are You Reading?

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?-sm


Busy weekend! We headed up north on Friday arvo to spend the weekend at my parents’ house. We ended up going separately as I had to drive my brother’s car up – he was selling it to someone who lives at the other end of the state and Launceston was a good halfway point. I have to say that my mid-90s Nissan Pulsar (which is actually my sister’s) is a more comfortable and, strangely, fuel-efficient car than his three-year-old Mitsubishi Lancer. Probably because of the things he’d had added to the car to make it more of a young man’s hoon car! The tyres, especially. I felt every bump (at one point I hit a pot hole – that was scary!!) and the steering wheel was always being wrenched around, whereas the old Pulsar is a very smooth ride. Noisy (no insulation, really) and the windshield wipers don’t work too well (yes the blades are new!), yet it’s a nicer drive.

But first I’ll tell you about my son’s birthday party on Sunday – he turns 3 today, but we held a joint party for him and his cousin Felix, who turned 4 on the 8th. We had it at the Road Transport and Safety Centre – otherwise known as the “Bike Centre” – in Launceston, which has been around forever and is super cool. You rent the whole place for a couple of hours and get the key ahead of time. The kids had to bring their own bikes, and then they happily whizzed around the pretend streets and gleefully ignored the traffic lights, so much fun! We had nice weather for it too – while it was a bit chilly in the morning (we could only get a 9am booking), it became very sunny and even a bit warm! (We’ve been having a very easy winter so far – bit worried about what that means for the coming summer, though.)

I made a cake for Hugh’s birthday – having had iffy success in the past (including Hugh’s 2nd b’day cake which was meant to be a Thomas the Tank Engine cake but turned out to be … not) I keep trying, and it worked out pretty well this time. He’d asked for a Curious George cake, and after considering and dismissing some kind of three-dimensional monkey cake, I decided to try my hand at one of these:

13 July 2014_002_164_sm 13 July 2014_004_166_sm

13 July 2014_001_163_sm

I didn’t take photos of everyone, but here are Hugh and his cousins (from top: Hugh, Felix, Tamsyn and Angus):

13 July 2014_028_190_sm

13 July 2014_027_189_sm

13 July 2014_033_195_sm

13 July 2014_030_192_sm

Cake time! Hugh pretty much complained about having cold hands all morning, and before we sang Happy Birthday he fell off the bench, hence why he looks like he’s been crying (he was). It wasn’t until after they’d all eaten cake and we had to start packing up that he got on his trike and started having a blast – typical! Felix had a chocolate tractor cake – the kind of cake I wish I could make but so far haven’t been very good at!

13 July 2014_050_212_sm


In terms of reading, reviewing and blogging, I didn’t, as you could have predicted, get very much done. I managed to get two reviews written, but I’m struggling with motivation these days. And this week is a write-off – I have so much to do before school goes back, so this might be the last of me you see this week. Hopefully not, but it’s not likely I’ll find the time to do more than this post. A sorry state of affairs!

POSTS

The Shelves are Groaning

____________________________________

BOOKS FINISHED:

Summer House with Swimming Pool by Herman Koch

summer house with swimming pool

____________________________________

BOOKS REVIEWED:

Summer House with Swimming Pool by Herman Koch
Ignite Me by Tahereh Mafi

summer house with swimming pool ignite me



____________________________________

CURRENTLY READING:

endangered

Endangered
by Jean Love Cush

I’m reading this for a TLC Book Tour – expect my review next Monday – and enjoying it so far. Here’s the publisher’s summary:

An innocent black teenager is accused of murder in this provocative and compassionate thriller that skillfully probes issues of race, class, crime, and injustice and offers a searing portrait of modern America.

From the time her son, Malik, could walk, Janae taught him that the best way to stay alive and out of trouble with the law was to cooperate. Terrified for his safety, she warned him, “raise your hands high, keep your mouth shut, and do whatever they say,” if the police ever stopped him. But when a wave of murders hits Philadelphia and fifteen-year-old Malik is arrested, Janae’s terror is compounded by guilt and doubt: Would Malik have escaped jail if he’d run?

Unable to see her son or pay for his defense, Janae, a cafeteria worker, reluctantly allows Roger Whitford, a white human rights attorney, to represent Malik. With the help of an ambitious private attorney named Calvin Moore, Roger is determined to challenge the entire criminal justice system and expose its inherent racism–racism that threatens the very existence of America’s young black men.

Offering a startling and unprecedented defense, the lawyers spark a national firestorm of debate over race, prison, and politics that burns to the very core of Janae herself. As she battles to save her son, she begins to discover that she is also fighting for her own survival and that of her community.

____________________________________

WHAT’S NEXT:

What I posted last week hasn’t changed, sadly. Still lots of books to finish reading, and I haven’t yet started the ones I’d hoped to be starting this week.

What are your plans for the coming week?

Review: Ignite Me

ignite meIgnite Me by Tahereh Mafi
Shatter Me #3

Harper 2014
Hardback
408 pages
YA Speculative Fiction; Romance



The third and final full-length novel in the Shatter Me series (which includes two e-novellas) decides firmly, once and for all, whether Mafi wanted to write a science fiction/speculative fiction story, or a romance. The answer? Romance, in a sci-fi world. More than that, it’s a coming-of-age story for its young protagonist-narrator, Juliette. Everything she’s been through culminates in a triumphant ending in Ignite Me, and I can’t say I’m at all disappointed.

Trouble is, how do you review the third and final book in a trilogy (or the fifth part in a series, whichever way you look at it) without giving away what came before? How do you review it in such a way that you are actually reviewing the final book while also, possibly, encouraging new readers to start from the beginning? That is, essentially, what I’d like to do here, but the truth is I read this in March – over three months ago – and it’s not all that fresh in my head anymore.

For as much as I love a good romance – like, really really love – and for as much as Mafi delivers on that front, I am still disappointed by the thinly-sketched out world-building. This is a place of climatic catastrophe in our near future, a place that suffered a vacuum of power into which stepped a totalitarian regime (the Reestablishment) seeking to completely oppress the working people (which is almost everyone who isn’t a soldier in the regime – and they, too, come from those families and are supporting them even while the repress them). Of course, the limited world-building comes from Juliette’s limited worldview: not only is she ignorant of this world, as are we, but unlike us, she’s not particularly curious about it. And that spells problems for the very ending, and the new step Juliette takes – which I won’t spell out because it’s a spoiler.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, though with less heat than before: There’s no reason why a Young Adult title can’t be intelligent, sophisticated, meaningful, and above all, well fleshed out. There’s smarts here, and some really powerful imagery and insights, but as with so many other YA speculative fiction books, the world-building is thin on the ground. And that’s a huge shame. I’m not asking for pages of exposition, endless descriptions of boring details. Just a few well-placed details, a timely explanation here and there where appropriate, would go far. There are hints, but they often get derailed because of how Juliette internalises everything and makes it personal.

“You think you’ve had it hard,” [Adam's] saying to me. “Living in psych wards and being thrown in jail – you think that was difficult. But what you don’t realise is that you’ve always had a roof over your head, and food delivered to you on a regular basis.” His hands are clenching, unclenching. “And that’s more than most people will ever have. You have no idea what it’s really like to live out here – no idea what it’s like to starve and watch your family die in front of you. You have no idea,” he says to me, “what it means to truly suffer. Sometimes I think you live in some fantasy land where everyone survives on optimism – but it doesn’t work that way out here. In this world you’re either alive, about to die, or dead. There’s no romance in it. No illusion. So don’t try to pretend you have any idea what it means to be alive today. Right now. Because you don’t.”

Words, I think, are such unpredictable creatures.

No gun, no sword, no army or king will ever be more powerful than a sentence. Swords may cut and kill, but words will stab and stay, burying themselves in our bones to become corpses we carry into the future, all the time digging and failing to rip their skeletons from our flesh. [pp.120-1]

I love these powerful insights, I do; they’re raw and honest and powerful and poetic. But I also need context for the characters’ very existence. For the plot to make sense. And in a story like this, context is in world-building. Hints are fine. Using my imagination to fill in the gaps is great. But you need limits first, a border, an outline. Shatter Me has always been a bit sketchy on that front; or maybe that’s because I’m an adult reader and not the intended audience. I’m slightly terrified of re-reading, as an adult, a science fiction-romance novel I read over and over again as a teenager, and finding I have the same complaints – because I didn’t have them when I was younger, that’s for sure. So how much of this is a real criticism and how much of it is a jaded adult griping, I can never really know for sure.

What undoubtedly saves this book, and the series, is Mafi’s determined, unapologetic focus on the troubled relationship between Juliette and Warner, that seemingly psychotic, amoral, evil young man with the angelic face and hot body. The perfect villain-slash-hero. A complete fantasy, and yet Mafi succeeds in bringing the humanity out of Warner and rendering him believable. Ignite Me is really about Juliette moving past her earlier impression of Warner and learning about the person within, and coming to terms with her own feelings for him. Forgiving him, and herself. Letting go of her own black-and-white worldview to see the grey that’s all around her. What we get is a rather tragic unearthing of Warner that just makes him all the more loveable.

This is Warner’s room. And Warner, to me, is no longer something to be afraid of.

These past few months have transformed him in my eyes, and these past two days have been full of revelations that I’m still recovering from. I can’t deny that he seems different to me now.

I feel like I understand him in a way I never did before.

He’s like a terrified, tortured animal. A creature who spent his whole life being beaten, abused, and caged away. He was forced into a life he never asked for, and was never given an opportunity to choose anything else. And though he’s been given all the tools to kill a person, he’s too emotionally tortured to be able to use those skills against his own father – the very man who taught him to be a murderer. Because somehow, in some strange, inexplicable way, he still wants his father to love him.

And I understand that.

I really, really do. [pp.186-7]

Other readers have noted this, and I have to agree with them, that it’s not necessary to demonise one character (in this case, Adam) in order to make another (in this case, Warner), seem like a better love interest. That said, people change, grow, go through crap and get moody – in general, Juliette isn’t the only one figuring stuff out and acting like a cow at times. But while Juliette is discovering the “grey” in Warner, she seems to be cementing Adam in a narrow, black-and-white world, which just goes to show that she’s still got a long way to go, in terms of growing up and growing wiser. As self-indulgent as she is, she seems incapable of truly thinking and caring about someone other than herself, at the rate of more than one person at a time. Then again, she is an adolescent. It’s a hard, rocky road to self-realisation.

The climax, when it finally comes, seems rushed and brief compared to the long, drawn-out set-up that takes up the bulk of the novel. Yet I didn’t mind it. I think I preferred it to a long, drawn-out climax. Climaxes should be brief – they should be climactic. But I did find the resolution at the very end to be a bit … truncated. It works, and yet I wanted more. On the other hand, had I got more, it might have seemed unnecessary, indulgent, and taken away from the oomph of the ending. Thing is, overturning the entrenched, abusive dystopian power in place – the goal of such stories as this – is only the beginning. Rebuilding is a whole other story, and I would love to read that. The ending is the birth of a whole new world; a world that has a long way to go and will suffer greatly along the way; a world peopled by X-Men like characters (love it!). I don’t know what Mafi is planning on writing next, but I don’t feel ready to say goodbye to these characters or this world. Juliette doesn’t need us anymore, it would be time for a new protagonist to step forward, into this equally-dangerous and unknown new world. I would love to be there for that journey.


________________________________________

Other Reviews:

“Unfortunately all of that magic has been effectively stolen away from me in the wake of the overwhelmingly disappointing series conclusion that was Ignite Me. For me, I think the worst thing about Ignite Me is how much it tries to cheapen and invalidate my experience reading Shatter Me. Everything I once thought was wrong, far beyond what we already discovered in Destroy Me. All my reactions to the characters were incorrect. It sanitizes and simplifies, destroying the complexity of the characters and story in general. I felt like this was an attempt to erase or rewrite the past in a way that felt forced and overdone. To me, Ignite Me was so much less than Shatter Me and its strong sequel Unravel Me – even in the quality and poetry of the writing, and I truly cannot figure out what happened.” Love is Not a Triangle

“Thank you, Tahereh Mafi. Thank you for writing a fantastic end to a fantastic series. Thank you for this this book, this series. Thank you for your beautiful writing. Thank you for this story and these characters and for everything. Just – thank you.” Beauty and the Bookshelf

“Tahereh Mafi is an excellent writer, and I’m so thankful she and I were brought together via the Shatter Me series. Her writing style is refreshing and her characters are squeezeably loveable and amazing. I was so happy that Ignite Me offered a strong finish to this overall stunning series. If you haven’t all these books, I strongly recommend them, including the novellas! Ignite Me will not disappoint longtime Shatter Me fans.” Read. Breathe. Relax

“I think Tahereh Mafi is a brilliant writer — her writing style is incredibly fresh and gorgeous. And, beyond that, I think she’s a lovely person. I was lucky enough to go to lunch with her once when Shatter Me first came out, and she was a delight. So it’s from a place of love that I say this: HOLY COW, TAHEREH, YOUR CHARACTERS INFURIATE ME.” Anna Reads

Missed yours? Leave me a link and I’ll add it.

Review: Summer House With Swimming Pool

summer house with swimming poolSummer House With Swimming Pool by Herman Koch
Translated by Sam Garrett

Text Publishing 2014
Large Format Paperback
409 pages
Fiction
Netherlands_flag


Marc Schlosser is a general practitioner who caters mostly to artists – writers, painters, comedians, actors – mostly because of his office hours. Unlike other GPs, he prides himself on the generous twenty minutes he gives each patient, even though he’s mentally diagnosed them within the first five. People just like to be able to talk it over and feel that their doctor is listening to them.

One of his patients is celebrity actor Ralph Meier. A large, charismatic man and a good actor, Ralph turned up suddenly in his office one day, needing pills – and having heard through the grapevine that Marc prescribes things without much fuss. Much later, he turns up again, this time with a lump on his thigh. Only months later, Ralph is dead and Marc is due to appear before the Board of Medical Examiners who will decide whether it was a tragic case of mismanagement or something more deliberate.

Between the time of first meeting the actor and his death the following year – which Ralph’s wife, Judith, is holding him personally accountable for – something happened. When Marc, his beautiful wife Caroline and their two young daughters, thirteen year old Julia and eleven year old Lisa, took their summer holiday on the Mediterranean, they ended up spending a week at the Meier’s summer house. How could the lazy days of barbecuing, swimming in the pool, playing table tennis with Ralph and Judith’s two boys, Alex and Thomas, and enjoying the beaches lead to an error that cost a man his life? And if it was deliberate, why would Marc do such a thing?

I haven’t yet read Koch’s previous book, The Dinner – it’s on my shelf, along with many other unread books that I’m just as enthusiastic about – so I can’t compare this or say, “If you liked that, you’ll like this.” But I’m thinking that’s probably the case anyway. This is one of those deliciously confronting, uncomfortable novels, the kind of story that manages to sound so reasonable and ordinary and yet flirts with all those human flaws we like to think we’ve risen above. Touching on issues around sexual attraction, morality, instincts and what it means to be a father, Summer House with Swimming Pool is a black comedy – at once funny and disturbing – featuring a protagonist whom you’re never entirely sure is sympathetic or even likeable. Similar things have been said about The Dinner, so that should tell you if you’d like this one or not.

From the moment I sat down in the bookshop and started reading the first chapter, I was drawn in by the incredible honesty and discomfiting observations of the narrator, Marc. This is one of those stories that reminds us of why we should be so grateful we can’t read other people’s minds: you just don’t want to know what other people are really thinking. But if you stop and listen to your own thoughts about others, and about certain topics, you’ll get an idea: our own thoughts are often best kept to ourselves. Hearing exactly what Marc thinks about things – often contradictory, complex and insightful – makes it hard to decide whether you, the reader, like him or not.

When we read we tend to look for patterns, signs, clues or motifs that tells us how we’re meant to read something – genre first, then a host of literary techniques and stylistic devices that influence how we understand things and connect to characters. Koch toys with such conventions, with the result that Marc Schlosser reminded me of a David Cronenberg film: a bit surreal, certainly disturbing, uncomfortably confronting, absolutely fascinating, definitely mesmerising. For as much as we might go “ewwww” at things, privately or publicly, deep down we love being exposed to what’s normally hidden. Freak shows may be a thing of the past, but between celebrity gossip magazines (our own version of the freak show, the way they write about people) and the internet (showing us pictures of deformity, excess etc.), we’re still drawn to it all.

We’re inside Marc’s head, but it’s easy to see that on the outside, he’s very normal. That’s perhaps the most disturbing part, because he reminds us that all the ordinary people in our society still think things or perceive things in ways we pretend to be oblivious to. He’s so frank, to us readers, and there’s no real duplicity or manipulation or cunning to him, he simply obeys the rules of our society, our culture. As he says in regards to pedophilia and being attracted to young girls, everyone experiences that attraction, but the difference is that most people don’t act on it. Marc is in control, yet because of that sense of being in his head in “real time”, we don’t know what he’s going to do next. That makes him unpredictable, which is where you get the sense that there’s something off about him, something almost sinister. The whole way through this book, you’re not sure just what kind of man he is or what he’ll do, but because you hear his thoughts, you realise he’s capable. As is everyone, really.

What’s exhilarating about Summer House and its narrator is how realistic it is. Never straight-forward, Marc is just like you and me: full of contradictions, a mix of morally good and reprehensibly, potentially bad. He’s the image in the mirror we’d rather not see, but Koch thrusts us into his head with no mercy. Marc is fiercely protective and loving towards his girls, yet freely admits he’d rather have had sons. As would everyone, he tells us – and its this propensity to dictate and lecture us readers that makes him unlikeable (that and, for me, his often negative and stereotypical views on women, including his wife). Marc is still heavily influenced by his professor of medical biology, Aaron Herzl, whose lectures he repeats for us, lectures on reproduction, homosexuality, women. Marc’s own feelings about women are often less than complimentary, and his behaviour makes him less than sympathetic, especially, I’m sure, to female readers. What it boils down to – what he never, ever, lets himself think – is that everything that happened that week at the summer house could be blamed entirely on him. But as the book shows, nothing is ever that simple.

It’s the psychological aspect to this novel that I really liked. Set in the Netherlands and somewhere around the Mediterranean, there’s little sense of place: this is a story that could have been set anywhere, really. The characters are familiar in the way Western white people are always familiar to Western, white readers. Koch provides no answers, nor does he overtly judge; through Marc’s eyes and thoughts we get Marc’s ideas, perceptions and values. The story reveals itself slowly, with well-placed foreshadowing, much like a lazy summer day. Its disturbing qualities are captured neatly in Marc’s penchant for dwelling on disgusting details, details about the human body – its appearance as well as what goes on beneath the skin – as well as a sharp, if biased and judgemental, insight into other people’s characters and personalities.

That’s how I looked at Ralph when he dived into the pool. Every time, I considered the possibility that he might not surface again. Or that he would bash his drunken skull against the bottom and be paralysed from head to toe. But each time he surfaced again, coughing and sneezing and hawking, and dragged himself up the ladder. Then he would spread a towel over a deckchair and lie down in the sun to dry. He never covered himself. He lay with his legs spread, his body too large for the deckchair, his feet hanging over the end: all loose and lazy, tanning in the sun. ‘Is this a holiday or is this a holiday?’ he said, burping and closing his eyes. A minute later his mouth had dropped open and he was snoring loudly. I looked at his stomach and legs. At his dick, hanging to one side and resting on his thigh. And then I looked at my two daughters. At Julia and Lisa. They didn’t seem offended at all. [...] I wondered whether perhaps I was, indeed, narrow-minded. Whether it was my own fault that the sight of Ralph Meier’s naked dick so close to my young daughters seemed so filthy. [pp.159-160]

That should give you a taste, as well as a pretty good idea of what direction the story goes in. But I won’t say more than that.

Summer House with Swimming Pool is well crafted and deliberately confronting – in the best possible way. And being inside Marc’s head, you start to feel almost culpable, guilty of the same thoughts he has, which leaves you feeling even more repulsed. And indecisive. As it should be. We’re all flawed, complex and contradictory. We all have unpleasant thoughts, or thoughts that others would find unpleasant. At the heart of this story is the distinction between private and public, between what we must keep to ourselves and what we can share. You can’t really blame Marc for the way he thinks, for the hint of misogyny that taints his perception of women, because it’s the private sphere, a sphere we wouldn’t normally get to experience (nor would we want to); at the end of it all, there’s a part of you – the part that stops feeling so superior – that respects him for knowing the difference.

Casual Tourist 2014
________________________________________

Other Reviews:

“As a study of human nature, it does not get much better than Summer House with Swimming Pool. His characters cross the spectrum of human behaviors and attitudes, with every thought and action a direct consequence of their reactions to each other. It spectacularly shows the intricate culpability an entire group can have on a series of events as well as the degrees of subtlety involved in manipulating others, something readers experience firsthand as their opinions of the happenings and of the characters change page by page. It is quite simply a brilliant piece of literary fiction.” That’s What She Read

“Unfortunately it seems that Koch has followed the formula he used in his best-seller, The Dinner: horrid characters, a terrible incident, moral judgements, an unreliable narrator and parents having to make decisions on behalf of their children. It worked so well in The Dinner, a book that I genuinely could not put down, however, in Summer House, the key plot point provides less room for nuance or moral debate.” Books Are My Favourite and Best

Missed yours? Leave me a link and I’ll add it.

The Shelves Are Groaning - VII/07

The seventh day of the seventh month – it’s been a while since I posted a SAG post (not since May, in fact) but I haven’t been buying too many books lately. I just don’t have time to read much at the moment, but also I don’t have time (sniff sniff) to trawl my favourite book blogs and see the gems that are coming out or being rediscovered, which is the biggest factor towards my book buying habit by far. It’s funny, but even looking through my last SAG post (to make sure I don’t re-post the same books – yes it’s been that long I can’t remember!), I got all excited about the titles I saw there and kept thinking, Ooh I should get that!! ha ha.

I’m starting this SAG post with non-fiction, for a change.


new classics Jamie's 30 minute meals comfort food

The New Classics by Donna Hay – Cookbook.

“Featuring more than 300 recipes across over 400 beautiful pages, The New Classics is the ultimate best-of collection from Donna Hay Magazine, and the perfect gift for the food lover in your life. The hand-picked collection of classic recipes, freshened up with modern flavours, is designed to give you new inspiration and ideas in the kitchen. Old favourites are paired with new and seasonal ingredients to help you build your cooking repertoire. Chapters are divided by ingredient and dishes-beef, chicken, pork, salads, sides, cakes, desserts and more. It’s everything you’ve ever wanted to cook, plus there are plenty of handy suggestions, tips and tricks to guide you along the way.”

Jamie’s 30-Minute Meals by Jamie Oliver – Cookbook.

I’m a big fan of Jamie Oliver, and I’ve been eyeing this one for a while. Have made a couple of things from it already, yay! “If you love food but struggle to find time to eat tasty food every day, then allow Jamie to introduce you to a revolutionary way of cooking. In 30-Minute Meals he shows you how to make a main meal, sides and even a pudding in the time you’d normally spend on one dish. What you’ll be able to achieve in 30 minutes will absolutely blow your mind!”

Comfort Food by the Australian Women’s Weekly – Cookbook.

What can I say? The AWW always has good recipes in their books, they’re such a safe bet. While this one does have a big chapter on slow cooker meals and another on pressure cooker meals (neither of which I have or plan to get), there’s still plenty here for me and you can always adapt those dishes to a slow oven. “Traditionally the realm of slow-cooked winter dishes, comfort food can also be a soothing soup made in 30 minutes or a vegie-filled frittata fit for a summer brunch. What these recipes have in common is the perfect amount of ‘everything’s going to be alright’ to lift your spirits. Using the oven, the stove top, a slow cooker, a pressure cooker or a rice cooker, this collection of recipes brings together all the warmth of a supportive hug. From soups and breads, to stews, roasts, pies, pasta, puddings and a host of sweet treats – fast or slow – we can all do with a bit of comfort now and then.”

bumper book of kids birthday cakes hidden brain black war

The Bumper Book of Kid’s Birthday Cakes by the Australian Women’s Weekly – Cookbook; Cake Decorating.

I ordered this online so I wasn’t sure what it would have in it, but I hoped there would be a lot of inspiration. To be honest, I’m a bit disappointed with it. The cakes aren’t all that great, really – or they’re not quite what I was after, especially with Hugh’s third birthday coming up (he wants a Curious George cake) – but it does come with a whole heap of templates you can copy for cutting cakes, which could be useful.

The Hidden Brain: How Our Unconscious Minds Elect Presidents, Control Markets, Wage Wars, and Save Our Lives by Shankar Vedantam – Non-fiction.

“The hidden brain is the voice in our ear when we make the most important decisions in our lives – but we’re never aware of it. The hidden brain decides whom we fall in love with and whom we hate. It tells us to vote for the white candidate and convict the dark-skinned defendant, to hire the thin woman but pay her less than the man doing the same job. It can direct us to safety when disaster strikes and move us to extraordinary acts of altruism. But it can also be manipulated to turn an ordinary person into a suicide terrorist or a group of bystanders into a mob. In a series of compulsively readable narratives, Shankar Vedantam journeys through the latest discoveries in neuroscience, psychology, and behavioral science to uncover the darkest corner of our minds and its decisive impact on the choices we make as individuals and as a society. Filled with fascinating characters, dramatic storytelling, and cutting-edge science, this is an engrossing exploration of the secrets our brains keep from us – and how they are revealed.”

The Black War: Fear, Sex and Resistance in Tasmania by Nicholas Clements – Non-fiction: History.

There have been a few books written about the infamous genocide of Tasmanian Aborigines; this book by Clements, a Tasmanian himself, is the newest. I’ve really lapsed on the study of history in the last few years but teaching has given me new impetus, enthusiasm and motivation. “Between 1825 and 1831, close to 200 Britons and 1,000 Aborigines died violently in Tasmania’s Black War. It was by far the most intense frontier conflict in Australia’s history, yet many Australians know little about it. “The Black War” takes a unique approach to this historic event, looking chiefly at the experiences and attitudes of those who took part in the conflict. By contrasting the perspectives of colonists and Aborigines, Nicholas Clements takes a deeply human look at the events that led to the shocking violence and tragedy of the war, detailing raw personal accounts that shed light on the tribes, families, and individuals involved as they struggled to survive in their turbulent world. The Black War presents a compelling and challenging view of Australia’s early contact history, the legacy of which reverberates strongly to the present day.”

shakespeare the biography how to be a victorian tall man

Shakespeare: The Biography by Peter Ackroyd – Non-fiction: Biography; History.

Ackroyd’s book seems to be the definitive biography of Shakespeare, and would you believe (yes I’m sure you would) that I’ve never studied the playwright in depth? His plays, yes, but not the author. “Peter Ackroyd’s marvellous biography is a living attempt to reach into the heart of Shakespeare. He creates an intimate and immediate connection with his subject, so that the book reads like the work of a contemporary – meeting Shakespeare afresh on his own ground.Written with intuition and imagination unique to Peter Ackroyd, this is a book by a writer about a writer, and a fascinating and detailed depiction of the world Shakespeare inhabited.”

How to be a Victorian by Ruth Goodman – Non-fiction: History; Anthropology.

I’m thinking this’d be an awesome book for research if you wanted to write a novel set in this period! “How to be a Victorian – a time traveller’s guide to Victorian Britain by the BBC’s Ruth Goodman. We know what life was like for Victoria and Albert. But what was it like for a commoner like you or me? How did it feel to cook with coal and wash with tea leaves? Drink beer for breakfast and clean your teeth with cuttlefish? Dress in whalebone and feed opium to the baby? Surviving everyday life came down to the gritty details, the small necessities and tricks of living. Drawing on Ruth’s unique first-hand experience, gained from living on a Victorian farm for a year, this book will teach you everything you need to know about 19th century living. If you liked A Time Traveller’s Guide to Medieval England or If Walls Could Talk, you will love this book. Popular Historian Ruth Goodman is an expert in nineteenth-century social and domestic history. She has presented a number of BBC television series, including Victorian Farm and Edwardian Farm and is a regular expert on The One Show. She spent ten years as a historical advisor to the Royal Shakespeare Company’s Globe Theatre and has co-authored three books, including the Number One Bestseller Victorian Farm.”

The Tall Man: Death and Life on Palm Island by Chloe Hooper – Literary Non-fiction.

“When Cameron Doomadgee, a 36-year-old member of the Aboriginal community of Palm Island, was arrested for swearing at a white police officer, he was dead within forty-five minutes of being locked up. The police claimed he’d tripped on a step, but the pathologist likened his injuries to those received in a plane crash. The main suspect was the handsome, charismatic Senior Sergeant Christopher Hurley, an experienced cop with decorations for his work. In following Hurley’s trail to some of the wildest and most remote parts of Australia, Chloe Hooper explores Aboriginal myths and history and uncovers buried secrets of white mischief. Atmospheric, gritty and original, The Tall Man takes readers to the heart of a struggle for power, revenge and justice.”

in other worlds butterfly man paris architect

In Other Worlds: SF and the Human Imagination by Margaret Atwood – Non-fiction: Essays.

“From her days as a child reader in the 1940s, through her time at Harvard, where she studied the Victorian ancestors of the form, and later as a writer and reviewer, Margaret Atwood has always been fascinated with science fiction. Here she brings together three Ellmann lectures: ‘Flying Rabbits’ begins with her early rabbit superhero creations, and goes on to speculate about masks, capes, weakling alter egos and Things with Wings; ‘Burning Bushes’ travels into Victorian otherlands and beyond; and ‘Dire Cartographies’ investigates Utopias and Dystopias, including Atwood’s own ventures into those constructions. In further essays Atwood explores and critiques the form, and elucidates the differences – as she sees them – between ‘science fiction’ proper, and ‘speculative fiction’, not to mention ‘sword and sorcery’, ‘fantasy’ and ‘slipstream fiction’. In Other Worlds is a must.”

The Butterfly Man by Heather Rose – Fiction.

Tassie author!! One of the teachers I work with taught this book last term; I hadn’t heard of it before but the way her students were describing it to me, it sounded fascinating, especially around memory and truth. “In November 1974 a young English nanny named Sandra Rivett was murdered in London’s West End. Her employer, Lord Lucan, was named as her attacker. It was widely assumed he had mistaken her for his wife. Lord Lucan disappeared the night Sandra Rivett died and has never been seen since. Henry Kennedy lives on a mountain on the other side of the world. He is not who he says he is. Is he a murderer or a man who can never clear his name? And is he the only one with something to hide? Set in Tasmania, Africa and London’s Belgravia, The Butterfly Man is an absorbing novel about transformation and deception, and the lengths to which we will go to protect the ones we love.”

The Paris Architect by Charles Belfoure – Historical Fiction.

Received for review from the publisher. “Like most gentiles in Nazi-occupied Paris, architect Lucien Bernard has little empathy for the Jews. So when a wealthy industrialist offers him a large sum of money to devise secret hiding places for Jews, Lucien struggles with the choice of risking his life for a cause he doesn’t really believe in. Ultimately he can’t resist the challenge and begins designing expertly concealed hiding spaces – behind a painting, within a column, or inside a drainpipe – detecting possibilities invisible to the average eye. But when one of his clever hiding spaces fails horribly and the immense suffering of Jews becomes incredibly personal, he can no longer deny reality.”

little old lady who broke girl in translation shanghai girls

The Little Old Lady Who Broke All the Rules by Catharina Ingelman-Sundberg – Fiction.

The Little Old Lady Who Broke All the Rules is an incredibly quirky, humorous and warm-hearted story about growing old disgracefully – and breaking all the rules along the way! 79-year-old Martha Andersson dreams of escaping her care home and robbing a bank. She has no intention of spending the rest of her days in an armchair and is determined to fund her way to a much more exciting lifestyle. Along with her four oldest friends – otherwise known as the League of Pensioners – Martha decides to rebel against all of the rules imposed upon them. Together, they cause uproar with their antics protesting against early bedtimes and plasticky meals. As the elderly friends become more daring, they hatch a cunning plan to break out of the dreary care home and land themselves in a far more attractive Stockholm establishment. With the aid of their Zimmer frames, they resolve to stand up for old aged pensioners everywhere – Robin Hood style. And that’s when the adventure really takes off … Perfect for fans of The 100 Year Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared and The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.”

Girl in Translation by Jean Kwok – Fiction.

I’ve heard great things about Kwok and this book in particular. “When Kimberly Chang and her mother emigrate from Hong Kong to Brooklyn squalor, she quickly begins a secret double life: exceptional schoolgirl during the day, Chinatown sweatshop worker in the evenings. Disguising the more difficult truths of her life – like the staggering degree of her poverty, the weight of her family’s future resting on her shoulders, or her secret love for a factory boy who shares none of her talent or ambition – Kimberly learns to constantly translate not just her language but herself back and forth between the worlds she straddles. Through Kimberly’s story, author Jean Kwok, who also emigrated from Hong Kong as a young girl, brings to the page the lives of countless immigrants who are caught between the pressure to succeed in America, their duty to their family, and their own personal desires, exposing a world that we rarely hear about. Written in an indelible voice that dramatizes the tensions of an immigrant girl growing up between two cultures, surrounded by a language and world only half understood, Girl in Translation is an unforgettable and classic American immigrant novel – a moving tale of hardship and triumph, heartbreak and love, and all that gets lost in translation.”

Shanghai Girls by Lisa See – Historical Fiction.

Another great find at my local Salvos. “In 1937 Shanghai — the Paris of Asia — twenty-one-year-old Pearl Chin and her younger sister, May, are having the time of their lives. Both are beautiful, modern, and carefree — until the day their father tells them that he has gambled away their wealth. To repay his debts, he must sell the girls as wives to suitors who have travelled from Los Angeles to find Chinese brides. As Japanese bombs fall on their beloved city, Pearl and May set out on the journey of a lifetime, from the Chinese countryside to the shores of America. Though inseparable best friends, the sisters also harbour petty jealousies and rivalries. Along the way they make terrible sacrifices, face impossible choices, and confront a devastating, life-changing secret, but through it all the two heroines of this astounding new novel hold fast to who they are — Shanghai girls.”

A replacement life summer house with swimming pool how to build a girl

A Replacement Life by Boris Fishman – Fiction; Historical Fiction.

ARC received for review via TLC Book Tours – unfortunately, it was one of those rare books I just couldn’t read so I got myself taken off the tour. I was never going to finish it. “A singularly talented writer makes his literary debut with this provocative, soulful, and sometimes hilarious story of a failed journalist asked to do the unthinkable: forge Holocaust-restitution claims for old Russian Jews in Brooklyn, New York. Yevgeny Gelman, grandfather of Slava Gelman, ‘didn’t suffer in the exact way’ he needs to have suffered to qualify for the reparations the German government has been paying out to Holocaust survivors. But suffer he has – as a Jew in the war, as a second-class citizen in the USSR, as an immigrant in America. So? Isn’t his grandson a ‘writer’? High-minded Slava wants to put all this immigrant-scraping behind him. Only the American dream is not panning out for him: Century, the legendary magazine where he works as a researcher, wants nothing greater from him. Slava wants to be a correct, blameless American – but he wants to be a lionized writer even more. Slava’s turn as the Forger of South Brooklyn teaches him that not every fact is a truth and not every lie a falsehood. It takes more than law-abiding to become an American; it takes the same self-reinvention at which his people excel. Intoxicated and unmoored by his inventions, Slava risks exposure. Cornered, he commits an irrevocable act that finally grants him a sense of home in America – but not before collecting a lasting price from his family. A Replacement Life is a dark, moving, and beautifully written novel about family, honour, and justice.”

Summer House with Swimming Pool by Herman Koch – Fiction.

“Marc Schlosser prides himself on the time he gives his patients. But celebrity actor Ralph Meier is dead. Is it a case of tragic mismanagement? Or something more sinister? Now facing a hearing before the Board of Medical Examiners, Marc plans his case for medical error. But what happened the previous year when the doctor, his wife, and their two teenage daughters spent a week at an extravagant summer house on the Mediterranean with Ralph and Judith Meier and a Hollywood director and his young girlfriend? How did days of sunshine, wine tasting and lazy trips to the beach pave the ground for such an error? Featuring the razor-sharp humour and spine-chilling psychological insight that made The Dinner an international phenomenon, Summer House with Swimming Pool showcases Herman Koch at his finest.”

How to Build a Girl by Caitlin Moran – Fiction.

“What do you do in your teenage years when you realise what your parents taught you wasn’t enough? You must go out and find books and poetry and pop songs and bad heroes – and build yourself. It’s 1990. Johanna Morrigan, 14, has shamed herself so badly on local TV that she decides that there’s no point in being Johanna anymore and reinvents herself as Dolly Wilde – fast-talking, hard-drinking Gothic hero and full-time Lady Sex Adventurer! She will save her poverty stricken Bohemian family by becoming a writer – like Jo in Little Women, or the Brontes – but without the dying young bit. By 16, she’s smoking cigarettes, getting drunk and working for a music paper. She’s writing pornographic letters to rock-stars, having all the kinds of sex with all the kinds of men, and eviscerating bands in reviews of 600 words or less. But what happens when Johanna realises she’s built Dolly with a fatal flaw? Is a box full of records, a wall full of posters and a head full of paperbacks, enough to build a girl after all? Imagine The Bell Jar written by Rizzo from Grease, with a soundtrack by My Bloody Valentine and Happy Mondays. As beautiful as it is funny, How To Build a Girl is a brilliant coming-of-age novel in DMs and ripped tights, that captures perfectly the terror and joy of trying to discover exactly who it is you are going to be.”

professional - full novel addition jilted

The Professional by Kresley Cole – Romantic-Suspense.

I read the first part of this book via Netgalley – it was released in teaser e-book instalments first – and I’ve wanted to read the whole thing in print, my preferred format. I actually forgot about it so it was great coming across it in, um, I can’t actually remember where. It may have been K-Mart of all places. I love Kresley Cole’s books, she’s one of my go-to, always-buy authors. “Mafiya enforcer Aleksei “The Siberian” Sevastyan’s loyalty to his boss knows no bounds, until he meets the boss’s long-lost daughter, a curvy, feisty redhead who haunts his mind and heats his blood like no other. Ordered to protect her, Aleksei will do anything to possess her as well — on his own wicked terms. Grad student Natalie Porter had barely recovered from her first sight of the dark and breathtaking Sevastyan before the professional enforcer whisks her away to Russia, thrusting her into a world of extreme wealth and wanton pleasures. Every day under his protection leads her deeper under his masterful spell. Yet all is not as it seems. To remove Natalie from an enemy’s reach, Sevastyan spirits her into hiding. From an opulent palace in Russia to the decadent playgrounds of the mega-wealthy in Paris, the two lovers will discover that even their darkest — and most forbidden—fantasies can come true…”

Addition by Toni Jordan – Fiction.

I’ve seen this reviewed via the Australian Women Writer’s Challenge and heard that it’s wonderful, so I was excited to find a secondhand copy at Salamanca Market a couple of weeks ago. “Grace Lisa Vandenburg counts. The letters in her name (19). The steps she takes every morning to the local cafe (920). The number of poppy seeds on her orange cake, which dictates the number of bites she’ll take to eat it. Grace counts everything, because that way there are no unpleasant surprises. Seamus Joseph O’Reilly (also a 19) thinks she might be better off without the counting. If she could hold down a job, say. Or open her cupboards without conducting an inventory, or leave her flat without measuring the walls. Grace’s problem is that Seamus doesn’t count. Her other problem is … he does. As Grace struggles to balance a new relationship with old habits, to find a way to change while staying true to herself, she realises that nothing is more chaotic than love.”

Jilted by Rachael Johns – Fiction.

I know I wasn’t hugely impressed with my first Johns experience, Outback Dreams, but I’m not ready to base an opinion on just one book, and she does have the best-sounding blurbs! “She’d left him at the altar, but her heart was always his… After more than ten years away, Australian soap opera star Ellie Hughes returns to the small town of Hope Junction, determined to fly under the radar while caring for her injured godmother, Matilda. But word spreads fast in the tight-knit community. It isn’t long before the people of Hope Junction are gossiping about the real reason for Ellie’s visit and why she broke the heart of golden boy Flynn Quartermaine all those years ago. Soon Ellie and Flynn are thrown back together, forced to deal with the unresolved emotions between them. Because Ellie is not the only one with secrets. Flynn has his own demons to battle, and Matilda is hiding something from her much-loved goddaughter. When all is uncovered, can the ill-fated lovers overcome the wounds of their past? Or is Flynn destined to be jilted again?”

release - elizabeth dunk drowned spark

Release by Elizabeth Dunk – Erotic-Romance.

E-book from Netgalley. I haven’t read anything by Dunk before but I love the sound of this one: “Cursed after death to live in grey nothingness until they atone for their sins, four spirits have spent centuries doing good for others. Finally they stumble upon the true key to their salvation — because they hurt women in their lives, they’ll only find release by now helping women to become all they should be. One by one, the spirits meet a woman and as each sexual delight unfurls, the grey nothingness disappears a little more. As the women find their happily ever after, they grant the spirits a chance at peace for eternity. Follow the journey of four remarkable women — Luisa, Anna, Cara, and Jan — and the four spirits that set them on a new path to sexual freedom and boundless pleasure.”

Drowned by Nichola Reilly – YA Speculative Fiction.

The premise is definitely intriguing and I’m very curious about how it all works; I hope it can live up to it. “Coe is one of the few remaining teenagers on the island of Tides. Deformed and weak, she is constantly reminded that in a world where dry land dwindles at every high tide, she is not welcome. The only bright spot in her harsh and difficult life is the strong, capable Tiam – but love has long ago been forgotten by her society. The only priority is survival. Until the day their King falls ill, leaving no male heir to take his place. Unrest grows, and for reasons Coe cannot comprehend, she is invited into the privileged circle of royal aides. She soon learns that the dying royal is keeping a secret that will change their world forever. Is there an escape from the horrific nightmare that their island home has become? Coe must race to find the answers and save the people she cares about, before their world and everything they know is lost to the waters.”

Spark by Brigid Kemmerer – YA Urban Fantasy.

Sweet find at my local Salvos op-shop for just a few dollars. I haven’t yet read the first book, Storm, which I’ve had for a while, but I’m always one for planning ahead! “Gabriel Merrick plays with fire. Literally. Sometimes he can even control it. And sometimes he can’t. Gabriel has always had his brothers to rely on, especially his twin, Nick. But when an arsonist starts wreaking havoc on their town, all the signs point to Gabriel. Only he’s not doing it. And no one seems to believe him. Except a shy sophomore named Layne, a brainiac who dresses in turtlenecks and jeans and keeps him totally off balance. Because Layne has a few secrets of her own…”

endangered wind in the willows happy birthday peppa

Endangered by Jean Love Cush – YA Fiction.

Received for review from HarperCollins via TLC Book Tours. This sounds so good! “To save her son from a legal system bent on sending African American men to jail, a young mother agrees to an unprecedented, controversial defense offered up from a team of crack lawyers, in this debut novel that speaks to race, class, and justice in America. Janae Williams, a never-missed-a-day-of-work single mother, has devoted her whole life to properly raising her son. From the time Malik could walk, Janae taught him that the best way to stay alive and out of trouble with the law was to cooperate. Terrified for his safety, she warned him to ‘raise your hands high, keep your mouth shut, and do whatever they say’ if stopped by the police. But when a wave of murders hits Philadelphia and fifteen-year-old Malik is arrested, Janae’s terror is compounded by guilt and doubt: Would Malik be in jail if he had run? Blocked at every turn from seeing her son, Janae is also unable to afford adequate legal representation. In steps the well-meaning Roger Whitford, a lawyer who wants to use Malik’s case to upend the entire criminal justice system. Janae simply wants her son free, but Roger, with the help of an ambitious private attorney, is determined to expose the system’s hostility toward black boys. Offering a startling and unprecedented defense, the lawyers spark a national firestorm of debate over race, prison, and politics. As Janae battles to save her son, she begins to discover that she is also fighting for her own survival and that of the future of her community.”

The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame – Children’s Classics.

I know I already have a copy of this wonderful story, but I love these little Puffin editions (Dymocks had it on sale for only $5!) and I thought it’d be a good book for Hugh when he’s older. Now I’m seeing Robert Ingpen has an edition out, and AHHHH I just have to get it! One day soon (you really do have to get books when you see them because after a while they’re out of print and you’ve missed your chance). To think this book first came out in 1908!

Happy Birthday Peppa! by Rebecca Gerlings – Picture Book.

My son is a BIG fan of Peppa Pig, but I held off on getting him any of the spin-off books because I knew I’d have to read it over and over if I got one. Well I caved. And I have read this over and over and over again. But it’s Peppa Pig! Lots of fun. “It’s Peppa’s birthday and she is very excited. There is going to be a party – with presents and games and a cake – hooray! There will even be a special show from Magic Daddy. Abracadabra! But will Peppa’s birthday wish come true when she blows out her candles?”

______________________________________________________

That’s it for now. Well, I did have two new books arrive in the mail while I was finishing up this post, but I’m going to save them for the next SAG post. They’d only muck up my formatting anyway! ;)

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?-sm



It’s quite telling that the last book I actually finished was on the 17th of June, and I have five that I’m “currently reading”. The good news is: I’m on term break!! Supposedly, I have two weeks’ holiday. In reality, I will be able to get a few days of rest and reading in before I have to start planning and preparing for Term 3. I’m taking on a new (new to me) English class, too, a different level from the one I’ve been teaching since March, so I have a new course document to study and unit to plan. Plus I have to do a fair bit for exam revision for the first week and a bit of next term – you wouldn’t think I would, would you, because it’s “revision”, but not so. There’s so much to do! And so much to read.

But, like I said, I’m giving myself a break first and I really want to finish the books I’ve started, as they’re all good (except for one; see below). Taking a few days for myself is obviously important, not least because for the last two weeks I’ve had inflamed lymph glands or something – ever since I had glandular fever (“mono” in North America) in first year uni, the glands in my neck swell and hurt whenever I get run-down and super stressed. It usually doesn’t last very long, it’s just a warning to me that I need to slow down, get more sleep, de-stress. I’ve never had that pain in my neck/throat for two whole weeks before, and worse than usual. It’s the threat of a relapse that worries me, of course. It’s been a rough few weeks, too, what with my little boy getting “Haemophilus Influenza”, a bacterial influenza that he had for a week, which meant me staying home with him most of those days and not getting any work done (he’s had a really rough time lately and has been going through a super clingy phase where he’s extra-attached to mummy).

Anyway, it’s not just my reading that has suffered lately; I haven’t had much time for blogging, either. Know when the last time I wrote an “It’s Monday!” post was? 28th of April! (Yeah I had to look it up.) I think I only posted three times in June! It doesn’t matter to me how busy I get or how overwhelmed with other stuff, my blog is currently my one creative outlet and my one connection to a world bigger than the drive from my house to school: there’s no way I’m stopping. I just try to do what I can to keep my blog’s heartbeat going, even if it is a bit erratic and slow. So thank you for continuing to stop by and read and leave comments, I really do appreciate it!

POSTS
(since my last It’s Monday! post)

Monthly Recap = June

Around the World in 12 Books Challenge – May Round-up

The Shelves are Groaning – XXIV/05

Monthly Recap = April and May

Around the World in 12 Books Challenge – April Round-up

____________________________________

BOOKS FINISHED:
(since my last It’s Monday! post back in April)

Torn by Karen Turner
The Queen of the Tearling by Erika Johansen
John Dreamer by Elise Celine
Slave to Love edited by Alison Tyler
Fallout by Sadie Jones
The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
Bee Summers by Melanie Dugan
Happy Birthday Peppa! by Rebecca Gerlings
The Undead Next Door by Kerrelyn Sparks

torn queen of the tearling john dreamer slave to love fallout

fault in our stars bee summers happy birthday peppa undead next door

____________________________________

BOOKS REVIEWED:
(since my last It’s Monday! post)

Dreams of Gods & Monsters by Laini Taylor
Time Will Tell by Fiona McIntosh
Torn by Karen Turner
The Queen of the Tearling by Erika Johansen
Fallout by Sadie Jones
Bee Summers by Melanie Dugan

dreams of gods and monsters time will tell torn queen of the tearling fallout bee summers

____________________________________

CURRENTLY READING:

amalganations

AmalgaNations: How Globalisation is Good
by Doug Hendri

I received this for review from the author and started reading it, gosh, at the end of May. I had to put it down because I had so much to read for my job; it’s really interesting but I have to spread my non-fiction out because of all the brain activity it provokes. When you really work your brain for your job it’s hard to come home and relax with an equally brain-intensive book! This is one I’m really hoping to finish on my break.

When the West meets the rest – what comes next? Fuelled by curiosity and wanderlust, reporter Doug Hendrie travels to the edges of our world to find the answer: a series of unexpected – and bizarre – cultural mash-ups, from the StarCraft videogame superstars of South Korea to the Clash-loving punks of Indonesia; from gay power in the Catholic Philippines to the street filmmakers of Ghana.

A whirlwind world tour through surprising subcultures told with subtle humour, AmalgaNations picks up where Louis Theroux leaves off.

let the land speak

Let the Land Speak
by Jackie French

This is a book I wanted to read for myself as soon as it came out a few months ago, and I had the perfect excuse to buy an expensive hardback too: I was teaching Kate Grenville’s The Secret River last term and it came in mighty handy for historical and cultural context (a big part of the course)! Only trouble is, I haven’t had a chance to finish it. It’s excellent, and thought-provoking and eye-opening – a must for anyone interested in learning about Australia. If the author’s name sounds familiar, that’d be because of her wonderful Diary of a Wombat picture books and her many Young Adult historical fiction novels – I’ve previously posted about The Road to Gundagai, one of my favourite books read last year.

From highly respected, award-winning author Jackie French comes a fascinating interpretation of Australian history, focusing on how the land itself, rather than social forces, shaped the major events that led to modern Australia.

Reinterpreting the history that we think we all know – from the indigenous women who shaped the land, Terra Incognita and Eureka, to Federation, Gallipoli and beyond – Jackie French shows that to understand history, we need to understand our land.

She also shows that there’s so much we don’t understand about our history because we don’t understand the way life was lived at the time.

Eye-opening and unforgettable, Let The Land Speak will transform your view of Australian history.

how to build a girl

How to Build a Girl
by Caitlin Moran

A couple of weeks ago I had a terrible day, a Wednesday – a day that just kept going as I had to start work at 8am and then had to do an after-school thing from quarter-to-seven (because of our shared-car situation and Hugh’s bedtime, I had an excuse to leave early, otherwise I’d have been there till past 9). I had time to kill between school and parent-information-night, so I walked up the street to look for dinner and naturally took myself to the State Cinema bookshop, partly for therapeutic reasons (bookshops are incredibly soothing and reassuring places) and partly because I’d forgotten to bring my book and wanted something to read. I’m so out of the loop on what’s out that I had to ask for a recommendation! Hadn’t heard of this one and the staff hadn’t read it but they said it would be fun. It is definitely funny, black-comedy funny.

What do you do in your teenage years when you realise what your parents taught you wasn’t enough? You must go out and find books and poetry and pop songs and bad heroes – and build yourself.

It’s 1990. Johanna Morrigan, 14, has shamed herself so badly on local TV that she decides that there’s no point in being Johanna anymore and reinvents herself as Dolly Wilde – fast-talking, hard-drinking Gothic hero and full-time Lady Sex Adventurer! She will save her poverty stricken Bohemian family by becoming a writer – like Jo in Little Women, or the Brontes – but without the dying young bit.

By 16, she’s smoking cigarettes, getting drunk and working for a music paper. She’s writing pornographic letters to rock-stars, having all the kinds of sex with all the kinds of men, and eviscerating bands in reviews of 600 words or less.

But what happens when Johanna realises she’s built Dolly with a fatal flaw? Is a box full of records, a wall full of posters and a head full of paperbacks, enough to build a girl after all?

Imagine The Bell Jar written by Rizzo from Grease, with a soundtrack by My Bloody Valentine and Happy Mondays. As beautiful as it is funny, How To Build a Girl is a brilliant coming-of-age novel in DMs and ripped tights, that captures perfectly the terror and joy of trying to discover exactly who it is you are going to be.

summer house with swimming pool

Summer House With Swimming Pool
by Herman Koch

The other week I went to see a performance of 1984 at the Theatre Royal; I had some time to kill before meeting friends for dinner so I stopped in at Fullers Bookshop – a good idea as it turned out they were having a stocktake sale. I sat down on the couch with this book and got into it, so I decided to buy it even though I hadn’t been planning on getting a new book (I’d only just bought How to Build a Girl two days before!).

MARC SCHLOSSER PRIDES HIMSELF on the time he gives his patients. But celebrity actor Ralph Meier is dead. Is it a case of tragic mismanagement? Or something more sinister?

Now facing a hearing before the Board of Medical Examiners, Marc plans his case for medical error.

But what happened the previous year when the doctor, his wife, and their two teenage daughters spent a week at an extravagant summer house on the Mediterranean with Ralph and Judith Meier and a Hollywood director and his young girlfriend? How did days of sunshine, wine tasting and lazy trips to the beach pave the ground for such an error?

Featuring the razor-sharp humour and spine-chilling psychological insight that made The Dinner an international phenomenon, Summer House with Swimming Pool showcases Herman Koch at his finest.

enmity

Enmity
by EJ Andrews

I started reading this ages ago – it’s a copy from the publisher – because I needed something exciting to read and YA usually delivers on that front. However, I’m really not enjoying this one, and I’m not sure I’ll be able to finish it (I’ve got to the point where I’m giving myself permission to not finish books). Mostly, it’s the plotholes. And the plot. It’s ridiculous.

After a solar flare wipes out most of the world’s inhabitants, it leaves behind nothing but a desolate earth and a desperate population. Existence is no longer a certainty. And with factions now fighting for the power to rule, people start to become reckless with their lives. The world has become a dangerous place.

Amongst the ensuing chaos, Nate and Hermia — two victims of the new world order — are taken against their will to The Compound. Joined by eight other teenagers all chosen for a specific reason, Nate and Hermia are forced to train as assassins to overthrow the current president and make way for a new leader of the free world. Here, they learn to plan, fight, and most importantly… to survive.

Except, despite the casual cruelty of their new existence, both Nate and Hermia — two very strong but very different people — begin to form fragile bonds within the group. But they soon realize their happiness is short lived…because their training is just the beginning.

A war awaits…regardless of how ready or willing they may be.

____________________________________

WHAT’S NEXT:

god of small things

The God of Small Things
by Arundhati Roy

I know pretty much everyone has read this already so I’m late to the party, but I only got a copy a few months ago. It’s on the prescribed reading list for the class I teach and a few students have chosen it for their Independent Study, so it’s a good time to finally read it. I hear it’s confronting (excellent), challenging in the way it’s written (okay) and really, really good. It’s one of those books that never has a blurb (my copy just has loads and loads of quotes) so I’m not sure where this one from Goodreads came from, but it’s the most I’ve ever seen.

The year is 1969. In the state of Kerala, on the southernmost tip of India, fraternal twins Esthappen and Rahel fashion a childhood for themselves in the shade of the wreck that is their family. Their lonely, lovely mother, Ammu, (who loves by night the man her children love by day), fled an abusive marriage to live with their blind grandmother, Mammachi (who plays Handel on her violin), their beloved uncle Chacko (Rhodes scholar, pickle baron, radical Marxist, bottom-pincher), and their enemy, Baby Kochamma (ex-nun and incumbent grandaunt).

When Chacko’s English ex-wife brings their daughter for a Christmas visit, the twins learn that Things Can Change in a Day. That lives can twist into new, ugly shapes, even cease forever, beside their river….

paris architect

The Paris Architect
by Charles Belfoure

I have a bit of a backlog of books from publishers that I need to read so I’m not, in general, accepting anything new, but when the lovely people at Sourcebooks Landmark emailed me about The Paris Architect, I just had to say yes. I’d heard about the book through France Book Tours and loved the sound of it:

In 1942 Paris, gifted architect Lucien Bernard accepts a commission that will bring him a great deal of money and maybe get him killed. But if he’s clever enough, he’ll avoid any trouble. All he has to do is design a secret hiding place for a wealthy Jewish man, a space so invisible that even the most determined German officer won’t find it. He sorely needs the money, and outwitting the Nazis who have occupied his beloved city is a challenge he can’t resist.

But when one of his hiding spaces fails horribly, and the problem of where to hide a Jew becomes terribly personal, Lucien can no longer ignore what’s at stake. The Paris Architect asks us to consider what we owe each other, and just how far we’ll go to make things right.

Written by an architect whose knowledge imbues every page, this story becomes more gripping with every soul hidden and every life saved.

______________________________________________________

There are plenty of other titles I could add – ones I’ve put up on these posts before and still haven’t had a chance to read – but I need to keep it reasonable. I’ll be happy if I could at least finish the books I’ve started this week. That would be really, really good.

On a side note, I’m 6 reviews away from reaching the big number of 1066 – and you all know the significance of THAT date I hope!!

Monthly Recap = June

I started plenty of books in June, but didn’t get much actual reading of my own done (read plenty, just not things I can put here!). June was an abysmal month for finishing books and reviewing/blogging; I made no dent in my list of books I still have to review (which dates back to February, ouch). And my total tally for the year so far is the lowest it’s been in the last ten years. On the upside, I regularly remind myself (and pinch myself) that I do currently have my dream job!

Books Read This Year (by End of Month): 38
Books Read in June: 3 including:

    Adult Novels: 1
    Children’s/YA Novels: 1
    Picture Books (new, owned): 1
    Non-Fiction: 0

Total Books Added to My Library in June: 25 including:

    Review Copies Received (print): 3
    Books Won: 0
    Kindle E-books: 0
    E-books From Netgalley: 1

Favourite Book Read in June: N/A
Most Disappointing Book: N/A
# Books by Female Authors: 3
# Books by Male Authors: 0
Currently Reading: five different books that I’ll post about tomorrow!
Books Read for TLC Book Tours: 1
Books Read for Challenges:

    Around the World in 12 Books Challenge – 0
    Canadian Book Challenge – 1
    Australian Women Writers Challenge – 0
    Read-alongs – 0

Books Read in June

36. Bee Summers by Melanie Dugan
37. Happy Birthday Peppa! by Rebecca Gerlings
38. The Undead Next Door by Kerrelyn Sparks

I hope June was a more productive month for your reading than it was for me!

Around the World in 12 Books Challenge - May Round-up

around the world 2014

I’m terribly late in posting the May round-up of books reviewed for the Around the World reading challenge – my apologies! You can check out previous months’ round-ups by clicking on the links below:

January
February
March
April

Note: Reviewer links go to the reviewer’s blog page; title links will take you to the book’s Goodreads page.

__________________________________________________

ASIA

good earthCHINA
The Good Earth by Pearl S Buck (reviewed by Deb at The Book Stop)

I read this book several years ago and it’s really stuck in my head; it was interesting to read Deb’s thoughts on this classic early 20th century novel.


__________________________________________________

SOUTH AMERICA

hour of the starBRAZIL

Godzina gwiazdy (The Hour of the Star) by Clarice Lispector (reviewed by Kama at For Culture’s Sake)

This isn’t a book (or film) I’d heard of before. Kama explains: “The story revolves around a nameless (in the first half of book) girl from Northeastern Brazil (poor rural areas), living now in Rio de Janeiro. Her story is told by Rodrigo S. M. who just glimpsed her on the street. … The Polish version I read was great. One of the best books this year. It wasn’t too long, it got my attention from the beginning. It wasn’t easy to read and took me a long time to read (compared to the number of pages) but it was definitely worth it.”


__________________________________________________

MIDDLE EAST

chasing shadowsPALESTINE & LEBANON

Chasing Shadows by Leila Yusaf Chung (reviewed by Shelleyrae at Book’d Out)

This is a new May release that sounds ambitious and very interesting! Shelleyrae says, “Moving from post-war Poland to the birth of the State of Israel, through the years of Beirut’s civil war and the first days of Iran’s revolution, Chasing Shadows shares the tumultuous fates of Abu Fadi, his wife Keira and their children, Taheya, Fadi, Ajamia and Miriam in this uncommon debut by Leila Yusaf Chung. … I didn’t always find it easy to follow the narrative of Chasing Shadows but I found it to be an interesting and thought provoking examination of history, culture and family.”


dovekeepersISRAEL

The Dovekeepers by Alice Hoffman (reviewed by Deb at The Book Stop)

Deb gives this book high praise. “This is a book about the Roman siege at Masada in about 70 A.D. Jews have been fleeing the Romans all over that part of the world, and a handful of families have found their way in the last remaining stronghold. The story is told from the perspective of four women: Yael, Revka, Aziza, and Shirah. … Like books about other historical disasters, like Pompeii or Titanic, this book has built-in drama – you know what’s going to happen, but you’re still caught up in how these characters will experience it. It takes skill to make a story this compelling when we know how it ends, and Hoffman does it perfectly. I was on the edge of my seat.”



__________________________________________________

EUROPE & UK

trumpeter of krakowPOLAND

The Trumpeter of Krakow by Eric P Kelly (reviewed by Deb at The Book Stop)

I’d never heard of this children’s book, first published in 1929, until now. Deb says, “It tells the true story of a 12th century boy in Krakow who dies will blowing a trumpet on the town walls during the invasion of the Tartars. Then it tells the fictional story of a 14th century boy who learns to sound those same notes and honor the memory of the fallen trumpeter. … This book was a slow read at times, and I think you’d have to be really interested in either Poland or medieval history to really enjoy it. Still, for me it brought back memories of my trip to Krakow, and gave me an entirely new perspective.”


old filthENGLAND

Old Filth by Jane Gardam (reviewed by Allison at File Under)

This is the first book in a series of the same name, published by Europa. Allison says, “Old Filth by Jane Gardam is a wonderful book about a Raj orphan (a child whose father worked for the British Empire abroad and was shipped back Home – England – for formal schooling) named Edward Feathers. While he worked and became wealthy in Singapore, the book mostly takes place in England during his childhood and later retirement. … The book is flawlessly written, humorous and a true delight.”


londonersLondoners: The Days and Nights of London Now – As Told by Those Who Love it, Hate it, Live it, Left it, and Long for it by Craig Taylor (reviewed by Dorothee at Life as a Journey)

This book sounds really interesting! Dorothee says that “…just as detailed and varied as the title are the stories, taking the reader into the macro-cosmos and the micro-worlds that shape a megacity. … This is simply a fascinating and touching read: so many layers! It made me think of the Paris collection I read in 2012: Paris was Ours, and having been to both cities, I hoped it would live up to it…”



blue foxICELAND

The Blue Fox by Sjón, translated by Victoria Cribb (reviewed by Shonna Froebel at Canadian Bookworm)

I love this cover, and the story sounds great too! “This short novel is set in 1883 in rural Iceland. It gives a sense of the place and time, but also has the feel of a fable. … The writing is engaging and lyrical, drawing the reader in. This is a story to read slowly, savouring each sentence and thinking about the meaning behind the words. I loved it.”


__________________________________________________

NORTH AMERICA

illegalMEXICO

Illegal: Reflections of an Undocumented Immigrant by José Ángel N. (reviewed by Reading Like I Am Feasting)

There’s a title that makes you curious! T says, “I thought it was absolutely wonderful. N. speaks elegantly about all the struggles of an undocumented immigrant in the USA. There is a sparseness to his writing that renders the tension of being neither there nor here, the isolation of the in between. It is especially poignant as he speaks about his struggles with language. I guess I love immigrant narratives – the shadowy underland – in general but N.’s perspective as an ‘illegal’ is one that I feel like there needs to be much more of in the literary world.”




A Man Came Out of a Door in the MountainCANADA

A Man Came Out of a Door in the Mountain by Adrianne Harun (Reviewed by Shonna Froebel at Canadian Bookworm)

Between the title, the lovely cover, the magical realism and the premise in general, I’ve a feeling I’ll have to read this! Partly inspired by the disappearances of numerous women along British Columbia’s infamous Highway 17 (the “Highway of Tears”), this work of fiction has a large cast of young characters as well as a magician. Shonna says, “The story of these people is woven through with the legends, the philosophy of the unseen, and the terrible truth of the highway. An amazing read.”



USA

five days at memorialFive Days at Memorial: Life and Death in a Storm-Ravaged Hospital by Sheri Fink (reviewed by Shelleyrae at Book’d Out)

Five Days at Memorial is a vivid portrait of tragedy that occurred in New Orleans when it was devastated by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Shelleyrae says, “I found Five Days at Memorial to be an engrossing, intriguing and poignant read. It is a story that needed to be told and I desperately hope that governments and bureaucrats worldwide have learned from the woeful lack of preparedness, planning, communication and resources exhibited during this disaster as a whole, and from the specific events that occurred at Memorial.”



cake on a hot tin roofCake on a Hot Tin Roof by (reviewed by Marj at Marj’s Mysteries)

Book 2 in the Piece of Cake Mystery series is also set in New Orleans, where Rita Lucero, a bakery owner/chef, is talked into hosting a Mardi Gras party. A celebrity guest is seen arguing with Rita’s uncle and is later found murdered, with her uncle the prime suspect. Marj says, “This was a light and easy read, and I enjoyed it. I was a bit disappointed in Rita, and how she gave in so often to the demands other people placed on her, even though it added to her stress. I hope she develops more of a backbone in future stories.”


caleb's crossingCaleb’s Crossing by Geraldine Brooks (Reviewed by TJ at My Book Strings)

This is the second time Caleb’s Crossing has been entered into this challenge. TJ says, “As can be expected from Geraldine Brooks, she has created a solid piece of historical fiction that reads well and entertains. I enjoyed reading about life on the island and the early struggles of the college. Yet I can’t say that Bethia and I became great friends. While she had a number of obstacles to overcome, her story struck me as almost too idyllic. I had also hoped for a greater focus on Caleb, considering the title of the book. Yet with so little fact known about him, I can understand why Brooks set up the book as she did, as explained in her afterword.”



mambo-in-chinatownMambo in Chinatown by Jean Kwok (reviewed by Jen at Book Scribbles)

This is the story of the eldest daughter, Charlie Wong, of a Beijing ballerina and a noodle maker, growing up in New York’s Chinatown and working at a ballroom dancing studio. Apparently Jean Kwok’s earlier novel, Girl in Translation, was a big hit, but I can’t say I’m familiar with this author at all. Jen says, “…immigrant narratives inspire me and that is one of the main reasons both of Kwok’s books first drew me in. Maybe it’s the perseverance to succeed, the dedication to make their new country home, or the ethos to give back to the new community (even when it sometimes is not so kind in reciprocating). Girl in Translation is a hallmark of the immigrant narrative and Jean Kwok again succeeded in putting words to that experience through Mambo in Chinatown. The novel was a treat to read.” Sounds like I really need to start reading Jean Kwok’s books!



__________________________________________________

AUSTRALIA & THE PACIFIC

an untamed stateHAITI

An Untamed State by Roxane Gray (reviewed by Tanya at 52 Books or Bust)

This sounds quite heavy, but worthwhile reading. Tanya says, “An Untamed State by Roxane Gay should be issued with a warning. It is a deeply troubling and powerfully written novel. It recounts the tale of Miri’s kidnapping and captivity while she is visiting her parents in Haiti with her husband and son, and her attempt to return to a normal American life afterwards. It is utterly heartbreaking, not least because much of it is written in the first person and feels like a memoir, not a novel.”


billabong bendAUSTRALIA

Billabong Bend by Jennifer Scoullar (reviewed by Shelleyrae at Book’d Out)

As Shelleyrae says, “Set amongst farming land in the Murray Darling Basin region of northern New South Wales, Billabong Bend is an wonderful novel of romance both on, and with, the land. … Reminiscent of the Australian classic Storm Boy by Colin Thiele, a truly delightful element of the story involves Ric’s precocious daughter, Sophie, who hatches and raises a flock of a geese orphaned by Max, and teaches them to fly. The scene where the geese soar over Sophie racing on the quad bike is one of the many that will stay with me.”


Review: Bee Summers

bee summersBee Summers by Melanie Dugan
Upstart Press 2014
Paperback
191 pages
Fiction; Historical Fiction



It is 1966 and Melissa Singer is only eleven years old when her mother leaves and never comes back. For Melissa, there was no warning, no clue that there was anything wrong. Her father, a bee keeper and general handyman, is non-committal – first he tells his daughter that her mother has gone to another war rally and won’t be back for a few days, but after a while he simply says nothing. Instead he takes Lissy out of school for the last couple of weeks of the school year so he can take her with him on his annual rounds, distributing his bees at three different privately-owned orchards.

There is Earl Caulkins and his apple trees; an aloof and mildly eccentric author, Chance Curtis; and irascible farmer Les van den Hoven whose busy, loud and cheerful wife, Opal, is everything Lissy’s mother is not. Opal takes Lissy under her wing for the week they stay at the farm, introducing her to painted nails and gossip. It doesn’t quite make up for her mother’s absence, but it helps. Later, over the summer holidays, she goes again with her dad and the bees, this time to wild blueberry crops and other out-of-the-way places.

It isn’t until she starts a new school year at her small town’s middle school that she realises something is definitely off. The mothers of girls she goes to school with are avoiding her as if she has something contagious. Her best friend Katie doesn’t want to walk with her to school anymore, and arranges for her brother to switch lockers so hers isn’t beside Melissa’s anymore. Kids whisper around her and then suddenly stop, ostracise her or treat her meanly in the hallway. And she has no idea why, because no one will tell her. Nothing touches on her idolatry view of her absent mother, whom, she thinks, went away because she’s sick – cancer, Lissy thinks, after reading about it in the library.

Whether her mother was present in the house or far away and silent, she manages to deeply affect Lissy’s life. As Melissa grows up, spending summers with her dad and the bees and her school days writing stories and poems, her mother takes on a larger-than-life, demigod-like aspect. Such is how she copes with her feelings of abandonment and rejection. Nothing and no one can replace her, so it’s a shock when her father moves on with his life – and expects her to move with him.

Bee Summers is a fairly short coming-of-age novel told with childlike confusion and puzzlement by its protagonist, Melissa. Set somewhere in east United States (there are references to Boston), the late 60s and early 70s provide a vague backdrop of upheaval and public protest, while the fashions, decorating styles and cars give nice period details. In the early parts of the story, there is plenty of evidence that Lissy’s mother isn’t someone you or I would like all that much, but Melissa is a strongly sympathetic character who misses her mother deeply. It’s clear to us that her mother has walked out for her own reasons, and that Melissa is too young to understand without being explicitly told. It’s hard to agree with her father not to tell her the truth, and the idea that he’s both protecting Lissy and preserving her idea of her mother falls apart later when it becomes clear he just didn’t want to talk about it (he was, like many men of his time, a war veteran from the Korean war, and also like many men of his time, found it hard to open up about anything). Because no one tells her otherwise, naturally Melissa creates an image of her mother as this loving, wonderful woman.

Yet Melissa also grows up increasingly lonely and closed-off, and perhaps because she does come from what is essentially a “broken home” with no motherly support or guidance, she matures slowly. I found it hard to empathise with her over her father’s decisions to remarry and move. Certainly, if nothing else, Bee Summers shows how much damage can ensue when people don’t talk to each other openly and honestly. Misunderstandings and a lack of communication result in what was, to me, a truly tragic ending. What’s interesting about Melissa as a carefully-constructed character is how realistically flawed she is, and how clearly you can detect her mother and father’s genetic inheritance in her. Her personality is her own but she has inherited characteristics from her parents; if both parents are uncommunicative, and at least one is inherently selfish, it’s not surprisingly that you see it in Melissa as well. She doesn’t make great choices all the time. She does live in fear, later, that because she didn’t have a mother for so long, she doesn’t know how to be one herself. Dugan has achieved a careful and honest balance between Melissa’s vulnerable flaws and tender fragility. It’s hard to dislike Lissy because so much of her character is a result of her circumstances. That said, had her mother stayed around, she probably would have grown up much like her – since she listened to her so much – and might have ended up even less likeable. It’s an interesting aspect to the novel, and makes this a story that you can’t read aimlessly or passively.

Where the novel disappointed me somewhat was in the development of Lissy’s voice – she narrates in first-person past tense, which is a strong choice (you all know by now how much I’m coming to detest the latest fad for using present tense). However, her voice is a child’s voice, rather than an adult’s voice reliving a child’s perspective, and I found this a bit weird and confusing. Almost as if you’re reading about someone who’s development has stunted. It bleeds into the later parts of the story, too, so that Melissa always sounds desperately immature.

Secrets abound in this story about silence and selfishness. (How’s that for a bit of alliteration?) For me, the stars of the story were the bees themselves – I have a deep love for these precious little creatures who are so instrumental to the survival of life on earth. I can’t resist any story with “bees” in the title or on the cover, whether they figure as part of the story or not. While the bee summers of Melissa’s youth fade into her childhood with the blush of nostalgia – as these things do – I was left bereft and saddened that the bees had left the story. I liked hearing about them, and wanted more. But they had served their purpose, plot-device-wise, and everything must change and move on. That’s always a strong theme of coming-of-age novels, that things end and we must grow up and lose our innocence. The sense of that is strong in Bee Summers, and perhaps it’s that quality of honest realism that makes it hard to tease out my response. The past of our childhood always has an element of pain, humiliation, gaucheness to it, that makes us shy away from it while at the same time missing it. I’m always impressed by writers who can capture something that ephemeral, that ambiguous, and Dugan has captured it so well I’m left feeling off-footed and mildly uncomfortable. Not an easy book to review but I do recommend it for those readers who like coming-of-age stories.

My thanks to the author for a copy of this book via TLC Book Tours. Visit the tour page for more stops on this tour.

tlc tour host-1

canadian book challenge #7