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For a full list of my reviews, visit my Review Index.

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Review: Seven Nights in a Rogue's Bed

seven nights in a rogues bedSeven Nights in a Rogue’s Bed by Anna Campbell
Sons of Sin #1

Forever 2012
Mass Market Paperback
Historical Romance



When Sidonie Forsythe’s reckless older sister, Roberta, Lady Hillbrook, incurs a large gaming debt, the man she’s in debt to demands a night of her company in payment. Roberta’s husband, William, is already a wife-bashing bastard, and the sisters know that his discovery of her gambling debt alone could see him finally beat Roberta to death – especially when he learns who she’s in debt to. Jonas Merrick, the “bastard offspring of scandal”, is William’s cousin and the original heir to the title. His father’s marriage to a Spanish lady was declared null and void, stripping Jonas of the position he was to inherit – but not his father’s wealth. Now, William has the title, but Jonas has the money – and with his astute and ruthless business sense, he’s loaded while William slips further into debt. Sidonie knows that Roberta’s foolish gambling addiction and debt to Merrick will be the last straw, and she’s determined to do anything to keep William from learning of it – and to appease Merrick.

Jonas Merrick presents a confident, determined and even callous face to the world, a world that shuns him as much for his bastard status as for the ugly scar marring his face. He was looking forward to “teaching his cousin’s wife to endure his presence without suffering the megrims”, and the arrival of intelligent but innocent Sidonie puts him in a foul mood. Worse still, her relatively calm offering of her body makes him disgusted with himself, as does his attraction to her. But it’s her wit and her ability to look at him without flinching that appeals to him, and makes him drive a revised bargain: he’ll pardon the debt if Sidonie stays with him for seven nights, and gives him a chance to seduce her. At first, Sidonie doesn’t believe she’s in any danger of succumbing, but Merrick has devilish methods and the week becomes a true test of her resolve – and her loyalty.

Set in 1826, Seven Nights in a Rogue’s Bed is the first of Anna Campbell’s Sons of Sin trilogy – featuring Jonas Merrick and his boarding school ‘friends’ (if he’d let them be his friends, something he has to learn in this book), Sir Richard Harmsworth and Camden Rothermere, Duke of Sedgemoor. All three have scandalous backgrounds, but only Jonas is a “Beast” type to Sidonie’s “Beauty”. I do love a Beauty and the Beast-inspired romance, and this one was excellent. Campbell’s writing is assured, intelligent and smoothly paced. It’s also not a wholly predictable plot – and yes, there is plot, and duplicity, and some complications that create the second tier of obstacles for Sidonie and Jonas’s ‘happy ever after’ ending.

Sidonie is an enjoyable heroine, intelligent, interesting, not annoyingly stubborn, and compassionate. I sometimes had to work a bit to see things from her perspective, perhaps because I empathised more with Merrick’s situation than hers, which is terrible really, considering the domestic abuse Roberta endures. Roberta isn’t a likeable character, though Sidonie knows it’s William’s influence that’s made her a shadow of herself. Still, that only goes so far – domestic violence doesn’t necessarily make a woman shallow, self-absorbed or small-minded. I would think those were traits a person possesses regardless (though of course, everyone’s different and responds to situations differently).

Merrick is a great romance hero, the brooding, tortured sort who just wants to be loved. Inside he’s still the little boy who wants his mother and his mother’s love, who wants his father’s love too, though both his parents are dead and he’s left with the scars. It’s a classic Romance genre trope, because although women don’t want to be a mother-figure for their lovers, we do gravitate towards the type of men (in fiction or fantasy-land, at least) who allow women to love them, and whose love fills that gap. It’s not about replacing the mother-figure, but about soothing the ache, helping them grow up, move on, embrace a new kind of love and have that be enough. It helped me understand Merrick’s initial reaction to what he perceived as Sidonie’s betrayal, though I’m a bit on the fence over his behaviour later, at the end of the book. I can’t decide, though, whether that’s because I lost some respect for him, or because it didn’t gel with my idea of the character, or because I was flat-out disappointed with how he handled it.

The fact is, I cared about the characters a great deal and loved their story. It was entertaining, engrossing and speckled with moments of humour. In terms of the romance, it was believable and satisfying, and Campbell’s going on my mental list of authors who write good sex. (That is to say, they’re good at writing sex scenes.) I enjoyed this so much that as soon as I finished it, I went and ordered the other two books in the trilogy. If you’re looking for spicy, saucy, well-written historical romance, I can already recommend Anna Campbell.

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Other Reviews:

“I thoroughly enjoyed this book – the rest of it lived up to the high standard set in the first chapter. I do love a deeply flawed hero and Jonas was written so well – his vulnerabilities were beautifully done and it was impossible not to feel for him at many stages in the book. Likewise Sidonie was a well-constructed heroine, although her devotion to her sister did grate on me slightly towards the end of the book, especially the way in which her sister repaid her sometimes.” All the Books I Can Read

“Love, trust and betrayal are intimately entwined in this story and the path to true love peppered with pot holes and angst but trademark sensuality had me forgiving any questionable plot points. It’s lovely to be caught up and swept away in a read; romantic escapism is like chocolate for the soul.” The Eclectic Reader

“Eek Gads this was yummy! Seven Nights in a Rogue’s Bed sounded sinfully delicious and I was excited to read it. As Anna Campbell’s first book in the Sons of Sin series she dished up a hot steamy tale with wonderful characters and an engaging plot. Reminiscent of Beauty and the Beast I was quickly ensnared in this wicked tale and lost myself in its pages.” Caffeinated Book Reviewer

“If not for Jonas and his hissy fit near the end, this would have been a four star book. It was a very satisfying historical romance, which has been my genre of choice for the past couple of weeks. I would recommend this book to others, just be prepared for the cry baby ending.” Bad Bird Reads

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

Flash Fiction ~ The Dare

PHOTO PROMPT - Copyright – Sandra Crook

PHOTO PROMPT – Copyright – Sandra Crook





The debris was an impressive pile of sticks, plastic bottles, milk cartons and even a ten-pin bowling ball. The mass floated, soggy but stubborn, unmoving until tested.

“Go go go go!”

The shrieks filled his ears, his head. His blood ran thick with fear and excitement. One foot out, a pause as the sticks gave a little, then the other. He felt it shift precariously under his weight. The other children clamoured on the riverbank, as eager for him to fail as succeed.

With a sharp intake of breath, he ran. Ran, slipped, fell, up again. Then down, down, down.



Word count: 100

Friday Fictioneers is a weekly writing meme hosted by Rochelle Wisoff-Fields @ Addicted to Purple. Participants write a 100-word story in response to a photo prompt.

Around the World in 12 Books Challenge 2015 ~ sign-up post

around the world 2015

As the 2014 Around the World in 12 Books Challenge draws to a close, it’s time to launch the 2015 challenge. It’s a simple enough challenge that can fit into your usual reading pattern, or motivate you to try something out of your comfort zone. The idea is that the setting in books read for this challenge should be important, interesting, enlightening, educational etc. That is to say, what did you learn about the country/place from reading this book?

The rules are simple, and you can join in any time throughout the year. Details are below. Link your 2015 review here.

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Around the World in 12 Books Challenge 2015

Step 1. Choose your level

Happy Camper 2015

Level 1: The Happy Camper

– The Happy Camper likes to keep things simple and enjoys exploring her/his own backyard
– Read a minimum of 2 books over the course of the year
– Books can be set in your own neighbourhood, your home country or somewhere else entirely
– No re-reads
– Any genre is okay (including non-fiction) BUT books MUST be set in a specific country or region with a noticeable attention to the location or environment; some genre books won’t be much use for this challenge

Wayfarer 2015

Level 2: The Wayfarer

– The Wayfarer doesn’t like to plan; he/she likes to journey as the need takes them, deciding where to go on a whim or inspiration or simply how they’re feeling
– Read a minimum of 4 books over the course of the year
– Books can be set in any country, but they must all be different countries
– You do not need to decide on your choice of books ahead of time. You can select books as you go
– No re-reads
– Any genre is okay (including non-fiction) BUT books MUST be set in a specific country or region with a noticeable attention to the location or environment; some genre books won’t be much use for this challenge

Casual Tourist 2015

Level 3: The Casual Tourist

– The Casual Tourist likes to plan ahead but isn’t too ambitious. They’ve saved up their money and plan carefully, and intend to really explore the places they visit
– Read a minimum of 6 books over the course of the year
– Books can be set in any country but you should aim to read 1 title from each of the following areas: South America, Africa, Asia, Europe
– You can list your title selections in your challenge intro post but last-minute changes are allowed
– No re-reads
– Any genre is okay (including non-fiction) BUT books MUST be set in a specific country or region with a noticeable attention to the location or environment; some genre books won’t be much use for this challenge

Seasoned Traveller 2015

Level 4: The Seasoned Traveller

– The Seasoned Traveller doesn’t do anything by half-measures: they go the whole hog and the more obscure the better!
– Read 12 books over the course of the year, each set in a DIFFERENT country
– Books selected should include ones set in Africa, Asia, Europe, Australia+New Zealand, North America and South America. The Middle East should be considered too
– You do not need to plan ahead but it might help you keep on track
– No re-reads
– Any genre is okay (including non-fiction) BUT books MUST be set in a specific country or region with a noticeable attention to the location or environment; some genre books won’t be much use for this challenge

Step 2. Read the challenge rules/details, below.

Step 3. Use the Mister Linky form to enter.
Leave a comment on this post to indicate the level you’ve chosen

Step 4. Publish an intro post on your blog, if you have one, and link back to this post

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CHALLENGE RULES

1. SIGN-UP by entering a link into the Mister Linky form, below. If you have a blog, please post a challenge intro post and include details of which level you picked, what countries you intend to visit (tentative or otherwise), what books you hope to read etc.

2. Leave a comment on this post to indicate which level you will be attempting

3. You can read your selected titles whenever you like throughout the year

4. Leave links to your reviews using the form, HERE.

5. Reviews should include your chosen level badge and link back to this post

6. Spread the word! This isn’t actually a rule, just an encouragement. ;) Tweet using the hashtag #AroundtheWorldBooks and link to me using my Twitter handle, @GiraffeDays.


If you’re looking for ideas of books to read set in different countries, try my Review Index: Books by Country (Setting) page. Other bloggers might have similar lists (share a link!).

Also, I have compiled an index of all the books reviewed for this challenge since it began in 2012, which you can check out here. I’ll keep adding to it as we go.

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Signing up for the challenge? Leave your link here:


It’s Monday! What Are You Reading?

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


Okay then, only a month between It’s Monday! posts, that’s not too bad. I am officially on holiday now until February, and have a lot to catch up on. My summer reading plan is humongous, and no doubt too ambitious, especially since I’ll have my three-year-old home with me three days a week. I still have some reviews to catch up on, and soon I’ll have the new 2015 Around the World in 12 Books Challenge sign-up post ready (just need to tweak the badge, really).

At home, I have finally got another bookcase and was able to unpack the last box of books (classics) and get them off the floor, as well as spread out the books from one of the groaning bookcases – now my cheap bookcases are a little less in danger of collapsing. I still haven’t touched the two pallets of boxes of books being stored at my parents’ house; there just isn’t anywhere to put them.

Right around this time of year I start whipping up big batches of my infamous truffles – I shared the recipe a while back in a Weekend Cooking post, and thought I’d link up to it again if you’re looking for a simple, easy and delicious treat for Christmas.

chocolate truffles-sm

POSTS

The First Page ~ Us by David Nicholls

Around the World in 12 Books Challenge: October & November Round-up

The Shelves Are Groaning

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BOOKS FINISHED:

The Light Between Oceans by ML Stedman
Shadow’s Claim by Kresley Cole
Bound by Alan Baxter
The Wonders by Paddy O’Reilly

light between oceans shadow's claim bound wonders

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BOOKS REVIEWED:

by Kylie Ladd
Prairie Ostrich by Tamai Kobayashi
Othello by William Shakespeare
The Light Between Oceans by ML Stedman

mothers and daughters prairie ostrich Othello light between oceans

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CURRENTLY READING:

defiance

Defiance
by CJ Redwine

This is the first book in a series called The Courier’s Daughter, a YA post-apocalyptic fantasy adventure story. I’ve had it on my shelf since 2012 (and have the second book too) and it’s been a while since I’ve read a teen novel – I haven’t read many this year at all, sadly – so it seemed right to choose one from my sagging shelves. (They are literally sagging.)

Rachel Adams has a secret. While the other girls in Baalboden sew dresses and obey their male Protectors, Rachel knows how to survive in the wilderness and deftly wield a sword. When her father, Jared, fails to return from a courier mission and is declared dead, the city’s brutal Commander assigns Rachel a new Protector, her father’s apprentice, Logan – the same boy Rachel declared her love for two years ago, and the same one who handed her heart right back to her. Left with nothing but a fierce belief in her father’s survival, Rachel decides to find him herself. But what awaits her in the Wasteland could destroy her.

Logan McEntire is many things. Orphan. Outcast. Inventor. As apprentice to the city’s top courier, Logan is focused on learning his trade so he can escape the tyranny of Baalboden. But his plan never included being responsible for his mentor’s daughter. Logan is determined to protect her but soon realizes he has more at stake than disappointing Jared.

As Rachel and Logan battle their way through the Wasteland, stalked by a monster that can’t be killed and an army of assassins out for blood, they discover romance, heartbreak, and a truth that will incite a war decades in the making.

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WHAT’S NEXT:

Okay, so here are some of the books I need to finish, preferably before the end of the year:

how shakespeare changed everything let the land speak mad scientists daughter traitor end of the world

How Shakespeare Changed Everything by Stephen Marche – I’m more than halfway through this slim, highly readable and very interesting book, would be silly not to finish it.

Let the Land Speak by Jackie French – non-fiction books, especially big, fat, thought-provoking ones like this, always take me ages to read. I’m really loving this and I would like to finish it before I forget all the amazing details that captivated me months ago when I was reading it.

The Mad Scientist’s Daughter by Cassandra Rose Clarke – I’m halfway through this and not enjoying it, but I want to finish it and write a review about it. I just do. But it’s really not holding me (for reasons I’d like to explain in the review!)

Traitor by Stephen Daisley – it’s always hard to pick up a sad book when you really want something more fun or uplifting etc., especially when said book is written in a less accessible way.

The End of the World by Paddy O’Reilly – this is a collection of short stories so it’s easy to pick it up whenever you can, but I don’t like too much time passing between stories or I forget the ones that came before and my overall thoughts/impressions.

Hm, that list is already way too long for what’s left of December, isn’t it? It’s not even all the books I haven’t finished this year, either. Anyway, on to my summer reading list – that is, the books I really want to read this January, with room for others, hopefully. This list doesn’t include review copies from publishers I still need to read.

shakespeare the biography gap science of what separates us from other animals narrow road to the deep north book of strange new things

Shakespeare: A Biography by Peter Ackroyd

The Gap: The Science of What Separates Us From Other Animals by Thomas Suddendorf (I started this when I really shouldn’t have; it’s good reading and really interesting)

The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan

The Book of Strange New Things by Michel Faber

And so many more, of course! What’s on your reading list for the new year?

Review: The Light Between Oceans

light between oceansThe Light Between Oceans by ML Stedman
Vintage Books 2012
Large Format Paperback
362 pages
Historical Fiction



In 1926, on the small rocky island of Janus Rock off the south-west coast of Western Australia, the lighthousekeeper, Tom Sherbourne, and his wife Isabel, hear a baby crying. A small rowboat washes up, bearing a dead man and a young baby wrapped in a cardigan. Having recently buried the stillborn body of her third attempt at having her own child, Isabel reacts with instinct and quickly bonds with the baby. Tom, a veteran and hero of the Great War who takes comfort from the rules and regulations of maintaining a lighthouse, is required by law to send a signal to the mainland, and have someone come to collect the body and the baby. But Isabel pleads for time, and the next day talks Tom into not reporting the incident so that she can keep the baby, whom she names Lucy.

For the next three years, Isabel knows a time of bliss at being Lucy’s mother and watching her grow, while Tom suffers the pangs of his conscience and guilt towards the real mother even while he bonds with the child who takes such a delight in living on Janus and learning about the lighthouse. The question of whether they did the right thing becomes paramount when the idyllic days end, and the truth about baby Lucy becomes known.

We love lighthouses, and we love stories about them. They are the ultimate symbol of the frontier, the bastion between chaos and order, the wilderness and the tamed human world, and the ultimate paradox. A solid and highly visible symbol of colonial and imperial power, they literally shine a light into darkness (read what you will into the word ‘darkness’, which often stands for ‘uncivilised’), and make us feel protected from danger while also, through their very existence, remind us that danger is ever-present and ultimately undiminished. They stand tall, proud, regal, elegant, often at the edges of civilisation, perched above precipitous cliffs. They represent isolation and loneliness. The word ‘bastion’ (well-fortified, defensible) always comes to mind, as in ‘the last bastion of civilisation’, or ‘gatekeeper’, like a silent sentinel before the gates of a dark, otherworldly plane of existence. Even before you turn the light on and thus provide the promise of safety amidst danger, their solid presence reminds one of statues of gods and saints, protectors whose gentle kindness and humanity is edged with a hint of bleak, even necessary cruelty. As all of the above, Janus Rock and its lighthouse is the perfect setting for this story, and symbolic on several levels.

Earlier this year I read Othello, Shakespeare’s tragic play of a man – an outsider – driven to madness by his best friend, a sociopathic manipulator bearing two faces. It takes place on the island of Cyprus, far from the sophisticated and cultured civilisation of the Republic of Venice, from which the characters come. Cyprus is a rocky outcrop, a final frontier between civilisation and barbarity (the Ottoman Empire); this barely-habited military outpost becomes fertile ground for Iago’s villainy and the ensuing breakdown of the social order. Places such as this, barely tamed and “uncivilised”, provide excellent ideological settings for stories that pit good and evil, or right and wrong, against each other. The concept that individuals become detached from civilisation and morality through isolation and a lack of law and order, is borne out in The Light Between Oceans.

While Tom represents the law and order of the civilised world – as I mentioned in the summary, he takes comfort in following the strict rules and regulations of keeping the lighthouse, and is plagued by guilt over their actions – Isabel becomes the classic figure of a woman driven mad through her womb. I don’t mean she literally becomes unhinged or crazy, but that readers will unconsciously pick up on her irrational, emotional, “wild mother earth” persona, because it is just one of thousands of texts over the centuries that depict women in this way. Isabel’s womb cannot bring a baby to term, and while this and her deep yearning to have a baby of her own is, on the surface, an adequate motivation for her to insist on keeping Lucy, it also borrows heavily from this concept of madwomen and the mysteries – and diseases – of the womb.

But this book reminded me of other stories, or legends, or myths. I was particularly reminded of the Biblical story of the two women who both claimed the same baby. When told that the baby would be cut in half to solve the debate, the real mother immediately stepped back and said the other woman could have the baby, rather than see that happen. (I really must look up what story that is…) The Light Between Oceans is about motherly love, the mother-child bond, and what it means to be a parent – the responsibilities and hardships as much as the rewards.

As a mother of a three-year-old boy, I could certainly relate to both mothers in the story, Isabel and Hannah; I would add that even if I weren’t a mother, their experiences would have had the same emotional and mental upheaval. Theirs is an awful predicament, and I worried for a while as to how Stedman would resolve it – it seemed, at one point if not multiple points, unresolvable. It became apparent that someone would lose, someone would lose a child; it was only left to be seen who, and in what tragic circumstances. I was pleased that Stedman didn’t go for a melodramatic outcome, but rather a more realistic (and more believable) solution that involved key characters growing, figuring out things for themselves, and making personal resolutions. There’s more to learn from accompanying complex characters on a journey of self (not self-enlightenment etc., just “self”), and in asking yourself: what would you do in such a situation, if you’d been through what Isabel had been through, if you had lost like Hannah had lost.

And then there is Tom. He is in actual fact the central character, the light that shines between the oceans of Isabel and Hannah. The steady, solid, honourable light that seeks to bring people together, safely, not drive them apart. He’s the less flawed character, the one who, from a storytelling perspective at least, helps balance the emotional and turbulent women. Yet he has his own demons, is haunted by what he saw in the Great War and the fact that he survived – and feels guilty for that. A recurrent theme throughout the novel is one of lost children: not just Lucy, who is both lost and found, but all the brothers, sons and husbands who dashed off to war and never returned, or returned broken, shattered, crazy, debilitated, as well as the women who must try to put the pieces back together regardless.

The writing in this debut novel is competent, not fancy or frilly but nicely in tune with the story being told, the tortured characters. It does become fairly reflective, and I couldn’t find any purpose or pattern to the occasional switching from past to present tense, but in the first half at least it was highly engaging. There were parts where it lagged a bit, and towards the end it became more about telling the story rather than showing it, but overall it is a good story well told. More importantly, it packs an emotional wallop that had me reaching for the tissues several times. I was left aching for these characters in a story that resonates long after the last page is read.

Coincidentally, I decided to read this (after having it on my shelf for a while) when holidaying in Stanley, on the north coast of Tasmania, where they were filming the adaptation of this book. I didn’t get to see the stars (Michael Fassbender and Rachel Weisz; a Swedish actress plays Isabel), who kept a low profile, but we did get to see the small strip of old shopfronts transformed into Point Partageuse (the WA town in which much of the novel is set) – here’s some sample shots, where you can see a few made-up storefronts and the sealed road covered in sand and fake tufts of grass (it was extremely hard pushing a stroller along!) and, in the last shot, three antique cars:

Stanley 2014_112_488_sm Stanley 2014_115_603_sm Stanley 2014_135_623_sm Stanley 2014_219_707_sm Stanley 2014_109_597_sm Stanley 2014_277_765_sm



awwbadge_2014

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Other Reviews:

“The book was beautifully written and therefore a pleasure to read. The feeling of isolation with Tom and Isabel on Janus Rock was very well described. I could not imagine anyone living so isolated but in the past there was no other choice if the light houses were to do their jobs properly. A slightly disappointed read for me, but still interesting enough to recommend. People that loved The Lifeboat (Charlotte Rogan) are especially likely to enjoy this book, too.” Leeswammes’ Blog

The Light Between Oceans is intelligently and warmly written, and Stedman has done an admirable job of creating three central characters whom it’s possible to identify with and support, no matter how divergent their perspectives. The duality motif does come across as a little explicit at times, and I’m not generally a fan of forefronting a later scene in order to artificially pique a reader’s interest, but overall it’s an excellent read, and one I suspect will become a firm book club favourite.” Read in a Single Sitting

“Stedman weaves this tale of moral choices together with aplomb. It is the perfect fodder for a book club to test everyone’s reactions to Tom and Isabel’s decisions as well as those of the wider community as the novel opens up to include characters from Point Partaguese. … The Light Between Oceans is a compelling debut about the limits of love and parenthood— and forgiveness too.” Musings of a Literary Dilettante

“It’s not a perfect novel — I felt Isabel’s motherly devotion was sometimes too contrived and Tom’s never-ending patience unrealistic — but it is an intelligent, page-turning read. And the ending, so beautifully and touchingly rendered, means only a hard-hearted reader won’t want to cry buckets over it.” Reading Matters

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

Review: Othello

OthelloThe Tragedy of Othello the Moor of Venice by William Shakespeare
Introduction by Russ McDonald

Penguin Books 2001
Trade Paperback
145 pages
Classics; Play



As I try to catch up on reviews of books read earlier in the year, this being the middle of December, I very nearly overlooked this gem of a play. I’ve read two different editions of this tragedy this year, several times over, so the fact that I first read it was back in February doesn’t come with the usual problem of forgetfulness. On the pyramid scale (i.e. Bloom’s Taxonomy) of learning, teaching a thing is high up there. I won’t be forgetting the details of this play or the complex ideas and issues it tackles any time soon.

Othello is a simple enough story, in terms of plot, though whenever you start to explain it you discover just how intricate and multi-layered it is from the beginning. The character of Othello is a Moor – that is to say, a dark-skinned foreigner of uncertain origins, though he himself tells another how he is the son of a king in his own land – and the celebrated general of the Venetian army. Venice is a republic, a cultured and civilised city-state, the envy of the civilised world. It holds many territories beyond the city itself, including the island of Cyprus, a military outpost on the frontier with the Ottoman Empire. Venice is ruled by a duke – or “doge” – and many senators; one, Brabantio, spent several evenings with Othello, inviting him to tell the fantastical stories of his childhood and pre-Venice days at the senators home, where his beautiful daughter, Desdemona, listened avidly. She falls in love with Othello and the two marry in secret.

On the night of their wedding, Iago – Othello’s ensign, or ancient (standard-bearer – the third-in-command in the army) – rouses Brabantio from his bed to tell him “an old black ram is tupping your white ewe.” [Act I, scene I). Brabantio may have been interested in listening to Othello’s stories, as a curious exotic, but the idea of a foreigner – and the protector of the city’s wealth – stealing one its most precious jewels (Brabantio and other characters refer to Desdemona as a jewel, and in other instances as a possession), is not to be borne. Iago has long been Othello’s trusted ensign, but behind his mask of friendliness and trustworthiness is a self-obsessed, misogynistic man of great ambition. He has cultivated friendship with Othello but this night learned that Othello had promoted Cassio to be his second-in-command over Iago. Cassio is much beloved by the ladies, and Iago scorns him as a man who may have studied the art of war in books but hasn’t proven himself on the battlefield. Iago’s cunning is, at first, unfocussed: he makes up his plan as he goes along, starting with betraying Othello to Desdemona’s father, all the while carefully keeping his own role in it secret. His foil and dupe is Roderigo, a wealthy civilian who Iago constantly borrows money off.

Brabantio takes the matter of the unsanctioned marriage between his daughter and the outsider to the Doge, but the Doge does not take his side. Othello has proven his worth, the marriage is done, and Desdemona sides with her husband over her father. More pressing matters are afoot: the Turkish fleet is massing and looks set to target Rhodes; however, the clever senators understand it for the trick that it is and believe Cyprus is the real aim. The Doge must send Othello and the army out to defeat them. It is arranged that Desdemona will follow the army to Cyprus in the company of Iago and his wife, Emilia.

Desdemona arrives before Othello, as a violent storm destroyed the Turkish fleet and scattered the Venetian one. By the time Othello arrives on Cyprus, the war is over without a single fight between men. But the real war, the war between good and evil, the war between Iago and Desdemona for Othello’s soul, is just about to begin.

My students were rather annoyed that I gave away the ending of this play at the beginning of the unit on Othello, so I’ve refrained from doing so here. In fact, there’s so much to discuss with this play it’s worth a whole book. For the purposes of writing this review, I’m going to focus on a couple of ideas in the play, a bit of context and the difference between the two editions I read this year.

Shakespeare adapted his play from an earlier, Italian play, changing certain things but keeping the general premise and the setting. It’s set in the previous century, though a clear date is hard to discern as Venice was at war with the Turks four times (it certainly wasn’t the last war). Yet it’s very much an Elizabethan play, in terms of attitudes and prejudices (it was first performed for King James I in 1604, if I remember my dates correctly, but the Jacobean was a clear extension of the Elizabethan era, in which it was possibly written and at the very least, informed). While Hamlet is, on one level at least, about Queen Elizabeth I in terms of the anxiety the play reflects at the time it was written, Othello doesn’t seem to speak to any major fears at home. Certainly, black people (Africans) were not hugely common, and the era saw the start of racism towards dark-skinned foreigners (more because such people were turning up on English shores and as servants/slaves in English homes, making them a visible affront compared to a distant, vague idea), but it could also be about the ongoing battle between perceived notions of civilisation and barbarity. The ‘known world’ had become even larger during the 16th century, with explorers journeying forth and bringing back all sorts of new things and stories, but the interesting thing about the play is just how sympathetic a character the dark-skinned outsider actually is.

(On a side note, there is an excellent essay – the first chapter in fact – in Stephen Marche’s How Shakespeare Changed Everything, that sheds a perceptive light on the whole race issue: really fascinating. Also, Ian Mortimer’s The Time Traveller’s Guide to Elizabethan England – both the book and the 3-part TV series – provide additional contextual information that I recommend. Plus the show is great to use in the classroom!)

Othello may be denigrated by his foes, likened to animals and his foreign features exaggerated (Roderigo calls him “the thick-lips”, for instance), but to his friends and employers he is valiant, noble and brave. He has won not just the heart but the (literally) undying loyalty of Venice’s most treasured, beautiful women. In the first half of the play, he has the gift of a silver tongue, and humility too – he doesn’t comprehend just how charismatic he really is. It is his insecurity, as the perceived outsider amongst the refined, civilised folk of Venice, that makes him insecure and self-conscious. And it is Iago’s incredible ability to discern people’s weaknesses, their flaws – their ‘hamartias’ – that enables him to turn Othello against his wife. Truly it is a remarkable performance that Iago puts on.

My students were preoccupied with two elements of the play, both of which surprised me – it shouldn’t have, but it did, perhaps because this was the first time I’d taught it. The first was Iago’s apparent lack of motive. It’s hard to get across the old “just wait till you’ve experienced more of the world, then you’ll see: there are plenty of Iago’s around” without sounding incredibly patronising. The other is Othello’s trust in Iago. They saw Othello as incredibly naive and gullible, and it was a struggle to help them see just how charismatic Iago was, too, and how clever. Watching the 1995 movie (with Lawrence Fishburne and Kenneth Branagh) helped a bit, but considering these plays are meant to be watched rather than read, it’s not that strange that they had trouble visualising and stringing it together. It is a surprisingly complex story told with a deceptive simplicity and a very fast pace – so fast, in fact, that on my first reading it lent an unrealistic ridiculousness to the whole proceedings – a criticism that others have made over the centuries. But in the process of studying the play in order to teach it, the surface reading peeled back and I glimpsed pure genius at work in this play, both in terms of constructing a gripping, intense play and in terms of the wonderful imagery, symbolism and use of language used within it.

Cambridge School Shakespeare edition, edited by Jane Coles (Cambridge University Press, 2005)

Cambridge School Shakespeare edition, edited by Jane Coles (Cambridge University Press, 2005)

The Pelican Shakespeare edition has an absolutely excellent introduction by Russ McDonald that you should definitely read after reading the play; however, my students used the Cambridge School Shakespeare edition instead, a well-laid-out, accessible edition with the text of the play on one page, and explanations, plot snapshots and dramatic activities on the facing page. It’s an excellent edition for use in the classroom, and there’s plenty of room for making notes (more than a few pages of my copy are covered in notes, while my Penguin remains clean). Having used both editions simultaneously, I can say that if you’re studying a Shakespearian play, you should definitely make use of more than one edition. The editors are different, the ‘translations’ are sometimes different (in fact, I referred to two other editions in compiling definitions for some of Shakespeare’s more archaic language), and the introductions – worth the price of the book – are different. Other theorists and critics worth consulting (alongside Marche, above) include Harold Bloom, AC Bradley, Marilyn French, Thomas Rhymer and Samuel Taylor Coleridge.

I enjoyed studying (and teaching) this play more than any other Shakespeare play I’ve studied, which includes the ones I did at university. It’s thought-provoking (and provocative in other ways), clever and mesmerising. Having got so much out of this play, I look forward to delving into his other plays just as deeply – without the additional research, there’s only so far you can go in this day and age (his original audience would have got more out of it on their first viewing, which is ironic considering how little education some of them would have had). It’s just as well that I love learning, and getting stuck into texts – something I’ve missed doing, since my undergrad. Othello has piqued my interest in tackling Shakespeare in ways I hadn’t felt before, and that is a glorious feeling.

The Shelves Are Groaning - XI/12

I didn’t have time to do a SAG post in November; I haven’t been buying or otherwise acquiring many books lately, but a pile has accumulated regardless. Most of these are finds from op-shops and the local tip shop, which I’m always excited about.

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Tales of Mystery and Imagination by Edgar Allan Poe – Classics; Short Stories; Gothic Horror.

This beautiful volume of Poe’s short stories – with an introduction by Neil Gaiman – is a farewell gift from work, that I received yesterday. I’m embarrassed to admit that I’ve yet to read Poe’s work, other than a couple of poems a long time ago. “First published in 1919, Tales of Mystery and Imagination matched Edgar Allan Poe’s best tales of horror and suspense with the expressive artwork of Harry Clarke. This beautifully designed volume reproduces more than thirty full-colour and black-and-white illustrations that give substance to the terrifying imagery of ‘The Tell-Tale Heart’, ‘The Fall of the House of Usher’, ‘The Masque of the Red Death’, ‘The Pit and the Pendulum’, and twenty-five other masterpieces of the macabre. As Neil Gaiman writes in his introduction, ‘Clarke’s art perfectly captures the perversity, madness, and delight in horror that were the hallmarks of Poe’s dark genius’.”

On Immunity: An Inoculation by Eula Biss – Non-fiction: History, Culture & Society.

A few people close to me are anti-vaccinations, despite being vaccinated themselves (and in one case, vaccinating their children too), and I want to understand it better. The idea that it stems more from fear than anything else is a valid one, and when I came across this book it sounded like a good exploration of this concept. “Why do we fear vaccines? A provocative examination by Eula Biss, the author of Notes from No Man’s Land, winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award Upon becoming a new mother, Eula Biss addresses a chronic condition of fear – fear of the government, the medical establishment, and what is in your child’s air, food, mattress, medicine, and vaccines. She finds that you cannot immunize your child, or yourself, from the world. In this bold, fascinating book, Biss investigates the metaphors and myths surrounding our conception of immunity and its implications for the individual and the social body. As she hears more and more fears about vaccines, Biss researches what they mean for her own child, her immediate community, America, and the world, both historically and in the present moment. She extends a conversation with other mothers to meditations on Voltaire’s Candide, Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, Susan Sontag’s AIDS and Its Metaphors, and beyond. On Immunity is a moving account of how we are all interconnected–our bodies and our fates.”

A Bone of Fact by David Walsh – Memoir.

Australians – especially Tasmanians – will be familiar with the name ‘David Walsh': a self-made billionaire who created MONA, the Museum of Old and New Art here in Hobart, which houses his personal collection of truly bizarre and provocative artwork and artefacts. A native of the area, he made his money through online gambling and now spends it how he likes. This is his memoir about growing up in Tasmania and what happened next. Considered egotistical (his parking space at MONA is marked “God”; the one next to it says “God’s Mistress”), I’m very curious about this individual who seemed to come from nowhere to revamp Tassie’s tourism industry – and the state’s capital – and learn about growing up in Glenorchy back in the day. This was a bit of a splurge buy, as it’s a hefty hardback with gold edging and only came out a few months ago.

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Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth by Reza Aslan – Non-fiction: History, Religion, Culture & Society.

Aslan is a professor at an American university; interestingly, I first heard of him via a CNN clip where he articulately and extremely intelligently whipped the arses of the bigoted anchors who were going for a “All Muslims are trouble” angle. After that, I just had to read some of his work, and since I’m interested in the history of religion (which is in itself a history of culture and society), this seemed like the perfect book for me. (I’m also planning on getting A Short History of Christianity by Geoffrey Blainey – you can’t learn everything you want to know from just one book.) “Sifting through centuries of mythmaking, Reza Aslan sheds new light on one of history’s most influential and enigmatic figures by examining Jesus within the context of the times in which he lived: the age of zealotry, an era awash in apocalyptic fervour. Balancing the Jesus of the Gospels against historical sources, Aslan describes a complex figure: a man of peace who exhorted his followers to arm themselves; an exorcist and faith healer who urged his disciples to keep his identity secret; and the seditious ‘King of the Jews’, whose promise of liberation from Rome went unfulfilled in his lifetime. Aslan explores why the early Church preferred to promulgate an image of Jesus as a peaceful spiritual teacher rather than a politically conscious revolutionary, and grapples with the riddle of how Jesus understood himself. Zealot provides a fresh perspective on one of the greatest stories ever told. The result is a thought-provoking, elegantly written biography with the pulse of a fast-paced novel, and a singularly brilliant portrait of a man, a time and the birth of a religion.”

The Stolen Children: Their Stories edited by Carmel Bird – Non-fiction: Indigenous Issues, History, Memoir, Culture & Society, Racism, Government Policy.

“Extracts from the Report of the National Inquiry into the separation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children from their families” put together by the Human Rights Commission into the Stolen Generation. “Following the unprecedented demand for the Report on the stolen children […,] here are extracts from the Report which are mostly comprised of the actual stories told by the stolen generations of their experiences. These stories are deeply moving and compelling. Carmel Bird has also written linking text and included a range of comments from politicians, social commentators, actors, artists and other prominent people. At a time when the national attention is sharply focused on the tragedy of the stolen generations, and when various institutions, political leaders and groups are officially apologising for the policies which saw so many young children being taken from their families, this book is extremely timely and quite unique in its content.”

The Happiest Refugee by Anh Do – Memoir.

“Anh Do nearly didn’t make it to Australia. His entire family came close to losing their lives on the sea as they escaped from war-torn Vietnam in an overcrowded boat. But nothing – not murderous pirates, nor the imminent threat of death by hunger, disease or dehydration as they drifted for days – could quench their desire to make a better life in the country they had dreamed about. Life in Australia was hard, an endless succession of back-breaking work, crowded rooms, ruthless landlords and make-do everything. But there was a loving extended family, and always friends and play and something to laugh about for Anh, his brother Khoa and their sister Tram. Things got harder when their father left home when Anh was only nine – they felt his loss very deeply and their mother struggled to support the family on her own. His mother’s sacrifice was an inspiration to Anh and he worked hard during his teenage years to help her make ends meet, also managing to graduate high school and then university. Another inspiration was the comedian Anh met when he was about to sign on for a 60-hour a week corporate job. Anh asked how many hours he worked. ‘Four,’ the answer came back, and that was it. He was going to be a comedian! The Happiest Refugee tells the incredible, uplifting and inspiring life story of one of our favourite personalities. Tragedy, humour, heartache and unswerving determination – a big life with big dreams. Anh’s story will move and amuse all who read it.”

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Poppy by Drusilla Modjeska – Fictionalised biography.

I got this from an op-shop (Salvo’s, I think) and couldn’t find it to purchase anywhere online except eBay, so no link for this one. “In this award-winning book, Drusilla Modjeska sets out to collect the evidence of her mother’s life. But when the facts refuse to give up their secrets, she follows the threads of history and memory into imagination. There she teases out the story of Poppy, who married at twenty and sang to her children, until suddenly one day in 1959, she was taken away to a sanatorium. What had gone wrong in a family that everyone described as happy? What pulled Poppy through the years of shock treatment and despair? These are some of the questions the daughter must ask before she can make peace with her own past.”

Geisha: The Secret History of a Vanishing World by Lesley Downer – Non-fiction: History, Sociology.

Other title: Women of the Pleasure Quarters: The Secret History of Geisha. “Ever since Westerners arrived in Japan, we have been intrigued by geisha. This fascination has spawned a wealth of fictional creations from Madame Butterfly to Arthur Golden’s Memoirs of a Geisha. The reality of the geisha’s existence has rarely been described. Contrary to popular opinion, geisha are not prostitutes but literally ‘arts people’. Their accomplishments might include singing, dancing or playing a musical instrument but, above all, they are masters of the art of conversation, soothing worries of highly paid businessmen who can afford their attentions. The real secret history of the geisha is explored here.”

The Dark Bride by Laura Restrepo – Fiction.

“Once a month, the refinery workers of the Tropical Oil Company descend upon Tora, a city in the Colombian forest. They journey down from the mountains searching for earthly bliss and hoping to encounter Sayonara, the legendary Indian prostitute who rules their squalid paradise like a queen. Beautiful, exotic, and mysterious, Sayonara, the undisputed barrio angel, captivates whoever crosses her path. Then, one day, she violates the unwritten rules of her profession and falls in love with a man she can never have. Sayonara’s unrequited passion has tragic consequences not only for her, but for all those whose lives ultimately depend on the Tropical Oil Company. A slyly humorous yet poignant love story, The Dark Bride lovingly recreates the lusty, heartrending world of Colombian prostitutes and the men of the oil fields who are entranced by them. Full of wit and intelligence, tragedy and compassion, The Dark Bride is luminous and unforgettable.”

gould's book of fish hunter a little folly

Gould’s Book of Fish by Richard Flanagan – Historical Fiction.

I actually already have a copy of this book, a hardback I picked up in Canada with brown text and a long shape. I’ve never really liked it, though, whereas I loved this cover and the feel of a nice paperback. (The link here goes to a North American edition, sorry; The Book Depository doesn’t have the Vintage available.) “Once upon a time that was called 1828, before all fishes in the sea and all living things on the land were destroyed, there was a man named William Buelow Gould, a white convict who fell in love with a black woman and discovered too late that to love is not safe. Silly Billy Gould, invader of Australia, liar, murderer & forger, condemned to the most feared penal colony in the British Empire and there ordered to paint a book of fish. Once upon a time, there were miracles…”

The Hunter by Julia Leigh – Fiction.

This was made into a movie a few years ago, with Willem Defoe and Sam Neil (yes, in Tasmania, near where my parents live in fact!). I got this book a long time ago as a gift for my mum, who quite enjoyed it I think, but I’ve never read it. Time to fix that! “The hunter arrives in an isolated community in the Tasmanian wilderness with a single purpose in mind: to find the last thylacine, the tiger of fable, fear and legend. The man is in the employ of the mysterious ‘Company’, but his sinister purpose is never revealed and as his relationship with a grieving mother and her two children becomes more ambiguous, the hunt becomes his own. Leigh’s Tasmania is a place where the wilderness can still claim lives; where the connection between people and the land is at best uneasy and cannot be trusted. In prose of exceptional clarity and elegance, Julia Leigh creates an unforgettable picture of a man obsessed by an almost mythical animal in a damp dangerous landscape. The Hunter is the work of a compelling storyteller and a truly remarkable literary stylist.”

A Little Folly by Jude Morgan – Historical Fiction.

You have to admire a man who takes on the whole historical fiction genre, especially the Regency period, and does it so well. I really enjoyed Indiscretion several years ago, and have been meaning to read more of Morgan’s books ever since. “A witty and romantic novel of Regency love, family and appalling scandal, from one of our greatest historical novelists. Sir Clement Carnell was the most domineering and strait-laced of fathers, and his death has left his children Louisa and Valentine with a sense of release. While Valentine throws open the Devonshire estate of Pennacombe to their fashionable cousins from London, Louisa feels free at last to reject the man her father chose as her prospective husband – Pearce Lynley. Soon the temptations of Regency London beckon – including Lady Harriet Eversholt, beautiful, scandalous, and very married, with whom Valentine becomes dangerously involved; while Louisa finds that freedom of choice is as daunting as it is exciting. Will the opportunity to indulge, at last, in a little folly lead to fulfillment – or disaster?”

good daughter vale girl book of strange new things

The Good Daughter by Honey Brown – Fiction; Mystery; Psychological Thriller.

A sweet find at the tip shop the other day – okay so this is my third Honey Brown book and I’ve yet to read her work and know whether I’ll like her style or not, but I feel pretty confident I will based on all the great things I’ve read about her in friends’ reviews and interviews. “In the small rural town of Kiona, Rebecca Toyer and Zach Kincaid come from very different sides of the track. When Zach’s wealthy mother goes missing, Rebecca – the truckie’s daughter – finds herself the centre of attention and an important piece of the puzzle. Both teenagers become caught up in, and drawn deeper into, a tangled and dangerous situation, and as they each come under greater scrutiny, neither has ever felt more isolated. What begins as a sunny school break, an easy-going two weeks discovering romance, descends into hard lessons in sex, loyalty, love and betrayal. Confrontations are extreme and the possibilities shocking, but it’s the familiar way the dust settles and the sense of history repeating that is the most disturbing of all.”

The Vale Girl by Nelika McDonald – Fiction; Mystery.

I had seen every last secret laid bare in my own house, every briefcase in Banville gaping open. But I had missed one. Fifteen-year-old Sarah Vale has disappeared from the small town of Banville. Resident copper Sergeant Henson attempts to find the missing girl but the locals dismiss his investigations. What would you expect with a mother like hers anyway? No one really cares except teenager Tommy Johns – for Sarah Vale takes a straight line to his heart. And, sometimes, one true champion is all it takes to tear a town’s veneer apart. A delicate and layered exploration of secrets and lies, forgotten children and absent parents, and the long shadows of the past. An extraordinary debut from a talented writer.”

The Book of Strange New Things by Michel Faber – Fiction.

I’m still reeling from reading – nay, devouringUnder the Skin several years ago, and continue to snap up any Faber book I come across. This is his newest, and I’m very excited. “‘I am with you always, even unto the end of the world…’ Peter Leigh is a missionary called to go on the journey of a lifetime. Leaving behind his beloved wife, Bea, he boards a flight for a remote and unfamiliar land, a place where the locals are hungry for the teachings of the Bible – his ‘book of strange new things’. It is a quest that will challenge Peter’s beliefs, his understanding of the limits of the human body and, most of all, his love for Bea. The Book of Strange New Things is a wildly original tale of adventure, faith and the ties that might hold two people together when they are worlds apart. This momentous novel, Faber’s first since The Crimson Petal and the White, sees him at his expectation-defying best.”

dust mouthing the words vampire lestat

Dust by Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor – Fiction.

I saw this reviewed on someone’s blog (forget whose, now) and was intrigued. “When a young man is gunned down in the streets of Nairobi, his grief-stricken father and sister bring his body back to their crumbling home in the Kenyan drylands. But the murder has stirred up memories long since buried, precipitating a series of events no one could have foreseen. As the truth unfolds, we come to learn the secrets held by this parched landscape, hidden deep within the shared past of a family and their conflicted nation. Spanning Kenya’s turbulent 1950s and 1960s, Dust is spellbinding debut from a breathtaking new voice in literature.”

Mouthing the Words by Camilla Gibb – Fiction.

I loved Gibb’s Sweetness in the Belly; this is an older novel that I came across at the Salvo’s a few weeks ago. “Thelma is six years old. Life at home is unsettling and disturbing; her father’s games are not enjoyable and her mother dotes on Willy, the favoured child. When her parents move to Canada, Thelma smuggles her imaginary friends with her in her suitcase. By turns harrowing and wonderfully funny, Mouthing the Words tells Thelma’s story of sexual abuse, anorexia, borderline multiple personality disorder and her return to England. Reminiscent of Jeanette Winterson and Sylvia Plath, Mouthing the Words is a remarkable and inspiring fiction debut.”

The Vampire Lestat by Anne Rice – Fiction; Horror.

Another op-shop find. I’ve been meaning to read this series for a while now, and have already picked up the first book, Interview with the Vampire – I haven’t read it yet though, partly because it’s written in dialogue-within-dialogue, which strikes me as unnecessary, distracting, annoying and silly. (Better to go into a more natural retelling, flashbacks or monologue-reflections, surely?) “‘Ah, the taste and feel of blood when all passion and greed is sharpened in that one desire!’ Lestat: a vampire – but very much not the conventional undead, for Lestat is the truly alive. Lestat is vivid, ecstatic, stagestruck, and in his extravagant story he plunges from the lasciviousness of eighteenth-century Paris to the demonic Egypt of prehistory; from fin-de-siecle New Orleans to the frenetic twentieth-century world of rock superstardom – as, pursued by the living and the dead, he searches across time for the secret of his own dark immortality.”

texas a rake's midnight kiss what a duke dares

Texas by Sarah Hay – Fiction.

This is tagged as “An Australian love story” on the front cover, just in case the title is confusing (it is confusing – it’s apparently the name of an Aboriginal stockman!!). I found this at Vinnies and dithered a bit; it could be quite bad. But in the end, curiosity won. “On a rundown station in the remote top end of Australia, life for Susannah is isolated and difficult. Susannah is left alone by her husband who is the manager of the station. She is forced to cope with their young twins, the hard physical work of running the homestead, and the frustration that these things now mark the boundaries of her life. Nothing is as she expected it to be; a dark history seeps through the land and the air shimmers with heat and an intangible menace. And then a young English girl, Laura, hired by her husband, arrives on the property to work as a jillaroo. Laura falls in love with Texas, the Aboriginal head stockman, naively believing that her love will pull him out of long-held destructive habits. And Susannah, preoccupied by her own struggles, watches from the sidelines. […] Sarah Hay has written compellingly of the ruthless nature of this country and the fragility of the people trying to force their will upon it.”

A Rake’s Midnight Kiss and What a Duke Dares by Anna Campbell – Historical Romance.

Last month I read Seven Nights in a Rogue’s Bed and thoroughly enjoyed it; as soon as I finished it I went and ordered the other two in the trilogy.

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Sanditon by Jane Austen and Another Lady – Classics.

There is a more recent edition of this unfinished manuscript as completed by Juliette Shapiro; I’m pretty sure that’s different to this one from the 70s. The one I have here is an old Corgi edition that I found at, uh, I think it was Vinnies. “Charlotte Heywood is invited to stay with the Parker family at their home in Sanditon, a small village on the South Coast which Mr Parker is busily trying to promote as a fashionable bathing resort. Her coming arouses no little interest among the residents, and, indeed, in the case of the dashing young nephew of the wealthy Lady Denham, it leads to some extraordinary and most alarming events… Begun by Jane Austen in 1817, Sanditon has been completed, some 160 years later, by Another Lady.”

Tiger in the Bush by Nan Chauncy – Children’s Classics.

I’m really hoping that Text Classics reprints all of Chauncy’s books, not just a couple. In the meantime, when my mum finds an old edition at a secondhand shop or antiques shop, she gets it and passes it on to me. I’m still looking for a copy of Devil’s Hill, which they made into a movie in the 80s or early 90s called Devil’s Mountain – we watched it in primary school and I’ve never forgotten it. Chauncy was a rare Tasmanian writer who lived at Bagdad in the country and wrote stories set in the land around her. That’s pretty rare here. “For eleven-year-old Badge the world is bounded by the high ridges that enclose his valley home, deep in the heart of Tasmania. He delights in the wild life that surrounds him, and cares little for the world Outside. But one day visitors arrive from Outside – Russ, a splendid cousin from America, and his friend Dr Heftman, who have come to study the local natural history: and they bring a new interest into Badge’s life. He had once been shown one of the country’s rarest animals, the nearly extinct Tasmanian tiger, coming to a pool to drink: and he had promised never to reveal its whereabouts. But, carried away by the admiration of his cousin, he tells the secret: and then faces a terrible dilemma, for now Russ will want to carry the rare animal away from the free life of the wilds into captivity. Against a wonderfully vivid portrayal of the Tasmanian bush, Nan Chauncy has set a compelling story, peopled with vigorously drawn characters and deeply expressive of her own great love for wild animals and life in the open air.”

Tangara by Nan Chauncy – Children’s Classics.

My copy is an old one missing its dust-jacket; pictured here is what the jacket may have looked like (but probably didn’t). The link goes to a more recent UQP edition. “Sometimes when Lexie fingered a string of shells she had been given as a little girl, she felt strange memories stir. It was as if something very precious was buried away in her own mind… Great-great Aunt Rita’s old shell necklace carries a power that Lexie can’t possibly know. Then, when it leads her to a new friend, she and Merrina enter the secret gully where Merrina’s people live. But the gully holds a terrible secret, as old as the necklace itself. Will Lexie be strong enough, as she relives the nightmare her Aunt Rita endured? This deeply moving classic by one of our great children’s writers is part fantasy, part history, and one hundred percent masterpiece.”

my place ten things I hate about me equinox - rosie black chronicles

My Place by Sally Morgan – Autobiography; Classics.

There are a few classic children’s books (or books people tend to read as children and teenagers/students) I still haven’t read, and this is one of them. I found an immaculate copy at the tip shop, whoo!, and hope to read it over the summer. “Looking at the views and experiences of three generations of indigenous Australians, this autobiography unearths political and societal issues contained within Australia’s indigenous culture. Sally Morgan traveled to her grandmother’s birthplace, starting a search for information about her family. She uncovers that she is not white but aborigine—information that was kept a secret because of the stigma of society. This moving account is a classic of Australian literature that finally frees the tongues of the author’s mother and grandmother, allowing them to tell their own stories.”

Ten Things I Hate About Me by Randa Abdel-Fattah – YA Fiction.

I quite enjoyed Abdel-Fattah’s first book, Does My Head Look Big in This?, even though I read the American edition where they changed all the words and made it essentially unrecognisable as an Australian text (I’m still smarting from the offensiveness of that), so when I came across this at the tip shop it was an easy decision to get it (that and everything’s dirt cheap at the tip shop!). “There are a lot of things Jamie hates about her life: her dark hair, her dad’s Stone Age Charter of Curfew Rights, her real name – Jamilah Towfeek. For the past three years Jamie has hidden her Lebanese background from everyone at school. It’s only with her email friend John that she can really be herself. But now things are getting complicated: the most popular boy in school is interested in her but there’s no way he would be if he knew the truth. Then there’s Timothy, the school loner – who for some reason Jamie just can’t stop thinking about. As for John, he seems to have a pretty big secret of his own…To top it all off, Jamie’s school formal is coming up. The only way she’ll be allowed to attend is by revealing her true identity. Will she risk it all? And does she know who she is…Jamie or Jamilah?”

Equinox by Lara Morgan – YA Speculative Fiction.

I still have to read the first book in this science fiction/dystopian series set in a futuristic Western Australia, Genesis, which I picked up in Sydney in 2011, but I saw this for $5 at Ellison Hawker and it was too good to pass by. “It’s Rosie’s seventeenth year and she’s starting her first year at Orbitcorp Academy, but it’s not going to be all parties and pilot training. Helios hasn’t forgotten her – and she certainly hasn’t forgotten them. Bent on revenge Rosie is still working in secret to try to take them down. But a terrible miscalculation will send Rosie once more on the run, this time into the unknown lands of the north, Gondwana Nation, where word has it Helios is building something big. There will be a new friend and a new boy – the handsome and wealthy Dalton Curtis – who will surprise Rosie with a secret she can’t begin to guess. And Pip will return, but how does he feel about Rosie, and where has he been? Pursued again and on the run, Rosie might not have time to find out all the answers, but what she will learn is that a capacity for evil can be equalled by a capacity for good – and she will be forced to make a choice that will change her future forever.”

unreal banana peel

Unreal, Banana Peel! compiled by June Factor – Children’s chants and rhymes.

Anyone else remember this book? I saw it at an op-shop and was immediately transported back to primary school. This is a collection of funny (and very silly) chants and rhymes, the kind that children find hilarious but adults have heard way too many times to consider funny anymore. (Plus, some of them are very un-PC now and elicit only a wince or a cringe.) Here’s an example of a silly, harmless rhyme:

The boy stood on the burning deck
His pants were made of cotton,
The flames ran up his hairy legs
And burnt his little bottom.

Around the World in 12 Books Challenge: October & November Round-up

around the world 2014

We’re coming to the end of the year and the end of this challenge, which seemed like a good time to do a quick overview of how people are going – especially as, in case you’ve forgotten, there is the added incentive that every participant who completes the challenge (at their nominated level or above) will go into the draw to win $20 AUD to spend at The Book Depository!

Here are the standings to date – please let me know if I’ve miscalculated:

Allison @ File Under = 5 books
Aloi @ Guitless Reading = 6 books
Brona @ Brona’s Books = 5 books
Deb @ The Book Stop = 8 books
Dorothea @ Life As a Journey = 3 books
Ekaterina @ In My Book = 4 books
Jen @ The Book Scribbles = 1 book
Jess @ The Never Ending Bookshelf = 1 book
Kama @ For Culture’s Sake = 6 books
Marianne @ Let’s Read = 1 book
Marj @ Marj’s Mysteries = 13 books
Sharon @ Faith, Hope & Cherry Tea = 11 books
Shelleyrae @ Book’d Out = 11 books
Shonna @ Canadian Bookworm = 12 books
Tanya @ 52 Books or Bust = 12 books
Teresa @ Reading Like I’m Feasting = 5 books
TJ @ My Book Strings = 8 books
Toomas Nipernaadi @ Non-native Reader = 6 books

As a reminder, here are the levels:
Happy Camper: read at least 2 books from different countries
Wayfarer: read at least 4 books
Casual Tourist: read at least 6 books
Seasoned Traveller: read 12 books (participants who complete the Seasoned Traveller level automatically go into the draw twice)

And now, here are the books read and reviewed by challenge participants over the months of October and November:

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

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MIDDLE EAST

AFGHANISTAN

gifts of the stateThe Gifts of the State and Other Stories: New Writing From Afghanistan edited by Adam Klein (reviewed by Teresa @ Reading Like I’m Feasting) – Short Story Anthology.

This sounds like a powerful anthology; as Teresa says: “The prose is often spare, almost Hemingway spare, but the imagery is as vibrant as the mountains of Afghanistan. The stories are often heartbreaking, not always about war, but informed by the daily experience of the writers. The stories intelligently address gender, class, tradition, the city, and the countryside. This anthology is an invaluable antidote to the prevailing distancing media since most of the stories are character studies embedded in the lived experiences of these young Afghanis. You are learning about distinct personalities, the ones stuck in limbo, and striving forwards towards an unknowable tomorrow (followed by the ghosts of their history).”


IRAQ

dove flyerThe Dove Flyer by Eli Amir (reviewed by Teresa @ Reading Like I’m Feasting) – Fiction.

This long novel (560 pages) from 1992 sounds timely still, and has certainly piqued my interest. T says: “I was almost completely unaware that there was a Jewish community in Baghdad. So this was a fascinating portrait of a community in transition that I had not actually expected. Amir explores the various tensions between the individual, the Jewish community, and the wider Arab majority-the ways they manifest and the various reactions/negotiations undertaken. My ignorance can perhaps be understood since the novel details the complete dismantle of the heritage-the complete erasure of the community. It’s tragic and too closely echoes what ISIS is doing in modern day Iraq.”



ASIA

INDIA

lives of othersThe Lives of Others by Neel Mukherjee (reviewed by Brona @ Brona’s Books) – Fiction.

This was one of the contenders for the 2014 Man Booker Prize. Brona, who has loved other Indian novels in the past, had high hopes for this one, but “ultimately, I felt far, far away from the heart & soul of this story. I felt unconnected to the characters and disconnected from the place. I wanted to love and adore this book. Instead I got some insightful family dynamics wrapped up in a history lesson with some sparkling, some pedestrian use of language” though she also notes that “There were some incredible, poignant moments as Mukherjee dissected the cruelties & absurdities of family life. Family secrets, fears, hostilities, loyalties, betrayals and dreams are carefully revealed.”



god of small thingsThe God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy (reviewed by Shannon @ Giraffe Days – Historical Fiction.

I read this not from personal interest but for work, and I confess I found it a bit of a slog. It’s a book you need time and patience with, not a sense that reading it is homework. The writing is unique, the story heart-wrenching and multi-layered: there’s a lot going on here, a lot you can unpack, if you’re in the right headspace to do it.



CHINA

frogFrog by Mo Yan (reviewed by Shelleyrae @ Book’d Out – Fiction.

Mo Yan won the Nobel in 2012; this is his latest book, which deals primarily with China’s controversial One Child policy. The story is centred around, as Shelleyrae explains, the character of “Tadpole [who is] writing about his Aunt Gugu, a skilled and popular midwife who later, as a loyal communist, becomes a reviled militant enforcer of the country’s one-child policy. Wan Zu, who plans to write a play about her, relates his observations about the effect of the reform over time on his Aunt and the members of his rural community.” Shelleyrae says she “struggled to keep the characters straight at times, hampered by unfamiliar and similar sounding names amongst a large cast. The first three parts of the novel held my interest but it begin to wane during the last two, which includes the play Tadpole has been promising his mentor. Frog is is not an easy read but an illuminating one, essentially a tragicomedy, exploring the collision of China’s politics with the personal.”



JAPAN

triangleTriangle by Hisaki Matsuura (reviewed by Teresa @ Reading Like I’m Feasting) – Fiction.

This book – called a “metaphysical thriller” and “surreal noir” by the English-language publisher – is about a man called Otsuki: “A chance meeting draws the shady Otsuki to the home of a master calligrapher” who is working on a strange pornographic movie “in which shots of a teenage girl alternate with close-ups of insects. Otsuki is then introduced to the calligrapher’s attractive granddaughter, the star of the film, and is asked to shoot the remainder of the work himself.” Teresa says it was plain “bizarre”: “So weird and full of unlikeable characters and strange situations. And how bleak and so-very-not-nice the world was painted as-metaphysically. And the women in the book…objectified, harridans, and presented as worthless. I despised the main character whose flaws were never really explained seriously – just “issues with his family” type – and so I didn’t care about his downward spiral. […] There’s like no attempt to have a plot that makes sense and so, yes, there’s loads of plot holes and no attempt to resolve them. So his labyrinthine nightmare of narcissism, unseen malign forces, and misogyny left me cold and uncaring. The only thing of interest I took away from the novel was the concept of tomoe-a spiral that indicates harmony and stability-and its opposite.” I confess I’m fascinated, which is why I just had to include here a large quote from Teresa’s review.



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EUROPE & UK

DENMARK

number the starsNumber the Stars by Lois Lowry (reviewed by Deb @ The Book Stop) – Children’s Historical Fiction.

Set in Copenhagen in 1943, this is the story of Annemarie and her family, who help a Jewish family when the Nazis occupy Denmark. Deb says: “There are many days where I don’t like the world around me, but I have yet to live in a time where my country is occupied by another, or where I have to walk down the streets in fear. And that’s why we read, to understand what others have gone through. This is an excellent book, a simple story with great attention paid to historical detail. It’s a children’s book but I would recommend it to anyone.”



RUSSIA

siegeThe Siege by Helen Dunmore (reviewed by TJ @ MyBookStrings) – Historical Fiction.

Another historical fiction novel around WWII, this time set during the siege of Leningrad in 1941/2. TJ says: “Anna’s daily battle against starvation and hypothermia is interspersed with short vignettes of other people: the man responsible for feeding (or trying to feed) the citizens of Leningrad, the neighbor whose malnourished baby is dying from the cold, a driver attempting to bring food to the city via the partially frozen Lake Ladoga. It completes the picture of the all-encompassing misery. This is certainly not a happy story, but it is interspersed with small moments of happiness and love that offer hope and are therefore all the more meaningful.”


ARMENIA & ITALY

like sand in the windLike Sand in the Wind by Sonia Raule & Vasken Berberian (reviewed by Teresa @ Reading Like I’m Feasting) – Fiction.

This story follows Lena who, after the 1988 earthquake in Soviet-controlled Armenia, flees to Italy where she works for an Italian woman, Alice, and her Armenian husband, a doctor. Teresa found that the Armenian side of the story – and how the earthquake “exposed the worst of the Soviet rule” – was “fascinating”, and “the authors are clearly critical of the cost-cutting that made the earthquake so devastating.” While the Italian part of the novel was more familiar, Teresa found the two female characters well developed and helped carry the story.



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SOUTH AMERICA

EL SALVADOR

kilometer 99Kilometer 99 by Tyler McMahon (reviewed by Shonna @ Canadian Bookworm) – Fiction.

Another story about the after-effects of an earthquake, this time in El Salvador, Kilometer 99 is about a couple in the Peace Corps: Malia, a Hawaiian woman, is working on an aqueduct, while her boyfriend, Ben, is working on an agriculture project. In the aftermath of the earthquake, they quit the Corps and start in a new direction, and as Shonna says, “It is at this time that things start to fall apart. People get hurt, money and documents go missing, and bad decisions are made. A good novel with an interesting storyline.”


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And that’s all for the challenge for now! The last round-up post for this year’s challenge will be up in January, but if you’re late adding your review to the linky list, it’ll open until 31st December 2014. Also, stay tuned for the sign-up post for the 2015 Around the World in 12 Books Challenge!! (Feedback on the changes made to this year’s challenge is welcome.)

If you missed a previous round-up post for this year’s challenge, here are the links:

January
February
March
April
May
June/July
August/September