May 30, 2010

Reading By Moonlight - Brenda Walker

Reading By Moonlight would have to be one of the most beautiful, lyrical and mesmerising books I have read in a long time. I have failed to get very much done today as I have been unable to tear myself about from this book.

Australian author and Professor of English, Brenda Walker has written Reading By Moonlight as a narrative of her journey through her diagnosis, treatment and recovery of breast cancer. What makes this slightly different from some other books of a similar focus is the way that Walker weaves her literary background and love of books and writing into her story - in a way, given that this is her background it would have been virtually impossible to exclude it.

Walker divides the book into five sections; surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, reconstruction and survival - whilst each section is part of a single narrative they also have their own individual feel and sense - which Walker describes through her own emotions and remembrances of the times but also on her recollection of the books she chooses to read through each period.

Some of the books and authors that Walker relies on to support her through this journey and ones that she shares with us in Reading By Moonlight include, The Hours - Michael Cunningham, Anna Karenina - Tolstoy, The Tale of Genji - Murasaki Shikibu, Voss - Patrick White, Edgar Allan Poe and her own novel in progress at the time - The Wing of Night. Each book and author discussed is done so in just enough detail so that the connection between that being discussed and Walker's own current situation is clear - although you never feel you are being preached at.

The book is sad and yet hopeful at the same time - and now only because Walker is able to end her book with a chapter called Survival.

There are so many wonderful, true and inspiring quotes I could leave you with from this already favourite book of mine but I will choose this one;

"To be honest I would rather tell you about books. A good book laces invisible fingers into the shape of a winter armchair or a hammock in the sun. I'm not talking about comfort, necessarily, but support. A good writer might take you to strange and difficult places, but you're in the hands of someone you trust".

So true, and I now add Brenda Walker high on the list of authors I trust.

May 29, 2010

The Time Traveler's Wife - Audrey Niffenegger

I first read The Time Traveler's Wife shortly after it was released in paperback a few years ago - but I almost didn't. I had bought the book at an English language bookstore during a trip to Japan - I was loving our time there but I was feeling quite disconnected from the comfort of my English speaking world and I was looking for a reading experience to take me back into it while I was still travelling. The Time Traveler's Wife was not the book for this task! I brought the book back to Australia unread and passed it on to my best friend who devoured it, loved it and told me I had to read it. So, I tried again - this time on home soil and with the advice of my friend - to just read the story, don't worry about getting caught up in the time travelling and the different times and places.

She was so right - because this time the book stuck, I couldn't put it down, it made me cry and I loved it.

I re-read the book last month as it had been chosen as the book for the new book club/group I have joined with another one of my friends.

I am sure so many of you are familiar with the story - Henry is a time traveler - through some genetic trait that he cannot control he finds himself slipping through time periods and it is during one of these journeys that he meets Claire - the love of his life. On their first meeting Henry is aged 36 and Claire is aged 6. The book moves through the different paths of their lives as they eventually meet in "real" time and begin to build a life together.

I have to say that, if possible, I loved the book even more on my second reading of it. Despite the unreality of the situation I find this book to be one of the most real explorations of a human relationship between two people - I can connect so easily to both Claire and Henry.

This book is now tied for 1st place in my most favourite of novels with Persuasion by Jane Austen - and to think I almost didn't read it!

May 27, 2010

The Shuttle - Frances Hodgson Burnett

I have finally made my way to the end of The Shuttle which I had started as part of Persephone Reading Week way back at the start of the month.

I had ordered my copy of The Shuttle last year after reading, and absolutely loving, The Making Of A Marchioness by the same author. I had wanted to read The Shuttle as soon as it arrived at my house but I very patiently waited until Persephone Reading Week this year!

The Shuttle broadly tells the story of English gentleman from the country's upper classes heading across the seas to America to marry the wealthy daughters of that emerging country in order to attempt to bring the wealth and value back across to England and their failing estates and communities.

The Shuttle focuses specifically on one of these English men, Sir Nigel Anstruthers (possibly one of the most vile, evil and horrible characters I have encountered in literature) who marries sweet, innocent Rosalie Vanderpoel whose father is at the time one of the most wealthy American industrialists. Once Nigel and Rosalie are married they return to England to live on the Anstruther's dilapidated estate, Stornham Court. It is clear to the reader from the very beginning that Nigel has no love for Rosalie - he simply wants her money:

'I am supposed to be moonstruck over a simpering American chit - moonstruck! Damn!' But when he returned to his hotel he had made up his mind and was beginning to look over the situation in evil cold blood. Matters must be settled without delay and he was shrewd enough to realise that with his temper and its varied resources a timid girl would not be difficult to manage.

The Shuttle turned out to be a very difficult reading experience for me. I was still totally entranced by Hodgson Burnett's writing and her way of creating a world and characters for the reader to dive right into - the character of Betty Vanderpoel, Rosalie's younger sister, was my favourite by far;

'There are a good many girls who can be trusted to do things in these days', she said. 'Women have found out so much. Perhaps it is because the heroines of novels have informed them. Heroines and heroes always bring in the new fashions in character. I believe it is years since a heroine "burst into a flood of tears". It has been discovered, really, that nothing is to be gained by it'.

But overall I just felt frustrated and bogged down in the sadness of the novel and Rosalie's situation - being trapped in a loveless and hopeless situation. I am glad I stuck it out with the book though - the second half certainly offers more hope!

May 25, 2010

Book Lust

A beautiful book I am lusting after at the moment is The Woodblock Painting Of Cressida Campbell. I love her art work and I think the book looks divine...

May 24, 2010

La's Orchestra Saves The World - Alexander McCall Smith

As a huge Alexander McCall Smith fan it was really only a matter of time before I picked up his stand alone novel La's Orchestra Saves The World. It jumped out at me at a recent trip to my library and after reading the first few lines I was drawn in - as I find happens with most McCall Smith novels - he sets up a world and characters you want to learn more about.

The main character, La (unfortunately short for Lavender she explains during the book) is a woman in her late 20's who moves from London to the Suffolk countryside shortly before the start of World War 2 after her husband runs off to France with another woman. La is an intelligent, educated woman who has concerns about moving to a small village but after her husband leaves she feels she needs to move away from London for a time. As La is learning to fit into village life Hitler is gathering power in Germany and World War 2 begins and after a chance encounter with a fellow music lover the decision to start a small village orchestra to boost moral is made. This event does not come until quite late in the book and to be honest I had completely forgotten about the fact that it was coming up - even with the title of the book making it very clear! The creation of the orchestra seemed to come out of the blue - by that stage I was enjoying reading about La and her daily life - the challenges she was facing in becoming a "local" and dealing with the impact of the war and the personal relationships she was building - I didn't actually need the orchestra to focus the book in any way.

I found this book to be a very different reading experience to the other McCall Smith novels I have read - this book seemed a lot heavier and dealt with issues in a much more serious way than some of his other books I have read such as The Scotland Street series. Obviously the setting of the book in the midst of World War 2 has contributed to this tone.

Overall it was the character of La that made this book for me - I was so glad that McCall Smith carried on to let us see what had happened to her after the war had ended - it was just right.

May 23, 2010

Sydney Writers' Festival 2010

We have arrived home from our weekend in Sydney which delivered varied weather while we were there but fantastic bookish and friend experiences!

The Sydney Writers' Festival is held in a wonderful location on Sydney Harbour - pretty much underneath the Sydney Harbour Bridge - I snapped the photo above as we came out of our last session of the day.

Just being in amongst the atmosphere of the festival is great - I love being in a beautiful physical location where everyone around me is totally absorbed in talking about books - my idea of paradise!! I was also really lucky to be able to catch up with one of my close friends from school for lunch - a definite highlight of the weekend as although we don't get to see each other all that often we have a lot in common - including books and writing.

The highlight of the festival for me was listening to Yiyun Li speak about her new novel, The Vagrants. I had not heard of Li at all before coming to the festival - the main reason that I enjoy going to these sorts of events - I get to discover wonderful authors and books that would otherwise have passed me by. I also think that sometimes it can help to hear an author speak passionately about their work - it enables me to engage more easily with their books.

And of course I did come away with more books to add to my ever growing collection - but I will save sharing these with you until another day...

May 20, 2010

A Writers' Festival Weekend

My partner and I are heading to Sydney tomorrow for the Sydney Writers' Festival - an event I really look forward to each year.

Some of the events I am planning to see/hear are:

Event 145 - My Brilliant Debut - Authors Kirsten Tranter, Steven Amsterdam and Patrick Allington all speaking about their first publishing deals.

Event 159 - Yiyun Li - I have not read anything by this author as yet but her first novel, The Vagrants, sounds amazing.

Event 173 - No Country For Young Women - The description of this event from the SWF site:

Can a young female writer thrive in our newly retro Mad Men world? Young Australian authors Kirsten Tranter, Emily Maguire and Karen Hitchcock will discuss.

Event 188 - The Big Reading A group of authors including Natasha Solomons and Susan Wyndham read from their work.

I'm really looking forward to the weekend and sharing it with you all when I get back.

May 17, 2010

More New Books

I have begun to have a regular work appointment every month quite close by one of my favourite bookshops - how convenient!

So, of course I headed there a little early this afternoon and came home with these (from top to bottom);

The Past And Other Lies - Maggie Joel - I read Joel's latest book, The Second-Last Woman in England earlier this year and I quite enjoyed it so I thought I would give her first book a go.

The Lessons - Naomi Alderman - I can't remember where I read a review/synopsis of this one but it sounded great - and another beautiful cover too hard to resist!

May 16, 2010

A Good Story

Coming to the end of another weekend and it has been a good one apart from the head cold that seems to be developing rather than disappearing.

I caught up with one of my close friends on Saturday morning for coffee (or chai tea as it turned out) and among other things we of course discussed books. My friend said she was going looking for her next book that afternoon and she was on the hunt for a "good story" and it clicked with me that that was exactly what I was wanting in my reading at the moment. A good story filled with characters that entertained and informed, a variety of settings and locations, drama and passion but most of all - a book that takes me on an adventure.

So, I went out looking for that "good story" too. I ended up coming home with The Peacock Throne by Sujit Saraf - I had never heard of the book or the author before but I was intrigued by the description of the book and by this review.

I am about 50 pages in so far and I think I have found the "good story" I was seeking...

Has anyone else got any recommendations for books they would describe as a good, or even great, story?

May 15, 2010

Friday Fill-In

I am going to take a leaf out of my friend Tamara's book over at Thyme for Tea and complete the Friday Fill Ins this week (I am cheating a little given that it is now Saturday in Australia!).

1. I just had an afternoon nap with my grandma's birthday blanket

2. It just is

3. The third sentence on the 7th page of the book I'm reading: You just want to get out of the financial mess, a man in a grey suit says to his black-suited colleague (How To Paint A Dead Man - Sarah Hall).

4. Shoe shopping tickles my fancy

5. I was walking a long, long time ago...

6. TV shows based on "reality" makes me laugh!

7. And as for the weekend, tonight I'm looking forward to pizza and a DVD with my boy, tomorrow my plans include pilates, chai tea and a great book and Sunday, I want to stay in bed all day and read my book - but I doubt I will get the chance to carry out those plans!

May 14, 2010

The Carrie Diaries - Candace Bushnell

I was seeking some light relief from some of the heavier reading I have been delving into lately so I picked up my recently purchased copy of The Carrie Diaries - supposedly a sneak peak into the world of teenage senior Carrie Bradshaw before she made the move to New York and became the fashionista we know today.

I am a huge fan of Sex and the City the tv show but I have to say that I have never actually read any of Bushnell's novels before - and if The Carrie Diaries is any indication of what to expect from her books I won't be picking up another one in the near future.

I actually didn't think the writing style itself was that bad - the structure of the book overall just came across as so juvenile, repetitive and senseless. I know the focus is on the character of Carrie as a teenager but I thought the book would be directed more towards adult readers - it clearly isn't. I would definitely place this book in the adolescent fiction section. I'm not trying to be negative about adolescent or young adult fiction either - I have read some amazing books in this category - but this isn't one of them. All the book seemed to focus on was Carrie's up and down relationship with a horrible boy - now I remember all too well how relationships can dominate your life a a teenager but the premise given by the author seemed to be saying that Carrie had so much more to be thinking about and working towards - such as the death of her mother and her dreams of a writing career - but I felt these concerns played a minor role and were never really explored in any depth.

The only thing I like about this book was the last line - this is where the book should have begun I think.

I will be going back to Sex and The City the tv show to reaffirm my faith in smart, sassy women and good writing!

May 12, 2010

Persephone Reading Week Comes To An End...

Well, officially Persephone Reading Week - so wonderfully hosted by Verity and Claire - has come to an end but I am still pushing on with my sole Persephone book for the week, The Shuttle.

I was really looking forward to the week - and I had been saving my long savoured copy of The Shuttle for so long so I jumped in with much excitement. But then I got a bit bogged in the story - the writing is wonderful and descriptive (something that would normally annoy me) but I am finding that the content of the story line is quite confronting and depressing - not something I am excited about jumping back into!

I have reached the half way mark in the book now and I sense a change is coming (I hope a change is coming!) so hopefully I will be able to push on and finish it soon.

May 11, 2010

Lovely New Things

It has been a while since I have posted about new books and lovely things coming into the BookBath world - but that doesn't mean that they haven't been coming in. My book buying has been pretty constant over the past few weeks - I just keep hearing about wonderful books! So, this might be the first post of quite a few...

The photo above shows three books that have come home with me recently, From top to bottom:
Beautiful Malice - Rebecca James; This book has been getting quite a bit of publicity in Australia recently - mainly due to the large amount that the author received for this, her first book, to be published. The book itself has also been getting some great reviews and not only does the author currently live in my town of origin but I am hoping to hear her speak at the upcoming Sydney Writer's Festival.

Living Oprah - Robyn Okrant; I read about this one in a local newspaper article and thought it sounded really interesting (if a little crazy!). The author spends a year following every piece of advice and using every product advocated by Oprah Winfrey.

Talking About Jane Austen in Baghdad - Bee Rowlatt & May Witwit; The words "Jane Austen" in the title were what first caught my attention but then the description of the book made me actually buy it. It is the story - through letters and emails of May, an Iraqui lecturer living in Baghdad and Bee a journalist and a mum living in London and the relationship they develop while sharing with each other the stories of their lives.

The photos above also show my passion for all things Paris continuing. My partner brought me the perfume when he came back from his recent trip to Noumea and I found the gorgeous book, Paris Secrets - Janelle McCulloch - in one of our local independent bookstores.
The book is currently sitting on our coffee table and I am loving browsing through it's beautiful photos...

May 10, 2010

The Debutante - Kathleen Tessaro

I was drawn to the cover of The Debutante as soon as I saw it, pink, glitzy and pretty (with shoes!!) - I couldn't walk away without buying it. In my defence I am a big fan of all of Kathleen Tessaro's past books so I would inevitably have bought this latest one anyway - but the cover did help!

Tessaro's books would probably be classified as "chick lit" but I would hate for them to be seen as light or insubstantial because of that classification. All of her books have style and substance and a little bit of grit and The Debutante was no exception for me.

The story starts in London in the office of Deveraux and Diplock, Valuers and Auctioneers of Quality where the firms owner, Rachel Deveraux is sending her long standing employee, Jack Coates off to an English estate in the country on a valuing job with her niece Cate who has recently (and mysteriously) returned from New York. It all sounds a little bit set up and forced when described in that way but it certainly doesn't come across that way when reading it. Each of the characters has a well described back story that comes out in time which adds to their authenticity and the novel as a whole - it makes you connect with where the book is going.

The highlight of the trip to the estate, Endsleigh, for Cate is the discovery of a shoe box filled with random treasures from a past time which leads her on a mission to discover more about the estate's past residents, the infamous Blythe sisters Irene and Diana.

The book moves from the present back to the 1930's through the device of letters from Diana Blythe to her sister and others. At the same time Cate is discovering about the lost life of Diana Blythe her own life seems to share many parallels with Diana's and in the process of unravelling Diana's mystery she has to come to terms with some of her own past decisions and acts.

I really enjoyed this book - as I said earlier, it had substance but there was also a lightness in the way the adventure and mystery was structured. I thought the ending came together a little too neatly but it didn't change my love for the book. There was also a very interesting post script from the author at the end of the book in which she spoke about how she came to write the book the way she did. Another winner from Tessaro and one that has me wanting to go right back and read some of her earlier books.

May 09, 2010

Beatrice and Virgil - Yann Martel

Even though it took me a while to get on board and actually read it I was a huge fan of Yann Martel's first book, Life of Pi - I found it original and thought provoking and I thought his latest book Beatrice and Virgil was very much in the same vein in terms of inciting thought and emotion.

I hadn't read a lot about this latest book when I first opened it while waiting for an appointment late last week but I became so engrossed so quickly that my name had to be called twice before I realised I had to stop reading and actually go in to my appointment!

The book begins with the character of Henry - an author who has had a book published with much success and is currently at work finishing his next. Early on in the book a particularly brutal scene for anyone who has ever had to have their creative work critiqued takes place with Henry's publishers at a restaurant where he is trying to defend the premise of his latest work - a "flip-flop" book containing a work of fiction at one end and an essay at the other - both concentrating on the Holocaust;

That was the whole meal, a blundering lurch from the frivolity of over-refined food to the dismemberment of his book, Henry quibbling and squabbling, they reassuring and wrecking, to and fro, back and forth, until there was no more food to eat and nothing left to say. It all came out, wrapped in the kindest words: the novel was tedious, the plot feeble, the characters unconvincing, their fate uninteresting, the point lost; the essay was flimsy, lacking in substance, poorly argued, poorly written. The idea of the flip book was an annoying distraction, besides being commercial suicide. The whole was a complete, unpublishable failure.

Ouch! Funnily enough Henry isn't feeling too great after this onslaught and he decides (or is the decision made for him?) that he will no longer write. Henry and his wife move from their home in Canada to live in "one of those great cities of the world that is a world unto itself, a storied metropolis where all kinds of people find themselves and lose themselves".

Henry finds himself in many ways - he starts music lessons and language lessons and involves himself in an amateur theatre group. But he does lose his writer self in some ways - although he stays connected through fan letters from people who have read and loved his last novel. It is through this connection that Henry comes into contact with a Taxidermist who is part way through writing a play about a donkey named Beatrice and a monkey named Virgil - the Taxidermist sends his play to Henry with a note requesting his help.

Henry seeks out the Taxidermist and a tenuous relationship begins where Henry starts to provide feedback on the structure and writing of the play and in time Henry begins to see that the although the play is being narrated by a donkey and a monkey it is clearly about the Holocaust and the Taxidermist is attempting to write about this time in history in a unique and different way - just as he himself had attempted - and failed.

This book completely absorbed me - the writing is probably quite basic and simple in some places but it is really the story and the characters that take you away to another world - and an ending that I did not see coming at all! I found this a beautiful, unique and thought provoking read - it captured me from beginning to end.

May 07, 2010

The Hand That First Held Mine - Maggie O'Farrell

To say that I am totally in love with this book would be an understatement! I have only just finished it a couple of hours ago and I would usually wait to write about my responses to a book on my blog but I really want to just capture my initial, instinctive responses to this one rather than try to write a reasoned review.
Ever since reading my first Maggie O'Farrell book, After You'd Gone, I have been devoted to this author and her writing - each book I read becomes my new favourite of hers and The Hand That First Held Mine is no exception - I have only just finished it but all I want to do is go back and read it all over again.
The book tells the alternate stories of Lexie Sinclair, a country girl who moves to London in the 1950's with her lover and the modern day story of Elina and Ted who have just had their first child and are adjusting to all that comes with that significant and dramatic life change.
In some ways this book covers everyday topics, love, birth, relationships, work but it is the way that it approaches them that makes the book so magical. Each of the characters and story lines are infused with emotion - not a kind of soppy, soap opera emotion but the emotion of everyday lives and actions. I found the scenes where Elina first comes home with her newborn boy raw and honest;

If she could just sleep, everything would be all right. Just a stretch of three hours, four maybe. She is so tired that if she turns her head there is a crackling sound, like someone crumpling paper. But she keeps moving. She moves around the kitchen, past the cooker, past the kettle, past the answerphone, which is telling her she has no fewer than thirteen messages, round by the fridge and back, an ache pulsing in her temples.

The two stories eventually come together in a way I honestly did not see coming - but even if I had it would not have ruined the story for me in any way - because I saw the coming together of the two stories as really the whole point. I was crying at the end - something that I rarely do in novels.
I am now in a cover dilemma as I do want to buy a copy of this for myself. The cover on sale in Australia is the one at the top of this post (and this is growing on me...) but the cover of the copy I read from my library, and the one I do love the most I think, is below;

Dilemma!! Which one do you like best?

Oh - and make sure you read this book - whatever cover you choose!

May 03, 2010

Persephone Reading Week

A big thank you to Claire and Verity for co-hosting the Persephone Reading Week which kicks off today.

I have been looking forward to this reading week for a while now - to be exact since very early this year when my copy of The Shuttle by Frances Hodgson Burnett arrived in the mail from Persephone Books. How good (and restrained!) have I been by putting that book aside until now??

I'm not sure that time will allow me to read any more Persephone Books than this one but I will be happy if I can just spend the week enjoying this book and joining in all of the Persephone fun that Claire and Verity have planned.