June 30, 2010

Small Wars - Sadie Jones

Small Wars was my first read while on holidays - in some ways a strange choice given it's topic area of war and trauma but the writing seemed to flow for me as soon as I opened it so I just kept reading.

I have not read Jones' other (and first) novel, The Outcast but I would be interested to hear from people who have read both about their opinions of the two when compared to each other.

Small Wars is set mainly in Cyprus in the mid 1950's during "The Emergency" when the British are defending the colony against the local Cypriot population who are wanting to join with Greece. I must admit that this is a time in history that I did not have much knowledge about prior to reading the novel and I thought the author did a good job of setting the era and putting a picture in the readers mind of what it might have been like to be a British Military Officer on the island at this time. The perspective of what a local Cypriot might have been was possibly lacking for me but I can see that this might not have been the main focus of the novel.

The main characters are Major Hal Treherne and his wife Clara, Hal has recently been transferred to Cyprus and he sees the move as a positive one for his career and job satisfaction. Clara is less happy about moving to an area of conflict and trauma with their two young daughters and her difficulties in settling in to the local and army community are well described. The scenes involving direct battle and gunfire are also well written I thought and the personal conflicts engaged in by both Hal and some of the other soldiers are also portrayed well - I especially thought this in relation to a scene where Hal sits with one of his men after he is severely injured - an event that strongly returns to him in many ways after the event.

Even with all of this excellent writing and background I still did not feel completely connected to the novel or the characters - in some ways I felt like I was reading a screenplay for a movie - the words were there but I couldn't always feel the connection. I would be really interested to hear if others who have read this book have felt a similar way or if it is just me?? As a mental health professional I have worked in the area of trauma and grief and loss counselling for over 10 years now and I know I have developed strong self-care skills in this area and I am wondering if I started to operate on this level of "self protection" as soon as I started to read this book and identify its themes??

Despite these thoughts I did think this was a well written, strong novel and I think I will move on to The Outcast soon.

June 29, 2010

Home From Paradise...

My partner and I arrived home from our trip to Koh Samui today. It is always a bittersweet feeling to come home after a holiday away. On the one hand it is so nice to come back to our own home comforts, books, food and friends and family - and of course our bundle of fluff who we are sure was very well looked after (i.e. spoilt) by his Aunty Em! On the other hand it is also sad to leave behind a beautiful experience - especially when you leave gorgeous tropical weather to come home to freezing cold winter!

We had a wonderful and relaxing holiday - beautiful food, many swims, massages, walks along the beach, meeting friendly Thai people and of course - lots of reading!

I finished four books while we were away; Small Wars by Sadie Jones, The Opposite of Falling by Jennie Rooney and The Girl Who Played With Fire and The Girl Who Kicked The Hornets' Nest by Stieg Larrson - reviews to come soon.

In the meantime it is time to get back into the swing of "real" life - catching up on all of your blogs, heading to a bookshop to get a fix (Koh Samui while beautiful is unfortunately lacking in any great English bookshops) and preparing for the start of Paris In July!

June 17, 2010

Reading In Paradise

Tomorrow my partner and I are off on our holiday to Koh Samui - and we can't wait!

I'm in a little bit of a panic - not because my clothes aren't packed yet (because they aren't!) but because I haven't really thought a lot about what books I want to take with me!!! I thought I had heaps of time to think about it - but that time has gone! It's especially important for this holiday because this break is going to be mainly about relaxing by the pool and beach and reading, reading, reading.

So, I have put together a selection that I think will make it into the bag;

The Group - Mary McCarthy - I have heard so many great things about this book and I finally found a copy last weekend - just in time!

Small Wars - Sadie Jones - Another book I have heard a bit about - all good.

The Girl Who Played With Fire - Stieg Larsson - I have been waiting for a good time to read this since finishing The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo.

The Opposite Of Falling - Jennie Rooney - A recent arrival in my TBR pile - too lovely to leave behind.

The Book Of Fires - Jane Borodale - There is a lot of talk about this book in the blogging world at the moment - mixed reactions from what I have seen so far.

Have I made the right choices?? I'm sure there are so many others I've missed!

June 15, 2010

Paris In July Plans

Only a little over two weeks until Paris In July, being hosted by myself and Tamara, gets under way.
We are really excited by how much interest has been shown so keep spreading the word - it is never too late to join in. See this post for more information and just leave a comment either on that post or this one to let us know if you are interested so we can add you to the list.
I have been thinking about some movies and books I might like to delve into throughout the month - see the photos above. I would love to hear about what others are thinking about reading, seeing, doing, cooking, playing etc....

June 14, 2010

How To Paint A Dead Man - Sarah Hall

I had attempted to read How To Paint A Dead Man once before but the timing wasn't just right for me and I could not get into it. I knew I would most likely enjoy it though - when the time was right - and I am glad that I came back to it.

How To Paint A Dead man tells the story of 4 main characters across time periods and countries(once again, like Hearts and Minds which I reviewed yesterday, the characters are all interlinked in some way).

There is an elderly painter living in Italy in the 1960's, coming to the end of his career and his life. A young Italian girl who has become blind through a degenerative illness - a former student of the painter. A middle aged artist who has written to the famous painter looking for advice and guidance early on in his career and his adult daughter, Sue- drowning in grief after the sudden and traumatic death of her twin brother. Each character has their own sections or chapters in the book which are told in turn.

This was a painful book to work through - brilliant writing but so sad in it's outlook that I struggled at times. Even at the end of the book I was hard pressed to find a glimmer of hope despite the obvious indicated by the ending of the final chapter.

The writing however kept me engaged despite my sadness - each character coming through strongly with a clear voice. A part from one of Sue's chapters as an example;

The darkly obvious looms close by, encompassing everything. It is huge, your bereavement. It is consuming, protecting. Loss has cast you utterly into shadow. They all tiptoe around the tragedy. They tiptoe around you. After losing him, so violently and suddenly, your vagary, your absence, must be understandable. You are heart-broken. You are recovering. You are letting go.

June 13, 2010

Hearts and Minds - Amanda Craig

I had not read any of Amanda Craig's books before picking up Hearts and Minds which had been long listed for this year's Orange Prize. I had heard things about the book being quite confronting - and it certainly was in parts - but what it was mostly for me was a fantastic story with brilliant characters.

The book is told from the perspective of several characters all living in different ways and different situations in modern day London and it reminded me a lot of a Robert Altman film in it's structure in that all of the characters started to intersect with each other (either knowingly or unknowingly) as their stories progressed. This is one of my favourite forms of story telling when it is done well and I think Craig has done an amazing job of it in this book.

One of my favourite characters in the novel was Job, a young man from Zimbabwe who has entered the UK illegally to escape violence and persecution in his home country. His wife remains in Africa and Job is unsure where exactly she is or what her fate might have become. Job is working several jobs in order to pay for his living expenses and to send money back to his wife. He is an educated man and throughout the book he offers up his thoughts on the way of life in Britain as compared with his own country;

Poor people do live differently in Britain. They have so many things that seem to drive out thought. Job would never have dreamt he could one day drive a car like the ones he leases from Mo, for instance. Nor would he have believed that he might have a TV set, thrown out because it was an old, bulky design instead of the flat-screen ones everyone expects. Also, there is so much culture available for free. Job has walked, amazed, round every museum he can find on Sundays, where people from all over the globe wander in to enjoy the most beautiful paintings, inventions, buildings. He can't join a public library, but the cheapness of second-hand paperbacks on stalls and in charity shops makes him weak. There is an abundance of everything - food dropped half eaten on the pavement that goes to feed birds or rats - and yet a consciousness of nothing. He thinks of the city conjured for him by Dickens; that foggy, dark place riddled with crime and yet suffused with kindness and courage. He had been a little disappointed when he arrived to find the soot had been scoured away during the last century, and no horse-drawn carriages. Yet there were still men like Bill Sikes, with their dogs and violence. He sees them right outside his home.

Each of the characters were fully drawn - their backgrounds and motivations clearly outlined and portrayed for the reader - but not in such an obvious way that it became patronising or fake.

I loved reading this book and am now on the look out for more of Amanda Craig's work - any suggestions?

June 09, 2010

New Arrivals

I had a little fling on The Book Depository a few weeks ago and the results of my behaviour have arrived:

The Book of Fires - Jane Borodale - I have heard and read some mixed things about this one but it sounds like such an intriguing story with a gorgeous cover and design that I thought I would give it a go.

The Opposite of Falling - Jennie Rooney - I read Rooney's first book, Inside The Whale earlier this year and just loved it so when I saw she had a new book just released I added it to my pile. Another gorgeous cover too.

Nomad - Ayaan Hirsi Ali - I read Ali's first memoir book, Infidel and was then fortunate enough to be able to hear her speak when she attended the Sydney Writers' Festival a couple of years ago - an amazing woman and writer.

June 08, 2010

Water For Elephants - Sara Gruen

Water For Elephants was chosen as our Book Club selection for this month and I was quite happy about it as it was a book I had always been intrigued by but had never really been tempted to pick up. Unfortunately I wasn't able to make it to our Book Club discussion this month so this review will have to be based purely on my thoughts and reactions.

Water For Elephants is set in the USA in the era of the Great Depression in the 1930's. The main character, Jacob Jankowski, is a young man about to sit the final exams for his veterinary studies when he is called home by the sudden and traumatic death of his parents. Jacob's father was the local town vet and Jacob was expecting to slip right into his practice as soon as he had passed his exams - after his sudden death Jacob learns that his father's business was broke and so much money is now owed to the bank that Jacob does not even have a house to live in anymore. It is after this discovery that Jacob literally runs away to the circus. Not that this is his intention - he simply runs away from the life that is no longer waiting to him onto a moving train carriage which turns out to belong to the Benzini Bros Most Spectacular Show On Earth.

The book alternates between the stories of the young Jacob as he makes his way as an animal carer in the circus and an elderly Jacob many years later - now living in an aged care facility and reflecting on what he saw as the greatest time of his life.

The book has plenty of drama and action - a lot of loss and sadness (the scenes where animal cruelty is displayed were actually the most distressing for me even though human beings were also treated extremely badly in many cases).

I found the elderly Jacob more interesting and engaging than the young man - I found myself being disappointed when the book turned away from these sections and I think I would have enjoyed it more if the whole story was told as a memory rather than being told from the present tense. That being said, I did enjoy this book - mainly because it was something different in terms of subject matter to what I normally would read.

June 05, 2010

Paris In July

BookBath and Thyme For Tea have decided to come together to host a blogging experience to celebrate our love of all things French and Parisian - "Paris In July".

We are two friends with a deep interest and love of French culture and way of life - although we experience and demonstrate this passion in very different ways. Karen has only recently discovered the magic of Paris - the city, the architecture, the fashion and the literature whereas the French experience has been a part of Tamara's life for a long time, leading her to learn the language and experience the culture in a deeper way. But for both of us as Australian's, the reality of traveling to France is a costly and timely experience - so we need to find ways of bringing France to us!

So, in order to help us do that we will be jointly hosting a French themed blogging experience running from the 1st - 31st July this year called "Paris In July".

The aim of the month is to celebrate our French experiences through reading, watching, listening to, observing, cooking and eating all things French!

There will be no rules or targets in terms of how much you need to do or complete in order to be a part of Paris In July - just blog about anything French and you can join in. Some ideas for the month might include;

- Reading a French book - fiction or non-fiction

- Watching a French movie

- Listening to French music

- Cooking French food

- Experiencing French art, architecture or travel

If you are interested in being a part of this experience leave a comment on this post and we will put together a side bar showing all of the participants. There will be weekly French themed prizes during the month for which we will randomly draw the winners from all the French themes posts of that week that link back to us. Tamara from Thyme For Tea will be writing weekly wrap up posts on the 10th and 24th July and Karen from BookBath on the 17th and 31st July for you to link your posts to.

We have found and designed a couple of images to represent our Paris in July experience so feel free to add these to your blog if you are joining us. We will write posts leading up to the start of Paris in July to give you some ideas about what you might like to include and to share the books, films. music etc... that we are planning to experience ourselves during the month.

Looking forward to Paris In July!

What Reading Means For Me...

Simon from Stuck In A Book issued a challenge this week asking us to post a photo, picture or painting that represented reading and books to us - the real challenge being that the image couldn't actually contain a book.

The photo I have chosen to use was taken by me when I was sitting on the verandah of a rented cottage during a relaxing holiday in Kiama on the New South Wales South Coast a couple of years ago. The weather was gloriously wild and changeable during our time there and I spent a great portion of every day just sitting on that verandah consuming the books I had brought along with me. To me reading is not only an education and a constant learning process but an escape - an escape from my every day life into a world of creativity, imagination and amazing characters.

I like the outlook of the ocean from this photos but I also like the view of the white fence - maybe a metaphor for how my reading often creates a barrier from the real world for me - just for a little while.

I took many photos from that balcony and every time I look at them I am reminded of how relaxing it was to just sit there drinking cups of tea and reading, reading, reading...

June 03, 2010

Writers' Festival Loot

I promised I would share with you the books I came home with after my trip to the Sydney Writers' Festival a couple of weeks ago so here they are:

From top to bottom the books are:

Things We Didn't See Coming - Steven Amsterdam - This was one of the books I bought after not only loving the sound of the book but being charmed by the author after I listened to him talk about his process of writing and producing the book. It comes with a lot of praise and (I think) a great title!

Outside Of The Dog - Rick Gekoski - I didn't actually get the chance to hear this author speak but I read his bio in the festival program along with the description of the book where it is described as a "bibliomemoir" - one of my favourite genres of books.

The Vagrants - Yiyun Li - My favourite session from the festival was listening to Li talk about her latest book and if she writes as engagingly as she reads and speaks I am sure I am going to love this one.

June 01, 2010

Beautiful Malice - Rebecca James

Before Beautiful Malice had even been released I had heard and read quite a lot about it and the woman who wrote it, Rebecca James. The media was hot on the story about how much James had been paid for this book and the "frenzy" it had started in the international publishing world with everyone seeming to want a piece of it. Of course this sort of publicity always makes me a little wary - but I have to admit it also sucks me in (I have always said I am a marketer's dream!).

Beautiful Malice has been promoted as a psychological thriller in the young adult reading area.

The main character, Katherine Patterson is a 17 year old in her final year of high school in Sydney - we find out early on in the book that she moved to Sydney a couple of years ago following a traumatic event, the death of her younger sister, that obviously impacted hugely on her whole family. Katherine is living with her aunt as her parents have re-located to nearby Newcastle but Katherine lives a fairly independent existence. This was an aspect of the structure of the book that never really rang true for me - this is a 17 year old whose sibling has died and yet her parents seem quite ok with her living away from them at a fairly important time of her life - the author did make some attempts at explaining this separation but they felt a little forced for me and even though it could be seen as a minor practical detail in the story it did affect how I viewed the characters and the authenticity of the story.

Katherine makes friends with another student, Alice, who begins to help her see the lighter side of life and connects her to a social world for the first time since the death of her sister. That is until cracks start to appear in Alice's character and Katherine comes to realise she can't really trust her.

The story presented is in some ways a coming of age story for Katherine who has to face the demons of the reality of her sister's death and the part she believes she played in it before she can begin to develop her own life as independent from this strong part of it.

I felt the author did a good job in building suspense and tension in the story and I read quickly - wanting to know more and more. There is a lot of devastation and tragedy included for one book - and for one character - at times it felt like Katherine (and the reader!) might not be able to take any more!

I did enjoy this book but for all it's dark content matter and issues handled I didn't find it completely satisfying if that makes sense?? I am wondering if a younger reader would have gained more from the experience?