September 30, 2008

The Independence of Miss Mary Bennet - Colleen McCullough

I finished The Independence of Miss Mary Bennet last night and I'm still not really sure what to make of it.

Definitely a page turner - I have not read any of Colleen McCullough's books before (probably not something a book loving Australian should admit to) so I have nothing of hers to compare the writing or style of this book to. I did have to stop comparing the book to a Jane Austen novel though because that comparison was getting me nowhere!

The premise of the book is that we now get to follow the story of Miss Mary Bennet, 20 years after the end of Pride and Prejudice. The book still however follows the stories of the other Bennet sisters and their illustrious parents and associates. I'm not even completely convinced that Mary Bennet was the focus of the story - and definitely not the Mary Bennet of Jane Austen's story!

The book follows what I thought was a really strange storyline for a "traditional" Austen sequel - kidnappings by religious sects and murder just to name a couple of examples. But maybe that is just the point - McCullough was trying to take the story beyond the traditional.

As I said before - I was completely hooked into this book and finished it quickly - but I had to suspend my belief about this being an Austen story with her traditional characters in order to do so. I would think that Jane Austen purists might have a real problem with this one!

September 29, 2008

Gathering Holiday Reads

My holiday is less than a week away now - only 4 official working days to go (but who's counting?!) so I am busy gathering my holiday reading. I was helped along today by my local library who sent me a message to say that 2 books I have recently put a hold on were ready for me to collect. The books seem worlds apart in terms of genre but I'm hoping I will enjoy them both.

Firstly is the new book by Midwives author Chris Bohjalian, Skeletons at the Feast. I am a big fan of this author and was excited to see that he had a new book out.

A description of the book from the publisher:

In January 1945, in the waning months of World War II, a small group of people begin the longest journey of their lives: an attempt to cross the remnants of the Third Reich, from Warsaw to the Rhine if necessary, to reach the British and American lines.Among the group is eighteen-year-old Anna Emmerich, the daughter of Prussian aristocrats. There is her lover, Callum Finella, a twenty-year-old Scottish prisoner of war who was brought from the stalag to her family’s farm as forced labor. And there is a twenty-six-year-old Wehrmacht corporal, who the pair know as Manfred–who is, in reality, Uri Singer, a Jew from Germany who managed to escape a train bound for Auschwitz.As they work their way west, they encounter a countryside ravaged by war. Their flight will test both Anna’s and Callum’s love, as well as their friendship with Manfred–assuming any of them even survive. Perhaps not since The English Patient has a novel so deftly captured both the power and poignancy of romance and the terror and tragedy of war. Skillfully portraying the flesh and blood of history, Chris Bohjalian has crafted a rich tapestry that puts a face on one of the twentieth century’s greatest tragedies–while creating, perhaps, a masterpiece that will haunt readers for generations.

My other library pick up was the new book by Candace Bushnell, One Fifth Avenue. I have not read any of Bushnell's books before but I am a huge Sex and The City fan so I decided I would give this one a try.

If anyone has any other holiday reading suggestions I would love to hear them.

September 28, 2008

Stanley and Sophie - Kate Jennings

I first heard about Stanley and Sophie when I was travelling to Sydney by train one day and was listening to the ABC Radio National program - The Book Show. The author, an Australian born, Kate Jennings was giving an interview about the book and the writing process for it.

The book's title comes from the names of Kate's two Border Terrior's, Stanley and Sophie, who come to live with her in her New York apartment after the death of her husband.

The book is structured into very small chapters, small snippets of Kate's life with these two beloved animals.

I'm not a dog person at all - I'm a cat girl through and through - but I found reading about the impact of these animals presence on the author very interesting. The second half of the book, when the author travels to Indonesia to spend time with her brother, was a little boring and aimless to me and I must admit I lost interest a little.

A cute, meaningful book looking at the relationships between people and their animals and the impact of grief on our lives.

September 26, 2008

Mozart's Ghost - Julia Cameron

Mozart's Ghost by Julia Cameron is the first book in quite a while that I will not be finishing - life's too short!

I picked this up last week when I was browsing at the library (thank god I did not pay money for this one!). I was familiar with the author from her book The Artist's Way - a writing guidance/instruction book which I have not picked up in quite a while now but I know I have my copy tucked away somewhere which must mean I found it at least slightly useful.

Mozart's Ghost is not even slightly useful. It tells the story of Anna - a woman in her mid 30's who has moved to New York to pursue her vocation of being a medium, connecting with people who have died and passing on their messages to their still living friends and family. Mozart comes into the story via the character of Edward - a pianist who moves into Anna's building and initially annoys her with his constant piano playing. Mozart basically comes along to tell Anna to give the guy a break.

I really can't tell you much more about this one because I have stopped reading at around page 90 - I just can't put myself through this anymore. There are too many well written books to be reading! The characters are boring and predicatable, ditto for the storyline, and the writing is painful and repetitive. Not a fun time for any reader!

September 25, 2008

More to Pride and Prejudice?

I have a confession to make... I love to read anything even slightly related to Jane Austen and her novels.

I have a secret dream (maybe not so secret now) that someday a dramatic discovery of a large number of her lost novels will be found and I will not have to read and re-read her only published works over and over again - not that this is really a problem for me!

So, until that dream becomes a reality I grab onto any "sequel" or alternative Jane Austen story that comes along - and today I found a new offering.

The latest novel from a significant Australian author, Colleen McCullough - The Independence of Miss Mary Bennet. The information on the book from the publisher says:

Everyone knows the story of Elizabeth and Jane Bennet in Pride and Prejudice. But what about their sister Mary, she of the atrocious singing voice and the staidly religious bent of mind?
Master storyteller Colleen McCullough paints a life for Mary Bennet twenty years after Jane Austen's novel closes.
So far on in time, each of Mary's sisters is settled in her own way. Happily married Jane is the mother of many children; Elizabeth has to cope with an unwelcome social pre–eminence she had not envisioned; Lydia is still entranced by military officers; and Kitty is one of the stars of London's fashionable salons.
Events transpire that free Mary from her family obligations and dangle the allurements of independence before her hungry gaze. Fired with zeal by the newspaper letters of the mystery man Argus, she resolves to publish a book about the plight of England's poor. Plunging from one predicament into another, Mary embarks upon a mission of investigation that eventually leads her into mortal danger and reveals the surprising identity of Argus.
The Independence of Miss Mary Bennet is both a page–turning look at the ongoing lives of the Bennet sisters, and a sparkling romance that shows it is never too late to find love. Abounding with beloved characters in new guises as well as people we have not met before, it is funny, tragic, and eminently satisfying. This is a novel for every woman who has yearned to leave her mark upon the world – Colleen McCullough at her lively best.

I must admit I have not read anything of Colleen McCullough's before but I just couldn't say no to this story.

September 24, 2008

Loving My Library!

How much am I in love with my local library right now? Quite a bit I must say!

I have another message today telling me that a book I had reserved was ready for me to pick up - this is a book I haven't even seen come out in the bookshops as yet. I am most impressed.

The book in question is the latest book by Australian writer Kate Grenville - The Lieutenant. I read a review about the book in the weekend papers and knew it would be one I would be keeping an eye out for.

The blub about the book from the publisher:

Daniel Rooke, soldier and astronomer, was always an outsider. As a young lieutenant of marines he arrives in New South Wales on the First Fleet in 1788, and sees his chance. He sets up his observatory away from the main camp, and begins the scientific work that he hopes will make him famous.Aboriginal people soon start to visit his isolated promontory, and a child named Tagaran begins to teach him her language. With meticulous care he records their conversations.An extraordinary friendship forms, and Rooke has almost forgotten he is a soldier when a man is fatally wounded in the infant colony. The lieutenant faces a decision that will define not only who he is but the course of his entire life.

I absolutely loved The Secret River so I am looking forward to starting this new book.

September 23, 2008

Italy Continuing...

Continuing my literary love affair with all things Italy I have found a new book to become absorbed in.

I read about My Amalfi Coast By Amanda Tabberer in a travel magazine yesterday and looked it up straight away on the net but was disappointed to see that it wasn't being released for another week (yes, patience is not a virtue I hold!). But, I decided to check and see if my local library might be getting a copy in - I was in luck! They already had a copy in stock and it was available to borrow! So, I made a trip and collected it last night. Sometimes the book powers just shine down upon you!

It is a beautifully presented hardcover book with gorgeous photos by Carla Coulson so I might end up wanting my very own copy but it is nice to be able to browse through first just to make sure.

September 19, 2008

The Other Hand - Chris Cleave

I have just finished The Other Hand By Chris Cleave after starting it less than 24 hours ago - an indication of just how much it grabbed me.The blurb on the backcover of this book, the place where we would normally go to be told what to expect, doesn't really give a lot - if anything away. We are told it is a "truly special story and we don't want to spoil it". I'm so glad it didn't. Which also makes it hard to review this book as the reader is told "once you have read it , you'll want to tell your friends about it. When you do, please don't tell them what happens either. The magic is in how it unfolds". It really does sound like a clever marketing ploy - telling someone not to talk about something is usually a sure fire way to ensure that's exactly what they do but I have to agree with the ploy in this case. I think this is a story you have to read, experience and feel for yourself.I don't think it is giving too much away to say that the story really revolves around two stories - one involving a young African refugee and another involving a privleged yet grasping English family. The novel tells the story of their coming together.I loved this book - beautiful phrasing, language and metaphor. It has made me think a lot about the world in which we live and the impact we can have if we take the chance. I have not read Chris Cleave's other book but I will be looking out for it now.

Novel About My Wife - Emily Perkins

From the moment I started Novel About My Wife I did not want to put it down. Unfortunately work and life in general intervened but I did manage to finish the book this afternoon.

The book was quite heavy in many ways, you learn very early on in the story that the wife of the title, Ann, has died. The book explores (among many other things) the how and why of this death. I think I have it worked out now but the ending leaves a few possible ideas up for debate. This is a book I will have to pass on to my best friend - we always come to different, but equally plausible, endings for books that can be a bit up in the air.

The husband, and narrator of the story, is Tom Stone "skinnyish, fortyish, English and madly in love with his wife Ann". I really didn't like Tom until right at the end of the story - this inability to like a main character in a book usually impacts on my enjoyment of the story but not in this case.

I loved the writing - tense, harsh, strong and extremely real and vibrant. At times I think I was reading for the love of the writing as opposed to the story - something I never do!

The book could be seen as a bit of mystery - especially in relation to Ann. We never really find out all that much about her - it all comes from Tom's interpretation of her and their relationship but she is a fascinating character because of this.

I really can't/don't want to say much more for fear of either giving things away or ruining your own interpretation of the story but I would say read it - a compelling story from beginning to end.

September 17, 2008

Library Pick Up

I was all excited last night when I got home from work and there was a very strange message on my answering machine - it was a computer recorded message from my local library telling me that a book I had put a hold on was now ready for collection - to a non-book person that might not sound too exciting but it made my day!

The book is Novel About My Wife By Emily Perkins and I made a trip to the library after work tonight to pick it up.

I had seen the book in bookshops a while ago - I was attracted to the stunning cover - but when I read the blurb about what the book was about I wasn't really all that interested in taking it any further. That all changed when I heard an interview with the author on a local radio station a couple of weeks ago. Emily Perkins sounded lovely - not quite sure why that should matter - the book should sound lovely I would have thought and who gives a damn about the author!! But for some reason my connection to the author as she spoke about the book made me want to give in another go - hence the request through my library.

A quote from one of my favourite writers, Maggie O'Farrell, on the front of the cover didn't hurt in steering me towards picking this one up either;

A beautiful, shocking book, it had me gripped from the very first sentence

The product description from Amazon describes the book in this way:

A chilling gothic tale about a gorgeous young wife’s descent into madness, from a rising literary star.When Tom moves with his wife, Ann, from their tiny Camden flat into a large house in Hackney, he feels as if it’s the start of the rest of their life together. Deeply in love, and with a baby on the way, Tom thinks everything is finally coming together. He and Ann anticipate the arrival of the baby, as Ann, particularly galvanized, spends hours cleaning and reorganizing the house, and sitting up all night talking with a renewed passion about life, love, and art. But there is a darker side to this new fervor, somehow linked with her conviction that someone is lingering threateningly around their new home. Someone who—Tom soon realizes—may not exist at all.

Sounds like an interesting read!

September 14, 2008

Reading Inspiration

In spite of a threat I made to myself a month or so ago I just can't keep away from new books! Buying or borrowing - I just can't stop and I clearly have a problem - could be worse I suppose. In my defence I haven't actually bought or borrowed these latest desires - I have just been coveting them as I read various blogs and reviews.

The first is the novel The Heretic's Daughter by Kathleen Kent which I first read about over at Caribousmom. The novel is an account of the Salem Witch Trials of 1692 - a time in history that I am very interested in - and the novel looks stunning.

The other book is a non-fiction book about journalling called Note to Self: On Keeping a Journal and Other Dangerous Pursuits By Samara O'Shea which I saw over at BookGirl's Nightstand. I used to be a big journaller in my younger days but I have let the practice fall by the wayside a little. It is something I would like to get back into and this book looks like a great inspiration.

September 13, 2008

Something Dangerous - Penny Vincenzi

Something Dangerous is the sequel to No Angel and the second book in the Spoils Of Time trilogy by Penny Vincenzi.

Something Dangerous continues the story of the wealthy London based Lytton family and their various associates in Europe and America through the 1930's and World War 2.

I was completely engaged in the story and the characters in the first book of the trilogy, No Angel, but my enthusiasm and interest dropped off a little in this book. I felt the story and character movement in Something Dangerous was boring and predictable. Any character that was proving diffcult to the author's story line was conveniently killed off or injured in the war!

Still an enjoyable, quick read but I am left wondering if I should finish off the series and read the third and final book?

September 11, 2008

Favourite Bookshops

A recent question posted by Australian based Mook (half magazine, half book) Dumbo Feather, Pass it On asking people to list and discuss their favourite bookshops around the world has me thinking.

Unfortunately I have to say that the town in which I live does not have a great selection of bookshops to go to, although our second hand bookshops are pretty good I have to say. I do make a trip to our Borders store quite regularly but it really doesn't offer such great variety - quantity yes but variety no.

So, I usually make a trip to Sydney for my book browsing and purchasing needs. One of my favourites there would have to be Gleebooks in Glebe Point Road. Gleebooks has a great selection of fiction and non-fiction, particularly related to my work area which is helpful. I love the feel of the shop too - chaotic, ad hoc and charming.

When we were in the UK last year I loved visiting the Waterstones bookshops - particularly the branch in Bath.

I don't like to think of myself as a bookshop snob at all - I will visit any bookshop, anytime anywhere! But I do try to support the smaller, independent bookshops when I can.

What about you? What are your favourites?

September 10, 2008

Reading Italy

Since reading and absolutely loving The Piazzas of Florence I have been dreaming and longing to be in another place - particularly Italy. I'm feeling a little swamped by the dramas of everyday life and work at the moment and I feel an escape (even if only a metaphorical one) is needed.

I do have a CD/Book Italian language program that I bought ages ago and have been meaning to get started on it - I just don't think my brain matter is up to that at the moment!

So, I am searching for books that will take me away to Italy.

Can anyone suggest any great fiction or non-fiction books that are set in Italy to help me on my way?

September 07, 2008

The Flirt - Kathleen Tessaro

I knew I was going to love The Flirt by about page 10. I also knew it was a perfect holiday read which I should put down and save until I was actually on holidays - but I couldn't help myself. I kept right on reading. Maybe it was a book oasis in the middle of a long year - a much needed break from serious academic reading - in other words, just what I needed!

I have read both of Kathleen Tessaro's earlier novels, Elegance and Innocence. I loved Elegance and jumped to buy Innocence when it first came out but I was a little disappointed and felt it didn't quite live up to her first novel. So, I was a little hesitant when it came to The Flirt - once bitten twice shy so to speak. I'm glad I eventually gave in though.

The Flirt covers the lives, or at least moments in the lives of, quite a few characters and there are interwoven moments and exchanges between a lot of them as the story moves along. The main characters however are a charming, love struck young man by the name of Hughie Venables-Smythe (don't you just love the English names!), tough love-dismissive Leticia Vane and wealthy but extremely unhappy and lonely Olivia Bourgalt du Coudray.

Hughie is a little down on his luck and out of cash when he applies for a job asking for "an attractive, well-mannered, morally flexible young man" - with that description the possibilities could be endless but the job turns out to be Flirting (as a profession) with women across the city who are feeling neglected, disappointed, rejected or lonely.

Olivia is one of Hughie's "clients" and Leticia is a woman he has been involved with but must now end their relationship in order to take up the position with the flirting agency.

I know the premise sounds a little dubious but I really felt it worked - you just have to suspend your belief about the world for a moment and step into the world of the flirt - romantic and hopeful. What a nice idea!

September 06, 2008

Madame Butterfly

I had my very first opera experience this weekend. Opera is always something I have wanted to experience (it is something on my "To do List Before I'm 40") and when I saw that Oz Opera (the touring arm of Opera Australia) were bringing a performance of Madame Butterfly to my home town I thought it was the perfect opportunity.

I am familiar with the traditional Madame Butterfly story but I understand that the story has been tweaked a little in this performance to place the story in post WW2 Japan - and the story was told in English as opposed to Italian. I was actually a little disappointed about this - I think I would have preferred the Italian with English sub titles because as it was I was often straining to understand what the performers were saying/singing. Having said that, the music and voices (particularly the woman playing Butterfly) were divine and it was an experience I enjoyed for that reason alone.

I might give this opera thing another go I think!

September 03, 2008

The Corrections - Jonathan Franzen

I am still trying to decide if I enjoyed reading The Corrections. Maybe "enjoyed" is not the right word to use when trying to describe how I felt about this book, it was certainly compelling in an "I want to turn away but I can't" kind of way but to say it was an enjoyable book is probably going too far.

I have heard about the book a lot in recent years - not so much about the book in terms of plot or characters but about the existence of the book and how it is a "must read". It was selected by Oprah as one of her book club selections in 2001 and it has made many top 100 or must not miss reading lists. One of the reasons I have read it now is that I chose it as one of my selections for the New Classics Challenge.

The book tells the joint and individual stories of the Lambert family, a mid-west American family. The parents Enid and Alfred are struggling a little with the "empty nest" (Enid in particular) and the impact of Alfred's rapid decline into dementia. The three Lambert children are facing their own demons in separate parts of the country. The eldest Gary is battling depression (not that he wants to admit this) and the disintegration of his relationship with his wife and two eldest children. Middle child Chip was heading towards a glorious and stable academic career until he took time out to have a brief affair with one of his students - he is now trying to find a job and a relationship he can hold on to. Youngest child and only daughter Denise is working through her own relationship difficulties and attempting to discover her sexual identity amongst that.

The core bringing all of these stories together throughout the novel is the almost obsessive desire of Enid's - to have the whole family together for one last Christmas.

The language in the novel can be quite brutal and "in your face"- I think this is the main reason I feel I cannot honestly say I enjoyed the book. The writing is certainly quick and clever but I found it a little indulgent at times and this made some parts of the book (long descriptive pages) hard to get through. Having said that I did get through the book really quickly and the characters were really well developed - a key requirement for me in any good read.

Is this story a new classic? Not for me, but that might have something to do with my perception as an Australian - the context might have impacted on my judgement and appreciation of the book. I'm also thinking there are many levels to this book that couldn't possibly be taken in in just one reading of it. I'm just not that keen to go back in and try and locate them all!

September 01, 2008

Spring is Here!

At last! I am so over our winter. The first two days of spring have been glorious - we are now meant to have a week or so of not so nice weather so I am hoping these two gorgeous days will keep me going past that.

So, even though I'm feeling a little overwhelmed with work and life in general at the moment the weather is (at least temporarily) on my side.

Another bonus today was the delivery of my latest order from Amazon - always exciting!

I purchased Nice to Come Home To by Rebecca Flowers which I first read about over at Stephanie's Written Word. This book sounds just the thing for holiday reading so I am going to try and resist temptation (I think the cover is so gorgeous and girly!) and not read this one until my weeks holiday in October (only 5 weeks to go!!).

My other purchase was a CD - the soundtrack to the movie Becoming Jane. I am under no illusion that this movie actually accurately represents the life of Jane Austen but I love the movie anyway and I always try to buy the soundtracks to movies I love - to try and re-capture the magic at home!