Wednesday, December 31, 2014

"The Tiny Wife" by Andrew Kaufman

"The Tiny Wife" is more of a short story than a novel as it is only about 80 pages long, so it only took me about one hour to read it. From the opening paragraph I knew it would be an interesting and unique story:

"The robbery was not without consequences. The consequences were the point of the robbery. It was never about money. The thief didn't even ask for any."  

Basically a mysterious thief demands items of emotional and personal significance from each of the people he is holding up, rather than something of financial value. These items appear to function as their souls, and the rest of the book involves the different characters dealing with strange consequences relating to the loss of their significant item/soul and attempts to repair their lives. Some survive and some don't, and it's quite a bizarre story in many ways. I'm sure there's meant to be a hidden meaning or moral, as the story does read like a fable...perhaps it's just reminding us to cherish and be grateful for what we have in life and not take things for granted in case they are taken away or destroyed. or maybe I'm reading too much into it and it's just a crazy fairytale :-)

The book is written in an almost dream-like/nightmare-like fashion where the most crazy unexpected things can happen and somehow appear normal and be described in a matter-of-fact way at the same time. This dream-like style of fairytale writing reminded me a bit of "The Girl who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of her own Making"  by Catherynne M. Valente that I read a couple of years ago.

It's a very short book, and although quite strange, I found it interesting reading just to experience the uniqueness of it. 

Started reading on my kindle: 1st January 2015
Finished the same day.
My score: 6.5/10 

Summary of Books I Read in 2014

I read 27 books this year, slightly less than the 32 I read in 2013. Although there are 4 other books I started reading in 2014 but have yet to finish. In 2014 I completed the Aussie Author Challenge (see previous post for summary), but I also read a lot more non fiction books than I have in previous years (8 completed, 3 started but not quite finished), and I tend to take longer to read non fiction books than novels, so that probably contributed to reading less books overall this year.

My favourite books that I read in 2014 were:
"Jasper Jones" by Craig Silvey (10/10)
"Gifts of the Permangk" by Dean Mayes (10/10)
 "A Constellation of Vital Phenomena" by Anthony Marra (10/10)
"The Undesirables" by Mark Isaacs (10/10)
"The Brain that Changes Itself" by Norman Doige (9.5/10)
"The Dirty Chef" by Matthew Evans (9/10)
"The 1000 Hour Day" by Chris Bray (9/10 *however I am probably biased as he is my brother*)

Books read in 2014:
"Barracuda" by Christos Tsiolkas (4/10)
"The Pirates of the Deep Green Sea" by Eric Linklater (10/10 kids book)
"The Brain that Changes Itself" by Norman Doidge (9.5/10)
"The Lieutenant" by Kate Grenville (8.5/10)
"The Dirty Chef" by Matthew Evans (9/10 Non fiction)
"Sorry" by Gail Jones (6.5/10)
"I came to say goodbye" by Caroline Overington (7/10)
"The Ocean at the end of the lane" by Neil Gaiman (7/10)
"All the names" by Jose Saramago (6.5/10)
"Jasper Jones" by Craig Silvey (10/10)
"The invention of wings" by Sue Monk Kidd (8/10)
"A Constellation of Vital Phenomena" by Anthony Marra (10/10)
"The 1000 Hour Day" by Chris Bray (9/10)
"Mister Pip" by Lloyd Jones (8.5/10)
"A Feast for Crows" by George R R Martin (9/10)
"The Undesirables" by Mark Isaacs (10/10)
"Chasing the light" by Jesse Blackadder (7/10)
"The Family Frying Pan" by Bryce Courtenay (8/10)
"Gifts of the Permangk" by Dean Mayes (10/10)
"When the night comes" by Favel Parrett (8/10)
"It starts with passion" by Keith Abraham (read, but no review)
"Outliers" by Malcolm Gladwell (6/10)
"Rich Dad, Poor Dad" by Robert T Kiyosaki (read, but no review)
"Like a virgin" by Richard Branson (6/10)
"The Rosie Effect" by Graeme Simsion (8/10)
"Flight Behaviour by Barbara Kingsolver (7.5/10)
"Can you keep a secret?" by Caroline Overington (6/10)

Aussie Author Challenge 2014 Summary

I actually didn't think I had managed to complete the Aussie Author Challenge in 2014 until today when I went back through my book lists and reviews and actually counted them. I am happy to reveal that I read 14 books by Australian authors in 2014, meeting the various rules for the "Kangaroo" level of the Challenge (see below for details) :-) Thank you to Jo from the Booklover Book Reviews blog for hosting the Challenge again, it was good fun taking part, and I read many books I might not have otherwise read, including two 10/10 books - "Jasper Jones", "Gifts of the Permangk". Here's my summary of the books I read as part of the Challenge and links to my reviews of them.

"Barracuda" by Christos Tsiolkas (Male author, New to me, First published in 2013) 4/10
"The Lieutenant" by Kate Grenville (Female author, New to me) 8.5/10
"Chasing the light" by Jesse Blackadder (Male author, New to me) 7/10
"The Dirty Chef" by Matthew Evans (Male author, New to me, Non Fiction) 9/10
"Sorry" by Gail Jones (Female author, New to me) 6.5/10
"I came to say goodbye" by Caroline Overington (Female author) 7/10
"Jasper Jones" by Craig Silvey (Male author, New to me) 10/10
"The 1000 Hour Day" by Chris Bray (Male author, Non Fiction) 9/10
"The Undesirables" by Mark Issacs (Male author, New to me, Non Fiction, First published in 2014) 10/10
"The Family Frying Pan" by Bryce Courtenay (Male author, Audio book) 8/10
"Gifts of the Permangk" by Dean Mayes (Male author, New to me) 10/10
"When the light comes" by Favel Parrett (Female author, New to me, First published in 2014) 8/10
"The Rosie Effect" by Graeme Simsion (Male author, First published in 2014) 8/10
"Can you keep a secret?" by Caroline Overington (Female author, First published in 2014) 6/10

Kangaroo level: Read and review 12 titles written by Australian Authors of which at least 4 of those authors are female, at least 4 of those authors are male, and at least 4 of those authors are new to you; At least 6 fiction and at least 2 non-fiction, and at least 3 titles first published in 2013 or 2014.

Monday, December 29, 2014

"Can you keep a secret?" by Caroline Overington

This is the fourth novel by Caroline Overington that I have read, and I read it as part of the Aussie Author Challenge. While this book was an easy read, it really did not engage me in the way that the other three books did, and I was a bit disappointed as I had scored "Sisters of Mercy" 9/10, "Ghost child" 8/10 and "I came to say goodbye" 7/10 when I read them.
I really found it hard to empathise or be really interested in either of the two main characters - Caitlin (a pretty but uneducated Australian who had an unconventional upbringing and left home at 16) and Colby (a rich American who works on Wall St). The unlikely pair meet when Colby and some other rich friends organise a Whitsundays yachting holiday to celebrate the end of 1999 while their offices are shut for the Y2K bug, and Caitlin, who had been working as a 'skimpy' waitress in a local bar, accepts a casual job as deckhand for the trip. The story starts off as a bit of an uninspiring teenage one-night-stand becomes romance scenario, then Caitlin moves to New York, leaving her mother with MS behind in a nursing home. The love story starts wearing thin then collides with the 9/11 terrorist attacks in New York, leaving Caitlin too scared to fly home and seeing therapists and Colby, despite being obviously bored with Caitlin even after 6 weeks together, marries her. For me, neither of the characters come across as likeable or really believable, more like stereotypes. Next great idea they have is to adopt a child from an orphanage in Russia, which predictably does not go to plan. As the book goes on Caitlin appears to be more delusional and very selfish in everything she is doing and things get less and less believable, while Colby distances himself as much as possible from her by working longer hours. I wont go on to describe the storyline in any more detail as it will give away the 'twist' at the end, but I did find this book quite shallow and disappointing compared to the other books I've read by this author. It hasn't put me off wanting to read her other books, but I do hope the rest are more like 'Sisters of Mercy' and less like 'Can you keep a secret?'.  

Started reading on my kindle: 30th December 2014
Finished: 31st December 2014
My score: 6/10
Aussie Author Challenge stats: female author, first published in 2014, genre: drama

"The Rosie Effect" by Graeme Simsion


"The Rosie Effect" is the highly anticipated sequel to "The Rosie Project", one of my favourite books that I read last year. I read it as part of the Aussie Author Challenge, but also because I had been looking forward eagerly to rejoining the crazy adventures of Don Tillman.

I really enjoyed "The Rosie Effect", Don Tillman cracks me up. I didn't think that the sequel was quite as good as "The Rosie Project", but that was always going to be a hard act to follow since it was so awesome. This book sees Don married to Rosie and living in New York and embarking on the "Baby Under Development (BUD) Project". Plenty of crazy situations arise that could only ever happen to Don, and many were pretty funny, although the story was not as light-hearted and hilarious as in the first book. Still, if there was a 3rd book in the series written, I would definitely look forward to reading it!

Started reading on my kindle: 28th December 2014
Finished: 30th December 2014
My score: 8/10

Aussie author challenge stats: male author, book first published in 2014, comedy/drama genre.

"Flight Behaviour" by Barbara Kingsolver

This is the first book I've read by this author. It was a bit slow to start, but I really enjoyed it when I got into it. This story is about the Monarch butterflies that migrate massive distances from South America to Northern America, one of the fascinating biological events in the world that intrigue me. The interesting biology of the butterflies and the problems of climate change are interwoven with a generational family drama set in a rural setting. At first I thought the book was set maybe 100 years ago as the farm life and attitudes of the main characters seemed so out of touch, but then references to modern things like iPads made me realise that it was set in current times, and as the story developed it revealed a community where University/College education was rarely aspired to, most families would be considered disadvantaged and were struggling to make ends meet by farming, and the general population gave more credibility to the commercial tv news presenters than to scientists on topics like climate change. It is a really good novel, combining the science and environmental issues with a family drama of a style reminiscent to me of Jodi Picoult's books.

Started reading on my kindle: 19th December 2014
Finished: 28th December 2014
My score: 7.5/10

"Like a virgin" by Richard Branson

I started reading "Like a virgin" on my kindle 3rd November 2014 and finished it on the 11th November. My score: 6/10....actually I probably would have scored the first 1/3 of the book 8/10 and should have stopped reading then, as the rest of the book was very repetitive. Richard Branson is a very inspiring person, involved in lots of successful businesses but also making a big effort in terms of the environment and community welfare, and coming up with innovative ways to address critical problems we are facing on a global scale.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

"My Story" by Julia Gillard

This book is an autobiographical account of the first female Prime Minister in Australia about her time leading our country. I must say I found her an inspiring leader, and wish she was still governing our nation. I bought her book the day it was released, and attended a seminar presentation she gave at the University of Adelaide last Thursday night. Julia appeared down to earth, humourous at times, inspiring and intelligent. After her presentation I had the chance to get my copy of her book signed and to say a few words to her. Very glad to have this opportunity.

My review will appear here, once I have finished reading her book. It is a page turner, but it is a hard cover book and quite heavy so it's not easy to bring on public transport so it may take me longer to read than I would like. I do most of my reading at the moment on public transport, so I have been reading other books on my kindle in preference to lugging this heavier book around.

Aussie Author Challenge details: Australian Author, Female Author, New to me, first published in 2014, non-fiction, autobiography genre, politics.

"Outliers" by Malcolm Gladwell

Started reading about 11th September 2014
Finished: 1st Oct 2014.

Non fiction book looking at what makes successful people and geniuses so unique from a different angle. Suggesting that it is not intrinsic intelligence per say, rather that any reasonably intelligent person if born at the right time in history, with the right family environment, exposed to "lucky" opportunities will succeed over someone more intelligent but not offered the same opportunities delivered by chance/family environment/history/random events outside their control. 

Some of this book was really interesting and thought-provoking, other bits just made me feel that you can make a correlation with all sorts of random things, doesnt necessarily mean it is causative.

My score: 6/10. Although some chapters were more 8/10, other chapters dragged the score down.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

"When the night comes" by Favel Parrett

I read "When the night comes" by Favel Parrett as part of the Aussie Author Challenge. It is set in Hobart, Tasmania and also Antarctica during the 1980s, and features the 'great little ship' "Nella Dan". The "Nella Dan" is a real ship, one of four ships leased from a Danish shipping line and used by the Australian government during the 1950-1980s for various Antarctic trips. The story is mostly fictional, but with enough accurate details thrown in to make it realistic and believable. 

It is hard to know how to describe this book and do it justice. It doesn't really have an in-depth story line, and mostly the characters are not fully fleshed out, yet this book really captured me on an emotional level. The chapters are mostly quite short, sometimes only 1-2 pages long, and are mostly told from the perspective of 2 main characters - Isla - a young lonely girl (primary school age I think) living in Hobart with her mother and her even younger brother, or Bo, a Danish sailor on board the "Nella Dan" who visits Hobart multiple times on route to Macquarie Island and the Australian Antarctic bases and befriends Isla and her family. The book doesn't really have a storyline in the usual way, but almost seems to be vignettes of powerful moments in Isla and Bo's lives, that when collected together build up a story. It is mostly very sad and raw, and I felt quite emotional reading parts of it, maybe this was partially due to many chapters being written in either a very down to earth (Bo) or alternatively a childlike voice (Isla), somehow at odds with the events being described. I don't know why I liked or was so emotionally affected by this book and I ended up with lots of unanswered questions, but I do recommend it. 

"When the night comes" is the second book by the Australian author Favel Parrett (her first book was "Past the shallows"). I haven't read her first book, but I have added it to my 'to read' list as I am impressed with "When the night comes".   

Started reading: 31st August 2014 

Finished: 10th September 2014
My score: 8/10
Aussie Author Challenge stats: Female author, new to me, first published in 2014, genre: unknown. the back cover suggests it is 'Wintonesque' after Tim Winton, another Australian author.

"Gifts of the Peramangk" by Dean Mayes

I read "Gifts of the Peramangk" by Dean Mayes as part of the Aussie Author Challenge.It was recommended to me by a friend (Paula) who often suggests good books to me. She told me 'to do yourself a favour and read this book'. She was not wrong. This is a 10/10 book for me. It is set mostly in Adelaide, South Australia, where I am currently living, as so all the little details about locations, such as the Elder Hall on North Terrace and the environment here really connected with me.

The story is a mix of tragedy and heartwarming moments and achievements in the face of adversity. The story is split between two main narrators: Virginia - a young girl who is part of the 'Stolen' generation - taken from her mother without consent during the notorious White Australia Policy, - and her granddaughter Ruby. 

Virginia's life is mostly hell, in an orphanage and then as basically a slave on an outback property. The only bit of joy really in her life is when the wife of the brutal property manager secretly teaches her to play the violin a few hours per week when he is absent. Virginia obviously has a huge musical talent, but as events unfold in her tragic life she doesn't have the opportunity to follow up on her dreams and musical talent. Then enter Ruby, who discovers her grandmother's old violin and also has a gift for playing it. While also surrounded by contemporary issues of being disadvantaged, discriminated against, living in poverty and being caught up in domestic violence and crime, Ruby (with the encouragement of her grandmother) follows her musical dreams. While many dark and unhappy themes and events happen throughout the book, it is in the end uplifting and beautiful.

Started reading: 21st August 2014
Finished: 28th August 2014
My score: 10/10

Sunday, July 27, 2014

"The Family Frying Pan" by Bryce Courtenay

I borrowed this audio book from the local library and listened to all 7 CDs over the course of the weekend. I really enjoyed it...and think I may even have appreciated it more as an audio book than if I had tried to read it myself, as the narrators did such a great job of bringing the characters voices to life, complete with Russian accents.

This is really a collection of short stories that are all woven together, and although I generally am not a huge fan of short stories, I really enjoyed this book and the way the different short stories all linked into the overarching story. The book follows a group of refugees trying to escape Russia during the time of Tsar Nicholas II, fleeing for different reasons and united only by chance and circumstances on the road. Each night when they gather around the fire and cook up whatever scraps they have managed to gather during the day for their meagre meal they take turns sharing their stories of their past lives and how they ended up where they are now. It's often heartbreakingly sad, but some of the stories are full of beauty and capture the very best as well as the worst of human nature. For anyone who has read it, the story of Cleopatra's cat is one of my favourites. Apart from enjoying listening to this tale, I also learned little snippets of interesting Russian history. I really like novels that have some aspects of truth and history embedded in them as it makes the stories more realistic and I also learn something at the same time. Bryce Courtenay's books always seem to be very well researched and full of little details from history... I don't think I've ever read a bad book by Bryce Courtenay and this was not an exception.

Started listening: 26th July 2014
Finished: 27th July 2014
My score: 8/10
Aussie Author Challenge stats: Male author, Fiction, Short (linked) stories, historical fiction.

Monday, July 21, 2014

"All that I am" by Anne Funder

Started reading on 21st July 2014 as part of the Aussie Author Challenge. My review will appear here once I've finished reading the book.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

"The Undesirables" by Mark Isaacs

I am reading this book as part of the Aussie Author Challenge. It is a non-fiction book, written by an Australian who worked for the Salvation Army inside the Nauru detention centre providing humanitarian aid to the men interned in the camp. It is meant to be an eye witness account describing what really goes on behind the doors that our government seems to be doing it's best to keep closed to us. I'm quite disturbed by some of the recent accounts of how the Australian government is handling asylum seekers attempting to reach our country by boat, and this has prompted me to find out more, and to pick up this book, which I'm sure will not be light or easy reading.

I found this book to be compelling reading. I wish all Australians would read it, to gain insight into how our government has been (and still is) treating asylum seekers. This book does not lecture the reader in any way, it does not side with either the Labor or Liberal side of politics, it just provides a personal account of an aid worker in the Nauru detention centre over 5 separate rotations. The book is written in a style that is down-to-earth and easily relatable, with lots of explanations of policy, laws and rhetoric surrounding the Government's treatment of asylum seekers. The author brings to life the real human stories of many of the men detained indefinitely on Nauru, giving insight into different cultures, the horrors many were fleeing, the journey's they made in attempts to get to Australia, how desperate they were to even consider getting on one of those boats to seek asylum. It also details the often inhumane conditions they are being kept in, the despair of not knowing what their future holds, the mental illnesses arising from their treatment and living conditions, the riots, the hunger strikes, the suicide attempts. Yet it is not all depressing, the book is full of beautiful, poetic, heartbreaking moments, men finding joy in the most miniscule positive occurrences, the friendships formed between the detained men and the author.
For me, this book was gripping and I could barely put it down. Personally I am appalled at what I have discovered by reading this book, and am now actively looking into ways I can help asylum seekers or refugees in my community...or to advocate for fairer policies relating to their detention and processing. I can no longer in good consciousness turn a blind eye to what is being done by our Government to innocent and desperate people seeking our help.We are supposed to be the country where everyone gets a 'fair go', but nothing could be further from the truth for many of these asylum seekers.

Started reading: 16th July 2014
Finished: 21st July 2014
My score: 10/10

Here is a recent story in the Sydney Morning Herald about "The Undesirables" that you might also want to read. 

Aussie Author Stats: Male author, New author to me, Non Fiction genre, First published in 2014

Thursday, June 5, 2014

"A Feast for Crows" by George R. R. Martin

I've got a pile of books I want to read, including some more for the Aussie Author Challenge, but the 4th series of Game of Thrones has arrived on Foxtel and I'm worried about hearing spoilers on facebook or at work. I really prefer to read the book first and let my imagination develop the characters, then enjoy the film version after...rather than watch the film version and let that impact on my imagination as I play catch-up on the book. So I've started the 4th book of Game of Thrones on my kindle tonight.

It's a big book. My review will appear here once I've finished the book. Could be a few weeks...

Started reading on my kindle: 5th June 2014
Finished: 16th July 2014
My score: 9/10

Another awesome and addictive book in the Game of Thrones series. I wont give much of a review as this is one of those series you either absolutely love, or absolutely are not interested in...if you are interested in complex, gripping fantasy worlds then you will love Game of Thrones, and really need to start at Book 1 and work your way through the series, while trying to avoid spoilers from friends/media/the tv series etc. My only frustrations with book 4 was the number of new characters that were introduced in the beginning of the book when I just wanted to connect back with my favourite characters to see what was happening to them....and then to find out the author had decided to just follow the story of half the main characters in book 4, and the other half will be followed in book 5. But really it's the sort of happy frustration caused by being immersed in a world so complex and realistic and full of characters that there just isn't enough room for them all in one I'm torn as I want to leap straight into book 5...but since book 4 took me over a month to read, I should probably take a break and read something that contributes to the Aussie Author Challenge.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

"Mister Pip" by Lloyd Jones

Accidentally put my kindle into my checked in luggage this weekend when flying back from Sydney, so I splurged and bought a new book from an airport book store. I chose "Mister Pip" by Lloyd Jones, a New Zealand author. I didn't know a lot about the book before I read it, but I vaguely remembered seeing a movie trailer for a film version of it that I thought looked good.

Mister Pip has an obvious connection with Charles Dickens "Great expectations", being the main character in that book. I'm a bit ashamed to admit I have never read "Great expectations", sometimes the classic books are a bit of a mission to read for me, but I am probably more likely to consider reading it now that I have read "Mister Pip". "Mister Pip" is not set in 1800s England, but rather in Bougainville, a tropical island during a (recent) time of horrific civil war. The book could be described as a fable, and it is told from a child/teenagers point of view - Matilda, who grew up in this island community. The children on the island attend a school, which is taught by the token White man on the island, Mr Watts, who appears to be a bit of a recluse and not really a teacher, but during times of civil unrest he is the best version of a teacher the community has. He starts reading "Great expectations" to the kids, and captures their imagination and helps give them some hope and focus in the midst of a time of insecurity, unrest and hardship. Then the soldiers and rebels enter the village, and things get even worse. I'm not sure if it's just me, or whether the story being told as a fable and expressed in the innocent words of a young girl made the impact more shocking and horrific, but some of the violent scenes that unfolded in the last 50 pages of the book absolutely shattered me. Without giving things away, it was unexpectedly tragic and horrific, even more so when described from the point of view of an innocent 15 year old girl.

It is clearly a very well written story, mostly uplifting, but with some severely horrific scenes scattered throughout. I felt pretty flat after the ending really. I think I will be remembering this book for a long time though.

Started reading: 1st June 2014
Finished: 5th June 2014
My score: 8.5/10

Sunday, May 25, 2014

"The 1000 Hour Day" by Chris Bray

Started reading on 25th May 2014, as part of the Aussie Author Challenge. Disclosure: this review may be *slightly* biased as the book is written by my brother about the amazing arctic adventure he went on with his friend Clark when they became the first people to cross Victoria Island unsupported. I recently saw the film doco version "The Crossing" (based on over 100 hours of film that Chris and Clark filmed themselves - no film crew, no film budget), and decided I would like to re-read the book as it is full of a lot of cool details that were left out of the doco, and lots of people who have seen the film ask me lots of questions so I thought I would refresh my memory.

So, trying to put my biases aside....(difficult I admit), I think this is a really interesting and inspiring debut book by a young Australian author. If you like armchair traveling, if you want to know what is actually and honestly involved in planning and attempting, failing, re-evaluating, persevering and succeeding ultimately in following your dreams, you will enjoy this book. Unlike many adventure stories and documentaries these days (think Bear Grylls) my brother and his friend Clark planned and executed their adventure without film or support crews, and spent over 100 days in the arctic, experiencing wildlife unafraid of humans (polar bears, wolf packs, arctic foxes, musk ox, lemmings....), and overcoming numerous unimaginable challenges along the way, including mechanical failures and unexpected and constantly changing terrain (prior to google earth days).

I know I'm biased, as I lived through this experience with my brother building the wheeled kayaks in our parents garage in Sydney, watching him planning and executing the whole adventure and following online with his satellite updates. But I think his writing style is easy to read, as if he is there in person telling you what happened, not hiding the bad/depressing moments, or the highs/excitement of being the first people to walk unsupported across the 9th largest island in the world. It is a raw, honest, interesting glimpse into the mind of an adventurer and explorer in the modern age. I found it fascinating and inspiring. I hope more people pick this book up, as I don't think anyone with a bit of adventure in their heart will be disappointed by it.    

Started reading: 25th May 2014
Finished: 4th June 2014
My score: 9/10
Genre: Non-fiction, Adventure, Travel, Arctic, Male author.

Note if you would like to buy a copy of the book it's available on my brother's website:

It's also available on kindle.

Some short video links you may enjoy:

The Crossing Film  trailer:

Friday, April 25, 2014

"A Constellation of Vital Phenomena" by Anthony Marra

I chose to read this book as I noticed that it was given a 5-star 'must read' review on the Booklover Book Reviews blog. The interesting title also caught my attention.

I don't know quite how to describe this book. It is set during two separate times of war in Chechnya, during 1994 and 2004. It focuses on several different characters all caught up in the same conflicts in different ways. A talented female surgeon, her sister, a failed doctor who dreamed of being an artist, his neighbour the arborist and his 8-year old daughter, and a neighbour-informer and his old father. It actually took me a while to figure out that different chapters were dedicated not only to different characters points of view but also different time points. I'm not sure if it was just me that got confused by this, or if it was due to the kindle format I was reading as the start of each chapter shows a timeline from 1994-2004 and the year that the chapter will cover is highlighted in bold, but at least on my kindle edition the bold font was not much stronger than the rest of the font so I didnt notice until part way through the book. Might have been easier if each chapter just had the year, rather than a timeline with one year slightly bolder...My mistake though. And despite this initial confusion of time, I have to say this is definitely a '5-star must read' book. I didn't know a lot/anything about the Chechnyan conflicts despite them occurring fairly recently, so historically I found it educational, while the characters and their stories completely drew me in. It isn't a cheerful story, and there are sections that involve torture and brutality which I never find easy to read. Yet there are moments that are really beautiful in the book. I guess the main feeling I got from reading the book was how war and conflict can bring out the best or worst in humans...for some people it brings out unbelievable cruelty and hunger for power, others make choices to inform on neighbours or allow brutalities to occur through desperation while trying to protect people that are close to them, and yet others risk everything to save, protect and help others. I am thankful I have not had to personally live through such an experience where making those kind of decisions are necessary. I recommend this book highly.

Started reading on my kindle: 25th April 2014
Finished: 24th May 2014
My score: 10/10

"The Invention of Wings" by Sue Monk Kidd

This book is written by the same author as "The Secret Life of Bees" which I really loved. "The Invention of Wings", although not quite as excellent as "The Secret Life of Bees", is still a really good book and I really enjoyed it. It is set in southern USA in the 1800s, during the lead up to the abolition of slavery. It is based on real events and real people, although it is a work of fiction. There are two main characters; Sarah Grimke, one of the daughters of a white rich slave-owning family; and Handful/Hetty, the daughter of one of the slaves owned by the Grimke family who is given to Sarah as a gift on her 11th birthday. Sarah (joined by her younger sister Nina as the story progresses) fight for the abolition of slavery and racial equality challenging their family and white society values of their era. The characters and the stories are really well done, and I was fascinated by many of the elements in the book that were based on fact. I still find it hard to believe that one race of humans can treat another race of humans so inhumanely and act as if they don't have the same kind of human rights as each other. Although often tragic, there are positive aspects woven through the story, and the courage and determination of the main female characters in this book are inspiring.

Started reading on my kindle: 19th April 2014
Finished: 25th April 2014
My score: 8/10

Friday, April 11, 2014

"Jasper Jones" by Craig Silvey

This book has been described as the Australian 'To kill a mockingbird', and has been shortlisted for and won some awards. I read it as part of the Aussie Author Challenge. I really enjoyed this book. The characters, the writing style, the storyline. I read the last two thirds of this book in one sitting while on a plane flight, it's one of those books that I didnt want to put down once I started reading it. 
The book is set in a small town in Western Australia in the 1960s. The main character, Charlie Bucktin, is a quiet, shy, bookish 13-year-old kid, somewhat lonely apart from his best mate, a Vietnamese boy Jeffrey Lu. Someone you wouldn't expect to be mixed up in any kind of crime or unlawful adventure. But suddenly he is sought out by the village outcast, Jasper Jones, who has a notorious reputation of being the source of almost every criminal or delinquent behaviour around the village. In the dead of night, Jasper knocks on Charlie's bedroom window and tells him that he needs his help with something urgently, and Charlie becomes deeply involved with Jasper trying to prove his innocence in what appears to be a horrific and violent crime in the woods surrounding the village. I guess you could say the book is a 'coming of age' story mixed with crime/mystery elements and dealing with racial tensions and attitudes in Australia (both against Australian Aboriginals and Vietnamese residents in Australia during the Vietnam war). The book also has young romance in it, and comedic moments (often brought to life in the banter between Charlie and Jeffrey Lu). I highly recommend it.

Started reading: 10th April 2014
Finished: 19th April 2014
My score: 10/10

Male author, New to me, unsure of the Genre: perhaps Young Adult Fiction?

Friday, April 4, 2014

"All the Names" by Jose Saramago

This book was lent to me by a friend. It is written by a Portuguese author who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1998. I'm not quite sure what to write down about this book. The writing style is very unusual, punctuation is minimal, it is very descriptive in places and other times very abstract. Some passages of the book I found fascinating and insightful, but other sections I just wanted to skip pages that seemed to drag on. 
The story is about a clerk, Senhor Jose, who works in the Central Registry for births, deaths & marriages. The main character is a lonely character, living alone, next door to the Central Registry, and it appears that his work is his life, with very little else of interest to him. The story is told by Senhor Jose, often through dialogues he has in his head with himself, or with inanimate objects like the ceiling in his house, or imagined conversations with other characters he encounters in his life. He becomes fixated with an unknown woman whose birth, marriage and divorce are recorded on a card that he happens to pick up. He decides he needs to find out everything about this unknown woman, and sets off on a detective mission to track her down. For such an introverted, unadventurous person, Senhor Jose embarks on this adventure which includes breaking and entering, stealing, and all sorts of unusual and sometimes criminal behaviour in order to satisfy his curiosity about this anonymous woman. 
Some aspects of the book I really enjoyed, at times the writing was beautiful, and the insights into the (mad?) mind of Senhor Jose are really thought-provoking. However, I did find some sections very slow and hard to get through.

Started reading: 3rd April 2014
Finished: 10th April 2014
My score: 6.5/10

Saturday, March 22, 2014

"Maggie's Orchard" by Maggie Beer

I found this book yesterday at the second hand bookstall at the Adelaide Central Markets. It appears to be divided up by seasons, with chapters on particular seasonal ingredients, information and anecdotes by Maggie Beer, as well as recipes to showcase how to cook each ingredient. As Maggie Beer is South Australian, I thought this would be a great book to read to get ideas about which local produce to buy when, and interesting and tasty things to do with seasonal ingredients that I might not generally have considered cooking.

It's a non fiction book and full of recipes so I will be reading this slowly, in between reading novels. Once I finish reading the book I will post a review here, but it may be a while away :-)

Started reading: 23rd March 2014

"The Ocean at the End of the Lane" by Neil Gaiman

Reading this book is not part of the Aussie Author Challenge, Neil Gaiman is an author from the UK. This is the first book I have read by this author, although I'm aware he has written quite a few, and across different genres. I love the cover art of this book, even though I actually read it in kindle format which didn't have images. To me, this book is a mix of fantasy, fairytale, darkness. It's told from a child's perspective, and is childlike and simple in many ways, but it's not a book for young children. It is dark and magical and disturbing. Some aspects are very simple "bad vs good", others are more complex. It reminds me of the film "The Dark Crystal"...not in the storyline, but in the emotions I felt when I read it, or like a dark version of Enid Blyton's Far Away Tree. It's not a long book and I'm not going to go  into the details of it, I'm sure there's plenty of synopsis reviews available online. I can't say the book was totally enjoyable, but it did keep me turning the pages, and I didn't know what to expect, it felt like watching a dream sequence, I was aware on more than one occasion of experiencing that feeling you get when you wake up suddenly in the middle of a dream and struggle to figure out whether something that occurred was real or part of a dream/nightmare. 

Started reading on my kindle: 23rd March 2014
Finished: 1st April 2014
My score: 7/10

Friday, March 21, 2014

"I Came to Say Goodbye" by Caroline Overington

When I was doing the Aussie Author Challenge and Australian Literature Month last year I discovered Caroline Overington's books. The first one I read, "Sisters of Mercy" still haunts me at times. While "I Came to Say Goodbye" was also a page-turner, I think "Sisters of Mercy" is a more complex and chilling story.

I'm beginning to notice a bit of a theme running through Caroline Overington's books though...she is very good at depicting realistic characters on the fringe of society; often mentally ill or intellectually challenged, living pretty sad lives, possibly failed to be cared for adequately by society, who are caught up in horrific crimes (as victims or perpetrators or both). I think part of the chilling aspect often comes from the fact that the person who commits the crime often seems to be without remorse or even without the ability to see what they have done is wrong, and sometimes even think they are in the right. Lots of small pieces come together to tragic effect, sometimes making the reader consider the systems in place in society and whether they could have been effective at preventing the crime if different action was taken earlier. Caroline often tells her stories from an interesting angle or side character rather than from the character in the centre of the novel, in this case, most of the story is told from the perspective of the grandfather of a missing child, who is writing down a statement for a court hearing of events leading up to the crime.
"I Came to Say Goodbye" starts with a situation caught on CCTV footage which appears to involve a woman brazenly walking into a hospital and placing a young baby from the maternity ward in a green Woolies shopping bag and simply walking back out of the hospital and driving away with the baby.  Then the story jumps forward in time to the grandfather of the kidnapped child, who provides all the background story, revealing what could have happened to someone in order for them to do such a thing. Unlike "Sisters of Mercy" which was criticised by some reviewers for having an ambiguous ending, "I came to say goodbye" has a clear ending, even if it is pretty heart-breaking.

Started reading on my kindle: 21st March 2014
Finished: 22nd March 2014
My score: 7/10
Aussie Author Challenge Stats: Female author; Genre: crime

Saturday, March 8, 2014

"Sorry" by Gail Jones

This book was shortlisted for the Miles Franklin Literary Award 2008, and was recommended to me by a lady who works in Dymocks bookshop in Rundle Mall as a great 'Aussie author'.

I found the actual writing style and prose of this book to be quite captivating, it was simply beautifully written. I enjoyed reading the book just for the beauty of the language used. However as the book progressed I was left a bit unsatisfied with the actual story; it was quite a short book (approximately 200 pages), and so many of the themes and characters could have been explored in more detail. All the characters seem to be lonely misfits in one way or another, and the characters and the story are all quite tragic, and pretty far-fetched and unbelievable in many ways. Little snatches of Shakespeare appear throughout the book, and while at first I enjoyed this, it soon became overdone and a bit ridiculous in the remote Outback setting. The main character, a girl named Perdita, lives in the outback with her two strange, apparently mentally-ill parents.  The book spends a lot of time skirting around a traumatic event in Perdita's life that leaves her with a debilitating stutter, and although it is finally explained towards the end of the book, there is no justice, so I found the ending pretty empty and sad. My favourite characters were Perdita's two friends - a deaf and mute boy, Billy, and an Aboriginal girl, Mary, - they were by far the characters that I felt the most empathy for, and I would have liked to read more about them, and less about Perdita and her melodramatic mother and unlikable father.

Started reading: 9th March 2014
Finished: 21st March 2014
My score: 6.5/10
Aussie Author Challenge stats: Female author, New to me, Genre: Literary fiction.

Friday, February 28, 2014

"The Dirty Chef" by Matthew Evans

This book "The Dirty Chef" is an autobiographical account by Matthew Evans (From the "Gourmet Farmer" TV series on SBS) of his journey from being a food and restaurant critic in Sydney to setting up a small farm in Tasmania. He is really into eating locally produced, seasonal, organic, free-range, sustainable food, and also loves preparing, cooking and eating good quality and delicious food. His book is full of anecdotes of lovely, interesting and quirky characters, adventures and misadventures of essentially setting up a hobby farm from scratch with no real prior knowledge of what that might involve, and interspersed with delicious-sounding recipes. I read this book in kindle format, but I really wish I had bought it as a hard copy, as I'm sure I would keep referring back to it and looking up recipes etc which is a lot harder to do with an e-book I find. I found this book to be entertaining (humourous in parts), interesting and inspiring...over the last year I have personally been attempting to eat more local and seasonal food, shop at places like the Adelaide Central Markets for organic local delicious food, grow my own herbs in pots in the garden, and just enjoy cooking and eating clean healthy gluten-free food that tastes good and isn't pumped full of chemicals or shipped halfway around the globe and sold by big companies. It's not always possible on a tight budget, but I am enjoying trying to follow these ideas as much as I can. Additionally, I have been dreaming of a gourmet food holiday in Tasmania, taking a road trip down the east coast eating lots of local cheeses, berries, seafood and drinking wine... Given that I am already starting to get interested in this sort of lifestyle, I really loved this book and the insight it gave me into various aspects of organic, free range and local farming compared to what we are offered through big chain supermarkets. However if your a vegetarian you might not be as enthusiastic about many of the themes in the book.

I have only seen a handful of episodes of "The Gourmet Farmer" on SBS over the years, but now I have read this book I am quite keen to try to get a hold of the shows on DVD, and to look out for a copy of the author's other book "The Real Food Companion". 

Started reading on my kindle: 28th February 2014
Finished: 8th March 2014
My score: 9/10

Aussie Author Challenge criteria: Male author, New to me, Non-Fiction, Autobiography genre, foodie, first published in 2013.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

"The Lieutenant" by Kate Grenville

I went into the Rundle Mall Dymocks bookshop last weekend, and asked a staff member there if they had a section for Australian fiction books. The helpful woman said that although they didn't have a section dedicated to Australian fiction, she could suggest a few authors that she thought were great Aussie authors. She recommended a few that I have already read and loved (such as Hannah Kent's "Burial Rites" and ML Stedman's "Light between oceans"), but she also suggested a few that were new to me (perfect for the Aussie Author Challenge), including Kate Grenville's "The Lieutenant" and Gail Jones' "Sorry".

I decided to try her suggestion of "The Lieutenant" by Kate Grenville first. The book is an historical novel (one of my favourite genres) set mainly in Sydney during the late 1700s. The main character, Lieutenant Daniel Rooke, is an astronomer with the First Fleet. He establishes a make-shift observatory just outside the convict settlement in order to look out for and record Halley's comet. The main focus of the book becomes the relationship that forms between David and a small group of native Aboriginals he befriends - in particular a child called Tagaran. While initially he is most interested in learning their language, a strong bond develops between them which has quite powerful effects on the path his life takes, contrasting starkly with the attitudes of the military/convict settlement of the time.

I really enjoyed this book. It was really beautifully written, the words seem to capture the essence of the wild landscape, the slice of history and the nature of humans. Kate Grenville has written several other books (both fiction and non-fiction) and I definitely will be reading more of her books in the future! Thank you to the helpful woman at the Dymocks bookstore for recommending this author to me! :-)

Started reading: 22nd February 2014.
Finished: 28th February 2014
My score: 8.5/10

Aussie Author Challange 2014: The author is Female, New to me, Genre: Historical novel.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

"The Brain That Changes Itself" by Norman Doidge

Last night when I felt like reading I discovered my Kindle needed recharging *horror* so I decided to pick up a 'real' book and read that while it was charging, and now I can't put it down! What is more unusual is that this is a non fiction book, and although I do read non fiction books I usually read them slowly, chapter by chapter alongside devouring various novels.

"The brain that changes itself"  is by Norman Doidge, who is a psychiatrist, psychoanalyst and researcher in the USA. This book was originally recommended to me by my friend Georgie. This is a Non-Fiction book about the human brain and neuroplasticity. I heard an interesting scientific presentation by Simon Koblar on a similar topic recently and  his discussion of the potential for using patients stem cells from their teeth to help stroke patients brains recover. This seminar combined with my friend's recommendation inspired me to read this book. 

Started reading: 4th Feb 2014
Finished reading: 22nd February 2014
My score: 9.5/10

Really awesome book - very fascinating. I really recommend it, even for non-scientists, most of it is explained clearly, and it is just mind-blowing what the human brain can do. If your interested in stroke therapy, preventing dementia or old-age related memory loss, managing addiction, understanding autism - anything to do with how the brain functions and what it can be taught to do, how even adult brains have some level of 'plasticity' enabling them to recover lost function or develop new functions with the correct exercises - this is a must-read. There were 2 chapters that I thought were a bit too 'Freudian' for me, dealing more with psychoanalysis of sexual relationships and loss of a mother in infancy, which is why I gave the book 9.5 instead of 10/10, but apart from those two chapters the rest of the book is an amazing, insightful and well explained journey into neuroplasticity.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

"The Pirates in the Deep Green Sea" by Eric Linklater

This is a children's book written in 1949. I remember my Dad reading it to me and my brother when we were about 10 years old, from an old hardbound book he had been given when he was a child. It is such an immaginative and wonderful adventure story, and I find myself with the urge to re-read this book every 5-10 years. I recently discovered it is now available in Kindle format for approximately $5, and although it doesn't have the lovely illustrations that the print version had, it is still an awesome book that I would recommend anyone looking for a good kids adventure story consider. I reckon this book could be made into a spectacular movie, especially with all the special effects and ability to bring fantasy creatures to life that modern movies like The Lord of the Rings or Pirates of the Caribbean have done so well.


Wednesday, January 15, 2014

"Barracuda" by Christos Tsiolkas

This is the second book I have read as part of the Aussie Author Challenge in 2014. Unfortunately I found it to be a really disappointing read. The story is about a young Australian teenager, Dan/Danny/Daniel from an immigrant family in Melbourne who is an athlete swimmer. He wins a scholarship through his swimming achievements and attends an elite boys school (referred to as C**t's College throughout the book), continuing to train in the hope of Olympic Gold. I thought this would be a really interesting book to read, to learn a bit more about the focus and drive and dedication required to become an elite swimmer especially at such a young age. However I found the main character extremely unlikeable....very selfish/arrogant, self-destructive, stirring trouble, and also uncaring or antagonistic towards any family member or friend who was trying to help him. His young life seems to be a collection of immature failings which he then seems to blame on anything other than himself. Apart from being unable to sympathise with the main character (or any of the supporting characters really), I also found the structure of the book hard to follow (it seems to jump back and forth erratically in time from when Dan was a young teenager, to being in prison, to the aftermath in his twenties. While I am all for Gay rights, this book also has elements of Fifty Shades of Grey, homosexual style which may be confronting if you are not expecting it when you pick up a novel about a teenage swimming athlete.

Started reading on my kindle: 15th January 2014
Finished: 25th January 2014.
My score 4/10

Aussie Author Challenge 2014 Stats: Male author, who is new to me, book published in 2013, Genre is probably considered 'contemporary fiction'.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Summary of books read in 2013 :-)

2013 was a great year of reading for me. I read 32 books in total (including 1 audio book), and I read a lot of different authors and genres I might not have read in the past due in part to participating in the Aussie Author Challenge of 2013. I find it hard to pick a single book that is a 'stand out' winner since I read so many AWESOME books this year! But if I had to pick it would be a tie between "The Rosie Project" and "The Book Thief". Two very different books, both by Australian authors. However, there were many books I read this year that were wonderful in different ways, I really enjoyed "Burial Rites", "People of the Book", "Sisters of Mercy", "The boy in the striped pyjamas", plus the highly popular 'Game of Thrones' books and 'Hunger Games' trilogy.

On the flip side, the books I did not enjoy and don't recommend reading are "The girl with the cat tattoo" and "Antidote to Murder". The first of these was just a brainless read (like a junior teenager romance), the second book had promise but I just couldn't finish it, and it is VERY rare that I start reading a book and get so bored with it that I can't finish it. I also was not overly impressed with "Tsunami and the single girl", "All Good Things" or "A short story of tractors in Ukrainian". 

I am setting myself the Challenge to read more than 32 books for fun in 2014 if possible (not counting all the scientific reading I do for work), and am attempting the Aussie Author Challenge in 2014 too.

Happy Reading everyone :-)
I'd love to hear what other people thought were their favourite books that they read in 2013 and why?

Monday, January 6, 2014

"Chasing the Light" by Jesse Blackadder

This is the first book I have chosen to read as part of the Aussie Author Challenge for 2014.

According to the publishers it is "A fictional recounting of the little-known true story of the first woman to ever set foot on Antarctica, and her extraordinary fight to get there".

This is an historical novel, and I found it to be very interesting from the historical perspective of learning something about whaling in Antarctic waters in the 1920-30s as I knew nothing about it really, despite being a supporter of anti-whaling campaigns in modern times. The author (as part of her arts thesis) actually did a lot of historical researching and quite a few little known details and facts of the first women to land on Antarctica are embedded in this novel. However, being a novel, there is lots of speculation and invented angles and interpretations, hyped up romances etc. Some of the invented 'dramas' irritated me, making me think 'really, are you, like, at high school, or in your 30s?' even though I know some 'liberties' and 'equalities' we take for granted now were more taboo in the early 1900s.
Overall I enjoyed the book and feel like I now know a little bit more about that slice of history involving Norwegian whaling in the early 1900s in Antarctic waters and a little more of the adventures of the first women to land in Antarctica. I recently saw a really interesting exhibition on Antarctica and Australian exploration of the continent at the South Australian Museum, and although I dont recall any mention of women explorers or adventurers in the exhibition, it was still fascinating. So if you live in or will be visiting Adelaide soon i recommend you visit the museum and check it out (it's free entry too).  

"Chasing the Light" by Jesse Blackadder
Started reading on my kindle on 6th January 2014
Finished: 15th January 2014
My score: 7/10

Aussie Author Challenge Stats: 
Male Author, New to me, First published in 2013 or 2014.
Genre: Historical fiction