Sunday, October 2, 2016

"Skylarking" by Kate Mildenhall

I heard of this book this morning when I was listening to an interview with the author on the ABC radio national, and decided to download it right away to read as part of the Aussie Author Challenge 2016. The story is set in Cape Jervis on the NSW south coast in the 1880s, and is an historical novel (my favourite genre), plus I have lots of great memories of camping and exploring that area with my best friend Georgie.
My review will appear shortly.

Started reading: 3rd October 2016
Finished: 6th October 2016
My score: 8/10
Genre: Australian historical novel, young adult

"Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children" by Ransom Riggs

This was one of those book purchases facilitated by being in an airport with a small amount of local currency that needed to be spent before leaving the country. It might have been on my Bali trip but I can't really remember. It has been sitting on my shelf, still in the plastic wrap for over a year, and considering the movie is coming out now and the trailers look great, I thought I'd better hurry up and read the book. 

I hadn't realised this was in the genre of Young Adult fiction when I started reading it. I love how the book is based on actual peculiar photos the author found in various collections and markets and antique shops and that he built such an imaginative story around them. There are some really incredible photos included throughout the story, some of which must have been 'faked' in some way by the original photographer, and others that just manage to capture a creepy or peculiar expression on a child or a strange scene. Although creative and interesting, the story itself is a bit childish/teenager-ish in many ways (which is understandable now I know it is meant to be YA fiction) yet it also has elements of horror and supernatural magic throughout. I really liked it as it was unique and interesting and especially since the photos are 'real' photos it adds another layer to the story for me. I would really like to see the movie now. And will be keeping my eyes open for unusual photos at markets and second-hand shops from now on! At the end of the book it mentioned there is a sequel "Hollow City" which I will see if my local library can get in for me to read at some stage.

Started reading: 23 September 2016
Finished: 2nd October 2016
My score: 7/10

Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy, Supernatural, Horror 

Friday, July 29, 2016

"La Transatlantique de Monique" by Virginie Nolen-Laissy & Guirec Soudee

If you haven't heard of the young French guy, Guirec, and his pet chicken Monique, who are currently sailing together through the North West Passage on their little yacht, do yourself a favour and look up his page on Facebook or Youtube. You wont believe how cool this is until you watch this short 1min video. Apart from how obviously amazing this adventure is, Guirec is also writing kids books about their travels. So far it's only in French, but I think they are planning to make an English translation too. I thought it would be a good way to practice my French and support the young adventurer by buying a copy of his first book, and it arrived last week. It is wonderful - full of cute drawings and humourous moments. I definitely recommend it, for kids and adults hehe.

Started reading: 24th July 2016

"Child of the Sea" by Doina Cornell

Started reading: 29 July 2016
Finished: 6 August 2016
My score: 8/10

I will write a review soon.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

"Everyman's rules for scientific living" by Carrie Tiffany

The cover artwork of this book caught my attention at Adelaide's PopUp Bookshop at the Central Markets. I'm always keeping my eye open for interesting new books to read as part of the Aussie Author Challenge 2016, and it's always a struggle to go into a secondhand bookshop and not come out with at least one new treasure. I haven't read any books by this author before, but it was the winner of the Western Australian Premier's Award for Fiction in 2005, and also was short-listed for a number of other prizes e.g. Miles Franklin Literary Award so I didn't need any more convincing to buy it.

The book falls into the 'Literary fiction' genre but it also has some aspects of a historical novel too (one of my favourite categories of books). The story is set in the 1930s-40s in rural Australia. The first part of the book takes place on board the government "Better Farming Train" which seems to be a traveling small version of the Sydney Royal Easter Show - basically a train traveling through the countryside, stopping at townships where the various agricultural and domestic 'experts' give mini lectures to the locals on best farming practices and display prize examples of different breeds of livestock, along with cooking and sewing demonstrations etc. The main character, Jean, is a seamstress on the train, who falls in love with the soil scientist on board, Robert Pettergree, and in a matter of a few days they disembark the train, marry and set up life together on a wheat farm in Wycheproof, Victoria. It is an unlikely romance/relationship, Jean seems to be a lovely, curious young girl who forms friendships with all the characters on the train, and seems to approach life in a positive open way, while Robert is a bit of a mysterious strange character, yet very rigid in many ways. He treats life as a series of formal experiments, and when it comes to wheat farming seems convinced his scientific approach will result in abundant crops compared to all the locals who have been farming the land for generations without generating the yields Robert predicts are possible if farmed correctly. I never warmed to Robert, and as the book progressed I found him less and less likeable. The story unfolds as a tale of tragedy for the whole region, when the external factors such as the Depression, Drought and War combine with Robert's ill-advised recommendations to spend all their money on crop additives and modern farming approaches that they can't afford and which don't have the promised effects.

I enjoyed the writing style, and the little glimpses into life in rural Victoria in the 30s and 40s, as well as the way the rural countryside was brought to life. The book even has little black and white photos throughout which appear to be genuine photos from the era, and I really loved that. The way that attitudes of the time to women, 'foreigners' and the war were captured in the story was fascinating to compare and contrast to attitudes today in Australia. I did feel a bit flat after finishing the book though, it felt a bit like Jean had put her trust into her husband and then wasted a large chunk of her life in a slow spiral of unnecessary sadness and that she could have had a much better life if she had not left the Better Farming Train with Robert.

Started reading: 24th July 2016
Finished: 28th July 2016
My score: for the writing and insight into the time period: 8/10 for how much I enjoyed the story: 6.5/10
Genre: Literary fiction

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

"Shut Up and Run" by Robin Arzon

I first became aware of Robin Arzon when I listened to her being interviewed on the Rich Roll podcast - and I instantly felt inspired by her positivity and attitude to life and running. Originally a corporate lawyer, Robin has now created a completely new life for herself as an Ultra marathon runner (even with Type I Diabetes), Peleton cycle instructor and a fitness ambassador - among other things. As soon as I heard she was releasing this book I got Dymocks to order it in for me. It's an interesting book, part inspirational messages and stories, part autobiography, and full of colourful pictures of running through NYC. It celebrates Robin's mottoes of "Shut Up & Run" and "Sweat with Swagger" perfectly. It also includes training schedules, tips and advice (for beginner runners up to people contemplating ultra marathons). I might not have appreciated the book so much if I hadn't heard Robin's interviews first, but because I had heard her conversations with Rich Roll I could just hear her infectious laughter and attitude coming off the page as I devoured the book. Enjoyed it thoroughly. 

I really do recommend you listen to some of the conversations with Robin, she's a really unique woman, full of character!

Rich Roll Podcast #230 - Robin Arzon - Shut Up & Run 

Rich Roll Podcast #137 - Robin Arzon - Do Epic Sh*t!

Rich Roll Podcast #99 - Robin Arzon - How to Undo Ordinary

Started reading: 29/06/2016
Finished: 09/07/2016
My score: 9/10 if you like running :-)

"Finding Ultra" by Rich Roll

I've been loving listening to a lot of the Rich Roll podcasts lately, so I decided to read his book. It's a story about an unfit middle-aged lawyer who turns his life around by eating a plant-based diet and running ultra marathons and insane Ironman races. He now hosts podcasts where he interviews really fascinating people on all different topics from science, nutrition, athleticism, meditation, sleep, motivation etc.
I'm no where near as hardcore as this guy, but stories like his inspire me! It strengthens my belief that someone like me (who couldn't run even a few 100m without stopping a year or so ago) might be able to manage to run marathons or ultramarathons if I really want to do it and work towards it. On a personal note, I am currently training to run my first half marathon (21km) in August 2016!!

Started reading on my kindle 28th April 2016.
Finished: 14th May 2016

My score: 7.5/10

"The Good Gut" by Justin & Erica Sonnenburg

I'm really fascinated by a lot of the new research on the gut microbiome and how the bacteria in our gut can actually have an impact on our immune system, our brains, our body weight and lots of other aspects of our health. This book was recommended to me by a friend who is involved in microbiome research in the Knight Lab in the USA. The book is written by gut microbiome researchers from the Sonnenburg Lab (also in the USA) for the general public, and is really eye-opening. I will update this post with a review soon as I am reading this on and off around some other books.

Started Reading: April 2016
My Score:

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

"The Secret River" by Kate Grenville

Started reading as part of the Aussie Author Challenge 23rd February 2016, although I kept putting it down as I got drawn in to various non-fiction books that piqued my interest over the last few months. I have also been studying part-time on top of my research job for the last 6 months, and training for my first half marathon so my free time available for personal reading has been quite limited.

"The Secret River" is written by Kate Grenville. I read another of her books "The Lieutenant" back in 2014, which was also set in Sydney during the early colonisation/invasian by the British. The writing style was similar in both, and Kate is great at bringing the Australian bush landscape to life. Having spent some of my childhood growing up in and around Pittwater in Sydney, a lot of her descriptions of the places and the scenery were really evocative. For example: "A blunt headland, the shape of a hammer, rose up to port. To starboard a lion of a rock reared up, baring its stone breast out to the sea and the unending winds." For someone who has sailed past Barrenjoey headland and into Pittwater, this description instantly pinpoints the location without needing to give any place names.

"The Secret River" tells the story of William Thornhill (convicted of being a thief) who is sent from London to the British Penal colony along with his wife, Sal, and first son. The family continues to grow, and a short time passes before Thornhill is able to apply for his Ticket of Leave. He and Sal work hard, realising that they have a second chance in life to make a go of it, although their end goals they are working towards are somewhat different. Sal dreams of making enough money that they can return to London and live a good life with their (now 5) children, while Thornhill has fallen in love with the idea of owning a bit of land in the Hawksbury, setting up his own little property, farming it and also transporting goods by boat between Sydney and the other small properties and settlements in the area. Eventually Thornhill persuades Sal to move with the kids to an 'uninhabited' stretch of bush land and to give it 5 years to make it work. They set to work building a little hut and sowing a crop of corn. Of course the area is not really uninhabited, the original people who lived in the area, the Darug people, still come and go, camping, hunting and gathering as they probably have for many generations. The rest of the book mainly describes the tensions and interactions between the local Aboriginal people and the new settlers, Thornhill and his family and also other rag-tag characters who have set up their own properties in the surrounding areas. This is where I stopped really enjoying the book, as unlike in "The Lieutenant" almost all of the attitudes and actions of many of the characters are upsetting and sometimes disturbing, probably made worse by the feeling that more than a little bit is based on facts and reflective of the general attitudes of the British settlers towards to Aboriginal people. There are a few good characters such as Blackwood, a reclusive settler who takes an Aboriginal wife, and Dick, one of Thornhill's sons who spends a lot of time playing and hanging out with one of the Aboriginal family groups, but mostly it's pretty awful.

A lot of the book made me cringe at the lack of empathy and understanding of the white settlers towards the Aboriginals, how they treated them so horrendously and brutally, and even occasionally when they thought they were interacting in a friendly way, were still so condescending and out of touch.This book is well written, and Kate really does have a knack for capturing human nature, but in this book a lot of what she captured was of the dark and disturbing way humans have of demonising and destroying other humans. It is a powerful book, and I feel like I should read more books about the Aboriginal people and culture that was thriving before the British settlers took over, and what happened in the years after settlement/invasion so I can try to understand better what was often left out of  or glossed over in the Australian history lessons of my childhood. I am quite incredulous that it is 2016 and the Australian Constitution still does not officially recognise the Australian and Torres Strait Islander people who were the original inhabitants of Australia for at least 40,000 years. If you would like to show your support to recognise the original inhabitants of Australia in our constitution, you can show support at the Recognise website.

Started reading: 23 February 2016
Finished: 24 July 2016
My score: 7/10
Genre: historical fiction

Monday, February 8, 2016

"Brooklyn" by Colm Toibin

I bought this book second-hand in New York in December at the Housing Works Bookshop & Cafe. I asked the staff if they could recommend some novels set in New York that were better than "Catcher in the Rye" which I had not enjoyed at all. One of the books they recommended to me was "Brooklyn" by Colm Toibin - apparently it is also being made into a movie coming out soon, so I thought I would read it now before I go to see the film at the cinema.

Started reading: 8th February 2016
Finished: 22nd February 2016
My score: 7/10

"After Darkness" by Christine Piper

This is the first book I have read as part of the Aussie Author Challenge 2016. I chose to read it as it was given a 5 star recommendation on the Book Lover Book Reviews blog:

This book reminds me in style, quality and similar subject matter/themes to some of Bryce Courtenay's work (but a much shorter book than most of Courtenay's massive novels). I felt a real disappointment and loss when Bryce Courtenay died as the realisation that he wouldn't be writing any more awesome stories for me to read sunk in as I have thoroughly enjoyed and been caught up in many of his books. I'm feeling very impressed and feel a new hope after reading this book that this new Aussie author could potentially take over where Bryce Courtenay left off. I hope Christine Piper becomes as prolific and consistently awesome an author as Courtenay in the years ahead.

This book "After darkness" alternates between 3 locations and times: Early 1930s in Japan, late 1930s in Broome, Western Australia, and during the Second World War in the Loveday internment camp in South Australia. The main character Dr Ibaraki is a reserved, discreet Japanese medical doctor with a background in medical research. He moves to Broome to become head of a small hospital in the Pearl diving community in order to escape some events in his past which are slowly revealed as the novel progresses. He's then arrested and put in a prison camp in Australia during WW2 due to his Japanese background. I didn't know a lot about the prison camps in Australia during the Second World War, so it was a bit of an eye-opener for me to read a novel based on a bit of our history that isn't widely spoken about now. It also highlights the unfortunate timelessness of many of the issues of racial discrimination, conflict of ethics, and loyalty that are faced by many, even if the focus or details change with the decades.

Started reading: 6th February 2016.
Finished reading: 8th February 2016.
My score: 8/10

Aussie Author Challenge Stats: Female Author, New to me, WW2/historical fiction genre.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

"The Bean Trees" by Barbara Kingsolver

This is the 3rd book by Barbara Kingsolver that I have read, and I have enjoyed them all. This one is a lot shorter than the others I have read so far. I really enjoyed the writing style, I felt I was there observing everything and hearing the characters voices and accents rather than just reading about them. The story follows Missy who buys a dodgy old car and sets out to drive until it breaks down then start a new life there, where ever that might be. It's like escaping from this small town in Kentucky is the only way to prevent becoming just another pregnant teenager with nothing much exciting to look forward to. She changes her name and becomes Taylor, and almost ironically given she's running away from the idea of becoming pregnant, she is given an Indian child at a roadhouse along the way. It seems a bit far fetched at this point but later it becomes apparent she is helping to rescue the child from an abusive environment. Her car ends up needing new tyres in Arizona which she can't afford, and while stopping to earn enough money to replace them she ends up starting a new life, with new friends and 'Turtle' her little Indian child. The second half of the book focuses on the relationships she forms with her new friends and neighbours, issues with bringing up Turtle without being her legal parent or guardian, and touches on illegal immigration issues, with one of her new friends sheltering a Mexican couple. While the writing is great and I kept turning the pages, things seemed a bit more superficial/cliched and predicable for the last part of the book. I read somewhere that the author also grew up in Kentucky and moved to Arizona, and the way she describes the country and the people probably draws on her own experiences as they are so realistic (particularly in the first half of the book I thought).

Started reading: 29th January 2016
 Finished: 4th February 2016
My score: 7.5/10

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Aussie Author Challenge 2016 - Accepted :-)

2016 will be the 4th year I have taken part in the Aussie Author Challenge hosted by Jo from the Book Lovers Book Review blog. I really recommend it, as it exposes you to a lot of new Australian authors and books that you might not otherwise think to read, and often they are very well written, on diverse topics and thoroughly enjoyable. I have a lot planned for 2016, so at this stage I am going for the Wallaroo level of the challenge (Read and review 6 books by Aussie authors, at least 2 by male authors and 2 by female authors and from at least 2 different genres). Depending how the year pans out I may upgrade to the Kangaroo level (12 books, and more categories).

For more info and to join up too, see the Challenge info on Jo's Book Lovers Book Review blog.

Friday, January 8, 2016

"Born to Run" by Christopher McDougall

I found "Born to Run" by Christopher McDougall to be a really interesting book. Mid/late last year I started to get into running. By 'get into' I mean go from not being able to run 500m without stopping and wondering why I was torturing myself, to happily running 10-12km at a time without stopping a few months later. I quickly became addicted to running, something I never thought would happen, even getting up early in winter to go for jogs before work. Then October to December I had to stop running due to an injury and I was surprised how much this really upset me. I'm only just getting back into jogging short distances again now, but hoping I'll be able to complete my first half marathon this year. 
Anyway, I digress. I found "Born to Run" to be quite fascinating since I am a newly addicted jogger. It might not have quite the same appeal for people who hate the idea of running. Christopher McDougall is a journalist, and his style is often a bit too hyped up in some places and  a bit matey-matey in other places like he's telling you his life story and the history of ultra marathons over a beer or 10, but despite this it was an easy, interesting and compelling book. While the main focus of the book is the isolated Tarahumara tribesmen of Mexico who are famously amazing ultra marathon runners, there are lots of side stories going into the history and evolution of running, different running styles, different sports doctors and ultra marathon runners anecdotes and achievements etc. The book really brought to life some places and running events in North and South America, taught me a bit about the Tarahumara tribes, and gave me lots to think about long distance running. It was also quite inspiring and wonderful to read a book written by someone expressing the simple joy that running brings, even to a newbie like me. 

Started reading on my kindle: 6th January 2015
Finished: 17th January 2016.
My score: 7/10