Saturday, March 17, 2018

"Killers in Eden" by Danielle Clode

Started reading as part of the Aussie Author Challenge 2018.

I first heard of this book when I listened to a fascinating interview with the author Danielle Clode on Richard Fidler's "Conversations" podcast. I recently borrowed it from my local library.  I'll add my review once I finish reading the book.

Started reading: 18th March 2018
Genre: Non-Fiction, Popular Science, Animal Behaviour, Anthropology.

Friday, March 16, 2018

"The Poisonwood Bible" by Barbara Kingsolver

Started reading: 15th March 2018
My score:

Crowds listening to Barbara Kingsolver at Adelaide's Writers' Week, March 2018.

My review will be added when I finish the book.

"Alias Grace" by Margaret Atwood

This is an historical novel about Grace Marks, a servant girl, who, alongside fellow servant James McDermott, was convicted for killing their master Thomas Kinnear and his housekeeper Nancy Montgomery in Canada in the 1840s.
"Alias Grace" is written by the author of the Handmaid's Tale, and was recommended to me by the owners of the PopUp bookshop in Adelaide. 

I really enjoyed this book. It was told mostly from the point of view of two main characters, Grace Marks - the murderess, and Dr Simon Jordan - a young doctor fascinated by the science behind insanity and who dreams of setting up his own lunatic asylum based on the most progressive medical knowledge. Similar to the Handmaid's tale, Margaret Atwood's writing style really draws you in and captures lots of little details about characters and situations and paints them in ways that really bring them to life in your mind.

It appears that while McDermott was hanged for his role in the murders, Grace was instead locked up in various mental asylums and penitentiaries. It is unclear throughout the book whether Grace was in fact guilty of the murders, was really insane or cleverly calculating, or innocent and in the wrong place at the wrong time and of the wrong sex and class to defend herself in the situation she found herself in. The book is full of insight into the customs, beliefs and attitudes of the times which I found fascinating.

As I myself love knitting and sewing and the return of interest in 'slow' fashion, the little details about the fashion of the day and the handmade clothes and quilts were really interesting and enjoyable to read. Some of the quilt patterns mentioned in the book that Grace is hand stitching while retelling her story to Dr Jordan, for example Pandora's box, are patterns I have used to sew quilts (although in my case I used a sewing machine), and I had no idea these patterns were so traditional and stretched back through time. 

One thing I felt was ingeniously done was how the author contrasted the outward appearances and inner characters of Grace Marks and Dr Jordan. Grace - a poor servant woman condemned as criminally insane while plausibly being simply an innocent girl going through a series of rough situations in a time when women had little liberties, rights or means to change things. As she tells her life story to Dr Jordan, she seems to the reader to be a strong, resilient and perceptive character, with a good sense of right and wrong. It seems more likely that she must be innocent or else unable to escape the situation she found herself in rather than being a cold-blooded lying murderess. In contrast, Dr Jordan starts off representing the most upstanding, morally right, respected and respectable male figure, but as the story progresses we see his darker, lustful, judgemental, repressed side through his twisted dreams, imaginings and even sometimes actions, the way he deludes himself and lies to others to cover up his own short-comings. Also how judgemental he/society is when women are thinking or acting in certain ways but that these 'depraved' things are acceptable if you are a respected male figure. I was left feeling like he was more 'insane' and a weaker character than Grace, and thankful I was not born a poor servant girl 200 years ago. 
Started reading: 3rd March 2018
Finished: 15th March 2018
My score: 8/10
Genre: historical fiction

 Photos of my Pandora's box quilts made around 2013-2014:

"Everyone Brave is Forgiven" by Chris Cleave

This book was recommended to me by my Mum's good friend Jennie :-) I have read a few other books by this author, one that I thought was excellent but tragic ("Little Bee"), one that was good ("Gold") and another that I didn't enjoy ("Incendiary"). "Everyone Brave is Forgiven" is an excellent book - the story is interesting, and the writing is on point. 

"Everyone Brave is Forgiven" is an historical novel set during WW2, mostly divided between London and Malta.

Started reading on my kindle: 23 Feb 2018
Finished: 2 March 2018
My Score: 10/10

Saturday, February 10, 2018

"The Narrow Road to the Deep North" by Richard Flanagan

Started reading as part of the Aussie Author Challenge 2018. I am really struggling to get into this book and after about 60 pages have put it down to read some other books. Not sure if I will come back to this book at some later stage during the year or not, as several other friends have told me they also gave up on this book part way through so that doesn't give me much incentive to persevere.

Aussie Author Challenge stats:
Male Author, New to me author, Genre: historical fiction
Started reading: 11th February 2018
- Put on hold.

“Big little lies” by Liane Moriarty

This book was recommended to me by my Mum and she gave me her copy to read when she finished it. Thanks Mum :-) I had heard several people mention they had really enjoyed Liane Moriarty's books, but had not realised until recently that she is an Australian author, but since I realised that I bumped the book up the priority list and started reading it as part of the Aussie Author Challenge 2018. 

After the last few books I have read which have been mostly historical fiction mixed with creative sci-fi, this book was a complete change of genre and pace. It is a murder mystery and probably also considered "chick lit" (not a genre I read a lot of), and so in many ways was a lot lighter than the other books I've read lately. That said however, it does involve bullying, domestic violence and murder, so it's not really that light! It was a page-turner, and I finished it over 4 days despite only having time to read on the bus to/from work or late at night. Liane is very good at capturing all the tiny elements that make characters unique and yet also so readily recognisable. She has done a great job at describing all the gossippy/bitchy nature of some people, as well as the conflict that often exists between the confident external facade of a person and the reality of what that person is going through internally.

I don't know if Pirriwee Public School is meant to be a fictitious place or not, but in my mind it seemed to be set on Sydney's Northern Beaches, and if so, it captured a lot of the sterotypical behaviour, people and lifestyle that would be so familiar to anyone who had spent time living on 'the Peninsula'. 

I wont give away the twists of the murder mystery aspect of the book, but it is gripping and easy to read, with the story told from lots of different characters perspectives, which I really enjoyed. Definitely worth reading.

Started reading: 8th February 2018
Finished: 11th February 2018
My score: 9/10

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

"From the Wreck" by Jane Rawson

I read this book as part of the Aussie Author Challenge 2018.  The book was set in South Australia during the 1800s, and the key incident in the book is the 1859 shipwreck of the SS Admella which I believe was a real event in history. I enjoyed the little historical snippets throughout the book giving glimpses of what life in Adelaide during the 1800s was like, and how some of the places described are still so recognisable today e.g. the botanic gardens and the lily pond and the grand buildings on North Terrace.

However, this is not your typical historical novel about a shipwreck -there is also a strong element of science fiction throughout and it is a very unique story. One of the main characters in the book, George Hills, survives the shipwreck, apparently through the help of a female passenger on the ship, Miss Ledwith who turns out to be a shape-shifting alien being rather than a human.  

Many of the sections written from the point of view of the alien reminded me in style to some of Neil Gaimon's writing...seemingly free-flowing, dream-like/nightmarish scenes, not always comprehensible, but dark and creative and strange yet captivating too.

I didn't really love the book, and found some of the characters very superficially described, but I did appreciate the uniqueness of it, and the 'creative writing' feel to it, so I am giving it 7/10.

Started reading this book on my kindle 30/01/2018
Finished: 07/02/2018
My score: 7/10
Aussie Author Challenge stats: Female Author, New to me Author, Genre: Mix of science fiction and historical fiction.