Wednesday, December 30, 2015

2015 Reading Summary

I really didn't read (and review) as many books in 2015 as I have in previous recent years, and I didn't read as many books that I would describe as outstanding or must-read. I did spend more time listening to many inspiring TED Talks and online audios this year which might have contributed to the decrease in books read this year. I also did read a few other non-fiction books throughout the year but didn't include them in my book review blog. Hopefully in 2016 I will fit in more time for reading and beat 2015's effort of 19 books read and reviewed.

For the 3rd year in a row I took part in the Aussie Author Challenge hosted by Jo from the Booklover Book Reviews blog. This year I completed the "Wallaroo" level (read and review 6 books by Aussie Authors) whereas in the previous years I have completed the "Kangaroo" level (read and review 12 books by Aussie authors). It's such a fun challenge, a great way to discover and enjoy new Aussie authors and books that you might not have thought to read otherwise. I definitely recommend taking part, or at least check out some of the reviews posted by other participants if you would like to read a few more Aussie books in 2016. My favourite Aussie book I read as part of the challenge in 2015 was "Past the Shallows" by Favel Parrett.

Books read and reviewed for the Aussie Author Challenge 2015 (Wallaroo level):
"Past the Shallows" by Favel Parrett
"Three Dog Night" by Peter Goldsworthy
"Eucalyptus" by Murray Bail
"The Red Thread" by Nicholas Jose
"The Boat" by Nam Le
"The Lost Dog" by Michelle de Krester
"Mindfulness for life" by Stephen McKenzie & Craig Hassed

Other (non-Australian) books I really enjoyed in 2015 were "The Lacuna" by Barbara Kingsolver, "Running Like a Girl" by Alexandra Heminsley and "The Elegance of the Hedgehog" by Muriel Barbery.

Non-Australian books read and reviewed in 2015:
"We are all completely beside ourselves" by Karen Joy Fowler (USA)
"The Twelve Tribes of Hattie" by Ayana Mathis (USA)
"Running Like a Girl" by Alexandra Heminsley (UK)
"The Lacuna" by Barbara Kingsolver (USA)
"The sense of an ending" by Julian Barnes (UK)
"The virgin blue" by Tracy Chevalier (UK/USA)
"The elegance of the hedgehog" by Muriel Barbery (France)
"The second prison" by Ronan Bennett (UK)
"The tiny wife" by Andrew Kaufman (Canada)
"The catcher in the rye" by JD Salinger (USA)
"What I know for sure" by Oprah Winfrey (USA)
"The life-changing magic of tidying" by Marie Kondo (Japan)

Happy New Year everyone and I hope you all have a wonderful 2016 and get time to read lots of awesome, imaginative and exciting books! :-)

"American Gods" by Neil Gaiman

"American Gods" by Neil Gaiman
Started reading on my kindle: 13th December 2015.
Finished: 28th January 2016
My score: 6.5/10

I really liked some of the ideas behind this book and thought it was really imaginative, but I also found it quite dark and a bit depressing.

"The catcher in the rye" by J.D. Salinger

I started reading this book on my kindle on a long haul flight from Sydney - Dallas, USA. I chose to read it 1) because it is set in New York and I was going to be lucky enough to spend a few days in New York later that month and wanted to read a novel set in that beautiful city, and 2) because it's a classic. Even though this book is a "classic" and is often studied at school, in my personal opinion it is poorly written and boring. The main character is unlikable, the plot goes nowhere really, the language used is repetitive...when I posted on Facebook that I was reading this book, all the comments my friends made were about how much they had disliked this book too, so I definitely would not recommend anyone waste time reading it.

However, if you are also looking to read a good book set in New York, I did stop off at one of my favourite shops in New York: The Housing Works Bookstore Cafe,  and asked the staff for some recommendations. They were very helpful and friendly as always and suggested the following authors and books:

- O.Henry
- Joseph Mitchell
- Edith Wharton 'New York Stories'
- Colm Toibin "Brooklyn"

I found a copy of Colm Toibin's "Brooklyn" and bought that, but haven't read it yet. The staff told me it was coming out as a film soon too. Does anyone else have any recommendations of good novels set in New York that they would like to share?

"The catcher in the rye" by J.D. Salinger
Started: 3rd December 2015
Finished: 13th December 2015
My score: 1/10

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

"The Elegance of the Hedgehog" by Muriel Barbery

Started reading: 13th September 2015
Finished: 3rd December 2015
My score: 7.5/10

My review will appear here soon.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

"We are all completely beside ourselves" by Karen Joy Fowler

I really enjoyed this book, but I don't know what to say in my review about it that wont completely give away the 'twist'. One of the reasons I think I really enjoyed this book was because I was completely unaware of what the twist might be or what was coming until the author revealed it, so i really don't want to spoil that for anyone else. I googled some reviews of this book to see how other reviewers dealt with this, but they all seem to give away the mystery. The book reminded me a little of the style of Barbara Kingsolver - interesting characters/plots and well-researched with believable scientific and historic details. The subject matter also reminded me a little of a book I read by Peter Goldsworthy, but again I better not go into that or it will give away the storyline. Incidentally one of the reviews I read this afternoon was a review  that was written by Barbara Kingsolver of "We are all completely beside ourselves". If you don't care that the twist will be given away, and just want to read a review, then you could click on that link. :-)

Started reading: 5th September 2015
Finished: 12th September 2015
My score: 8.5/10

Sunday, August 30, 2015

"Running Like a Girl" by Alexandra Heminsley

Fun and easy book to read - an autobiography that reads a bit like Bridget Jones decides to run a marathon when she initially cant even jog to the end of her street. By the end of the book, she's running multiple marathons. It's hilarious, but also very inspiring for anyone like me that has just started to become addicted to running. Some of the things she describes I can totally relate to, other things I think haha thankfully I am not/wasn't that bad, which all gives me hope. Also she goes into how running is more of a mental game than just a physical one, which is definitely something I am beginning to realise and love about it :-) I definitely recommend it, but especially if you are a runner or just starting to run.

"Running Like a Girl" by Alexandra Heminsley
Started reading: 30th August 2015
Finished 1st September 2015
My Score 8.5/10

Friday, June 5, 2015

"The Lacuna" by Barbara Kingsolver

Although this book took me nearly 3 months to finish reading it, I really did enjoy it. It was quite a thick book and didn't often fit into my work bag, and as most of the reading I've been getting time for is on the bus to and from work lately this meant it took a lot longer than it should have to read this book.

It is an historical novel (my favourite genre), set mostly in Mexico (and partly in USA) during the 1930s-1950s. Although the main character, Harrison Shepherd, is completely fictional, there are plenty of other interesting real life characters woven into the story - for example the famous artist Frida Kahlo and the exiled Bolshevik leader Trotsky. The story is mostly in the form of a series of diary notebooks written by Harrison depicting his life and his interpretation of life and politics surrounding him, from childhood to the 1950s. Harrison writes well, really capturing what is going on around him, and I was fascinated especially by the sections of the book set in Mexico. I didn't know a lot of Trotsky and his exile in Mexico, but I was a little bit familiar with some of Frida Kahlo's self portraits, and Mexico is definitely on my travel bucket list. I was less interested in a section in the second half of the story that dealt with the era of Communist hunting in USA, and the series of reviews and fan mail letters associated with the novels that Harrison writes while living in the USA. I really did enjoy the book overall though, and it did capture some interesting people, places and events in history that I didnt know a lot about. If I had been reading this on my kindle I'm sure I would have finished reading this book in less than a month. 

Started reading: 5th June 2015
Finished: 30th August 2015
My score: 8/10

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

"The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying" by Marie Kondo

I decided to read this book as I seem to have a lot of clutter in my little flat that has accumulated after moving house multiple times in the last 10 years. As my current place doesn't have a lot of cupboard space I've decided the time is right to finally sort through things properly and have a clean out, and really set my place up in a way I'm happy with. Which might include some more space for bookshelves rather than boxes of stuff I haven't opened in years or cabinets full of papers. The idea of de-cluttering has been a bit overwhelming for a while (which is why I haven't done it yet) and it will involve taking a hard look at what I need and want to keep, and being fairly ruthless in getting rid of/donating/trading things I do not actually need or want but have been keeping for whatever reason.

I thought that maybe reading this book would give me some inspiration/motivation to actually start the de-cluttering process rather than just thinking about it. It has succeeded in that aspect, and I have started sorting through and discarding items, so that is great. However I have mixed feelings about the book itself. Some parts of the book really made sense to me and gave me new approaches on how to tackle my de-cluttering, e.g. sorting by category of items rather than by room, but as the book progressed I started to realise that the author and me would not see eye to eye on many things. Her attitude to books...basically, if you've read it, you wont need to read it again so throw it out, if you bought it but didn't read it and have bought other books since then you missed your chance to read it and should throw it out, if you half read a book, throw it out...there's no point to a book being on your bookshelf unless it sparks joy when you hold it...(this is my paraphrasing of the chapter called "Unread books - sometimes means never"). The summary was 'the moment you first encounter a particular book is the right time to read it. To avoid missing that moment, I recommend that you keep your collection small". Not going to happen in my flat, most of my books "spark joy" whether unread or read. I enjoy reading them, re-reading many of them and just looking at and remembering them. Part of my desire to de-clutter was to make more space for bookshelves haha.
Then there was the anthropomorphising of inanimate objects. E.g. socks:
“Never, ever ball your socks. I pointed to the balled up socks. ‘Look at them carefully. This should be a time for them to rest. Do you really think they can get any rest like this?’ That’s right. The socks stored in your drawer are essentially on holiday. They take a brutal beating in their daily work, trapped between your foot and your shoe…The time they spend in your drawer is their only chance to rest…”
Hmm alrighty then. At first I wasn’t sure if this was due to the translation from Japanese to English, but as the book went on it really seemed to be something the author was seriously concerned with. She also on numerous occasions has conversations with inanimate objects…e.g “I return to my bedroom, put my empty handbag in a bag and put it on the top shelf of the wardrobe, saying ‘You did well. Have a good rest.’…”
While the author’s style and attitude do not match with mine, I did learn a few useful new tips for ways to approach a big de-cluttering of my flat. But it was either entertaining or ridiculous in many ways in my opinion.

Started: 20th May 2015
Finished: 31st May 2015
My Score: 5/10

Saturday, May 16, 2015

"Three Dog Night" by Peter Goldsworthy

I read this book as part of the Aussie Author Challenge. I have now read 4 books by Peter Goldsworthy. While I loved "Honk if you are Jesus" and "Wish", I was not particularly blown away with "Everything I know", and I really did not connect with any of the characters in "Three Dog Night". It was one of those books that I just painfully struggled through, not enjoying it, but not wanting to give up on a book half way, particularly when I have really enjoyed other books by the same author.

The storyline - an Australian psychologist Martin falls for his beautiful UK trainee psychologist student, Lucy, they fall in love, marry, and decide after some apparently blissful years to move to Adelaide. In Adelaide, Martin parades Lucy around to his old school buddies as if she's a trophy. Martin's best old buddy, Felix, is a pretty strange bitter kind of character, obviously very intelligent but not easy to get on with as he seems to get pleasure out of making other people uncomfortable. It turns out Felix is dying, and his last wish as it were is to borrow his friend's wife for the last few weeks of his life and try to ruin their marriage. I found it pretty implausible, plus motives and actions were never explained properly for Felix or Lucy and Martin often came off as pretty immature. I found the characters were unlikeable and I did not feel empathy for them, so I really couldnt recommend this book unfortunately.  I thought this Peter Goldsworthy book had been recommended to me, but it turns out that there is another book with the same title but different author - Elsebeth Egholm, and that was the one that was recommended. I will keep looking out for that one. I still have another of Peter Goldsworthy's books on my shelf to read - "Navel Gazing" - so I hope it is more enjoyable than his "Three dog night".

Started reading: 12th May 2015
Finished: 5th June 2015
My score: 3/10
Aussie Author Challenge stats: Male author.

Friday, April 17, 2015

"The Twelve Tribes of Hattie" by Ayana Mathis

Started reading: 16th April 2015 
Finished 11th May 2015
My score: 5/10

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

"The Red Thread" by Nicholas Jose

I found this book for $1 at the Red Cross Shop, and I'm reading it as part of the Aussie Author Challenge. While the author Nicholas Jose is Australian, the book "The Red Thread" is set in Shanghai, China. As I was reading it I got the impression that the author had either spent a reasonable amount of time living there or studying Chinese history/art/literature as the details in the book just seemed so authentic and as if they were written by someone who was passionate about Chinese art and culture - to me anyway, not that I have visited mainland China myself yet. Now that I've finished reading the book I have just looked up the author's biography and discovered that he did indeed live in China during the 1980s.

The book is a love story, and I don't usually read a lot of books that fall into the 'romance' genre. Basically it's about an ill-fated but besotted young Chinese couple from the 1700s (Shen and Yun) who form a turbulent friendship with another woman, Han. Their story is fairly tragic, but it appears somehow they are linked or re-born in contemporary times, destined to re-live their ill-fated romance and friendship, while trying desperately to avoid coming to the same sad end. The re-born characters are Shen (a young Chinese art historian/valuer for an auction house), Ruth (an Australian artist visiting Shanghai) and Han, a nightclub entertainer. The Shen from the 1700s had recorded his life story in a book of 6 chapters, of which the contemporary Shen comes across the first 4 chapters, and quickly comes to the conclusion that he is re-living the story in that book. As things start going badly for the modern day Shen & Ruth, he desperately tries to track down the final missing chapters to try to find a happy ending. 

While the romance in the book seemed pretty far-fetched and unrealistic to me, I really enjoyed the setting of the novel, the descriptive writing style and the little cultural details about China and Chinese art, which I know very little about. I liked the descriptions of many of the art pieces, they seemed to bring the objects to life in my mind, for example the description of this bowl:

"The bowl had such a presence and authority that it simply was, and at the same time it seemed to centre the whole open-plan office of Shanghai Art Auctions International....A spectacular piece, its oxblood glaze, like liquid garnet, absorbing the strange light of this world, three centuries remote from the time when it was made, as it reflected the faces of the two men who peered into felt glossy, almost viscous." 

Started reading: 8th April 2015
Finished: 15th April 2015
My score: 6.5/10
Aussie Author Challenge stats: Male Author, New to me, genre: romance/love story

Thursday, March 26, 2015

"The second prison" by Ronan Bennett

This book kind of reminded me of the films "Lock Stock & Two Smoking Barrels" and "Veronica Guerin". Pretty dark, no-hope criminal gang members in Northern Ireland caught in cycles of crime and prison sentences and revenge against the English and each other. Unlike "Lock Stock" it was not really humerous, but this book is well written and thought-provoking. It also has themes of love and betrayal throughout it, and questions about life and what is important in it.

Started reading: 23/03/2015
Finished: 07/04/2015
My score: 7/10

Friday, February 27, 2015

"The Boat" by Nam Le


I picked this book up second hand from Adelaide's PopUp Bookshop, and am reading it as part of the Aussie Author Challenge. The book has a striking black and white cover design that caught my eye, then from the reviews on the back I thought it sounded like a really well written and powerful collection of short stories that I couldn't walk away from, even though I don't generally like short stories. 

Started reading: 28th February 2015
Finished: 22nd March 2015

My score: 8/10

I'd say the writing in this book is very powerful. The author can really bring to life environments, characters and emotions in a great variety of stories. Most of them were pretty sad/tragic spotlights on the struggles of desperate people, whether they were refugees on boats in horrific conditions, barely hanging on to hope, or teenage Colombians trying to protect their family and friends while being caught in a downward spiral of drugs and murder. The first, second and last stories had the most impact on me, and will be hard to forget. Makes you feel lucky to be born in a country and environment where you aren't faced with the desperate choices these people are faced with, and reinforces how wrong our current policy against asylum seekers is. However, I still don't really like short stories, as just as you start to get into them and feel a connection with a character, that story ends. If I liked short stories I probably would have rated this book even higher, but as I don't like short stories I would rather have had those 3 chapters I most connected with expanded on, rather than reading the other 4 stories.

Aussie Author Challenge stats: Male author, New to me, Genre: short stories

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

"Eucalyptus" by Murray Bail

I picked up this book secondhand at Adelaide's Pop Up Bookshop and decided to read it as part of the Aussie Author Challenge 2015.It is a really unusual story. In an outback town a widowed man who lives on a large property with his beautiful daughter Ellen is obsessed with Eucalyptus trees. He has collected and planted hundreds of different varieties on his property, from common ones to extremely rare ones. He makes the decision that in order to win the hand of his daughter, the potential suitor must correctly name every single Eucalyptus tree on his property. Until that point his daughter will remain with him, unwed, sort of like an Australian Rapunzel story. Lots of different characters test their luck, but the task is pretty much impossible.

Each 'chapter' is named after a type of Eucalyptus, and sometimes the stories in particular chapters don't seem to be particularly connected, or may be connected to some characteristic of the tree the chapter is named after in an abstract kind of way. The writing style is full of imagery, sometimes beautiful and sometimes strange and harsh ("he saw the woman he hardly knew had haemorrhaged gentleness"), and yet other times quite dry and descriptive of something that doesn't seen particularly consequential.

While a particularly persistent suitor slowly progresses across the property naming trees with her father, a different love story and series of vignettes unfold from the daughter's viewpoint. While parts of this book seemed deadly slow and hard to figure out the connections, other parts were quite poignant and beautiful, and the ending of the book is one of the most touching, and worth reading the book to reveal and appreciate the ending. I won't say more in case it spoils the book for anyone, but it was definitely a worthwhile book to read for anyone wanting to read Australian literature.

Started reading: 4th February 2015
Finished: 24th February 2015.
My score: 7/10

Aussie author challenge stats: Male author, New to me, genre: romance/literary 

"What I Know For Sure" by Oprah Winfrey

Quite a few people told me that they were reading this book lately, and several of them recommended it. I don't actually know much about Oprah and her life, and have never watched her TV show. This book was quite short, easy to read, and was enjoyable. It is basically a collection of positive thoughts and stories from Oprah's life, her suggestions or tips on how to live life mindfully and positively, to get the most out of your life and to be inspired to be the best version of yourself you can be.

Started reading: 31st January 2015
Finished: 4th February 2015
My score: 7/10

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

"Past the Shallows" by Favel Parrett

I read "Past the Shallows" as part of the Aussie Author Challenge 2015. This is the second book I have read by Favel Parrett although it is actually her debut novel. I really enjoyed "When the night comes" when I read it last year, but I thought "Past the Shallows" was even better! Not that it is a happy book, it is in fact one of the saddest and most tragic stories I have read in a while, but so beautifully written and captures your emotions. In many ways it reminds me of Tim Winton's style and themes, particularly his book "breathe" which also had a strong fascination with the ocean. I have heard Favel Parrett's work described as "Wintonesque", but this particular book captured me even more strongly than most of Winton's books.

It is again set in Tasmania, and again the writing style is similar with lots of very short chapters, split between two different characters points of view. In this book the two main characters are Miles and Harry, two of three young brothers in a family that is falling apart. The eldest brother, Joe (19 years old), has already left home and is about to sail away on his homemade boat to escape the life he would lead if he stayed behind. The mother is dead, and we find out little fragments of what must have happened as the book unfolds. The father is a no-hope aggressive drunk, a desperate abalone fisherman who is struggling to even put basic food on the table for his kids. He is forcing Miles (13 years old) to help out on the fishing boat in ways that make you feel like the boy is being robbed of his childhood. Harry, who I think is meant to be about 7 or 8 but I'm not sure it's ever actually specified, is often left to his own devices at home while his Dad, Jeff (another unsavoury character) and Miles are out fishing all day. Harry is one of the most touching characters, your heart goes out to him, he is such a loving, sweet kid that adores his brother Miles, and always seems to be doing little things just to make others feel better. Miles is also a great kid, although being put in situations that make him more of a depressed character. I wont go into the storyline as it is quite a short book and I don't want to spoil it for anyone who hasn't read it yet. For me it was the characters of Harry and Miles, their brotherly love and protection of each other in situations neither of them should have had to endure that made this book so powerful and so tragic. You just want to reach out and save them from what unfolds from the pages as you read it.  

Started reading: 28th January 2015
Finished: 30th January 2015
My score: 9.5/10
Aussie Author Challenge stats: Female author, Fiction, Genre: ?Wintonesque ?tragedy 

Sunday, January 25, 2015

"The Virgin Blue" by Tracy Chevalier

I bought this book second-hand at the Glenelg Book Exchange. I have read other books by this author in the past, including "Girl with a Pearl Earring" and "The Lady and the Unicorn" which I really enjoyed reading sometime in the last 5-10 years. Her books tend to be historical novels inspired by famous artworks and bringing to life the people portrayed in them or involved in the making of the art.

"The Virgin Blue" is split between two main characters in two different time periods: Ella Turner, an American woman who has moved to France (around the 1990s?) and Isabelle Tournier "La Rousse", a red haired peasant girl living in southern France in the 1500s during a time of unrest between the Catholics and the Huguenots. It becomes apparent pretty quickly that Ella believes herself to be a member of the French Tournier family that Isabelle Tournier belongs to, and starts researching into her distant ancestory following some vivid nightmares involving a particular shade of blue and some words from a bible verse.

While the historic background in which Isabelle's life is set is really interesting, neither of the main characters really connected with me, and the "connections" felt between the 2 characters in their different lives was really not convincing enough for me. Ella in particular I found fairly superficial and immature in her actions, and a lot of the dialogue and thoughts running through her head were basically stereotypes  of an arrogant American trying to fit into a small French village but rubbing everyone up the wrong way, yet somehow not realising that it was her attitudes and actions that were contributing to her reception and therefore blaming the locals. She was always jumping to conclusions that everyone was judging her and misinterpreting situations. For example, if a local French person spoke to her in English when she tried to speak in limited French to them, she would react in this way: "Damn you, I thought. I hated that sneering appraisal, the assumption that I couldn't speak French, that I looked so American"...when in reality the local person probably was trying to be helpful and could speak better English than her French and thought she would appreciate them speaking English.
Another example: "In fact French women in the city were so different from me that I often felt invisible around them, a dishevelled ghost standing aside to let them pass....As I walked around I could feel them glancing at me discreetly, scruitinizing the shoulder-length hair I'd left a little too long in cutting, the absence of make-up...I was sure I saw pity flash over their faces".

Despite this, the book was fairly quick and easy to read, the little bits about life in the 1500s was interesting. I would have preferred more details of this time period and Isabelle's life and less of the romantic and conclusion-jumping adventures of Ella. I seem to remember enjoying other books by this author a lot more, but it was a while ago that i read them now, so I don't know whether they were more complex and well-written than "The Virgin Blue" or whether they were a similar style and just appealed to me more when I read them in my 20s.

Started reading: 25th January 2015
Finished: 27th January 2015
My score: 5/10

Friday, January 23, 2015

"Mindfulness for life" by Stephen Mckenzie & Craig Hassed

I was inspired to read this book after watching the doco "The Connection" at the Transitions Film Festival in Adelaide last October, and the follow on Q&A session after the film screening included Dr Hassed on the panel. I have been looking up a few scientific research papers on related topics lately and am very interested in the possibilities of an integrated medical approach combining modern western medicine and mind/body/mindfulness practice for combating stress and chronic diseases like cancer among other things. For someone who didnt previously know a lot about mindfulness, I found this book very informative, easy to read and really interesting. Not only does it describe what mindfulness is, it also gives details of how the practice of mindfulness can help in managing day-to-day stress, as well as how it can help people suffering from a range of chronic problems, including cancer, pain, depression, addiction, and attention deficit disorders. It is not a mumbo-jumbo book claiming that meditation will cure these illnesses without appropriate medication or doctors advice, but instead shows how meditation and mindfulness techniques can help both your body and your mind to cope with these problems better, and allows your body to heal easier than if it is in a constant state of stress for example. I really recommend this book to anyone with any type of chronic illness especially, but also just for general knowledge. I have now started attempting mindfulness meditation myself and find it very helpful even with dealing with day-to-day minor stresses.  

Started reading on my kindle: 11th November 2014.
Finished: 21/01/2015. My Score: 8.5/10 Very interesting book, a little bit repetitive in places but I really enjoyed it and learned new things from it. This book also counts towards my Aussie Author Challenge tally in the non-fiction, personal development genre, male author, new to me.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

"The Lost Dog" by Michelle de Kretser

This is the first novel I have read as part of the Aussie Author Challenge 2015. It was the winner of the 2008 Christina Stead Prize for Fiction, Winner of the NSW Premier's Literary Awards Book of the Year, and longlisted for the 2008 Man Booker Prize. My Mum lent me this book to read.

While the title of the book suggests the story is about a lost dog, it is much more complex than that. The book is set around the 10 day search for the main character's dog, but the story jumps around a lot, both temporally and in terms of focus. While I found this frustrating and distracting in parts, the book is in fact beautifully written with lots of layers and secrets hidden within the characters and their pasts, some of which slowly unfold. Not only does the story involve the current issue of the fate of the missing dog, but also a previous darker mystery of a missing husband, who also disappeared into the bush. The book is set mainly in Melbourne, but also in an outback location where the dog goes missing, and from time to time we are also taken back to an earlier period in India.

This book is written beautifully, the language used sometimes poetic or literary in style, other times deliberately not so. The book is full of elusive but interesting characters that you never quite find out a clear picture of, mixed in with minute or intimate details of what sometimes seem to be irrelevant conversations or moments in time. Little glimpses into people's past histories, strange memories that were remembered from childhood, different ways of looking at everyday objects. Throughout the book there seems to be a fascination with objects that have become outdated, cast away without thought, but treasured, hoarded or turned into artwork by others: "...discarded and ephemeral yet caught in the tatters of memory"....."that period between nostalgia and novelty which contained objects once the height of fashion and now out of date".

My favourite character in the book is Nelly Zhang, an artist, a complex and perhaps unbalanced individual, with whom the main character has a long standing infatuation with, somewhat disguised in friendship. While I was really captivated and intrigued by the character of Nelly, you never really feel like you will understand her, and not quite sure if what you are seeing is the 'real' Nelly or just a shifting portrait of what she wants you to see of her. The following paraphrases a section where one character in the book tries to describe her to another: "There are so many aspects to Nelly.....there's a painting by Cezanne: Les Grandes Baigneuses. It's always reminded me of Nelly. Something about the way the figures melt into and out of each other, so that your perception of them keeps's brilliant, utterly brilliant. Also unsettling. And sad."   

Started reading: 3rd January 2015
Finished: 25th January 2015
My score: 7/10

Aussie Author Challenge stats: female author, new to me, fiction.

Signing up for the Aussie Author Challenge 2015

I have really enjoyed taking part in the Aussie Author Challenge during 2013 and 2014, and completed the highest level in both years. I am keen to take part in the Aussie Author Challenge for 2015, as it's a good excuse to discover and read many great Australian books that I otherwise might not read, and also this year as an added incentive there are going to be book giveaways to Challenge participants! :-) 

I will definitely aim to at least complete the Wallaroo level which involves:
– Read and review 6 titles written by Australian authors, of which at least 2 of those authors are female, at least 2 of those authors are male, and at least 2 of those authors are new to you;
– Fiction or non-fiction, at least 2 genres.

Once I complete the Wallaroo level, I might decide to upgrade to the 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 2 titles first published in 2014 or 2015.

The only reason I'm not signing up straight away at the Kangaroo level is I am also interested in trying to read more widely this year, including books set in other countries and cultures, so depending how quickly I manage to complete the Wallaroo level of the Aussie Author Challenge and how many other non-Aussie books I also manage to read by mid-2015 will determine if I want to upgrade to the Kangaroo level for the 3rd year in a row. Hopefully this will be a year of reading lots of awesome books :-)

Friday, January 2, 2015

"The Sense of an Ending" by Julian Barnes

This book won the Man Booker Prize in 2011, I picked up a second-hand copy at the Pop Up Bookshop in Adelaide in the last year or so. I haven't read any books by this author before, but he's written quite a few, and it seems like several of them have been shortlisted for the Booker prize over the years. After reading "The Sense of an Ending" I am definitely keen to read some of his other novels.

The book starts out with a group of 4 teenage boys, obsessed with philosophising and pretending they are cool in a geeky way. They are just starting to experience girls and sex and determined to stay friends for ever despite heading their separate ways for college once school finishes. The book soon skips forward to one of the boys, Tony Webster, as a 60-year old man, peacefully and uneventfully going through life as a divorced man, but living a life that doesn't seem to have amounted to anything much. Suddenly he receives an unexpected letter from a lawyer saying that the mother of an ex-girlfriend from his college days has died and left him 500 pounds and the diary of one of his three old friends who had committed suicide almost 40 years before. This strange bequest leads to the uncovering of the past and the unraveling of Tony's memories of that time.

While the topic of this book might seem a little under-whelming, it was very skilfully written, and really hooked me in. To me this book beautifully illustrates the plasticity of the mind, what we remember, what we forget, how we can manipulate our own memories subconsciously or consciously to build our own life history. We go through our individual lives, creating memories, writing the story of our life as we see it, repeating scenes over and over in our heads, but over time we remember things differently, selectively, sometimes  blocking out scenes, other times convincing yourself you experienced something you only heard of or saw in a photo, and also that just as surprisingly, random snatches of memories can come flooding back that you have not thought of since the time the event took place, unbidden or sometimes triggered by something. As the story unfolds, so too does Tony Webster's memories, leaving you constantly guessing the truth of what really happened to his friend right up until the final pages.

This book has lots of complex thought-provoking deep ideas hidden in it, but it reads like a page-turning mystery. It's a fairly short book (150 pages), but very powerful and I recommend reading it!  
Started Reading: 2nd January 2015
Finished: 3rd January 2015
My score: 9/10