March by Geraldine Brooks

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Some authors seem to have the inside word on particular things, whether it be a place, feelings or a scene. They can cut to the heart of a matter or find the perfect words to describe something. When I read a story filled with intimate detail (I don’t mean the sexy-time kind…), I assume that the author’s own experiences have informed the work. That makes perfect sense when talking contemporary literature – I, for example, could probably write something that would resonate with a girl growing up in the eighties who was obsessed with Culture Club, swimming, Princess Diana and was Team Jessica*. So how does Geraldine Brooks do it? She’s an author from Western Australia, yet is completely and thoroughly in the heart and mind of a Union Army officer during the American Civil War.

I’d forgotten just how good Brooks is until I read March. Continue reading

My Biggest Lie by Luke Brown

The title of this book  – My Biggest Lie by Luke Brown – made me think about the biggest lie I’ve ever told. Although I can’t think of a truly dishonest whopper, I did tell a lie once that had far-reaching consequences (it involved a boy, let’s call him Boy A; a party; meeting of another boy (Boy B); realisation that I didn’t like Boy A much anymore; a break-up with Boy A (insert lie for reason); some months thinking about Boy B before seeing him again; marrying Boy B).

Lies tend to either hang around or have a snowball effect. That’s why it’s best not to tell them. Liam Wilson, the main character of the story, discovers this as his life moves from glamorous-London-publisher-with-girlfriend to single-unemployed-guy-living-in-Buenos-Aires. A whole bunch of lies facilitate the process. Liam wants his London life back but does he have to lie to get it?

“There was a time not long ago when I thought that lying was the most natural thing in the world. I was young and I had a good haircut and a girlfriend I loved…. I wore suits I couldn’t afford in the hope that this was the way that one day I would be able to afford them…. I never spoke to anyone about Sarah because if I did I’d have to tell everyone how much I adored her. I didn’t want to over complicate the portrait.” Continue reading

Top Ten Bookish Things (That Aren’t Books) That I’d Like To Own

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I was standing in a supermarket queue with my son (who was about three at the time) – he had just put on a big performance over not being allowed anything from the wretched lolly display at the checkout. “But I need some!” he wailed. I calmly replied, “You want some, you don’t need them. Want and need are different things.” A woman standing behind me sniggered and, gesturing to her stack of shopping bags said “I needed all this!”

Yes, we’re grown-ups and we understand the difference between want and need. So we also appreciate that I need all of the following:

10. Perfume. That smells like paper. Perfect. Continue reading

Astonish Me by Maggie Shipstead

Thinking out loud here – after an author releases a stunningly brilliant debut, do they feel rushed to release a second book, riding on the wave of success?

Like the ballet career of the main character, Joan, Maggie Shipstead’s second book, Astonish Me, is accomplished but not astonishing.

It’s a peek into the demanding world of professional ballet and is told predominantly through the eyes of Joan, a young American dancer who helps a Soviet ballet star, Arslan Rusakov, defect in 1975.  Also in the cast is Jacob, the man Joan eventually marries and Harry, their son, who also becomes a ballet dancer. Through Harry, Joan is pulled back into a world she’d purposely left behind – a world that includes Arslan. Notably, Joan is a member of the corps, never quite making it as a soloist. This important detail sets up what I found to be the most interesting theme of the book – the strive for perfection (and conversely, the threat of failure).

“She wonders out loud to Elaine how much of her life she wants to spend sliding one foot out from the other and back again, lifting one arm over her head and lowering it. She says, “I feel like I’m working on an assembly line, but I’m not even making anything. I’m just doing something that disappears as soon as it happens…”” Continue reading

The Violet Hour by Katherine Hill

I’ve been a bit preoccupied with leaf dissections rather than reading at the moment. I’m fully immersed in the cellular structure of plants – the fine detail of rigid cell walls, bright green chloroplasts and the clever stomata. It’s fitting that the book that I have been dipping in and out of is also a work of fine detail – The Violet Hour by Katherine Hill. It’s about the dissection of a marriage.

The story begins with Cassandra and Abe and their daughter, Elizabeth, sailing on San Francisco Bay. Life’s good – Abe is a successful doctor, Cassandra a sculptor and Elizabeth is heading to Harvard. But then, out of nowhere, they plunge into a terrible fight. Cassandra has been unfaithful. In a fit of fury, Abe throws himself off the boat. Their marriage ends and from there, Hill ricochets backwards and forwards in time, revealing the expectations, realities and secrets in a marriage. Continue reading

Six Degrees of Separation – from Burial Rites to The Art of Fielding

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What’s not to love about a new meme? Check out the rules (actually, there’s not really any rules) and join in Six Degrees of Separation here.

We begin with Hannah Kent’s Burial Rites. It’s set in Iceland. I’m not a fan of cold weather (at all) and yet I really, really, really want to go to Iceland. Continue reading

Bookish (and not so bookish) Thoughts

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I should be studying for my mid-semester exam. Instead I’m doing this. I’ll be quick.

1. Annabel and Emma are starting a new meme – Six Degrees of Separation. I love the idea behind this and can’t wait to get started. Join in everyone!

2. The Miles Franklin 2014 longlist was announced today. Some people got their undies in a twist because Barracuda was left out.

3. We spent last weekend in Victoria’s beautiful King Valley. In my life BC (Before Children) I worked in catchment and water management. My work was all about rivers. Sometimes I forget the restorative power of rivers until I’m sitting next to one.  Speaking of restorative, the trip also included wine, cheese and spectacular views. Continue reading

Bookish (and not so bookish) Thoughts

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1. Last week I mentioned that I had a few too many balls in the air. I dropped some. Feels good.

2. The Stella Prize is a major literary award celebrating Australian women’s writing. The shortlist for the 2014 Stella Prize was announced last week. I would like to say I’ve read them all and can therefore offer my opinion but no. I’ve read one and a half (the half being Night Games… oddly, this didn’t grab me but I will pick it up again before the Prize winner is announced on April 29). I’ve heard fantastic things about The Night Guest but at this stage, I’ll be cheering for the beautiful, memorable, heart-breaking Burial Rites.

Continue reading

Top Ten Tuesday – A Bookish Wish (Bucket) List

I’m not really a fan of the ‘bucket list’. I find them a bit depressing. Although I don’t have a bucket-list per se, I do have a list of things I wouldn’t mind doing if time and money were no object. As it happens, I crossed one thing off my wish list a few years ago, when I went to Vegas with a friend to see Barry Manilow in cabaret. It was everything I’d hoped (because music and passion are always the fashion).

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The Broke and the Bookish have asked readers to nominate their bookish bucket list. I thought I’d play along because there are a few bookish things on my wish list.

Continue reading