Monday, March 14, 2016

Australian Women Writers Challenge - Book Review Small Acts of Disappearance by Fiona Wright

Small Acts of DisappearanceSmall Acts of Disappearance by Fiona Wright
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The 2016 Stella Prize longlist of a dozen books was announced on 9 February, of which Small Acts of Disappearance - Essays on Hunger was one. I was intrigued by the description of this particular book and delighted to find it available as an e-book through my local public library service.

Anyone who knows me will know that I wrestle with food and weight on a daily basis and wish I had a different body. I am obese and have struggled with my weight since I was about 10 years old. I know obesity is one of the strongest markers for bowel cancer. Due to my genetic heritage I need to get tested for bowel cancer every 2/3 years - a hideous process where you must drink enormous quantities of very salty fluid until you want to puke before undertaking "a procedure" the next day. Fun stuff. Not.

Wouldn't you think I would be motivated to do something about my weight? But no - I eat just about everything that comes in temptation's way. I have very little self-control when it comes to food. So you can understand why I am fascinated about those who suffer from the exact opposite syndrome - who go hungry, who starve themselves to the point of being emaciated (by the way it is very difficult to find an antonym for obesity). Who have control.

Fiona Wright's book is a slim volume (pun kind of intended). Funnily enough, in my reading habits I do not like huge tomes. A bit like movies, I get impatient with anyone who can't get their point across in 2 hours or less. So I was surprised by how quickly I was getting through the book (goody -another finished for the Reading Challenge - measuring measuring attainment attainment) but also surprised by the density of the content, the carefully chosen words and their resonance. This was meaty stuff.

Wright's book is not a definitive text on the issue of eating disorders. Rather, and I think more importantly, it is a reflection on her experience.

Knowing ourselves is one of the greatest challenges of life. Think of how much we dissemble to others (and ourselves) on a daily basis - yes, we are happy, coping, not going mad, pleased to see you, meet you - whatever. And much of this is vital for the smooth workings of society. Good manners and charm are the oil that make the world go round. "Act enthusiastic and you'll be enthusiastic" my mother always intoned to me. And Lord knows, it seems to have served me well all my life.

And yet, what if you feel like the world is out of control, or you are out of control. What can you do?

Wright stops and looks back at the pathology of her illness - looking for clues about how it might have begun, what the triggers might have been. This is not all "Dear Diary" stuff, I hasten to add. Wright informs her reflections with other writing on the topic, scientific, historical and good old literature itself, including writings by Christina Stead, Tim Winton, Dorothy Porter, Carmel Bird and many more. She also analyses the language used by therapists in her treatment - a subject obviously dear to the heart of a wordsmith and a nod to the importance of the "connect" between mind and body.

I won't spoil the book for you by revealing all but here is some of her writing to give you a clue.

"I still want, sometimes, someone or something to take from me the burden of being myself, this burden that I could perhaps only bear, for so many years, through hunger" and "I miss the simplicity of illness sometimes. Because the more acute pain is in trying to get better - and it's a pain that's chronic too - and in stripping away the protection, the insulation, the certainty that my hunger gave me"

Such thought-provoking writing isn't it? I think this would be a great book for book clubs mostly because this is such an important issue - for mothers, for parents, for ourselves as women, for ourselves as members of a society that needs to reflect more on its pathology.

I thank the author for sharing her experience with us, for finding the words for that most difficult of undertakings - self-knowledge - and shining a light for the rest of us who need to unravel our complicated relationship with food; that most basic of needs.

View all my reviews

Monday, December 14, 2015

Book Review: Born to Rule by Paddy Manning

Greetings from steamy Brisvegas! Christmas is just around the corner and I am in denial when it comes to writing cards and buying presents.  What do I do when I’m in denial?  I read. 

Speaking of presents, you could do worse than buy a couple of copies of Born to Rule by Paddy Manning for all those “difficult-to-buy-for” friends and relations who like to bury themselves in a good book whilst trying to digest their Christmas dinner. It was published in late October this year so is still relatively hot off the press.

I leaped at the chance to read another political biography.  The last one I read was probably The Making of Julia Gillard.  I found it fascinating back in 2010 which is such a long time ago, in political terms.  We joke in Australia that it is unfair to ask a newbie to our country or a patient in the Emergency Dept “Who is the Prime Minister?” After all, we’ve had quite a few in the past five years – four to be precise.  Like Julia Gillard, Malcolm Turnbull was not elected by popular vote.  How long will he last, I wonder? 

 This ABC online article asserts there have been no less than 11 Prime Ministers who came to office other than by popular vote.  Malcolm Turnbull is Australia’s 29th Prime Minister.  That’s an average of one in three or even less, yes?  And yet we all get in a bit of a bother about it, as if it is something extraordinary.

I feel obliged to note that this is an un-authorised biography.  Is that a good or a bad thing? I wonder to myself.   I feel slightly naughty reading it.  After all, it might not be true. But, in this day and age of the internet, what does “authorised” mean???  Does it make it any less authentic?  Or does it just mean that Mr Turnbull hasn’t put his imprimatur on it?  And does that matter?  At any rate, I haven’t heard of Paddy Manning being sued yet, so it mustn’t be too bad.  Or maybe Mr Turnbull is a bit too busy running the country to be bothered about such things.  Good.

Yes, of course, I am being facetious.  And yes, this is important to read, don’t you think?  Don’t you want to know who is running the country?  I do. 

Some may find Manning’s structure rather old-fashioned.  It’s very linear for a start.  For an old fashioned girl like me, this is sheer bliss.  Non-linear stories are great for fiction when you are trying to obfuscate the reader (readers are so damn sophisticated these days) but for a country bumpkin like me, who has given up on reading newspapers and nowadays seems to get her news from Facebook (which is appalling but no more appalling than most of this country’s press), this was a refreshing digest of all the significant issues/battles that Turnbull has faced over the years.  There was even a bit of family history thrown in at the beginning which really made my day.  If I think about it I am sure my ancestors came out on the Coromandel too…six degrees of separation and all that.  At any rate, the author's style is rather engrossing and I found that I had polished off the book in a matter of days.

Manning’s credits are exemplary.  He obtained first class Honours in History at Sydney University and has written for, the ABC, The Australian Financial Review, The Australian and The Sydney Morning Herald.  The book is well sourced and there are over twenty pages of notes for those that want to check them.  The acknowledgements in the Malcolm and Me chapter are well worth reading, particularly the reference to Sydney Grammar Archives which provided this reader with a good giggle if not some consternation. 

In closing, I am ashamed to admit how little I knew about Malcolm Turnbull and his many varied careers, causes and contacts over the years.  I shall watch his future with great interest.  Not to mention, that of Paddy Manning.  My thanks again to NetGalley and the Publisher, Melbourne University Publishing for giving me the opportunity to review this book.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Reading Challenges et al

Why did I never get to lie on this in Bali ?  I suspect it might have been a bit uncomfortable anyway.

It's been a while since I posted here - which isn't to say that I've stopped reading...just that my family history blogging has kind of taken over.....

I always mean to join this challenge and receive regulr posts from the group on Goodreads. Looking back at the year's reading I realise that I'm well on the way to the Stella and the Miles goals already...all I need to do is write the reviews - I've certainly read the books !

So here goes....and yes I am aware that these reviews probably leave something to be desired in the way of erudition...I'm going for the gut reaction: short and sharp.  My apologies to those of you looking for something more highbrow or learned.

Five Bells by Gail Jones          ***

We read this for bookclub earlier this year. You can get fantastic sets of 10 books at the library where I work - Moreton Bay Region Library service.  My sister-in-law and I agreed that we so wanted to like this. It started out really well and captured beautifully the excitement of being in Sydney; the glorious harbour, Circular Quay and the thronging masses. The structure of the book uses a device that is fairly commonly these days - several characters seemingly unrelated, eventually connect. In the end, I found the book's characters too introspective and their lives grim. Having said that, some of our bookclub members really liked the book and it resonated with them. But it wasn't for me.

Gallipoli Street   **

This first novel from Mary-Anne O’Connor is destined to be a hit with lovers of romance and family sagas. The evocative cover will also work well in making sure this title is whisked off display stands.

The story begins in the small Australian country community where the Murphy and O’Shay families have created a comfortable and generous life. Neighbours and best friends, Veronica (Vera) and Pattie are on the cusp of womanhood; their mothers desperate to tame their rather wild and unconventional ways and groom them for the duties of home-making and mothering. When the Murphy family arrives in the close-knit Catholic neighbourhood, Vera and Pattie’s brothers are bowled over by the charms of the Murphy’s buxom and seemingly sophisticated daughter, Rose. Rose wastes no time seducing Pattie’s brother Jack, for whom Vera bears an inarticulate and, as yet, unrequited love. The rumble of war guns call in the distance introduce yet more complications into the heady lives of these young people.

This is standard romance fare and would work well as a light holiday read. There are plenty of plot twists to keep the reader entranced and it is refreshing to see a World War I historical novel set on Australian soil.

Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty  *****
Oh dear. Be very careful when reading this book. I made the mistake of picking it up yesterday afternoon...and didn't put it down til 2:30 this morning. "Just one more chapter.." I kept saying to myself. I didn't even wake up to watch the Matildas early. Not good. Bad Alex ;)  This was my review from back in June.  It was my first Liane Moriarty.  I don't know how to describe her genre.  You could call it chicklit but I think that's kind of demeaning or downplaying or not quite representative or what it is.  At first I wanted to call it a comedy of manners because I did spend a lot of time laughing out loud.  But it's also a kind of mystery.  And very contemporary.  So, just because it's on sale at KMart, don't underestimate it's power to enthrall.

First I will declare my conflict of interest. I do not know the author personally but I have been a guest in her mother's house. Her mother is my best buddy's neighbour. There - that's over and done with. My best buddy, Loani, Queen of the Tea Cosies, recommended this book to me yonks ago and our library finally added it to their collection. It was with great excitement that I got to read it earlier this month. 

Lest we Forget is a picture book about Anzac Day aimed at the very young. My first thought was how does one even begin a discussion of what Anzac Day means with the very young? Why would we even want to trouble their tiny minds with the horrors of war? Well that would be forgetting just what tiny minds are capable of - compassion, feeling, emotions, understanding, growth, love - the list goes on. Simply told and simply illustrated, this is a powerful conversation starter. The best kind of story. A story for sharing with the ones you love the most. Well done Kerry! I hope I get to meet you one day in person and tell you how much I loved your book.

17405093    **

Too quiet and contemplative and ethereal for me.  It was a real grind getting through it but perhaps my judgement was clouded by the circumstances in which I found myself.  Stuck in a motel room in Bali and wishing i was home.  This was not an escape for me - instead it dragged me down deeper into a morass of despair.  I'm getting harder to please in my old age. Liked the cover though. That got me in.

17802724  *****

Deeply new favourite author.  I want to say that Liane Moriarty is this generation's Jane Austen - but that would go to her head ;)  And probably isn't strictly speaking quite true.  I truly am in awe of how Liane  captures contemporary society's mores/little obsessions.  Her characters are to a large extent full of self-deprecatory humour but also face real issues.  Liane's work has some of the quality of Jodi Picoult but without the angst/almost salacious quality of that author.  It's hard for me to describe - can you tell?

So there you have it - I've reached Miles status I think - if you can bear short sharp reviews.

My son is studying Australian Literature at UQ this semester....I took a sneak peak at his "text" last night. 

What a treat that was....I felt at the same time conflicting emotions - inordinately proud of being Australian and desperately ashamed of how little I had read. 

I've resolved to lay my hands on the following authors and catch up if I can: 

  1. Delia Falconer - I've ordered Sydney 
  2. Amanda Lohrey - I've ordered Reading Madame Bovary
  3. Olga Masters - I've downloaded Amy's Children
  4. Marjorie Barnard - I've got one of the ones published by Virago The Persimmon Tree and Other Stories which I've been meaning to read for a while since I purchased it from the Lifeline Bookfest last year.
  5. Michelle de Kretser - will I listen to the talking book The Lost Dog or read Questions of Travel?
Have you read any of them?  What did you think?

And then, for those who love non-fiction, just to add grist to the mill,the following were announced:

NSW Premier’s History Awards 2015 shortlists announced

I would like to see/read the following which are a sample of the shortlists:

Australian First World War History Prize (commemorative medallion)

Anzac The Unauthorised Biography 
Anzac: The Unauthorised Biography (Carolyn Holbrook, NewSouth) - you can download it at Moreeton Bay Region Libraries here

Homefront Hostilities
Homefront Hostilities: The First World War and Domestic Violence(Elizabeth Nelson, Australian Scholarly Publishing) - This was a thesis so if you work/study in academia you should be able to get it easily.  I'm really keen to see this when it becomes more readily available.
NSW Community and Regional History Prize ($15,000)

The Luck of the Irish         
The Luck of the Irish: How a Shipload of Convicts Survived the Wreck of the Hive to Make a New Life in Australia (Babette Smith, A&U) - I've ordered it from my local library

Young People’s History Prize ($15,000)

Lennie the Legend
Lennie the Legend: Solo to Sydney by Pony (Stephanie Owen Reeder, NLA Publishing) - this is in my local library so I look forward to seeing it.

My Gallipoli

My Gallipoli (Ruth Starke & Robert Hannaford, (Penguin) - I think I've seen this already but want to have another look now.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Halfway Check In

Caspar looking for books at a good bookstore in Melbourne last year

At the beginning of the year I signed up for some reading challenges - four to be precise (oh and the Good Reads Challenge of 50 books for the year - again):

  1. Australian Women Writer's Challenge
  2. Great War Theme Read
  3. Eclectic Reader Challenge
  4. Non-Fiction Reading Challenge

I am on track with my 50 books for the year (I'm 3 books ahead of schedule on that one - phew!)

But how am I faring with the other challenges?  Huh? Huh?

Well for the first challenge - Australian Women Writers - the goal was to read 10 books by Australian women and review six of them.  One could say that I've just about blitzed this one. Looking at my books, I have read ten books by Australian women this year already.  They are as follows:

  1. My Brother but One by T.M. Clark
  2. Moving Among Strangers by Gabrielle Carey
  3. Madeleine: a life of Madeleine St John by Helen Trinca
  4. The Essence of the Thing by Madeleine St John
  5. The Women in Black by Madeleine St John
  6. Surrender by Sonya Hartnett
  7. Innocence Lost: The Last Man Hanged in Queensland by Jacqueline Craigie
  8. Fatal Impact by Kathryn Fox
  9. You're Still Hot to Me by Jean Kittson
  10. Wild Things by Brigid Delaney
Have I reviewed six of them though?  Well possibly not to the standards set down here.

My reviews tend to be perhaps too short and not analytical enough so I need to do some work here.

My great-grandfather and his brother in France during WW1

The second challenge - Great War Theme Read - has fallen by the wayside.  I wanted to read 5 books and have only read the first one.  Testament of Youth is still sitting beside the bed.  I watched the TV series though. Does that count?  No  - I don't think so.  I need to lift my game here and get on with it.

The third challenge - Eclectic Reader Challenge - isn't doing so badly.  There were 12 goals to fill here and I've highlighted the six I've completed, so I'm on track.

  1. Award Winning - The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt won the Pulitzer Prize 
  2. True Crime (Non Fiction) - Innocence Lost by Jacqueline Craigie
  3. Romantic Comedy 
  4. Alternate History Fiction - I'm going to claim Life after Life by Kate Atkinson for this one
  5. Graphic Novel
  6. Cosy Mystery Fiction
  7. Gothic Fiction
  8. War/Military Fiction - William an Englishman by Cecily Hamilton
  9. Anthology
  10. Medical Thriller Fiction - Fatal Impact by Kathryn Fox 
  11. Travel (Non Fiction)
  12. Published in 2014 - Wild Things by Brigid Delaney

The fourth challenge - Non-Fiction Reading - I was aiming to be a Dilettante reading 1 - 5 books and I think I am pretty much blitzing this one too.
  1. Moving among Strangers by Gabrielle Carey
  2. Madeleine: a Life of Madeleine St John by Helen Trinca
  3. Innocence Lost: The Last Man Hanged in Queensland by Jacqueline Craigie
  4. You're Still Hot to Me by Jean Kittson

And, because I am completely hopeless, I said I would also participate in the Mary Hocking Reading Month because I'd never heard of her and she died this year and my friends in the Virago Group thought a lot of her.  I'm struggling a bit with this one.  I've borrowed three of her books from the library.  I couldn't get into A Particular Place, so I'm going to give The Meeting Place a good go as it's got the most stars on Librarything, although I'm finding it a bit tough too.

So, to re- frame goals for the balance of the year ....
  1. Write those reviews!!
  2. Read four Great War books 
  3. Read one from each of the following genres/groups: Romantic Comedy, Graphic Novel, Cosy Mystery, Gothic Fiction, an Anthology and a Travel book.
  4. Try and finish a Mary Hocking book
How are you going with your goals?

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Australian Women Writer's Challenge

Australian Women Writer's Challenge 2014
Ooh - I've found another challenge to enter!  The Australian Women Writer's Challenge.  I've decided to go for the Franklin Level.  My goal will be to read 10 books by Australian women and review 6 of them.

Of the nine books I have already read this year, four have been by Australian women.  Woo hoo!  I think I'm doing okay so far.  Now I just have to write the reviews, yes?

I have read:

The Essence of the Thing by Madeleine St John

The Essence of the Thing by Madeleine St John

Madeleine by Helen Trinca

That was prompted by reading Madeleine by Helen Trinca.

I have also read

Moving Among Strangers by Gabrielle Carey

Moving Among Strangers by Gabrielle Carey 


My Brother-But-One by T.M. Clark

My Brother But One by T.M. Clark

I aim to try and read as many of the books longlisted for The Stella prize as possible.  And I'd like to read the rest of Madeleine St John.

Luckily I have already read:

Burial Rites

Burial Rites by Hannah Kent


Boy, Lost

Boy Lost by Kristina Olsson

Have you read any Australian women authors lately?

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Reading Challenges for 2014

Secret Santa gift from the lovely Simon at Stuck-in-a-Book

A belated Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you all from a stinking hot Brisbane.

How was your Silly Season?

Was it full of books and lots of lovely reading?

I reached my goal of reading 50 books last year for the first time - hoorah!

This year I will try and do the same but mix it up a bit with a few reading challenges.

My first reading challenge is one I've joined on Librarything through the Virago Group.

For that I hope to read the following:

  1. William an Englishman by Cecily Hamilton
 William : an Englishman by Cicely Hamilton

    2.   One of Ours by Willa Cather

One of Ours (Virago Modern Classics) by…

   3.   Testament of Youth by Vera Brittain

Testament of Youth by Vera Brittain

   4.   Not so quiet by Helen Zenna Smith

Not So Quiet...: Step-Daughters of War by…

   5.   The Return of the Soldier by Rebecca West

The Return of the Soldier by Rebecca West

I have also signed up for the Eclectic Reader Challenge


I am really looking forward to this as I need to broaden my reading particularly for the work I do in a public library.  These are the books/genres I hope to read:

  1. Award Winning - I'll seek my inspiration from this website and given that I have just discovered Penelope Fitzgerald, I reckon I'll read Offshore for this one.
Offshore by Penelope Fitzgerald

2. True Crime (Non Fiction) - well I do have The Gatton Murders by Stephanie Bennett  by my bed or The Baby Farmers by Annie Cossins or Three Crooked Kings by Matt Condon, so I think that's that covered off

Cover - Link opens in a new windowCover - Link opens in a new windowThree crooked kings : Terry Lewis, the rat…

3. Romantic Comedy - I'm a bit non-plussed about this - want to give me a suggestion?  Otherwise I'll be heading for Can You Keep a Secret? by Sophie Kinsella

Cover - Link opens in a new window

4. Alternate History Fiction - Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke appeals to me

Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susanna…

5. Graphic Novel - I suspect this will be like eating dry All Bran for Me - I'm choosing Watchmen 

Watchmen by Alan Moore

6.  Cosy Mystery Fiction - unless you have a better suggestion (and I am all ears, really I am) I will plump for Agatha Raisin and the Quiche of Death by MC Beaton I suppose.

Agatha Raisin and the Quiche of Death by M.…

7.  Gothic Fiction - I'm ashamed to say that I have never read Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier so that's a definite

Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier

8.  War/Military Fiction - see my first reading challenge ! ;0

9. Anthology - this is kind of curious.  I looked on Goodreads Listopia and Forever Friends by Shelagh Watkins was top of the list so I guess I'll give it a go!

Forever Friends by Shelagh Watkins

10 Medical Thriller Fiction - hmmm I'd appreciate a bit of advice on this category too otherwise I'll plump for Michael Crichton's Andromeda Strain

The Andromeda Strain by Michael Crichton

11 Travel (Non Fiction) - I feel guilty that I've never read Bill Bryson so I think I'll choose 
A Walk in the Woods

A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America…

12 Published in 2014- ummmm well it's only 4 January but I can tell you now it will be one of the ones nominated for the Booker Prize that was published this year.

And just when you thought I was third reading challenge will be the 

I'm aiming low - Dilettante level 1-5 books.  I've got two covered already in my eclectic reader challenge: travel and true crime.  I guess I'd like to read history, biography and genealogy as well.  But perhaps knitting will get a look in too.  Or social media or library stuff.  Lots of room for thought there.

What about you?  What reading challenges are you hoping to achieve this year?