Sunday, December 18, 2016

2017 Australian Women Writers Challenge

Just to say that yes I have signed up for the AWW 2017 challenge.  You can too, if you are interested in reading more books by Austraian women writers.  Just click here.

I think the addition of reviewing classic as well as contemporary books is great.

I have set an overall goal of 15 books - reasonably achievable given that I read 14 this year.

Of those 15, I have set a goal of reading 3-5 classic books and would like to combine that with my love of Virago Modern Classics.  These are the ones that have taken my fancy so far:

Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow

The Roaring Nineties

Painted Clay

Bobbin Up

I wonder how I'll go.

What guides my choices?  Prizes sometimes such as the Premier's or Prime Minister's Awards and the Book Industry Awards. Sometimes I'll see a review in the Good Reading magazine that takes my fancy.

I like to make myself read outside my normal range and explore crime, children's and young adult to name a few.

I wonder what treats 2017 will bring.

Australian Women Writers' Challenge 2016 - Challenge Completed

I always like to set goals at the beginning of the New Year - particularly with regard to health and reading.  I've met a few challenges this year walking wise with the aid of my beautiful hound Arwen.  

With regards to reading, one of  my favourite goals is the Australian Women Writers Challenge.  

I hoped to read 10 books this year and write 5 reviews for them.  I think I may have fallen short of my goal in the reading department. And while I'm pretty sure I met the writing reviews goal, I confess that some of my reviews are on the short side.  

Here's my year in reading AWW.


The House of Memories by Monica McInerney

I didn't really write a review for this.  This was what I said at the beginning "Oh now this is a nice easy read and not predictable...well not yet anyway..."...I remember being a bit cross with the lead character by the end...she was so unforgiving and I think the other characters (step-brother from memory???) went to a lot of trouble over her and I wondered if that would happen in real life....anyway....not a stand out book for me but not unbearable.


Small Acts of Disappearance by Fiona Wright

Link to my review on Goodreads.


Lady Helen and the Dark Days Club by Alison Goodman

Link to my review on Goodreads


Violent Exposure (Detective Ella Marconi #4)

Link to my review on Goodreads


Suri's Wall

Link to my review on Goodreads



Link to my review on Goodreads


The Promise Seed

Link to my review on Goodreads


Between a Wolf and a Dog

Link to my review on Goodreads



Link to my review on Goodreads


Hades (Archer & Bennett, #1)

Link to my review on Goodreads

Oh my goodness!  Look at that !  I met my goal in terms of reading!  In fact...I exceeded it!

Here's a gratuitous photo of me on a glacier taken by my father earlier this year on a fabulous holiday.  I looked pretty pleased with myself don't I?


A Few Days in the Country: And Other Stories

Link to my review on Goodreads


Everywhere I Look

I'm not going to link to my review on Good Reads because it is ridiculously short.  It's a one-word review- and the word is???? Wonderful!  

Oh and when I first started reading it, I logged the comment - God it's great to be reading a good book.  

I have to say that I am in love with Helen Garner's writing.  I didn't think much of The Spare Room but I have gobbled up everything I have read of hers since.


Not Just Black and White

Link to my review on Goodreads


Joe Cinque's Consolation, A True Story of Death, Grief and the Law

Link to my review on Goodreads

So that's my year in reading.  I really stepped outside my normal reading boundaries.  I read my first graphic novel. I read a supernatural YA regency novel.  I read crime. I read short stories. I read essays.  I had never read 11/13 authors before.

Did I have a favourite?  Oh this is so hard - Fiona Wright's work is so so smart, so insightful, so thoughtful - I am in awe of her self-knowledge.  And then I really loved Not just black and white - what a story! And what a wonderful tribute to the relationship between mother and daughter - powerful stuff.  But Helen Garner's Joe Cinque's Consolation takes the cake for me because it is ultimately a work of love - beautifully constructed, from the heart, seeking the truth and revealing love. Just beautiful.

Thank you AWW Challenge for taking me beyond my normal reading boundaries and for introducing me to so many good authors.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

I could have kissed her except...

The dog and I went for a walk this morning.  We didn't go yesterday.  I was weak and feeling sorry for myself after a late night.  So we definitely had to go this morning. Definitely. Because, despite walking a little bit later in the day with friends.....

They led me into temptation to a very good gelato shop where self-control took a rapid dive into self-indulge....

No I didn't eat both tubs, silly, but I did eat the larger tub. So we definitely had to walk.

Only thing was that, from the minute we stepped out the front door, with me desperately trying to shush an over-excited 6 year old dog, yelping for all her worth like I was belting her instead of taking her for a walk, I was set upon by some very enthusiastic bush flies.

"Shoo" I cried, waving my arms around my head.  

And then I kept waving my arms around my head for the next 2.8 kilometres.  

After 1k I found a handy branch of leaves which had fallen on the footpath so I fanned myself with that.  "Shoo!".  To no avail.  They were stuck to me like glue.  

I was beginning to feel a lot like Pig Pen in the Charlie Brown cartoon.  How embarrassing.  Did I really smell that bad?  What on earth was attracting them?  

"I should never have let the dog lick me this morning."  I thought to myself  "Or maybe it was the last dregs of the sample pack eye makeup remover that I used to remove my owl eyes after wearing mascara the night before."  

"Oh well" I thought "At least my arms are getting a workout too."

But then I started to get really cross.  I don't know about you, but when I get going on my morning walk, I do tend to breathe through my mouth, rather than my nose.  But this morning I had to keep my lips firmly shut.  Aussie bush flies enjoy buzzing right past your ear or landing on your nose!...lips firmly shut.

The dog, and I slogged on.  Arwen seemed to be going faster and faster.  Perhaps the flies were annoying her too or was it the promise of the descent down Mukurta Street where sometimes, foolishly, I joined her in a run downhill.  As we hesitated to cross the street, a woman came up the hill towards us.

"Are the bush flies really bad this morning?" she shouted at us.

Honestly, I could have kissed her except....we don't know each other at all...and those wretched bush flies would have got in on the act too.

"C'mon Arwen" I said "Let's out-run them." 

P.S. And we're over-run with butterflies too apparently. 

Monday, October 31, 2016

#AWW2016 Bingo Challenge

Ouf - well the challenge was set quite a while ago and I don't seem to have done too well.  At first I thought I would be able to complete Bingo Card 1:

A book with a mystery - Peter May's The Lewis Man

A book by an indigenous author - um not sure if The Vegetarian by Han Kang qualifies really

A book set in the outback - hmmmm

A book by someone under thirty - oh dear

FREE SQUARE - Small Acts of Disappearance by Fiona Wright

A short story collection - A few Days in the County and other stories by Elizabeth Harrower

A book that's more than 10 years old - Lolly Willowes by Sylvia Townsend Warner

A bestseller - The Japanese Lover by Isabel Allende

A book published this year - Murder on the Serpentine by Anne Perry

So no Bingo on Card 1 I'm afraid...

Let's try Card Two

A book set in your favourite town or city - Hades by Candice Fox

A funny book - Me Teddy by Chris McKimmie 

The first book by a favourite author - The Promise Seed by Cass Moriarty

A forgotten classic - The Eye of Love by Margery Sharp

Free Square - High Rising by Angela Thirkell

A book with poems - well I did buy a book of poems in Canberra in April and I've been meaning to read it but that doesn't count does it - but just in case you are interested it is Rosemary Dobson Collected.

A book you heard about online - Between a Wolf and a Dog by Georgia Blain

A book by someone of a different ethnicity to you - The Vegetarian by Han Kang

A book of non-fiction - The Radium Girls by Kate Moore

So almost Bingo Card Two but not quite.

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.