Recent Acquisitions (The Friends’ Recommendations Edition)

The Wind-up Bird Chronicle, by Haruki Murakami

Turns out the guy who recommended Murakami for Book Club was right – Norwegian Wood is much better than Sputnik Sweetheart (thank goodness), and my review of it will be up soon. I’ve already been recommended another one by him, in fact – The Wind-up Bird Chronicle. A reasonably hefty book, I don’t think I can even try to explain it – and apparently that’s beside the point, anyway. Better not to question it and simply be carried away by Murakami’s brand of magical realism. Oh, how I love magical realism.

River of Smoke, by Amitav Ghosh

This author has the most beautiful covers on his books! Looking at this reminds me a little of The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet cover, which is not so surprising, considering both stories are set in Asia and involve sea voyages! An historical epic novel about the opium trade that is the second in the Ibis Trilogy (Sea of Poppies being the first). It all sounds incredibly glamorous, shipping and exchanging tea and silks from all sorts of exotic places. I don’t know much about the opium trade part of history, but I’m looking forward to learning.

American Tabloid, by James EllroyWhat on earth am I doing reading a crime novel, I hear you ask. I don’t quite know, exactly. I’ve just been told it’s a great way to nosedive into the crime genre, and I wouldn’t mind the chance to be more well-rounded in my reading. American Tabloid is a gritty, ruthless account of the glory days of America – the reign of John F. Kennedy leading up to his assassination in 1963, complete with a myriad of mob killings, extra-marital relations and underground conspiracies. Sounds delicious, don’t you think?

An Instance of the Fingerpost, by Iain Pears

An Instance of the Fingerpost has often been compared to Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose.. Since I haven’t read either, I am not sure the comparison makes much of a difference to me, except I know I’m meant to be impressed. Set in the 1600s, a man dies under suspicious circumstances and the story turns into something of a whodunit, involving four unusual characters who each identify their version of the events. Yet only one will reveal the strange truth. Ooooh, mysterious.

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Have you read, or are you planning to read, any of the above books?

Binge-Reading

I’m reading seven (yes, SEVEN) books at the moment. It’s no better than a tragedy. I am shameless – I’m putting down one book for a moment only to rip into another book the next. I’m carrying a different one in my handbag on the bus and leaving it in my drawer at work so I can buy another one before I get home. I’m hoarding, over-indulging and bulging with stories and characters and genres and plots.

I’ve taken some time out this morning to ponder why I’m binge-reading so badly. And I’ve thought of a few reasons as to why this might be.

Number one contributor to my book-binging on a normal day is other book reviewers. I read many, many wonderful book blogs, but the one I look forward to the most is Books on the Nightstand. I know I’ve discussed a bit about them before – but my love for them needs to be discussed again, in the hopes that you can learn to love them, too. An American book blog hosted by two people who work in the publishing industry (Ann Kingman and Michael Kindness), Books on the Nightstand posts weekly on the up-and-coming ‘two books we can’t wait for you to read’. The site has become so popular since its launch that it has mugs, t-shirts and bags, and even hosts an annual writers’/readers’ retreat. Their most recent rave is The Last Werewolf, by Glen Duncan, which is becoming very hard for me not to buy – particularly when the hardcover version’s pages are lined with a beautiful blood-red (or so Ann would have me believe).

Very True Blood, don’t you think?

But we’re getting off the main topic here. Maybe the real reason my binge-reading has gone beyond ‘cute and quirky’ into the realm of ‘this-girl-needs-serious-help-or-we’re-going-to-lose-her’ is the loss of Borders bookstore. Writing for an Australian online bookstore blog, it might seem strange and slightly controversial to Boomerang Books’ marketing strategy to be talking about a tanker of a competitor, but as Borders has been so central to my reading experience for many years I feel compelled to talk about how I’ve been affected by the fall of such a giant in the commercial bookworld.

Borders, in all its red glory, was a haven away from the world of Brisbane when I first moved there. I didn’t know many people, and work was giving me a bit of a hard time. So after a long, difficult day, rather than catch the bus home straight away for a few measly hours of mind-numbing television, I’d head down to Borders to enjoy a white hot chocolate and peruse the shelves: my personal brand of meditation. I don’t pretend to like the fact that eBooks are in existence, and I feel that their invention is to blame for what happened. I’m going to try not to be bitter about it all, but walking into our local Borders store the other day and seeing the shelves stripped of books and the backs of the rooms being packed up made it very difficult not to cry.

I don’t know how long it will take before I feel ready to forgive the world for eBooks and the impact they’ve had on paperbacks. But I’m going to try and move on, by reading one (paper) book at a time and trying to rid myself of binge-reading once and for all. Heck, maybe one of these days I’ll even bring myself to buy an eReader. But for now, I need time to grieve.

Goodbye, Borders. You fed my habit of book-bingeing for a large part of my life, and I’ll always remember our time together fondly.

Rest in peace.

***

Do you ever binge-read? What are your reasons for doing so?

Bluebeard

Isn’t it absolutely despicable when someone promises something and then doesn’t deliver on that promise? Like how I said that Sundays would be reserved for fairytale-themed posts, and then haven’t posted on fairytales on Sundays since.

So I thought I’d start making it up to you, today, by letting you into the secret room of what is possibly my all-time favourite fairytale: Bluebeard.

What is it that attracts me to such a bloody, gory story? Truth is, I like blood and gore in fairytales, just as I like it in Shakespeare (Titus Andronicus) and Greek plays (The Bacchae). There’s just something about a tasteful bucket of blood over a white dress, or a head hanging artfully by its hinges, or the comic tragedy of a child cooked in a pie and served to you for eating. I’m sick, I know. But I’m not the only one.

Bluebeard, the original edition attributed to French fairytale master, Charles Perrault, is the story of a wealthy aristocrat with an ugly blue beard, whose previous marriages are shrouded in mystery. His wives have all disappeared and as a result, the local girls avoid him, lest they themselves be entrapped as Bluebeard’s next wife and suffer the same mysterious fate. Eventually, he is able to convince a young woman to take the plunge, and soon after the wedding Bluebeard presents his new wife with a number of keys for her to explore their extensive home, and one single key for a room which she is never to open. Curiosity, of course, gets the better of the wife and she finds herself inside the room staring into the dead faces of Bluebeard’s previous wives, hanging by hooks on the walls…

So what does the story of Bluebeard signify, if anything? Bluebeard, like most traditional fairytales, has its origins rumoured to be reality. A number of possibilities present themselves – kings, noblemen, serial killers from a century or two earlier. One can’t help but see the connection to all those other famous ‘curiosity-killed-the-cat’ stories, where females are told not to do a certain act and can’t help themselves, gaining knowledge and understanding but paying the price. Unlike Pandora or Eve, however, Perrault’s outcome symbolises an entirely positive female revenge – Bluebeard’s wife and her sister foil his murderous plan, and receive wealth and romantic love as an extra bonus.

In fact, Bluebeard, held to the light, paints a dark picture for males rather than females; any man who might have had a past before marriage and wishes not to speak of it. Traditionally it is the female who often must be seen as the virgin with an unstained past, but the story of Bluebeard heralds a cultural flip-side: the man is at judgment here, and once the reader has confirmed their suspicions that he is a horrible beast, one feels satisfied when he receives his just deserts. This is not the only time gender expectations in marriage are turned on their head – Mr Rochester from Jane Eyre is arguably a Bluebeard himself (though Rochester fans will vehemently deny this interpretation of his actions, I am sure).

For a child born in 1980s, not the 1600s – 1700s where Perrault first contributed to the new literary genre known as the fairytale, nothing was more terrifying (and more exciting) than the story about the bearded dude who liked to polish off his wives. The fact that this particular story continues to horrify and mystify makes Bluebeard the perfect example of our timeless human curiosity, and people’s often unspoken fetish for the macabre.

A Super Sad True Love Story

I promised myself that after reading the desolate, desolate Oryx and Crake, I would turn my thoughts to dystopian novels that are more reasonable. Whatever that means. Super Sad True Love Story seemed like one such ‘reasonable’ dystopian, but in retrospect it has affected me just as much as Atwood’s, though not in entirely the same manner.

I feel it’s important to note that this was my first pick for our newly-fledged book club. To date, we’ve read fiction: I Am Legend, The Elegance of the Hedgehog, and now Super Sad True Love Story. Next time, we’ll be subjected to some non-fiction with Novella Carpenter’s Farm City: The Education of an Urban Farmer (what an awesome name for an author, huh? Novella). We’ve all chosen books so far that we haven’t read ourselves – though since our regular members are limited to about five or six, it shouldn’t be too long before my turn comes around again and I’ll choose a book that I’ve read and loved. I’m pleased, however, that I went outside my comfort zone with this unusual piece of fiction.

Even though Super Sad True Love Story is a dystopian in that it’s set in a distinctly unfavourable future, it’s also a lot more than that. Lenny Abramov is a cringeworthy nerd, son of Russian immigrants, who falls impossibly in love with one beautiful, young Eunice Park. Reading Lenny through his dairy entries and Eunice through her chatroom-style messages to friends and loved ones, I can’t help but think of that old saying by Charlie Chaplin: “life is a tragedy when seen in close-up, but a comedy in long-shot.”

There are some absolute gems scattered throughout the novel – Shteyngart has this incredible ‘speed-style’ way with words, like he’s knocked back a few too many Red Bulls, and yet it feeds so well into the whole fast-paced future thing that the prose will be loved by literature lovers and sci fi fans alike. Shteyngart’s imagination makes the radical seem possible, and even comfortable: I found myself borrowing phrases for my facebook messages to friends, and attempting to visualise what on earth the all-the-rage ‘onionskin’ jeans would look like (if anything at all).

As for the love story part, it’s there, but it’s certainly not traditional. Lenny’s love for Eunice is a little lopsided – Eunice takes a while to warm to his embarrassingly low ‘hotness rating’, his ridiculous contentedness with growing old, and his penchant for reading those smelly old things called ‘books’ – but the love story is beautiful, indeed both supersad and supertrue, and also kind of hilarious. I’m not one to laugh in books, but one morning reading this on the bus to work – the only seat left being that horrid two-seater that faces the back of the bus so everyone can watch your nose run in winter once the bus heater cranks up – I laughed out loud, and didn’t care for once who was watching.

Super Sad True Love Story is not an entirely easy read – mainly due to its length and its strange habit of going off on seemingly-unrelated tangents, but it is a worthy one. Tell me if you don’t laugh at least three times while reading it. Especially during the sad parts.

Thoughts on: The Elegance of the Hedgehog, by Muriel Barbery

The Elegance of the Hedgehog is one of those literary phenomenons. You know the ones – plucked from relative obscurity, a story that doesn’t seem like it would appeal to the masses somehow does, and before you know it millions of copies are sold and book clubs everywhere are discussing it and your friend tells you it’s a must-read.

Well, The Elegance of the Hedgehog finally made it onto my book club’s agenda.

Translated into English from its native French, The Elegance of the Hedgehog involves the thoughts and movements of two characters, the first being Renee – a Paris apartments concierge, and the second being Paloma, an adolescent who contemplates the correct frame of mind in which to commit suicide. Her family resides in the apartments at which Renee works.

Our book club had a fairly heated discussion about the novel once we had all finished it, fuelled by wine and tapas at our local haunt. People were of similar opinion – they liked it – up to a point (well, one person hated it and didn’t mind saying so), but overall found it to be a – dare I say it –pretentious read.

The idea of the novel appears to be that the two are largely ignored by the world, but that they are clearly very intelligent and can do such things as ‘appreciate art’, while the rest of the guests and staff at the apartment appear to see them as below the station befitting their intelligence. Paloma’s perspective is distinguished from Renee’s because it takes the form of diary entries with ‘Profound Thoughts’ as titles…but otherwise I couldn’t tell the voices apart. And I wasn’t the only one at book club to have this problem. There are some humorous depictions of fellow guests, but largely the book seems to hinge on addressing the importance of these two characters and their recognition of supreme intelligence in each other. Renee, the book tells us, is the hedgehog, with a refinement belying her external prickles. But i tired early on of being told who was refined and who was not, and found the characters strangely typed, rather than multi-dimensional beings with which I could experience a connection.

While I am glad I read it (it’s so annoying when you’re the last person in the world to read something and so your opinion about unread book means diddley squat), I also didn’t find it a particularly enjoyable read. I would much rather a book that is simple and says what it means to say, than a book that appears intelligent, but allows the message to degenerate into froth and puffery. You can decide for yourself which category The Elegance of the Hedgehog falls into.

***
Year of Publication: 2008.
Number of Pages: 336.
Book Challenges: None.

Under Pressure

Pressure
Pressing down on me
Pressing down on you

Wherever you have the opportunity to quote something by the immortal David Bowie, do. Freddie Mercury? Ditto.
The reason I’ve started this post with song lyrics (accompanying a tune which is now stuck in your head, most probably), is that I’m feeling – you guessed it – under pressure. Through no one’s fault but my own. And a particular book’s.

My first introduction to Haruki Murakami happened in high school. A friend recommended me Sputnik Sweetheart to read, saying I would love it – I don’t think I was wise enough to truly appreciate the talent that went hand-in-hand with the weirdness of Murukami’s magic realism bent. It was nothing less than a test of our friendship. A friendship which would surely crumble if I did nothing less than love every inch of the Sputnik Sweetheart‘s strange skin. Although I now count magic realism as my favourite literary style to soak in, all I can remember about that first taste of Murakami is the awkwardness of expectation. Expectation not only from my friend, but an expectation from myself that if he liked the book, then I should, no, I must love the book just as much. The characters of Sputnik Sweetheart to my current mind are hazy at best, the storyline non-existent. I’m sure that somewhere in the universe is my parallel self, enjoying the language and the atmosphere of Sputnik Sweetheart without any of the agonies of expectation I have in this world – but unfortunately it’s this world my current self lives in – I had to tell my friend that I didn’t think the book was anything special. Not in those words, of course. I must have sugarcoated it to save feelings. But friends know when you’re not telling the full truth, anyhow.

Since then, I’ve managed to avoid another Murakami book for close to ten years. Up until a few weeks ago, that is.

Murakami must have it in for me.

A friend has chosen Norwegian Wood as his pick for book club. Thus far, each book choice has been unread by the party who chose it. But Norwegian Wood is one of his favourite.books.ever. I respect the guy – and think we’re similar in tastes. Let’s face it, I admire him. His type of intelligence has a certain air of sophistication that I struggle to emulate. And so I’m afraid to read Norwegian Wood, lest I’m found to be a fraud – someone unable to appreciate the beauty of real literature.

The weight of the world is on my shoulders, my friends. I really hope I like this book!

***

Do you ever feel under pressure to like a book?

Recent Acquisitions (The Shipwrecked Edition)

Is there anything that screams danger and adventure in books more than a journey by ocean?

For my birthday recently, my best bud contributed to my growing Penguin collection, by presenting me with The Odyssey, by Homer. As you can see by the picture to our left, the cover is gorgeously patterned waves of aqua against a forbidding sea-green cloth background, as only Coralie Bickford-Smith knows how to do. It’s been one of my favourites of the Penguin collection so far, and has only recently been trumped by the new version of Bram Stoker’s Dracula (have you seen it?).

I confess, however, that this isn’t the first time that I’ve been dreaming of the salt-spray hitting my face, sails flapping above me, albatrosses circling ever closer. Despite its best efforts, my very pretty new gift of one of the most classic sea journeys ever did not completely satisfy my cravings for the sea air. So I’ve turned to other reads, in the hope that I will be cured of ocean-lust for at least a few months…until it’s warm enough to brave the beach on the coast again.

Beauty Queens, by Libba Bray
I’ve raved enough in the past about Libba Bray’s wonderfully-realised Gemma Doyle trilogy, but this is a true departure from the Victorian boarding school witchcraft I’ve come to love and expect from the author. Beauty Queens, released this month, is the story of pageant contestants who are stranded on a desert island after their plane takes a dive. A satirical take on the whole Lost / Lord of the Flies tale of psychological survival, Beauty Queens doesn’t appear to sugarcoat the beauty queen stereotype – I’m expecting a book where we laugh at the characters’ expense, often. From early blog reports, Beauty Queens is a book you’ll either love, or you just won’t get. I’m interested to see which group I’ll be part of once I sit down to have a read of it. And at the very least, I am a huge fan of the cover (are lipstick bullets not the best invention ever?).

Jamrach’s Managerie, by Carol Birch
Ah, Jamrach’s Managerie. I’m expecting beautiful prose, and a fantastical story of Jaffy the Zookeeper’s assistant, saved from the jaws of a Bengal tiger and sailing the high seas, a story infused with a bit of real-life history too. Not recommended for those with a weak sea-sick-prone stomach, I’ve heard Birch talk of how she was not particularly happy to hear so many readers felt nauseous from the realistic descriptions contained within the novel, but she did like that it moved her readers. I hope it moves me, too – even to cradling the toilet bowl.

Leviathan, by Philip Hoare
Finally, we have Leviathan. Alternately titled The Whale, Philip Hoare explores the wonderful and wacky world of this majestic sea creature. Fascinated by the story of Moby Dick , the author sees the parallels between that classic fictional adventure and the journey of the modern whale, and its strange and often arduous relationship with man.

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Have you read, or are planning to read any of these books? What books have you got to read next on your nightstand?

Sundays are for Fairytales

I reserve Sundays for fairytale reading. Whether it’s a traditional Grimms’, or a new adaptation of a known tale, there’s nothing better than curling up with a hot chocolate and a cupcake in your favourite chair, and following that breadcrumbed path through the woods, and out into another world. And I figure – since I always end up relaxing with them on the weekends – why not share my Fairytale-filled Sundays with the rest of you? Who knows, we might start a phenomenon.

So from now on, every Sunday, expect a fairytale-related post on Poisoned Apples and Smoking Caterpillars. And if you have any suggestions for future posts, or fairytale-related things you’d like me to read, please let me know in the comments.

To kick us off on this fairytale frenzy, I’d like to discuss Beastly, by Alex Flinn. I haven’t actually had the expected pleasure of reading the book, but before any Beastly fans out there protest too loudly, I have recently seen the film version. I’m the first one to say that films and books do not compare – much of the time (in my opinion) film adaptations do not do the book justice. More rarely, sometimes the film adaptation actually does the book more justice than it deserves. For today, I’m just going to pick up on the themes that were interesting, and if I refer to anything that is changed – or not even present – in the book, well – you can politely ignore it.

The story of Beastly borrows the story of Beauty and the Beast and places it in a modern context. Kyle is the most-sought after boy at school, but he knows it. After humiliating a fellow student (who happens to be a witch), the girl seeks her revenge on Kyle by making him ugly in appearance, to reflect his ugliness inside. He has one year, so the spell goes, to make someone love him for who he really is, or else he stays ugly forever. Taking the opportunity to save a maiden in distress from a dangerous situation, beautiful fellow teen Lindy is put under house arrest and forced to interact with the shame-faced Kyle. And you can guess what happens from there…

Despite its many adaptations, I found Beastly to be a surprisingly refreshing spin on the traditional tale. But it is perhaps even more surprising how apt the story is to current-day teen relationships. The need to be accepted is at no age more prominent than during the teen years, and it evokes the right amount of sympathy for Kyle (who truly is a horror at the beginning of the story). We’ve all seen how popularity can turn people’s heads, and most of us have at some stage experienced what it’s like to be an outsider craving to be an insider, as well. I was impressed that the story appeared to be from the male point of view as well – because Lindy (Belle) by herself would have been a little weak, and we would have missed out on all that teen anguish and transformation that works so well through Kyle.

All in all, I’m looking forward to seeing how true the film stayed to the book, because the film wasn’t too bad at all.

Have you read or seen Beastly?

Dystopian Depression

I’m reading Oryx and Crake at the moment. Margaret Atwood is quite possibly in my top 5 favourite authors of all time (I count The Blind Assassin as my most cherished of her works so far, though I have the highest admiration for The Handmaid’s Tale and will be reading The Robber Bride next), but I am feeling thoroughly depressed by this latest grim dystopian.

That’s not to say that the book isn’t excellent and wonderful and thought-provoking and possibly brilliant (I haven’t finished it so I can’t say for sure just yet).

But.

Riding on the bus to work last week, I was overcome with a melancholy sadness. Nothing out of the ordinary was happening in my life, so by my powerful and incredibly accurate method of deduction I realised it could only have been one of two things: Lady Gaga’s Judas warbling in my ear (dang it, that’s one catchy tune), or the book open before me, distorting my day with a future that seems to have already happened. It swiftly became clear: it was the book that was turning my mood sour.

And I’m left wondering: Is Oryx and Crake a little too close for comfort? Is there such a thing as too much dystopia in one’s daily life?

Maybe there is, when every day seems to bring a new natural disaster occurring somewhere in the world. Maybe there is, in places like Canberra, where mornings in Civic are icy and people turn the collars up on their coats to shut the wind – and you – out. Maybe there is, when a figurehead of ‘holy war’ is killed, and the Western public can’t trust their own government…the world is sad right now. Maybe sadder than ever.

I think I’ve missed a glaringly obvious reason as to why I enjoy dystopias so much in the first place. Not only do dystopians serve as a red alert about what ‘might happen’ if we keep doing things a certain way, they also are a comfort in that they haven’t happened yet. Not so comforting when you feel like it’s only a matter of time before your country is the next natural disaster zone (apologies for being so depressing – but this book was clearly poor timing)!

I think it’s safe to say that Oryx and Crake was – like milk – ‘a bad choice’. I’ll still read it through to the end, because quite frankly a depressing dystopian by Margaret Atwood is worth 100 frothy books by lesser writers. But if I’m expecting to ever be able to read a dystopian again, I need to be a little more cautious about what I read and when. The First Tuesday Book Club has suggested two books on my current to-be-read list, one which I will be reading for my own personal book club: Super Sad True Love Story, by Gary Shteyngart. The other is that terrible beauty Blood Meridian, by Cormac McCarthy.

They seem to be completely different books from each other, but I’ve heard they’re dystopian-depressing, in their own way. Super Sad True Love Story is a future where books are pretty much non-existent (depressing), while Blood Meridian is considered Western dystopian, set 100 years ago, and somehow involves the Devil (depressing, and freaky).

So yeah. I will read them both soon, but maybe Blood Meridian can wait until I’ve had at least an hour of cuddling my two pugs. It’s hard to stay mad at the world after hugging a puppy, don’t you agree?

Did Not Finish: Madame Tussaud, by Michelle Moran

I tried.

I really did.

Remember how I said in this post that I was 99% sure Michelle Moran would handle writing a book on the French Revolution with ease? Well, I must have had a premonition to leave out that remaining 1%, because unfortunately, this read did not live up to expectation.

I have been following Moran’s blog since she first began researching Madame Tussaud as a novel, but back then it was just sketchy details, and I doubt she had thought of writing the book from Madame Tussaud’s perspective at that point. But whichever point it was that Michelle Moran decided to be revolutionary herself, and write the book from a new, fresh perspective – I wish she’d thought it through a bit further. What became clear to me reading a third of this book (I drifted off finally at page 157 after several attempts to read through to the end) is that there is a reason authors haven’t naturally caught on to Madame Tussaud’s point of view – she’s just not interesting or likeable enough to carry a story.

I don’t think that was the only problem. To enhance my point – there was not enough character development from any angle – the number of notable and colourful characters during the French Revolution would be overwhelming at the best of times, but I felt particularly removed from them because they weren’t fleshed out enough. I hesitate to make judgment on Moran’s artistic ability – she may well have some – but I felt her descriptions of Madame Tussaud measuring and drawing her waxwork models to be tiresome, almost passionless. Present tense language was also distracting and somehow unsophisticated, regurgitating historical facts rather than heralding any true insight into the era.

Let’s face it – Moran wasn’t employing her usual flair that I had so admired with Nefertiti, The Heretic Queen, and, to a lesser extent but still impressive enough, Cleopatra’s Daughter. This book felt like a particularly onerous history lesson where the teacher is not even sure what they think of the subject matter. I couldn’t muster an interest for the book, knowing that there are a ton more immersive books out there on the shadows of Marie Antoinette’s reign and the French Revolution. At page 157 I was forced to relinquish my love of everything Moran. I can only hope the author learns from the mistakes she made with this novel, so I can learn to love her again.

***
Disclosure: Bought.
Number of Pages: 440.
Year of Publication: 2011.
Book Challenges: Historical Fiction Reading Challenge 2011.

The Latest Penguin Masterpieces

I follow the Penguin Publishers tribe of deliciously-bound books – and when a new one is released, I get a little bit giddy. Can you really blame me?

We’ve already marveled over the Coralie Bickford-Smith clothbound covers, the 75 year special releases, and I think these new ones will sell particularly well with the current resurgence in needlecraft, knitting and tea-drinking… introducing the three Penguin Threads books: Emma, by Jane Austen; The Secret Garden, by Frances Hodgson Burnett; and Black Beauty, by Anna Sewell.

Aren’t they choke-on-your-biscuit breathtaking?


Jillian Tamaki is the avant garde genius behind these incredibly clever, intricate, masterful artworks.

While we can only dream of coveting actual embroidered books, which Jillian Tamaki herself is cynical about: “I’m not really sure how that would be possible without making the final product exorbitantly expensive”, they will, she says, be “tactile objects”. Displaying a special embossed surface, these literary wonders will mirror the feel of actual embroidery.

My fingers are itching.

Despite being new to the embroidery artworld, which she says she has taken up in an “enthusiastic yet clumsy way”, Jillian Tamaki as an illustrator and author has been anything but an overnight sensation. She has two books published: Gilded Lilies and Indoor Voice, and a graphic novel called Skim. If you’d like to learn more about her, she has a personal blog which I enjoy reading, as well as a professional illustration portfolio.

Do you have a favourite from the three? I don’t like to choose, but…I am in complete awe of the Black Beauty cover. I’ve reserved a special stand for it already on my bookshelf.

You may notice that Jillian Tamaki has been commissioned by Penguin US, and they’ll be released there in October later this year. No definitive word about when/if they’ll be released in Australia (hopefully at the same time?) but I will personally head the petition if there’s any questioning of their potential in the Australian market.

It’s times like these I feel proud of publishers refusing to completely give in to the e-book phenomenon. E-books certainly have their place, like the convenience of takeaway food, but when you want to dine gourmet…

Cheers to Penguin for keeping the book love alive.

Thoughts on: Skippy Dies, by Paul Murray

The Times says Skippy Dies is a “carnival of a novel”. It says so on the cover.

And The Times is right: the nostalgic sweetness of fairy floss in your mouth, the heated competition of the sideshows, the risk of life on the rollercoasters, the contentedness of the ferris wheel and the fear of ghosts in the haunted house. It’s all there. And it never manages to seem too long, for all its 650 or so pages.

Fancy that – a story about a fatal donut-eating competition somehow managing to squeeze my heart. Skippy, the title character, dies within the first scene of the book, and then we move back from there, slipping into the minds and hearts of a jumble of different characters surrounding Skippy, as well as a little bit of Skippy himself (the book is not chronological, so he’s alive for most of it).

You may be thinking that I’m treating a schoolboy’s death rather lightheartedly. But this is what Skippy Dies does – it’s ticklish with humour in parts, which makes the sad parts distinctly sadder. It pushes you to be thoughtful. The writing is phenomenal. The kids seem to fare better than the adults when we’re first introduced – a lot of them have repressed desires that should probably not be mentioned much further on a family website like Boomerang Books, but I don’t think you’ll be offended if you read it. And you probably won’t ever look at Robert Frost’s ‘The Road Less Traveled’ the same again.

In parts, Skippy Dies reminds me of The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, by Junot Diaz – it has that same ability to make us see the comedy in the tragedy. But there’s so much more I’m not telling you – and I can’t really pigeonhole it any more than I have. Suffice to say it takes place in and around an Irish Catholic School for Boys, and Skippy still manages to fall in love in spite of the odds.

Have I sold you yet?

This is a novel of life and death, of education and voiceless desires, heartbreak and first love, and the wormholes in the universe that connect them all. When I finished this book, I lay it down, and took the time to stare into space for a while – a little sad, and wondering about life and stuff. I said a prayer for Skippy, and hope that he’s happy, wherever he is.

***

Are you planning on reading Skippy Dies? Or have you already? What did you think of it?

***
Year of Publication: 2010.
Number of Pages:
672.
Book Challenges: The Complete Booker 2011 Challenge; Chunkster Challenge 2011.

A Book Club That Works

Have you ever joined a book club? They’re not just for retired ladies anymore.

Everything “old” is cool again: vintage fashion will now cost you an arm and a leg, you’ll find girls happily taking up knitting on the bus to work, and chardonnay is clawing its way back onto the wine charts of the ‘upwardly mobile’.

Being the partner of a Defence member, I get to move around a bit, and I figured early on that one surefire way to get social in a new town is to join a club. If someone else in town likes books, chances are you’ll get along famously…

Or not.

If there’s anything my varied book club experience has taught me, it’s that you need to find the right book club that works for you. So, I’ve compiled a quick set of guidelines in case you like the idea of joining a book club, or even setting up a book club yourself, but live in fear of making a commitment you don’t think you can keep.

Book Club Guideline 1

Know your style

Are you interested in a straightforward discussion of the book? Or do you like a bit of a lighthearted non-bookish conversation thrown into the mix? This is the number one issue I’ve found in choosing the right book club. One club I went to – we would spend the first half hour nattering about everything but books before settling into the monthly read. A new member came along, and as soon as she sat down opened up her book full of post-it notes, crossed her legs and looked at us expectantly. We continued the chatter, but one couldn’t help but notice her huffs and puffs and constant wristwatch-checking. When all the regular members had settled in, our conversation finally turned to books, but by that stage she stood up, said she had dinner to cook, and stormed off. We never saw that woman again.

I can’t stress enough: know what you’re in for. If you’re turning up to a book club you found by trawling the Vogue forums online, expect to talk a bit of fashion. If it’s a book group set up through a bookstore, there probably won’t be much time to get to know the other participants – expect a serious read (unless people are super-friendly and talk over the chairperson)!

Book Club Guideline 2

Know your genre

Do you even want to stick to a specific genre? Are you happy to read off a literary prize list, or indulge in some Chick Lit? It’s important to make sure you and your members know what types of books you’ll be reading. This is the chance to expand your horizons – the most effective clubs I’ve been to often assign a month to each member – they’ll choose the book and you’re forced to read it. From personal experience, there were of course some duds in the mix – but some of my favourite books come from another member’s choice – and I would never have picked up the book if I hadn’t been required to read it for Book Club.

Book Club Guideline 3

Know your discussion

There really is no point turning up for a book club if you haven’t read the book, month after month. If you’re one of these types, get up off that derriere and plan, plan, plan! Write it in your diary, on your fridge, in your work calendar – wherever will help you remember. If you don’t want to buy the book, check the library catalogue or tee up with one of the other members to borrow the book and return the favour next month.
At the actual meeting, ensure that you have a few questions up your sleeve, in case of lulls in the conversation. There are tons of resources online that will help you out with some interesting questions to ask, or fascinating discussion points you can bring up to enrich your own reading experience, and make you look extra intelligent in front of everyone else. People at book clubs will often dither about, not wanting to structure the discussion for want of seeming too keen, desperate, high brow, or just plain nerdy. I’m not suggesting you go in there and rule with an iron fist and a drafted meeting agenda – but you’ll be surprised at how a few simple prepared questions posed in a laidback manner will get people talking and enthused.
***
These are just a couple of points garnered from my own experience. Don’t take it as gospel, but perhaps it’ll come in handy if you feel like mixing it up a bit at your own book club. And if you’ve been thinking about joining one for a while, this might be the kick in the pants you need to take the plunge. I don’t think you’ll regret it.

As for me, now, I’m thoroughly happy with my chosen clubs. And with a little pre-planning and knowing what you want, you can dive into loving your own book club too! It’s something to look forward to every month – a great set of girls and/or guys, a big glass of wine, some gossip, and discussion about books – what more could you want?

 

The Curse of Being Brunette

 

 

I know I’ve got two brilliant covers of Game of Thrones up there, and I promise I’ll get to the book later in the post, but first of all I want to make reference to another book I’m reading right now, and how it relates to the subject matter I’m wanting to discuss with you all.

The Mists of Avalon, by Marion Zimmer Bradley, is one of those pensive, magical reads that really makes a girl think. I am loving the book so far, but I must admit, something has been gnawing at my bones and its been growing for a while now. Or not my bones, rather. More my hair follicles…

If you want the God’s-honest truth, my brunette strands are spitting like Medusa’s snakes.

Allow me to explain. Zimmer Bradley does such a bang-up job of portraying Morgaine’s side of the story in The Mists of Avalon and the glorious legend of Camelot and King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table (et cetera, et cetera) that I am actually hating on Guinevere (or “Gwenhwyfar” as the book spells it). Hating on her for her ‘fair locks’, just like Morgaine is, because Lancelot wouldn’t both looking at dark, ugly things while these pale golden beauties are around…

Is it just me, or are we taking a step back into Disney fairyland here, where Rapunzels and Cinderellas and Goldilocks’ are the orders of the day for romantic heroine stereotypes, and the witches are all black-haired? Just to clarify, I’m only talking about hair here, regardless of skin colour. Not to say that that isn’t a worthy argument – but you can research the whole idea behind Disney’s film The Princess and the Frog, or the furore of Justine Larbeister’s US cover of Liar, in your own time. For the moment, I’m just focusing on the colour of hair. And I’m pretty sure that even in Arthur and Lancelot and Merlin’s time there would have been a bevy of brown-haired British-Anglo beauties to portray alongside the piety of the fair Gwenhwyfar.

Which brings me to Game of Thrones. We see much of the same issue here. Sadhbh has already made a wonderfully comprehensive commentary on this ridiculous review of Episode 1 of  the TV series Game of Thrones which I refuse to pay any attention to – except to say that even my favourite character of the series, Daenerys Targaryen, irks me, all because of her beautiful white-blonde hair. Visually-stunning golden twin Queen Cersei Lannister does nothing to help the cause. I can only hope Arya Stark can do an about-face and quit the raven-haired rebel stereotype (but I do secretly think she’s pretty wonderful no matter the hair colour).

I’m suffering a serious case of character hair-envy, no doubt about it. But seriously, if we can just find an Elizabeth Taylor type (just one) to combat all those Marilyn Monroe and Grace Kelly types in fantasy literature, then I may find some peace.

***
What do you think? Are brunettes given a bad rap in fantasy literature? Are there raven-haired heroines out there who don’t conform to the stereotype of rebellious, cold-hearted creatures?

Narnia Read-Along: The Horse and His Boy

“Literature adds to reality, it does not simply describe it. It enriches the necessary competencies that daily life requires and provides; and in this respect, it irrigates the deserts that our lives have already become.” – C.S. Lewis.

The Horse and His Boy represents a different direction for the Narnia books. The two previous works have chronicled ordinary children from an ordinary world – but this time, the third time, we’re thrust into Narnia without an introduction. After all, C.S. Lewis thinks, we should be used to Narnia by now! In fact, readers are expected to have become so familiar with Narnia’s otherworldliness that the protagonist, Shasta, and his talking horse Bree – the characters the reader is to identify with and empathise with – are Narnians themselves.

And yet, there is something decidedly different about this Narnia. The land is exotic; think less ‘English woods’ and more ‘Arabian desert’. The Calormen people have slaves. But if you take away the difference in landscapes, the difference in ‘people’, and you’ll find that The Horse and His Boy stays faithful to the core Narnian values and plot points. The hero, Shasta, is about to be sold as a slave to a passing soldier. Turns out that the soldier’s horse (named Bree) can talk, and suggests to Shasta that they escape to the freedom available to them in the land of Narnia. So far, it is similar to the rest of the Narnian series so far in that it is an ordinary boy, chancing upon extraordinary things, and given the chance to visit Narnia. Which Shasta promptly takes. And, like in The Magician’s Nephew and The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, a grand adventure must be had before the story is over.

A particularly fascinating aspect of the book is its similarities to exotic locales of our own world. Living in Western society, most of us have certain ideas – and perhaps even judgments, for the more honest among us – about those who are different. The author doesn’t attempt to direct the reader to feel empathy for the Calormen people: we’re meant to side with the more humane population residing in Narnia. Such an observation is interesting from the perspective of current times, where authors strive to create that empathy for those different from us. I think it’s worth keeping in mind as you’re swept away by the story itself.

The Horse and His Boy is, arguably, the book that could most work as a stand-alone book in the Chronicles of Narnia series. And it sometimes gets a bad wrap, because of the way it deviates from the tone of much of the rest of the series – its laidback humour and strange setting sometimes works against it with the more ‘conservatist’ Narnia fans. But of course I will disagree with its critics: The Horse and His Boy slowly but surely won me over after many rereads, and I find it to be perhaps the most ‘truthful’ and real-to-life of all the books in the Narnia series.

Gorging on Marie Antoinette (Again)

By now, I suspect you’re well enough acquainted with my passion for Marie Antoinette. Since she turned up randomly in an illustration from my Treasury of Fairytales when I was quite small I’ve been a fan, and since then my love has grown – I’ve even got two pug-breed dogs in honour of her own love for pugs (ok, so maybe Philip Pullman also has two pugs, and my big celeb crush Gerard Butler ALSO has a pug – are we sensing a pattern here?)…EITHER WAY, it should come as no surprise to you that there are a couple more novels on Mrs Maria Antonia that I’ve found hidden in my well-frilled sleeve.

Madame Tussaud by Michelle Moran is a book I have been savouring since finishing her other three books in order: Nefertiti, The Heretic Queen and Cleopatra’s Daughter. This will be the first time Michelle has extended her craft to a subject matter newer than ancient history, but I am 99% sure she will handle the palace of Versailles with ease. Madame Tussaud doesn’t bother herself with the early years of Marie Antoinette’s reign – the Queen already has her children and France is already lining up at the bakeries for hours hoping to strike it lucky and carry a breadloaf home with them to their starving families. I’m especially looking forward to this book – it’s from the perspective of that famous waxwork madame, Madame Tussaud, who was a contemporary of Marie, and there’s a foreword in the book assuring the reader that all major events in the novel happened true to history.


Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly is classified as Young Adult fiction, but of course that doesn’t stop me when the book in question has been generating excellent feedback.

In Revolution, the life of a modern teen is intertwined with that of a girl having lived through the French Revolution. Loved for its intensity of emotion and admired for its meticulous research, I am salivating at the thought of reading what is sure to be a (relatively) hidden gem.

Has anyone else seen the movie The September Issue? There’s this fabulous scene where Grace Coddington, creative director of Vogue, is at the palace of Versailles, overlooking those fabulous gardens and contemplating their history. What I wouldn’t give to be there myself! And I will, one day. In the meantime I can satisfy my cravings for the palace with the book Marie Antoinette and the Last Garden of Versailles by Christian Duvernois. It doesn’t come cheap, but the book is more than what it may first appear – yes, readers appear interested by the pictures of the gardens surrounding the palace, but they are awed by what the gardens reveal about Marie Antoinette’s style and sensibilities. Sounds like my kind of book.

Something tells me I am not going to have to suffer Marie Antoinette withdrawals for a time yet…

Thoughts on: Lady Audley’s Secret, by Mary Elizabeth Braddon

There is nothing more unbecoming in a lady, not thievery, not fraud, not murder, than being held accountable for the crime. Or so it seems in the Victorian sensationalist novel, Lady Audley’s Secret.

Mary Elizabeth Braddon, the famous author of this book, made a practice of writing stories that were considered popular culture for the time. Lady Audley’s Secret is considered to be the most loved of all her works (some 75 of them!), and which I think is best described as ‘a murder mystery obsessed with manners’.

From the title itself, I don’t think it’s much of a giveaway to say that Lady Lucy Audley, the new, pretty young wife of Sir Michael Audley, is the woman under scrutiny. The book makes consistent reference to Lady Audley’s doll-like features, her halo of blonde curls and her sparkling blue eyes, and the way both women and men yearn to be near her. The only woman who appears to be unmoved by her charms is Alicia Audley, the fiery brunette daughter of Sir Michael, who chocks up her discontent to a mere difference of personalities: even she is unaware of Lady Audley’s disastrous (and potentially dangerous) secret. But when a good friend goes missing, Sir Michael’s nephew and lazy would-be barrister Robert Audley begins to suspect something murderous.

Lady Audley’s Secret is a comment on the conventions of Victorian society and the way they shape the Victorian stereotypes of gender and class. In particular,  this book is a practice in turning and twisting the idea of female perfection on its head, which is sure to have both shocked the readers of the time, and also made it compulsively readable. What more could the people under Queen Victoria’s rule want, than whispers of a woman who is in reality dual in nature, a villainess posing as virtuous.

As far as the actual prose goes, I found Lady Audley’s Secret to be an easier read than Wilkie Collins’ The Woman in White. There were no laboured paragraphs, and the developing story is the perfect tug-of-war between suspense and knowledge.

In short, Lady Audley’s Secret was such an enjoyable, gratifying sort of escape – I can imagine many a young woman back in the day voraciously reading this on the train, and then hiding the book under her pillow at night (wouldn’t want to give hubby the wrong idea!). Far from seeking justice, by the end of the story see if you, too, fall for Lady Audley’s charms.

***

Disclosure: Bought.
Year of Original Publication: 1862.
Year of This Publication: 2010.
Number of Pages: 512.
Book Challenges: Chunkster Challenge 2010; Victorian Literature Challenge 2011.

A Scent-sual Read

They say the sense of smell is the most powerful of our five human senses, because it’s most strongly related to our understanding of memory. I’m inclined to agree – one whiff of Australis Waterberry deodorant, for example, and I’m transported immediately into our Year 9 post-P.E. girls changerooms (not the best memory, but hey, it’s what comes to mind). I still remember the delight in receiving my first expensive perfume from my mum at age 15 (Estee Lauder’s Pleasures) and since then my passion for scent hasn’t wavered for a second.

Heading into winter, where colours, scents, sounds become (depressingly) increasingly muted – it seems my fanaticism for fragrance has become ever more fervent. Fellow lovers of fragrances – have you ever read the classic Perfume – The Story of a Murderer, by Patrick Suskind?

No?

You MUST. Whether you love perfume, red hair, murderous French people or just plain beautifully-vivid imagery in books, Perfume – The Story of a Murderer is an assault to all five senses, in all the very best ways.

The story of Perfume is hard to summarise, perhaps because the story itself is so dark, the protagonist so twisted, it is difficult to explain how the grotesque details are often the most beautiful in this eerily passionate read. Jean-Baptiste Grenouille is a man without a scent, but who is accosted by the scents of everything around him, including people. With the capacity to become the most sought-after perfumer in France, Jean-Baptiste is not content with providing lushly sweet fragrances for the aristocratic stock, and instead becomes obsessed with finding perfume perfection – the celestial smell of the pure-white virgin. Up until now in the story, Jean-Baptiste is just a strange, anti-social human being. It is how he intends to create this perfume which makes him a monster.

My version of Perfume on the bookshelf is a muddy hardcover, a fifth-hand version given to me by a friend who shares my love for hidden beauty, a fondly-fingered and somewhat tattered read. It will always have pride of place amongst my very favourite editions, but of course there is a new edition that has caught my eye:

Everything about this cover evokes the gorgeously morbid story pressed between its pages: the heady white flowers, the skulls, cradled by the snipping scissors entwined with tendrils of ribbon-red hair. Sigh.

Perfume – The Story of a Murderer changed the way I read. It is elegant and darkly ironic and a number of other wonderful things, and I urge you to read it as well…if you dare.

Recent Acquisitions (6)

The books I’ve received lately have been from publishers, which gives them that extra bit of sparkle when they arrive in the letterbox.

The Good Fairies of New York, by Martin Millar

I am quite sure I’ve discussed Martin Millar’s Lonely Werewolf Girl on the blog before, which is funny in itself since I’ve never read it. I keep getting pushed to by readers who say it’s AWESOME, but… I’m reaall guarded about paranormal books lately, p’raps because there’s so much derivative stuff around. It’s becoming increasingly difficult to be impressed by them. But fairies are a safe bet with me, they can always be trusted to put a smile on my face, whether they’re pint-sized pixies a la Tinker Bell or darker-minded ones such as those in Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell.

The Tiger’s Wife, by Tea Obreht

Hype is on high for this one. The author is only the tender age of 25, publishing her debut novel and has already been named in the current New Yorker edition of 20-under-40 exceptional writers. Oh yeah, and the book’s just been listed on the longlist for this year’s Orange prize.

Hailed as a modern-day Scheherezade, Natalia is the thirteen-year old protagonist searching for the truth about her grandfather’s last days on earth. Later in life, Natalia is a doctor, tending to the fallen from a battle in the Balkans; she receives a clue to the curious death of her grandfather, which leads her to a well-worn copy of Rudyar Kipling’s The Jungle Book. And that’s where the adventure begins.

A Red Herring without Mustard, by Alan Bradley

Why have I never read a book about Flavia de Luce, the snoopy, supposedly loveable young heroine of such books as The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie and The Weed That Strings the Hangman’s Bag? Because I fail at life, that’s why. The third book in the series and I’ve finally caught on – Flavia’s involved in a bit of a sitch with a local gypsy who has some disconcerting things to say about Flavia’s dead mother, and it’s up to Flavia as to whether she believes her or not. But when a murder rears its ugly head in the little village, learning the truth of gypsy lore may be the only way for Flavia to solve the mystery and stop the killer from killing again…

***

Have you purchased anything recently that you’re excited to start? Have you checked out a book from the library that you totally misjudged? Tell me all…

Narnia Read-Along: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe

My dear Lucy,
I wrote this story for you, but when I began it I had not realized that girls grow quicker than books. As a result you are already too old for fairy tales, and by the time it is printed and bound you will be older still. But some day you will be old enough to start reading fairy tales again. You can then take it down from some upper shelf, dust it, and tell me what you think of it. I shall probably be too deaf to hear, and too old to understand a word you say, but I shall still be

your affectionate Godfather,

CS. LEWIS


The Lion.

The Witch.

And the Wardrobe.

Even the title gives me little shivers of joy. Seeing it here, I immediately feel frost on the nose. Big fur coats and comfortable shoes and the most fragrant, rosiest Turkish Delight you could ever hope to taste. The sound of bells which strike fear in a child’s heart, only to find out there IS such a person as Father Christmas. I owe a lot to this book.

For the poor sods who’ve never had the experience, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is the story of four ordinary children who find a magic portal to the world of Narnia through the back of a wardrobe. The kiddies soon discover that they have entered the land in a time of extreme discontent – The White Witch rules with a glacial fist – and Narnia is cast in perpetual winter without ever experiencing the joy of Christmas. Spies of The White Witch are everywhere, and before the story’s over we’ll experience a myriad of talking animals, heroic battles, themes of betrayal, sacrifice and redemption, and a great and terrible lion named Aslan.

Never is the magic of Narnia more visceral, more vivid, more immediately and perfectly valid, than in this book, the very first published in the Chronicles.

Aside from learning never to take candy from a stranger, the introduction of Narnia to a certain impressionable little girl gave her something to dream about during daytime. No, dream isn’t the right word…Narnia WAS real – it was more a matter of waiting (and waiting) for the right (wardrobe) door to open. Clearly I wasn’t the only child to believe – there’s a whole group of us still standing in line for our adventure. If anything, the beginning to the Chronicles of Narnia is a practice in discovering how convincing the imagination can be.

I hope I get back there one day.

The Private Practice of Polygamy

You may have seen, or at least heard of, ‘Big Love’, the TV series starring Bill Paxton as the paternal head of a four-wife family. The series somehow manages to showcase the humour and the love as well as the jealousy between multiple wives sharing one (very busy) hubby. And while I would occasionally watch an episode and quite enjoy the script and the storylines, I still couldn’t let go of the thought ‘this is wrong’.

It wasn’t until I watched the US reality TV series ‘Sister Wives’ that I began to rethink my judgmental approach. These women were REAL, and personable to the viewer, living by choice in a household where they had to decide which nights per week they would delegate each other to spend with the man they married. Certainly the relationship is a complex one – the first wife seemed to be going through a bit of a rough time with the news that the Mr had fallen in love with Meredith, the proposed fourth wife, and we see the good times and bad times this huge family (each of the wives have at least one child) go through by making this new connection. I was most struck with the kinship of the wives – ‘Sister Wives’ is such a perfect title – and I began to see that perhaps I was wrong for painting each polygamist family with a broad brush. I’m not saying it’s my thing, but who says women cannot be happy in such a relationship if that’s what they want? I feel like we’re prone to judge negatively because it doesn’t align with our culture. With this in mind, I sought out fiction centred around polygamy to further question and understand my views on the subject, and came across The 19th Wife.

The 19th Wife, by David Ebershoff, begins with murder. A prominent figure in a polygamist cult is gunned down, and all signs point to his 19th wife, BeckyLyn, as having pulled the trigger. BeckyLyn is awaiting execution, but her son, Jordan (who has his own reasons for leaving her to await her fate), manages to show up to wish her goodbye and make amends. BeckyLyn manages to convince him that things are perhaps not what they seem – she isn’t the murderer the police are looking for. His mind reeling, Jordan must make his own journey back to his childhood (living in a polygamist household) and attempt to solve the mystery before his mother is put to death for a crime she may not have committed. And intertwined with Jordan’s journey is the story of another 19th wife who lived in the 19th century – real-life historical figure Ann Eliza Young, who set out to rid the world of polygamy.

I don’t believe Ebershoff achieved a balanced viewpoint of what it means to be a polygamist (he is far too invested in the characters who have been done wrong by polygamy for that), but the book is an incredibly interesting one. What Ebershoff does manage to do is expertly weave a set of parallel lives and circumstances with a prose that’s as easy and effective to breathe as oxygen. I was caught up from the start, utterly absorbed, and managed to finish this 525 page novel in record timing.

This book seems to do for polygamists what Middlesex, by Jeffrey Eugenides, did for hermaphrodites – it slices the top off a secret world, lets us peer in, and once we have, we’re changed. The 19th Wife has been the perfect appetiser for me – I’m now more eager than ever to read more about this private, often fugitive culture. I highly recommend it.

***
Disclosure: Bought.
Year of Publication: 2009.
Number of Pages: 525.
Book Challenges: Chunkster Challenge 2011; Historical Fiction Reading Challenge 2011.

Recent Acquisitions (5) (cont.)

Part 2 of my delicious recent acquisitions! Feast your eyes on these babies!

The Magician’s Book by Laura Miller – reading through the Chronicles of Narnia for the Reading Challenge has not only renewed the love that lay dormant in my heart for Aslan and Mr Tumnus and even Jadis, it’s also set me on task for devouring more  of C.S. Lewis. I must have more!!! Having adored them as a child and losing that innocence to the knowledge of Narnia’s religious undertones, Laura Miller’s book is ‘A Skeptic’s Adventures in Narnia’ and details the rise, and fall, and rise again of the Narnia chronicles through her eyes. I am reading it slowly, fingering each page with delight as I remember my own first encounter with Narnia. I am quite sure that interspersing this book with a re-reading of the Chronicles will enrich the experience a thousandfold.

I hate to admit that I’ve never read C.S. Lewis’ other works. I’m relieving myself of this unforgivable ignorance with Till We Have Faces. This is a retelling of the Greek myth of Eros (Cupid) and Psyche, and I have never read anything quite like it. I was a bit hesitant at first, wondering whether C.S. Lewis would subject me to a religious rant, but this book is a refreshing and welcome surprise, and is the perfect lead-in for me to next purchase The Screwtape Letters as my next Lewis read. Suffice to say I think I will enjoy writing the review for Till We Have Faces.

I’ve gone out on a limb with my non-fiction choices too, purchasing Long for this World, by Jonathan Weiner, who set out on a scientific adventure to discover if we had actually already discovered the secret to eternal life. I don’t have a cover picture for this one (it’s black and kinda simple, so you’re not missing out on much), but Long for this World certainly sounds like an interesting read.

Recently I received for review The Oracle of Stamboul, by Michael David Lukas. The cover is certainly beautiful (the gold filagree is SHINY), but it’s the story that attracts me most.
Taking place on the streets of Turkey at the end of the Ottoman era, a little girl named Eleanora is whisked into history after she is taken on as advisor to the Sultan. The Oracle of Stamboul is meant to be literary in style, but not cumbersome, and has been hailed as an ‘instant classic’. I wonder if I will feel the same?

***

Have you purchased anything recently that you’re excited to start? Have you checked out a book from the library that you totally misjudged? I’d love to hear about them!

Recent Acquisitions (5)

I haven’t done one of these ‘Recent Acquisitions’ posts in a while, but I’ve definitely still been receiving books at a fairly rapid rate. I’ve chosen my most anticipated reads for this two-part post…I hope there are some in there you’re eagerly anticipating reading too, or at least are inspired to learn more about them!

First up is Across the Universe, by Beth Revis. Every time I read the title of this book my brain bursts into yes, THOSE lyrics (nothin’s gonna change my world….nothin’s gonna change my world), but Beth Revis’ book version is about OUTER SPACE, you guys! YA outer space.

Amy is cryogenically frozen, along with her parents, and placed aboard a spaceship as frozen cargo with the expectation that they’ll all wake up in 300 years on a cool new planet. Except Amy wakes up 50 years too early, on board the ship, and everything is kind of crazy – she learns that someone meant for her to die, and now her parents are next. There’s madness, but also romance. And it’s been receiving good reviews across the blogging universe – so I thought I’d give it a test-drive myself.

Next: Lady Audley’s Secret, by Mary Elizabeth Braddon. Are you a sucker for the strange bravado of a red/pink colour combination? I know I am! But that isn’t the reason I chose this book.

Lady Audley’s Secret caused quite the sensation back in the day and was read widely during the Victorian era. Since reading Wilkie Collins’ The Woman in White, I’ve been searching for another novel with similar themes and feel, and was recommended this one. With a protagonist as beautiful as she is murderous, Lady Audley’s Secret should prove to be quite the thriller!

And the award for the most random book on Aimee’s bookshelf goes to: the recently acquired The Cloudspotter’s Guide, by Gavin Pretor-Pinney. Published in 2007, this is a not-so-serious guide on Gavin Pretor-Pinney’s hobby: ‘the science, history and culture of clouds’. Oftentimes on long car trips I find myself looking up at the sky and losing myself in sweet cotton daydreams or becoming pensive over the bruised and stormy harbingers of doom. But I don’t really know what they’re there for, where they come from, or how to tell them apart. I expect that if I like this read, I will be heading out to purchase his latest: The Wavewatcher’s Companion.

***

Part 2 up next!

Thoughts on: A Discovery of Witches, by Deborah Harkness

When historian Diana Bishop opens an alchemical manuscript in the Bodleian Library, it’s an unwelcome intrusion of magic into her carefully ordered life. Though Diana is a witch of impeccable lineage, the violent death of her parents while she was still a child convinced her that human fear is more potent than any witchcraft. Now Diana has unwittingly exposed herself to a world she’s kept at bay for years; one of powerful witches, creative, destructive daemons and long-lived vampires.

It’s the book I was meant to fall in love with. But you guys KNOW how it irks me when books are compared to others (who wants to be the next ‘anything’, anyway? Don’t they want to set the standard, be the original, rather than be compared to the standard, be a derivative of the original?). Aside from sympathy for the author, publishers who overhype books run the risk of disappointing readers. Readers like me, who was intrigued when the book was described as ‘sparking a bidding war’ between publishing houses: a mix of ‘Twilight, Harry Potter and The Historian‘ (let it be known that I was more intrigued by The Historian comparison than the Twilight/Harry Potter ones).

So what did I think when I had A Discovery of Witches in my hot little hands? Alas, it just wasn’t meant to be.

Firstly, my encounter with the book’s protagonist left me cold. Diana is a super-smart historian, a blonde, and a witch. For reasons still unknown to me, Diana is not happy with her witchy powers and prefers not to use them at all. Oh, except to speed up the onerous chore of doing the weekly laundry. Diana is also supposedly super-busy, but if you judge her from the book’s contents, much of her time is spent fainting, complaining, dithering about, and doing the odd yoga sesh. And as the story plods into baffling territory of Diana’s discovery that she is an UBER-witch, she alternates between acts of ‘bravery’ (read: dominatrix) and frailty. I had trouble with Diana’s choices, which seemed more to reflect where the plot was going than any thought to character consistency.
Matthew, the vampire love interest, is also a strange mix of baffling and boring. I couldn’t get past the fact that he’s been alive for 1500 years, but appears to be socially inept. He emanates the typical Edward Cullen-style possessiveness, but I didn’t buy the two’s supposed chemistry-at-first-sight… perhaps because I wasn’t sure exactly what was realistically attractive about either of them. And I guess that’s one of the really big issues I had with the book – I felt the reader was being told what to feel, rather than seeing it and feeling it as a result. By the time Diana was whisked off to Matthew’s estate in Paris I couldn’t stomach another Mills and Boon cliche.

To be fair to the book, readers who like elaborate descriptions may appreciate this story, as it’s lavishly detailed every step of the way… but for me the detail was lacklustre – we learn about everything Matthew cooks Diana for dinner, and vice versa. Apparently Diana loves rowing, yoga, contemplations over cups of tea and using her PhD status to get a great desk at the library, because there are repetitive scenes which do little to further the plot. And there’s not much other action going on, that’s for sure.

As a disclaimer: if the book had been an enjoyable escapist read, I would have written a more forgiving review. But I feel it’s important to be true to my opinion, and for that reason I have to admit to rolling my eyes often at the cheesy dialogue, becoming increasingly annoyed with the slow pacing and itching to slap the characters into life.

It will come as no surprise that reading A Discovery of Witches left me increasingly frustrated and, ultimately, dissatisfied. It is a physically hefty book with a feather-light story and a blatant escapist mentality. Yes, it might have been improved by further editing, and yes, perhaps Book 2 will remedy some of the issues I had with Book 1 (they’re banking on a trilogy), but I’m not sure that it will generate the “reader infatuation” publishers are hoping for.

***
Disclosure: Received for review.

Year of Publication: 2011.

Number of Pages: 592.

Book Challenges: 2011 Fantasy Reading Challenge; Chunkster Challenge 2011.

It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? (4)

“It’s Monday! What are you reading?” is a weekly event hosted by Sheila at Bookjourney to share with others what you’ve read the past week and planning to read next.



Finished

The Seventh Wave, by Paul Garrety

The 19th Wife, by David Ebershoff

Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, by Amy Chua

White is for Witching, by Helen Oyeyemi



Plugging Along

The Magician, by Raymond E. Feist

Villette, by Charlotte Bronte

In Great Waters, by Kit Whitfield

Mr Chartwell, by Rebecca Hunt


Starting Next

The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, by N.K. Jemisin

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, by Rebecca Skloot

***

It’s Monday, what are YOU reading?

Beneath the Shadows: Interview with Sara Foster

To coincide with the end of the Beneath the Shadows giveaway, Perth-based author Sara Foster herself has dropped by the blog to talk a bit about how it was writing Beneath the Shadows…(isn’t she gorge?)

Q: Sara, Beneath the Shadows is your second novel, after your debut Come Back to Me. Are you able to tell us
a bit about how you came to the idea behind Beneath the Shadows, and the experience of writing it?

The idea first came to me back in 2001, when I was going through a period of huge change in my life. I had decided that I was going to have to give up my publishing job, as I’d become stuck in a rut and had an exhausting four-hour commute. Plus I was beginning to realise how much I wanted to be a writer, but I had no idea where to start. The character of Grace came to me as this woman out of her depth, who was both fearful and determined, so I decided to put a lot of challenges into her life – a missing husband, a claustrophobic, mysterious village – and see how she coped with them.

Q: The story of Beneath the Shadows contains local village folklore and superstition. There’s a definite gothic feel to it – especially with the addition of the Wuthering Heights-style moors! What is it about snow and wind and moors and little villages that set the perfect backdrop for a mystery suspense story?

The landscape plays such an important role in this type of story, because the isolation, the alienation, and the aspects that appear hostile or threatening perfectly reflect the feelings of the characters themselves. I loved using different aspects of the moors to really bring this out.

Q: Grace, the story’s female protagonist, is spurred into action once she realises that both she and her daughter are in danger. Are you able to elaborate on what type of relationship they have, and how it relates to the story?

Grace’s daughter is fundamentally important to the story. Millie is Grace’s reason for living, and also is the catalyst for her courage in confronting her situation. Millie is also the most tangible link she has to her missing husband, Adam, whom she hasn’t been able to let go. I wrote the bulk of the story when my baby daughter was very young so I could really identify with what she might be feeling.

Q: If you had to choose, which is more important: great characterisation or great plot? Or does it depend on the book?

Well, ideally, both, but I think that when you have wonderful, original characters you can get away with some frailties of plot and still have a very memorable book, and I’m not so sure that would be the case the other way around.

Q: Are you a coffee, or a tea kinda gal? Do you have a drink of choice when you sit down to write, or do you have another routine writing habit you’re willing to share with us?

I like to go to a little café with a lovely view of the sea, and have a mineral water or an herbal tea, and then I set my laptop up and aim to lose myself in my writing. It helps when you don’t have an internet connection!

Q: What books are on your nightstand right now?

The Distant Hours by Kate Morton, Room by Emma Donaghue, and Delirium by Lauren Oliver.

Q: You’re a fiction writer – are there any particular fiction genres you best enjoy reading, or which have most influenced your own writing?

I used to love police-procedural crime thrillers but I don’t read that genre so much any more. At the moment I like stories full of intrigue, whether quirky or true to life, with strong protagonists and character relationships. I’m a big fan of Maggie O’Farrell and Jodi Picoult.

Q: I noticed you’re working on a “love story by the sea” at the moment. Sounds ‘Undine-esque’! Are you able to tell us a bit more about that project? Any other big things in store for Sara Foster’s not-too-distant future?

Without giving too much away, I hope it will be a book about family, secrets, and passions – between the characters and for the sea. I can’t wait to get started on it. I’m also looking forward to Beneath the Shadows coming out in Germany and the USA next year.

***

We can’t wait for you to get started on it either, Sara!

If you’d like to learn more about Beneath the Shadows, Random House has a fabulous page set with book exclusives like bonus chapters, a look inside Grace’s house and even a short story with a secret revealed about one of the characters! Check it out here. Check out Sara’s website too, for everything Sara Foster-ish: http://www.sarafoster.com.au/

The Art of Assassination

Ah, Ezio.

*Heart flutters*

The type of man who can scale buildings with the greatest of ease, assassinate baddies dual-weapon-style by ground or by rooftop, have his wounds treated by a doctor friend and still turn up on your bedroom balcony by nightfall. Swoon.

The only problem is that he’s a character from a video game.

Yes, dear readers: aside from my other fifty billion nerdalicious pursuits, I am quite fond of PC/Console RPG’s (Role-Playing Games), and the Assassin’s Creed franchise is something of an especially addictive one. There’s something heady about imagining yourself as an assassin, creeping up on your unsuspecting victim; the look of deep surprise masking his or her face for only a moment, but a moment that is very special to them because it’s their LAST MOMENT ALIVE. Revenge is a dish best served cold, or so they say, but Ezio’s particular brand of warm humour paired with flashing dark eyes sits especially well with me.

Knowing my recently-discovered penchant for virtual assassination then, imagine my surprise and secret delight to discover that Assassin’s Creed has its very own offspring fiction with Assassin’s Creed: Renaissance and Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood. While I can’t comment on the calibre of prose (must we always expect the highest literary standard?! Sigh. I suppose we must), I found it interesting that a video game could inspire not only one piece of fiction, but also generate a follow-up work.

The other reason I make light of the fact that I am quite possibly in love with a computer character is due to a new book: The Fallen Blade (Act One of The Assassini), by Jon Courtenay Grimwood. The cover reminds me of Assassin’s Creed; the story is set in Renaissance Italy (hoorah!); and sure enough, the blurb makes reference to assassins. Well, VAMPIRE assassins.

Venice, 1407. The city is at the height of its powers. In theory, Duke Marco commands, but Marco is a simpleton so his aunt and uncle rule in his stead. They seem all powerful, yet live in fear of assassins better than their own. On the night their world changes, Marco’s young cousin prays in the family chapel for deliverance from a forced marriage. It is her misfortune to be alone when Mamluk pirates break in to abduct her – an act that will ultimately trigger war. Elsewhere Atilo, the Duke’s chief assassin, cuts a man’s throat. Hearing a noise, he turns back to find a boy drinking from the victim’s wound. The speed with which the angel-faced boy dodges his dagger and scales a wall stuns Atilo. He knows then he must hunt him. Not to kill him, but because he’s finally found what he thought was impossible – someone fit to be his apprentice.

NO, DON’T GROAN! This book is receiving highly favourable comments from bloggers! It could be the NEXT BIG THING.

And won’t you hate yourself for pre-judging it, if it is?

At any rate, I’M not going to pre-judge it. Keep your eyes peeled for my thoughts on what should be an exciting, action-packed and enemy-slaying read indeed.

Narnia Read-Along: The Magician’s Nephew

“A children’s story that can only be enjoyed by children is not a good children’s story in the slightest.” ~ C. S. Lewis

There is an endless bounty of amazing quotes from the brain of C.S. Lewis. I’ll choose an appropriate one for each book in the series as I fondly work my way through with the other participants in the Narnia Read-Along, hosted by Whitney at her elegant blog, She Is Too Fond Of Books.

As you can see by the edition I’ve included in this post (the celebrated edition of the first edition, complete with the original illustrations!), C.S. Lewis meant for the Chronicles of Narnia to be read by children. Judging by the quote at the beginning of this post however, C.S. Lewis hoped for the Chronicles of Narnia to be enjoyed by non-children as well.

The Magician’s Nephew is the prequel to The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, though it was published five years after it, and was the second last book to be published in the seven-part series. I don’t think it matters really, whether you read the books in chronological order of Narnia’s events (starting with The Magician’s Nephew) or in order of publication (starting with The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe). Either way brings immense reading pleasure.

The Magician’s Nephew provides a wider landscape and a new dimension to the Narnia we’ve come to know and love. English children Polly and Digory are neighbours who fast become friends upon meeting, and happen to stumble across Digory’s uncle’s private study. As fate would have it, Digory’s uncle is something of a tinkering scientist who is power mad (of course) and hates the idea of having children in his private working area. Sensing an opportunity to test out his latest experiment, however, he lures Polly into choosing a pretty ring, which, when Polly touches it, transports her into another world. A very frightened and angry Digory is forced to follow and rescue her from wherever she’s gone, and so begins the adventures of Narnia.

I have mentioned before that this is among my favourite books of the series, if not THE favourite. The story explains the origins of how the White Witch came to discover Narnia, over which she would later enjoy dictatorial rule. The story also explains the origins of Narnia itself, through a recreation of the Christian story of the Garden of Eden, and the creation of a world in seven days. Readers are often dismayed to discover the Christian symbolism underlying their favoured childhood fantasy story, but I think the passion of C.S. Lewis for his religion enriched his storytelling ability. After all, one doesn’t need to be of the Christian faith to enjoy a wonderfully engaging story of good versus evil.

You may be wondering where Lucy, Edmund, Peter and Susan are in this book. The truth is, because The Magician’s Nephew is the tale of the creation of Narnia, it takes place many, many years (Narnia time) before Lucy pulls back the fur coats to discover a snow-covered world in a magic wardrobe. In our world, nowhere near as much time has passed, though Polly and Digory could be Lucy’s grandparents. And in fact Digory plays an interesting mentor role later on, not only to the children who discover Narnia by playing hide and seek, but also to the reader, who is wondering whether to believe Lucy’s story of finding a world in a wardrobe:

“Logic! Why don’t they teach logic at these schools? There are only three possibilities. Either your sister [Lucy] is telling lies, or she is mad, or she is telling the truth. You know she doesn’t tell lies and it is obvious that she is not mad. For the moment then and unless any further evidence turns up, we must assume that she is telling the truth.”

– Professor Kirke, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Chapter 5.

I love The Magician’s Nephew more every time I read it: I love it for its humour, its magic, and its lively characters; its willingness to flesh out what we already know about Narnia and to make us question the role of choice in Fate – it is an apt beginning to a set of books letting you know that anything is possible, as long as you’re open to it.

And then there is the added bonus of a FLYING HORSE.

Awesome.

***

Disclosure: Bought.
Year of Original Publication: 1955.
Year of My Own Publication Copy: 1988.
Number of Pages: 173.
Book Challenges: The Chronicles of Narnia Read-Along 2011.

Read-Along: Villette, by Charlotte Bronte (Chapters 6 – 11)

Obligatory Warning: Spoilers will be a necessary part of the discussion of this novel, so if you are interested in reading Villette for yourself you may wish to bookmark these discussion posts and read them AFTER you have read the novel.

It’s only Week 2 of the read-along and I already like this book far better than Bronte’s most famous offering Jane Eyre. And I’m two days late with this scheduled Chapters 6 – 11 post because I was savouring the emotion, the writing, and just generally collecting my thoughts on the book so far.

Lucy Snowe is shaping up to be a remarkable character – we last left her apprehensive yet hoping to take up residence as a governess. While aboard the boat to Brussels she talks with a girl whom she judges as spoilt and rich, but who gives her a piece of advice as to where to seek work – one Madame Beck’s boarding school for young women. At stepping off the boat Lucy’s anxiety at being in a foreign place with little direction is heightened, then strangely placated by the appearance of a handsome gentleman offering to escort her to respectable lodgings. As Fate would have it, Lucy finds herself outside Mme Beck’s house and business, and makes the decision to suit up for a position as a teacher to the boarding school’s bouquet of sparkling young girls. Despite what I am sure was Lucy’s best efforts not to do so, she finds herself blossoming as lecturer and tutor to the impressionable femmes and gains a type of comfortable respect from most of them [a quick aside: the girls and Lucy at times converse in French, which is a little difficult to grasp since there’s no translation in the book, but I enjoyed grasping the gist of their high-spirited banter].
One effervescent personality in particular is of interest, and reminds me very much of how I expected Polly from chapters 1-6 to turn out in later years. Flighty and yet all too aware of her feminine wiles, Ginevra is an endless source of frustration to Lucy, who consistently and forcefully voices her disapproval of Ginevra’s coquettish stringing-along of the handsome “Isidore” (Ginevra’s pet name for the mystery boyfriend).

During Lucy’s stay at Mme Beck’s, an English doctor turns up with ties to Lucy’s boss and students. To Lucy’s surprise, Dr. John is the same gentleman who found her safe lodgings on her arrival in Brussels. To Lucy’s further surprise, she finds herself incredibly attracted to him.

What transpires for Lucy and Dr. John’s burgeoning relationship remains to be seen. It is interesting, and perhaps only indicative of the era that Lucy should have much more interaction with females in the novel so far, but I have the strange sense the author is trying to tell us something about these girl characters that are so offensive to Lucy Snowe’s outward countenance and internal ethics and morals. Only two males have had Lucy’s attention in the novel according to reader knowledge: Graham, earlier on, and Dr John, at present. And despite the fact that Lucy observes both males taken in by effervescent feminine personalities, Lucy appears to view the male version in a more positive light.
It is perhaps Lucy’s Destiny to meet and interact with Dr. John, but this must be distinguished by Fate – which is in Lucy’s hands. “Fate took me in her strong hand” says Lucy as she decides to approach Mme beck about the teaching position. How fascinating and, yes, slightly irritating that Lucy doesn’t take any responsibility when she takes an adventurous action or makes an adventurous choice, preferring to paint herself a passive creature. Stoically passive, almost. Just what is she trying to convince people of? And is she trying to convince me, the reader? Or herself?

***

Discussion of Chapters 12 – 17 will be posted next week. In the meantime, you can check out others’ thoughts over at Unputdownables.

Thoughts on: Delirium, by Lauren Oliver

Peruse bookshelves at any large bookstore and you’ll most likely see Before I Fall, by Lauren Oliver, centre-stage and hyped to the hilt. I haven’t had the chance to read it yet, but I remember it creating quite the sensation a year back when early-bird bloggers were receiving review copies. Delirium is Lauren Oliver’s new creation – the first of a trilogy – and if my review of the book is anything to go by, it’s sure to create an equal amount of hysteria.

What if there was a cure for Love?

Delirium is Young Adult Dystopian by genre, romantic by nature. It centralises around the idea that in the not-too-distant future, Love is considered an illness. Romeo and Juliet is taught only as a cautionary tale to students so that they understand the consequences of giving in to Love. Rest assured, however, because at 18 years old, you can have the surgery that will defeat the illness of Love forever.  And afterwards, you can be guaranteed a painless, Love-free life.

Lena’s almost 18 and looking forward to her own surgery appointment. She’s waiting to leave the life behind that has the stigma of her mother attached to it – a woman who had the surgery three times and still exhibited signs of retaining the disease. Lena only wants to do what’s right and good for herself…and then she meets Alex, and begins to question everything she knows and wants.

The whole time I was reading this book the song “Catch My Disease” by Ben Lee was running through my head:

“So please/

Baby please/

Open your heart/

Catch my disease.”

The idea of a future environment with the socially-acceptable retardation of human emotion is nothing new, but I applaud Lauren Oliver for writing something that will appeal to a generation who may not have been exposed to the classics of the genre (like Nineteen Eighty-Four and Brave New World). Each chapter is prefaced with a quote from the social “bible”, or another historical tidbit about the world Lena lives in, which is both interesting to ponder and validates the message behind the story. The book’s a fairly hefty read at 441 pages (aren’t they all, these days?) but the prose is poetic and flows smoothly – it shouldn’t take you too long to race to the end, which is both a bittersweet finale for something and the promise of more to come for something else.

Delirium prefers to skip in-depth characterisation to focus on the overarching philosophies of freedom, sacrifice, redemption. And while I liked Delirium quite a lot, I didn’t love it – perhaps because I’m kind of over the teen doomed love affair… or perhaps because when I was 18 I had the surgery, and now I’m just a passionless sack of potatoes.

I was impressed by Delirium either way though, and I can highly recommend it for teens especially: the prose is quality, and that’s just for starters. Readers will likely find this an intoxicating read that they are free to go delirious over, unlike poor Lena. The freedom to love – imagine that!

***

Disclosure: Received for review.

Year of Publication: 2011.

Number of Pages: 441.

Book Challenges: None.

Read-Along: Villette, by Charlotte Bronte (Chapters 1 – 5)

Warning: Spoilers will be a necessary part of the discussion of this novel, so if you are interested in reading Villette for yourself you may wish to bookmark these discussion posts and read them AFTER you have read the novel.

As far as I’m concerned, you fall into one of two groups with the Brontes: those who prefer Emily’s Wuthering Heights, and those who more inclined to enjoy Charlotte’s Jane Eyre. I am a fan of the former – Wuthering Heights is just so darkly ROMANTIC and PASSIONATE that any Jane Eyre theatrics tend to pale in comparison. But it is Villette, by Charlotte Bronte that Virginia Woolf declared to be Bronte’s “finest novel”.

For me, the first five chapters of this novel absolutely flew by. The reader is first introduced to the novel’s protagonist, Lucy Snowe, through a recollection of memories of her time staying at her godmother’s house: a place that she refers to as “Bretton”, the household’s surname. Snowe tells of the attention she receives as the household’s only guest child, but I adored the introduction of six year old Paulina (“Polly”) who suddenly descends upon the Bretton household in rainy weather; a proud little princess with “her neck delicate as wax, her head of silky curls” [page 10], seeming to act a caricature of someone two to three times her young age. It is through Lucy’s eyes that we observe Polly’s sudden and passionate attachment to Graham, a bright and jovial sixteen year old, and Polly’s sadness and fear at leaving Graham and not being his “favourite” when she is called away by her father and must leave the house to meet him. I couldn’t help but wonder at Snowe’s observations of the people around her: she finds Polly’s dramatics peculiar and considers Graham “spoilt”. By comparison, Lucy herself appears neutral and well-possessed… I will be interested to see how this personality progresses the novel and whether she remains unmoved, or whether she experiences a change within herself.

We move on to Snowe’s own quitting of Bretton, and her subsequent depression/loneliness which she never voices to anyone, describing the feeling as the pressure and icy coldness you would feel on a boat in stormy seas. Already I’m sensing the reason for Villette’s celebration as a literary masterpiece: a work of existentialism before existentialism even existed. Snowe is thus compelled to change her habitat, and takes up residence with the kind Miss Marchmont as a live-in nursemaid until her death. Again there is this sense of fear of upheaval and despair…but I was forced to leave Lucy apprehensive and anxious at the end of Chapter 5, travelling to London in the hopes of picking up a governess position with a city family.

I’m loving Bronte’s clear and concise prose, and the blinkings of gothicness. There’s a certain poignancy to Snowe’s character developing for me, I’m looking forward to seeing how this new governess position affects her inner self…

***

If you’re interested in reading others’ thoughts on Chapters 1 – 5, head on over to the Unputdownables. I’ll be discussing the next group of chapters next Thursday/Friday.

Read-Along: Oliver Twist, by Charles Dickens (Chapters 1 – 22)

February’s read-along choice over at A Literary Odyssey is Oliver Twist, by Charles Dickens. This time, participants will be reading the book in three parts:

Thoughts on Chapters 1- 22 will be posted on participating blogs on February 8.

Thoughts on Chapters 23 – 37 will be posted on participating blogs on February 17.

Thoughts on Chapters 38 – 53 will be posted on participating blogs on February 28, and will conclude the read-along for the month of February.

I’ve only read two Dickens novels: David Copperfield, which I remember enjoying when I read it years ago (though the details are hazy); and A Christmas Carol, which I ADORE and attempt to read every year leading up to Christmas. Yet how many times have I heard the advertisement for the live musical on TV, or an old movie, with a little boy questioning: “Please, sir, may I have some more?”

The gruel always looks especially gruesome.

I ventured into this read with the participants of the January read-along’s reluctance fresh in my mind. By and large they seemed to feel that Wilkie Collins was much more enjoyable/easy to read than Dickens. Upon consideration of the labourious time I experienced during the first half of Wilkie Collins’ The Woman in White, I think I feel the opposite: for all Dickens’ love of commas and hatred of full stops, I find that his writing flows better for me than Wilkie’s. But it is all down to personal taste, I’m sure.

So, first things first: the protagonist – a little orphan boy named Oliver – I don’t think I have quite figured out yet. Certainly he is the recipient of large injustices and general “life-is-unfair”-ness. At times he shows a bit of spark against his early enemies at the orphanage (and they are formidable), but HONESTLY: how much bad luck can one little boy (and one reader) take?! Yes, yes, there are some beautiful sentence and paragraph descriptions, like this melancholy one which made me clutch at my heart for a moment:

“The boy had no friends to care for, or to care for him. The regret of no recent separation was fresh in his mind; the absence of no loved and well-remembered face sank heavily in his heart. But his heart was heavy, notwithstanding; and he wished, as he crept into his narrow bed, that that were his coffin, and that he could be lain in a calm and lasting sleep in the churchyard ground, with the tall grass waving gently above his head, and the sound of the old deep bell to soothe him in his sleep.” [Page 36]

…but I am SINCERELY hoping that the second and third parts of the book lay off the odes to “poor little Oliver Twist” and get on with the story (hmmph). I realise in saying this I’m probably being unfair myself – there are some shots of comic relief amid all this dreariness (“the olden times” had a sense of humour closer to our own than you’d first suspect). Still…it all gets a bit much for this unfeeling reader!

Turning now to an immense positive of the book… if Wilkie Collins is the King of Characterisation, Charles Dickens is the Emperor of Scenery. Sense of place in Oliver Twist is so supreme, that often I felt the grime of the Victorian backstreets on my fingers, and would hastily wipe my hands on my pants before I turned a particularly descriptive page. Villains sprout from the environment with their dirty toes half-stuck in the rotting floorboards; thieves and other nasty-minded citizens slink in the shadows; the cruelty of a recent and untimely death unfurls like smoke in the air. And when Oliver is drawn into the set of a particular unsavoury bunch, I almost set to weeping (if weeping was done at all these days).

Yet as I venture into the second part of Oliver Twist, there is hope for the young boy yet. What are his true origins? Why does he look the spitting image of the boy in the portrait? We shall have to wait and see…

It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? (3)

“It’s Monday! What are you reading?” is a weekly event hosted by Sheila at Bookjourney to share with others what you’ve read the past week and planning to read next.

Finished

Beatrice and Virgil, by Yann Martel

Delirium, by Lauren Oliver

Skippy Dies, by Paul Murray

Pilgrims, by Will Elliott

Plugging Along

The Magician, by Raymond E. Feist

A Discovery of Witches, by Deborah Harkness

The Magician’s Nephew, by C. S. Lewis (umpteenth re-read)

Villette, by Charlotte Bronte

Oliver Twist, by Charles Dickens

Secret Ones, by Nicole Murphy

Slave of Sondelle, by Bevan McGuiness

Starting Next

In Great Waters, by Kit Whitfield

Mr Chartwell, by Rebecca Hunt

Miscellaneous News

I have been waiting for February to roll around forEVER (is it just me, or is January a really slow month to finish?), because it is going to be such an exciting month for my bookshelves. You may have noticed I’ve started my Chronicles of Narnia Read-Along – I don’t know how I’m going to contain my first Narnia Read-Along post to less than novel-length as I discuss why The Magician’s Nephew is my favourite of the chronicles! Eeee.

February is also the month we begin Villette, by Charlotte Bronte, and Oliver Twist, by Charles Dickens *rubs hands together in glee*

***

It’s Monday, what are YOU reading?

Vampires: Die, Already!

Ohhh, I don’t really mean that. But I have to admit that the vampire fad has stayed around a lot longer than one would have expected. A few more years and the Twilight movies and their spinoffs will have run out – then it will be time to take note of the vampire’s true staying power. In the meantime, you fang-fans can still enjoy derivative works – and as long as they aren’t sparkly, often I can enjoy them too.

In the surprising swelter of the late Aussie summer I have picked up a new release to read: Nocturne, by Syrie James. I have heard of her before: she writes fiction spin-offs of well-known classics (namely The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen; Dracula, My Love; The Secret Diaries of Charlotte Bronte). In hindsight, I am wondering whether I may have written her off as ‘not worth it’ too soon. And yes, it may seem strange to some, but the novel’s environment – set in wint’ry-white Colorado, USA – was a welcome change from the sweltering heat outside.

I don’t think I am spoiling anything by giving away that it is a vampire/ human love story. This story is unusual though, in that it features only two characters: the vampire and the human female, stuck in a mountain retreat after the woman’s car runs off the road driving back from a ski-slope wedding.

I try hard not to be judgmental with these types of reads – as I say, Chick Lit is good if it’s cohesive and interesting (humour always helps), and doesn’t purport to be something it’s not. Pleasantly, I was lulled into the lovey-dovey-ness of the story and didn’t have time to worry about it not being a ‘literary’ read. I found myself (surprisingly) attracted to the dashing, secretive Michael, and Nicole wasn’t too bad as far as heroines go: she displays sass, wit and snarly fightbacks when the situation calls for it.

Nocturne is a bubble-bath of a novel – a frothy, fun, cozy piece which doesn’t pretend to be anything more than it is, and for that reason I’d recommend it as a quick, enjoyable read. There is a slight annoyance about the female protagonist’s obsession with a certain fictional author, and a little too many (repetitive) references to the “red-gold hair” she displays, but aside from that, I don’t have any qualms with this sweet brand of vampire fairytale. If your Valentine’s Day dancecard on February 14th isn’t filled,  I suspect you won’t mind so much with this read on your lap, nestled in your favourite overstuffed chair.

***

Disclosure: Received for review.

Year of Publication: 2011.

Number of Pages: 224.

Book Challenges: None.

GIVEAWAY: Will Elliott and Nicole Murphy Prizepacks

Spread the word – we have another giveaway on the main blog. I know, I know, ANOTHER giveaway.

The two lucky winners will each receive the latest releases from Aussie fantasy authors Will Elliott and Nicole Murphy: Pilgrims and Shadow from the Pendulum trilogy, and Secret Ones and Power Unbound from the Dream of Asarlai trilogy.

If you would like to learn more about the authors and their works, you can check out my interviews with them beginning here, and here.

If you’d like to enter for the chance to win, Australian residents can click through to the entry page here. Good luck!!

And big sloppy kisses to HarperCollins for being so generous once again!

This Woman is Power Unbound: Interview with Nicole Murphy (Part 3)


Alas, this is the final part to the three-part interview featuring Nicole Murphy, author of Secret Ones and Power Unbound. If you’d like to learn more about the author or the series, she’s also got a featured website and a regularly updated blog which you can access here. But before you do that, check out the rest of her answers below…

9. Recently, you embarked on a ‘writing retreat’ with a group of other fantasy writers. Can you tell us a bit about that experience? Would you recommend writing retreats for budding writers, without reservation?

I love, love, love my writing retreats! A group of us get together and we write lots and talk about writing lots and then we eat and drink and watch fabulous movies 🙂

I can’t recommend writing retreats without reservation because there are a lot of things that make them work. Personality is a big thing – in our case, we’re living with people for two weeks and even people you consider friends can get on the nose in that time. Also, you have to be clear upfront what the expectations are – for some, the retreat is more about the social side, for others it’s the writing and that can cause conflict. I also think it’s something better left after a couple of years of writing under your belt, cause you need to know you really love it in order to do it six to eight hours a day for two weeks!

10. A lot of writers have a particular area where they like to write. Where do you like to write your books?

The romance is the easy part of me – I just seem to have a natural feel for putting characters together, knowing when to test them … What I like to write, however, is the bits that are challenging because they’re the ones that teach me about writing and storytelling and I want to get better with every thing I write.

11. What books are on your nightstand at the moment?

Actually, a Johanna Lindsey – one of the Mallory books. I’ve got a massive TBR pile – friends books, books recommended to me, books I picked up really, really cheap. I’ve just read The New Moon’s Arms by Nalo Hopkinson and loved it – need to get the rest of her books now. And prior to that two short story collections – Dead Sea Fruit by Kaaron Warren (brilliant, brilliant writer and I’m not just saying that cause she’s a friend) and Magic Dirt by Sean Williams (who managed the rare feat of writing a story that I won’t forget – not that I hate stories, but it takes something amazing to make me remember cause I have a terrrrrrible memory – but then spiders do that for me).

12. The failsafe book choice to give your friends for birthday/ Christmas is (aside from your own!):

Actually at the moment I have to say Death Most Definite, by Trent Jamieson. I really think this book has everything – fantasy, destruction, mystery, suspense, romance, death – I do love an anthropomorphised Death 🙂

13. If we look into the crystal ball, what’s in store for Nicole Murphy over the next year or two? Any new writing projects to look forward to?

Oh yes, yes yes yes. I’m currently working on the sequel to Dream of Asarlai – a trilogy I’m calling The Free Ones but will undoubtedly be pitched to publishers as something different cause I SUCK at titles (hopefully I’ll have news about the future of that later this year). It’s set two years after the events of Dream of Asarlai and deals with the fall-out from that and a new future for the gadda. I’ve got several short stories being published in 2011 and I’m hopeful there will be more. I’m planning to break out into other genres as well – erotica and contemporary romance being a couple I’m playing with. And 2011 is the year of the convention for me – so far there’s five I’m attending.

We’ll wait and see what 2012 has in store 🙂

***

A HUGE thanks to Nicole Murphy for just being an awesome interviewee, and of course HarperCollins for the opportunity. GIVEAWAY up next!

This Woman is Power Unbound: Interview with Nicole Murphy (Part 2)

Aaaaand we’re back, like I promised, with the second of a three-part interview with Aussie author Nicole Murphy!

4. What can fans of Secret Ones expect from Power Unbound?

The same mix of magic, romance, adventure and mystery but this time focussing on Maggie’s best friend Ione and her new love, Stephen. Oh, and by the end of the book, you’ll know who Asarlai is 🙂

5. Were any particular scenes in Power Unbound more difficult/ more fun to write than the rest?

Stephen was hard at first – he’s a terribly obsessive man, but I had to show that there was more to him than that; something within that Ione could fall in love with. I played with lots of storylines and ways to do it and it didn’t all come together until the very end of the editing process.

Writing Jack’s scenes were almost too much fun – really, can I get paid for laughing at myself?

6. Speaking of scenes, there are a few scenes in your novels which could be described as, err, steamy – but these scenes don’t seem to overshadow the romance aspect…how important is it for you to ‘keep the romance alive’ between your characters?

Very important 🙂 I wanted these books to show modern relationships, with real people … the bedroom tends to be one of the places where the truth of a person really comes out. But also, I wanted to make it clear that these are relationships for keeps – there had to be more anchoring these two people together. Friendship. Respect. Admiration. Common interests and aims. Hopefully I’ve managed to do both.

7. Are there any spoilers you can give us about Book 3 in the series, Rogue Gadda (pretty please!)?

Rogue Gadda is the story of Hampton and Charlotte. I’m quite nervous about this – most of my female readers have been quite enthusiastic in their – appreciation, shall we say – of Hampton and so telling his story has a lot of potential to go really, really bad. But being a big fan of Hampton myself (yes, I know we’re not supposed to have favourites but Hampton is just soooo bloody yummy…) I had a lot of fun writing his story, and I’ve given him a woman who’s going to challenge everything he thinks and make him eat humble pie in the process 🙂

Plot wise, all I will say is – the person that Asarlai links up with at the end of Power Unbound isn’t her final co-conspirator in the plan to reveal the gadda to the world. Someone will betray the bardria and the guardians big time, and the clue as to who that is lies in Power Unbound.

8. Most authors, unconsciously or consciously, draw on their own favourite writers as inspiration: which are your favourites?

I am a Tolkien girl. In fact, the first romance I read was the appendix of LOTR that told the story of Aragorn and Arwen, so while it might seem weird to note Tolkien as a starting point for a writer of fantasy romance (really, he didn’t try hard to get girls into those books, did he?) it is true. Other formative fantasy writers were Ursula le Guin and CS Lewis but today, I tend to get more from current writers. For example, Trent Jamieson is teaching me a lot about the formatting of a series and I overdosed on Charlaine Harris’s Sookie Stackhouse books. Romance wise, you’re talking Amanda Quick and Jude Deveraux. The first cross-genre romance I read was Johanna Lindsey’s Ly-San-Ter series (science fiction romance) and that was the book that made me think ‘Hmm, I could combine fantasy and romance…’

***

Part three up tomorrow – and then, *gasp*, ANOTHER GIVEAWAY! Hoorah!

This Woman is Power Unbound: Interview with Nicole Murphy! (Part 1)

This woman is fabulous, fabulous, fabulous. Nicole Murphy hails from a location close to me (Queanbeyan) and her hubby is – get this, you fellow Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland fans – one of the top croquet players in Oz. Well, get your flamingo mallets ready, cos we’re lucky enough to have Nicole Murphy on the blog for not one, not two, but three interview posts. Her answers are fascinating, so be sure to grab your cup of tea and settle down in front of the computer to hear more about this romantic Spec Fic author…and post two goes up tonight, so you don’t have too long to wait for more answers, my pretties. Just be patient…

1. Secret Ones is the beginning to your Dream of Asarlai series, and continues with the most recent release Power Unbound. How would you describe the series to potential readers, in 25 words or less?

Dream of Asarlai is a series of romances played against the background of a secret magical race, a quest for world domination and political infighting.

2. If Secret Ones was being made into a movie, who would you pick as your perfect cast for the main players of the novel, and why?

Ah, the dream of every novelist – having a movie made of their book. A dream more for the money you receive than because Hollywood gets it right every time, cause they don’t. A couple of the characters are quite clear to me – I’ve always pictured Lucas as a David Boreanaz type, while Hampton is more your Keanu Reeves (funny – that’s all the hot guys. Hmmm….) Physically, that is. In terms of personality, Hampton’s a bit more Gabriel Byrne, while Lucas is – well actually David Boreanaz still fits 🙂

As for the girls – Ione’s kinda a young Tilda Swinton and Maggie? I’m thinking Scarlett Johansson – Maggie’s absolutely gorgeous, but there’s a real depth to her as well which I think Scarlett can pull off. Or maybe Reese Witherspoon, if she were prepared to put on a bit of weight to get some really bodacious curves.

The rest of the cast – not sure, except that I’d love to have Martin Sheen play John O’Hara. If only to be able to sit next to him and say ‘You know, I think Charlie’s really hot but seriously, WTF?’

3. Can I just say here that I love strong female protagonists? The first book in the series very much focuses on the female as harnessing the magic, rather than the male… do you believe that women harness a type of magic in real life? Do you feel it an important task to represent women in novels as being strong, capable types equal to men?

I think it’s very important to have women in novels be strong, capable and equal to men. I think it’s also important to show that across a range of feminine strengths, and not just through kick-arsery. I love kick-arse heroines, but that’s making a woman take on a societally accepted masculine strength, you know? One of Maggie’s great strengths is her adaptability (having been a primary school teacher myself, I KNOW how important that is) and so it was great to show that as something that can be used to hold your own against the men.

As for magic in real life – I think that while there are downsides to the ways women have traditionally been brought up, there’s upsides as well and one of those is a greater awareness of people and their needs. Now while that was instilled in us to make us good little girls who will do what’s right for others and put them first, I think an effect of that is we can develop an understanding of the world and our place in it that men aren’t generally taught to have and if we’re smart, we can use that to beat them 🙂

***

Remember, post number two tonight!

Interview with Will Elliott – Author of the Pendulum Trilogy

Today’s special guest on the blog is Brisbane author Will Elliott. He’s stopped by to have a quick chat – his Pendulum trilogy is a creepalicious brand of fantasy, beginning with Pilgrims and continuing with the recent release of Shadow.

Now Will, I read somewhere online that you’re not into “genre labels”…how would you then describe your book series, in your own words, to potential readers?

This is fantasy, I suppose on the darker side of fantasy. What I meant was genre labels don’t bother me. Some people get all worked up about it, which I’ve always found strange.

Shadow follows on from the first book Pilgrims: what can fans from the first book in the series expect from Shadow?

More characters introduced, some of the questions / mysteries set out in book one being revealed and new questions asked. The nature of the world and the grand conflict between dragons and gods is delved into a little more, whereas in book one it was more about the human characters.

Any authors/ fictional works that have particularly inspired the Pendulum series?

I set out trying to incorporate those fantasy and sci fi elements I’ve enjoyed in Tolkien, Gene Wolfe, Mervyn Peake and Lovecraft. Not to compare myself with these masters of course, but I meant to use little touches here and there of what I enjoyed from their works. There is also a lot of non-fiction work which was key, but this relates to mythology and the paranormal (so-called) rather than the work of particular authors.

You’ve won quite a slew of awards which has garnered you international attention. Do you feel happy with how your books have been received? What’s your stance on reading reviews/critiques of your own work?

I have no more ego in this game. I used to very much tie my identity and self-worth with how my books were received, but that is a load of nonsense. It is certainly pleasing if someone appreciates the craftsmanship, but I am entirely comfortable that not everyone will like something I’ve written. That’s fine with me.

I remember you appearing on a special episode of the ABC TV show The First Tuesday Book Club a while ago (I like to go through the website’s video archives from time to time)! I have to say, I am incredibly jealous that you were able to converse with the bright and shiny Jennifer Byrne…how was that experience?

Intimidating. Not Jennifer per se, but being on TV, which I have since come to regard as a source of much evil in the world. I would not want to go on TV again. TV is for reality control and brainwashing.

I also remember that the TV episode was something to do with vampires, and that you considered Bram Stoker’s Dracula to be an important read. Do you think there is room for people to relate to/ read Dracula in this Twilight-obsessed era?

I think we need to put fiction about vampires aside and start looking at the real ones. They do indeed exist, they just look different to what most people expect.

Name one thing people would be surprised to learn about you:

I cannot play the banjo.

What book/s are you reading right now?

“The Dulce Wars.” It’s free online as a PDF, fascinating true story.

A new year, a new beginning. Any writing/reading resolutions for 2011?

I’ll be doing a new trilogy, if there is sufficient interest. A more back to basics setting for a story which is probably as involved as Pendulum, plot-wise, with many new creatures / entities. The world itself may be a bit less dynamic to the story, just because Pendulum was a very delicate balancing act. The ideas are quite new at this stage so there’s little to reveal… I’m now working out characters, locations and so on.

And finally, the most important question of the night: what would be written on your tombstone?

“Better red than dead.”

***

Thanks to the fabulous HarperCollins for lending us Will. Keep an eye out for a giveaway coming up in a few days time!

Read-Along: The Woman in White, by Wilkie Collins (Pages 310 – 609)

We resume discussion of The Woman in White by the indomitable Wilkie Collins today, specifically the second half of the book. If you happened to miss the first part of my discussion (detailing the story/characters up to page 309 in my edition of the book), you can access that discussion post first, by clicking here. I have attempted in both posts to stop outright spoilers and to limit any hinting inferences for those of you who haven’t read the book yet. If you haven’t had the chance to read The Woman in White I’d still love you to read through my discussion posts so that you can get a bit of a feel for the book, and perhaps pick it up later down the track. Because really, it’s a bloody good read.

Well. It seems like years ago I was wondering about Count Fosco’s involvement in the mystery of the Woman in White and lamenting over the fact that Mr Gilmore didn’t get half as much narration as I would have liked. Now that all the loose ends are tied I’m feeling quite lost, and wondering how the characters are ever going to get on without me. Though, of course, I don’t miss Walter Hartright and that soggy spongecake Laura, thankyouverymuch (…and yet)…

I feel as if, aside from the sensationalist events that happen in the second part of the book, that the characters all went through some profound change within themselves. Interestingly though, Miss Marion Halcombe is the character that changes the least. She is still her stoic, understated self; forever faithful to Laura’s cause. I kept wondering whether she might end up with Walter Hartwright, but t’was not to be (fortunately, really). Speaking of Hartwright, his narrations in the second half were less arduous – after his trek through the jungle and some sad news it seemed as if he had matured somehow, and could finally be the man needed to solve the mystery once and for all.

I’m afraid I can’t say as much about the book as I did in the first discussion post, mainly because I only had questions then, and now I have the answers! Aside from the fabulous plot structure, however, I think I will fondly remember this book most for its depiction of women. Laura is the perfect playtoy to commence the story’s catalyst, Marion is more than a match for the villainous Count Fosco. Madame Fosco is a fabulously complex side character, submissive only to Fosco and ‘viperish’ to the ladies, especially. The housemaids innocently offer unique pieces to the puzzle, Anne Catherick harbours a secret so big her life is at stake for knowing it, and Mrs Catherick stews in her chair waiting for revenge on the man that ruined her. The men may think their secrets are safe, but it is the women of the book who hold the key to unravelling the great mystery.

I must say in closing that I have had great fun participating in this read-along, so much so that I’ve already signed up for February’s option: Oliver Twist, by Charles Dickens. I’m hoping Allie continues the read-alongs all through the year (hint hint), for the selfish reason that I can brag in book discussions about reading the classics. But also because I’m really enjoying them. I urge anyone who feels like they might want to participate to do so – even if you don’t have your own blog, you can always post in the comments here or on Boomerang Books’ Facebook page.

Farewell, The Woman in White. We certainly did have a rollicking good time together, didn’t we? I promise I won’t forget you. Rest in peace…or at least until I decide to pick you up again.

***

Disclosure: Bought.

Year of First Publication: 1859-60.

Year of This Publication: 2007.

Number of Pages: 609.

Book Challenges: Chunkster Challenge 2011; Gothic Reading Challenge; Victorian Literature Challenge 2011.