Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant by Anne Tyler - Book Review

Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant

This was a sad story of Pearl Tull and her family. Her husband walked out of her, leaving her with three children. The story is around their lives as they move through their adult lives and how their childhood affected them. It is a story of dysfunction, love, betrayal, anger and hope. It is the first of Anne Tyler's books for me to read and I will be reading more.

Toyo by Lily Chan - Book Review

Toyo by Lily Chan

This is a beautifully written story of Lily's grandmother. Lily Chan has written this story of a woman who was caught between worlds of war and races in such a beautiful way. She swirls around with poetic language and style in a way that we are taken into the dance of Toyo's life. There are many unexpected moments throughout. While telling the story of Toyo, Lily also tells us a story of the history of the Chinese Japanese people and the difficulties that they faced. We are also given an insight into lives during the war, the rebuilding of lives afterward and then an insight into immigration.

When and How to Write Short Stories and What They Are by Morris Lurie - Book Review

This is not a 'how-to' book, however, for anyone wanting to write short stories, it is a great little book to push you on. Morris talks about the things that do work and also what doesn't work. With only 63 pages, it is easy to make your way through it...and learn a few things along the way.

Looking for Alaska by John Green - Book Review

Looking for Alaska

This is a great book of John Green's. It is his first book and he has developed a wonderful character in Miles. Miles is a 16 yr old who doesn't have friends and is obsessed with famous peoples last words. He convinces his parents that he should go to boarding school in a hope to reinvent himself. There he is finds friendship with Chip his roommate, aka 'the Colonel', a guy called Takumi and their best friend, Alaska. He falls deeply in love with Alaska who is wild, beautiful, mysterious, moody and most of all unattainable. 

These new friends take Miles (or Pudge as the Colonel calls him) on a wild ride and challenge him in every way. It is a book about firsts and lasts; first kiss, first drink, first cigarette, first friends, first prank and last words.The book is structured in Before and After with the pivotal moment of the book happening in the middle (which I won't say as I don't want to give it away).

I was drawn into this really well written (I would love my first book to be this well developed) story of a very observant and sensitive kid.  I really enjoyed going along on the journey with Miles as he is pulled apart and puts himself back together. 

Mateship with Birds by Carrie Tiffany - Book Review

Mateship With Birds by Carrie Tiffany

This is a beautifully written story of mateship and birds - with both words having the double meaning. Carrie is lyrical and poetic in her writing and I found this lovely and easy to read. It is no surprise that it the Stella Prize winner and NSW Premiers Literary Awards winner as well as being shortlisted for the Miles Franklin Literary Award.

Both main characters, Betty and Harry, come across as fairly stereotypical rural people who are very pragmatic and don't have a great deal if space for emotion. The family of kookaburras and their story is woven through the story and whilst it was beautiful writing (poetry). On first read I found it a little distracting, but the second read I really enjoyed the connection between the two. The relationship between Harry and Michael were touching as Harry tried to be a father to Michael. 

It is a slow story but one of beautiful writing. I think it is one I will think about again and again.

Drylands by Thea Astley - Book Review

Drylands: A Book for the World's Last Reader

On second read I found Drylands just as enjoyable as the first time. Thea is a wonderful author who can take us into people's ordinary lives in washed up towns and show us a little bit of ourselves. Drylands is set in a falling apart town with falling apart people.

It is a collection of short stories that are strung together. Janet Deakin is central to the novel. She is writing a book for the 'last reader' to fill in the loneliness of the hot evenings in the lonely town of Dryalnds.  The town is dying because of the changing of the weather patterns. The characters have bleak lives and are pretty unlikeable. We as the reader are influenced by Janet's views of the town and townsfolk.

For anyone living in a town, this may resonate with them or send a shiver up their spine. It is depressing and exhilarating at the same time.

It is well worth the read.

Holiday reading

I was asked a couple of weeks ago about what would be good holiday reading from my bookshelf. I had a look through and picked out my favourites. 

What are yours? 

48 Shades of Brown by Nick Earl, Book Review

This book is not to be confused with any 50 shades of anything.  Nick Earls writes a great coming of age story about Dan.  

Dan's parents have taken an opportunity to work overseas during Dan's VCE year (year 12) and he is to stay with his aunty who is not much older than him.  He joins into this uni shared house with another uni girl Naomi who is only one year older than him.  

Unsure of how to relate with females and what may interest them, he finds himself researching a number of odd things to survive this adult world.  Nick Earl shows us the very insecure and sensitive side to a seventeen year old boy as Dan tries to settle in and falls in love.

It is a great story with themes of identity, relationships, coming of age and love. 

Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo - Book Review

Well this was a bookclub book and it is a very confronting book.  Katherine Boo immerses herself in a slum in India and has produced this novel to show how world events can radically change people's lives - even the poorest people of the world.  She highlights the corruption, betrayal and devastation that exist in this world and the lack of hope, and ability to make decisions to change their lot that the poor have.

Having spent some time myself visiting slums in India with an aid organisation, I did find this quite a confronting book to read.  

There are some difficulties with this as a non-fiction book in that Boo takes us into the thoughts of the people who are living in the slums, leaving a seed of doubt as to how she could know the inner workings of their minds.  That being said, I think she has done a good job of highlighting the corruption that does exist in India (and probably many other third world countries)and the powerlessness of the world's poor.

A great insight to this desperate and hopeless world.

Writing Your Synopsis

So you think you have a great idea for a novel. 

You start writing and by chapter five you begin to wonder if you really have a story. Will you be able to keep it going and keep it be interesting for the length of a whole novel?  This was my case until I wrote my synopsis today.

There are so many ways to tackle this problem but one way is to write a synopsis. By doing a synopsis you will see very quickly whether or not there is enough interest in the story, whether the story is actually about something, a strong story line, strong and interesting characters and what point of view would be best.

The Longest Race by Ed Ayres Book Review

I was lucky enough to be asked to read this book for review.  It is not a book that I would normally read as I understood it first to be just a book about running when I received it (and I am definitely not a runner).  Once I got started into it, I realised that Ed Ayres had so much more to tell.

The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion - Book Review

I came across this funny romantic comedy by Graeme Simsion as he is one of my class mates in my writing and editing course.  First off I have to say I am incredibly surprised that he needs to be in a novel class as he is obviously a great writer.  This novel was written just last year and already is number one in the Independent Booksellers list!  I am ever so much in awe...

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn Book Review

This story had me enthralled from the moment I started to read it.  Gillian tells this thriller in two unreliable voices; Nick and Amy.  Nick and Amy are a young married couple who seem on the surface to love each other just an any other young couple.  Amy has gone missing much to Nick’s worry.  We hear from Amy through her diary entries that go back to before they met.  Nick goes to exhaustive lengths to find his wife who it seems is unable to be found, dead or alive.  We, as the reader are slowly let into Amy’s world in amongst Nick’s real time dilemma. 

Gillian has brilliantly crafted the characters in the novel.  I very much enjoyed Nick and Amy as well as Amy’s parents and Nick’s sister. Gillian has a wonderful twist to the story and then twists again.  She kept me on the edge, unable to put the book down.  A real pleasure to read.   I found it a very hard book to put down so much so that I was kept up until 2am reading on the last night of it.  Wonderful.  Another great bookclub book.

The Maze Runner by James Dashner Book Review

The walls around are made of metal…and move.  Surrounding this is a maze that no-one has made their way out of alive.  This is the world that James Dashner has set up in The Maze Runner.  Thomas, the main protagonist, arrives in a lift into this world with his memory wiped.  He finds this world only has teens, like him, and there is a hierarchy here that he needs to learn about.  Thomas has seeds of memory that he can’t shake – or form.  Some of the people here are very suspicious of him and he wonders about what his past may have been.  He feels compelled to run through the maze, a known very dangerous thing to do as people have died out there.  Another person arrives into this maze world and everyone is in shock as this time it is a girl; there have never been girls arrive before.  Fear and suspicion run rife. 

This is a brilliantly written book that hooked me in the whole way.  The characters are well developed with a very well planned plot.  The story runs at a fast pace with the reader left begging for more.  I am looking forward to reading the next one – The Scorch Trials.  

Book Review - Secret Scribbled Notebooks by Joanne Horniman

Reading Secret Scribbled Notebooks by Joanne Horniman I felt cheeky accidently picking up Kate’s private diaries.  Joanne does a great job of getting into Kate’s head to be able to divulge all of her inner most thoughts.  Horniman uses four points of view (three notebooks and typewritten pages) in addition to using the first person narrative enabling the reader to develop a close relationship to Kate, the seventeen year old narrator.  One of Kate’s notebooks is written as more of a fantasy of herself in third person.
Joanne uses a technique of a number of different notebooks (coloured yellow, red and blue) for Kate to divulge different secrets and thoughts.  The majority of the story however is written on The Wild Typewritten Pages (which we find out later she wrote with hindsight once she was given a typewriter). 

Kate is at point at transition point in her life wanting to make big decisions for herself.  She is thinking about love and what it means, and about home and where that is.   She is ready to explore these big themes as she finishes up her final year at school. 

I read it with a little scepticism about the truth in the story when it is delivered by Kate in her wild typewritten pages and notebooks as this technique allows the unreliable narrator to sneak through.  At points I also wondered about the idea of using so many different notebooks to tell the story. 

Having said all of that, Joanne Horniman writes a great story that takes us, the reader, into the mind of a girl in transition.  She takes us on a journey with Kate and we are given her inner most secrets along the way.  I was taken back to my own years of transition and the diaries I kept.

Have you read this and what did you think?

If you kept diaries as a teenager did you explore these issues and did anyone else ever get their hands on the diaries? 

Book Review: Notes from the Teenage Underground by Simone Howell

I enjoyed this novel of Simone Howell’s.  It is the classic struggle of a teenage girl who is in a friendship group of three struggling to find her own sense of identity.  Seventeen year old girl, Germaine (Gem or Gem-Gem as she is known by her friends) Gordon struggles to find people who like her and relate to her.  She loves movies, her hippy-feminist mother, her friends, Lo and Mira, and her co-worker, Dodgy, (at least she thinks she does) from the video store.  The main character Gem is tight with Lo and Mira and has been for a number of years.  Lo, Mira and Gem come up with a plan to do something radical to help draw people to them, whilst ensuring that they continue to be different to the mainstream (or Barcode people as referred to by Lo).  Lo has placed herself as the leader of the group, daring the others to take risks and playing them off against each other with their insecurities.  Lo is uncomfortable with the fact that Gem has a very close relationship with her mother, Bev, as she lacks this herself. 

Gem also works at the local video store with Dodgy and Marco where they all share a passion for movies and the process of making them.  Gem is desperate to be like everyone else, to fit in, even to the point of wanting to lose her virginity.  She uses films, haiku and a range of inspirational guides to discover the meaning of friendship and family.  Gem discovers that she is more comfortable behind the lens observing life around her.

Howell tells the story in the first person from Gem’s point of view which works very well with all of the introspection of a seventeen year old.  The chapters are short and to the point with great headings (ie Halo of authenticity - when Lo brings a mushroomed drunk Gem home to Bev and they both come out of it looking like angels).  Howell has captured the sense of the teen going through a transition so well; the tough decisions they need to make, the sacrifices, the friendships, and how they relate to the family and the world throughout.  Gem’s voice is spot on for a seventeen year old with the language that Howell has given her.

I could relate to the struggles of Gem and the tension of wanting to fit in with her peers, not wanting to change herself to the point of losing who she is and still being drawn to the loving relationship she has with her mother.  Gem is going through the moment of trying to understand who she is and where she fits into the world around her and which is something most teenagers struggle with.  

I enjoyed a number of things about this novel.  One was that it took me back to the teenage angst that so many of us went through or are going through and the realisations that come to us.  It is a great moment when Gem sees herself in Ponyface Roberts when Ponyface realises she was living the shadow of Bliss Dartford. 

‘I looked at her long, miserable face and suddenly saw myself.’

I also really enjoyed Gem’s relationship with her absent mentally ill drug taking father and the complexity there.  The only thing that bugged me a little was a slight feeling of implausibility to the truth of what was going on in Lo’s life. 

This would be a great book for older teenagers and adults wishing to reminisce about the trauma of those teen years.  

Mum goes back to school

Wow this year is scooting away from me.  Already I am in my fourth week at TAFE writing words, words and more words, listening, work shopping and musing over all things literary.  I have had to really work on my self confidence as I am now surrounded by really great writers, editors and thinkers.  It feels like a real privilege to be in classes with them and to be tutored by authors, the experts in the field.  I know that already have grown in my writing and am sure that this is a year that will challenge me (hopefully not to the point I crack).

I have had to make a some changes at home to make it all work.  There are a heap of jobs and things that got done when I wasn't studying full time that are crying out for attention (don't talk to me about the garden).  The boys (all of them..) find themselves with a slightly increased workload around the house.  I try not to feel guilty that I can't make it to the swimming carnival, can't come and watch them race.  I have already had to say to the youngest that he can't offer my help after he volunteered me to make the costumes for a filming clip.

I feel as though I am constantly stealing time now either writing or reading or being mum.   I know that as I get more confident in what I am doing, and more organised with my study times, it will be better...I hope.  For now, just don't look in the corners of my house, or in fact anywhere in it.  .

The Tiger's Wife by Tea Obreht reviewed

The Tiger's WifeThe Tiger's Wife by Téa Obreht
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A wonderful fairytale winding through the Balkan wars and villages with far fetched stories of tigers and a deathless man. Tea is a great storyteller sho has found her roots back in the Balkans in this tale with the stories of old. She winds the superstitious and religious realities of the villagers whilst Natalia Stefanovic narrates the story of her grandfather's visits with the the deathless man and his fascination with the tiger.

Her grandfather, a well respected doctor, whom she has followed with her career, has lived through one war dividing the country and now is seeing it again. Through his eyes Natalia has learnt to see the world slightly differently, at a different pace. She learns from him the compassion to people, to be able to hear pain and sufferering where others seem oblivious to it. He teaches her to keep some special things to herself as these things "..belong only to you. And me...The story of this war...belongs to everyone.." (when he was referring to seeing the elephants quietly walking though the city down the Boulevard in the early hours of the morning. He wanted Natalia to learn from his years and whilst there was a time she rejected him like most teenage girls, in the end she realised the wisdom of him and sanctity of their relationship.

Tea's magical storytelling winds aroung the hills of the Balkans and though the villages with such beautiful vivid descriptions of pre, mid and post war landscape. She threads the stories of old hunting and superstition into the clash of new world where they do and don't meet, yet leaving trails of mystery where they should stay.

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Jasper Jones by Craig Silvey reviewed

Jasper JonesJasper Jones by Craig Silvey
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I really enjoyed this book of Craig Silvey's. The story is set in a small town of Corrigan and based around Charlie, the main protagonist who has great strong voice. Charlie is a 14 year old who, to date, has lived a good life being smart and obedient. He is a single child of a quiet father who shuts himself away in his library for long periods of time, and an overbearing mother. His life is interrupted and turned upside down by a tap on the window by Jasper Jones, the errant teen of the town, who desperately needs his help.

Charlie is faced with needing to stand by and defend his best friend and family, the only Vietnamese in town who is persecuted by the cricket team and louts from the town. Through this he learns what it is to himself.
Jasper Jones leads Charlie up the bush path to try to help him solve the greatest mystery of the town and in doing so, Charlie's life falls apart and he has to work out how to rebuild it.

I think this is a great YA and adult read (my bookclub is reading it and we are well over the young adult age group). There was plenty of tension to keep the reader strung along and even a romance threaded through. It dealt with issues of identity, death, grief, responsibility, racism and corruption. Would be a great book for kids to study.

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New booklist for 2013

This is what I wait for with baited breath, unsure of what I should read until the list comes out.  I am like an unanchored ship.  The list has been issued thanks to Leanne, our hardworking, yoga-chilled organiser.  We all just come up with all of the books that we might like to read over the year (it is always way more than we could ever read, like a group of greedy children at a table of party food grabbing all, then realising that we can only fit so much in).   Leanne's job is to cull the list and, as she explained to us over our Kris Kringle last year, to fit the books to the moods of the seasons!  Well she has certainly been doing a great job for the 12 years I've been going.

Now all that is left is to madly read the first one by February 6th.  First off the rank is Questions of Travel by Michelle De Kretser and I'm looking forward to once I get hold of my copy.

If you would like to know what other books we are reading this year and would like to read along, check out My Book Club Page for the most recent list.  I take no responsibility for any last minute changes as the year chugs along.  There is nothing wrong with changing our minds!

Happy New Year!

x  Meg