Archive for January, 2010

Happy Australia Day everyone! I hope you all had as good a day as we did. We enjoyed a fantastic BBQ, good friends and a swim in the pool. Although I didn’t once sing the national anthem, I felt our day spent enjoying Australian past times was sufficiently patriotic! What did you all get up to?

This weeks book is a good old-fashioned, skeletons in the closet, family secrets kind of story. Written in a very ‘Bronte Sisters’ style, it takes a few pages to adjust to the tone but once you’ve got it the language is rather beautiful, possessing a quality often only found in the ‘classics’. 

The story begins in Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia Canada where James Piper, a determined entrepeneur, meets 13-year-old Materia, the eldest daughter of a rags to riches Lebanese family. In their home to tune the family piano, James instead finds himself in love. He secretly courts Materia in the following weeks and soon enough they have eloped. Upon discovery they are disowned by Materia’s family and find themselves friendless and alone in an out-of-the-way town. The story spells out the recipe for disaster at every turn. It’s not unexpected when Materia doesn’t warm to the role of wife, housekeeper and mother nor when James wonders how this little girl ensnared him with her seduction. Materia is like a ghost, lost with no identity or family, and no longer the object of James affections. It is her children who eventually give her life joy, and it is them, the four Piper sister who’s lives we trace through this epic. 

Against the backdrop of early twentieth century Canada and New York the girls lives weave through religion, rebellion, mystery, memories, music, death, love and hope. Each sister is so unique and so defined by her experience, memories and history. They are interesting characters and the heart of this novel is in their relationships and the way they shape each others lives.

I actually really enjoyed this book, which surprised me because I often have difficulty with books that are too tragic. I think the reason is because the characters, though vivid, multifaceted and deeply constructed, were at the end of the day just characters. I didn’t find myself deeply involved with them, trying to warn them off decisions or rejoicing in their triumphs. And although I have considered this to be of my own doing, on further reflection I actually think it has been a tactical move by the author. By keeping the reader at arm’s length she almost has permission to take her story anywhere she wants it to go. There is after all no fear of offending the sensibilities of her readers. Thoughts? I’d love to hear what you think of this idea. Do you totally disagree? Did you get wrapped up in the characters?

It’s easy for me to recommend this book. If you are a Bronte lover, the language alone makes it an enjoyable experience. For everyone else the story, with its twists and turns, mystery and intrigue makes for great reading. It’s not a happy book but I’m gradually learning that that is okay. Something doesn’t have to be lovely to be beautiful or perfect to be memorable.

A warning for the cautious reader, this book contains themes of incest.

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Brilliant. Read it, read it, read it.

Still Alice is beautiful, heartfelt and perfectly sincere. It follows the journey of Alice, a 50-year-old Harvard Psychology Professor, wife and mother of three through her symptoms, diagnoses and life with early onset Alzheimer’s Disease. It’s told  in such a powerful way that you are not only educated with each turn of the page but deeply effected by the realities of this life changing condition. It’s an innately truthful tale. People with the disease have commented that Lisa Genova perfectly captured the emotions and realities of it and that is what is so touching. It feels so real.

“She wished she had cancer instead. She’d trade Alzheimer’s for cancer in a heartbeat. She felt ashamed for wishing this, and it was certainly a pointless bargaining, but she permitted the fantasy anyway. With cancer she’d have something she could fight. There was the chance that she could win. Her family and the community at Harvard would rally behind her battle and consider it noble. And even if defeated in the end, she’d be able to look them knowingly in the eye and say goodbye before she left.

Alzheimer’s disease was an entirely different kind of beast. There were no weapons that could slay it…And while a bald head and a looped ribbon were seen as badges of courage and hope, her reluctant vocabulary and vanishing memories advertised mental instability and impending insanity… She didn’t want to become someone people avoided and feared.” Page 94

 Before Alice is diagnosed, her symptoms start to show themselves in really common-place ways. She forgets what a name on her to-do list means, she forgets words she knows well and lecture material she was once familiar with becomes vague. This was the stuff that scared me. Suddenly I was very aware of things I couldn’t remember and truly if Alzheimer’s was contagious, and you could catch it from a book – I got it. For a week after reading it, I’ve been second guessing myself. For example, I discovered two mangoes in my handbag. I know that I bought mango/mangoes from a street vendor and know that they were $2.50 each. I look in my wallet and I have $7.50, I know that I had a $10 note so reason suggests that I have only bought one. So where did the other mango come from? Did I get it from home? Did I take someone elses from the work fridge? – I literally have no idea! In this way the author managed to achieve one of her major goals; educating people so that they are aware of the symptoms and can get early diagnoses. I’m confident I’m nothing more than paranoid, but I’m grateful that the author wrote in such a way that makes you really question yourself.

It’s not an overly sad book despite its sad subject matter. The love of her children and the relationship she develops with her youngest daughter highlights the bond that holds fast within families, particularly when tragedy hits.  As Alice progresses to the later stages of the disease the book really conveys a sense of peace. Behind the veil of lost memory, everything that makes her up, her essence, her spirit is still there. For me it makes me grateful for my faith that the ailments we face in this life, mental and physical, will be taken away in the next. It suggests to me that everything we face in this life is there to teach and strengthen us.

This book is a triumph in so many ways. It has been endorsed by the National Alzheimer’s Association for its powerful and accurate portrayal of the disease. The language is beautiful, natural and enjoyable and considering if was originally self published this is all the more impressive. Overall I consider it an absolute treasure, a book I will never forget.

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Thank you all for your support and encouragement this past week. I have loved reading and writing and have especially enjoyed your comments. My thoughts have definitely centred around all things literary since I began. This week Levi and I have talked of little else and even had a 10 minute conversation about semi colons, who knew there was so much to say?! I was also struck quite unexpectedly with an overwhelming sense of responsibility to my readers. I began two books, was completely unsatisfied that either were good enough for you, then began a third, still unsatisfied but persuaded by the clock; I determined that any book was better than no book at all and persevered. So here you have it, a book my grandma gave me in one of her ‘spring’ cleans.

Desert Dawn is the second book by Waris Dirie, an internationally recognised model and UN representative who speaks out against female genital mutilation. She grew up in a nomadic family in Somalia Africa, but at 13 ran away to escape an arranged marriage to an older man. Her first book Desert Flower (I haven’t read this book) tells the story of her childhood, escape and rise to fame. This book details her desire to return home to visit her family and the difficult journey she takes to get there.

This book is a testament to the truth that if your life is an interesting true story (preferably one that leads you to fame) you can get published, no matter how badly you write. Aren’t I mean! Poor Waris grew up with no education; in a country ravaged by poverty and corruption; where repression is rampant; good on her for writing a book! But the writing, continuity and depiction of events is often cringe worthy and makes you question why you are going through the pain. One of my favourite lines was ‘I felt like I was travelling in three dimensions – forwards, up and down.’ Isn’t that just classic! Shame on the editor who let that stand.

That major complaint out-of-the-way, I do admire the themes she strives to convey. She tries to paint the picture of displacement; longing for familiarity, family and connection; and the struggles associated with being so fundamentally different from the people around you. The feelings that mere improved conditions don’t erase. I’m always interested to read stories about Africa and its people. While on my mission for the church, I taught a refugee family from the Congo and was fascinated with their ways, generosity, sense of humour and ability to show love. I saw them try to make sense of their new surrounds (opting for sweeping sticks to clean the carpet rather than the vacuum cleaner in the corner!) and the sadness they felt with their family on the other side of the world. I understand what she was trying to achieve in the book because I have seen it first hand. But ultimately she has failed to do this. Instead she has shown the contradictions in her views, poked holes in her cause and given a murky and dull description of people and events.

Despite her good intentions there is little to persuade me to recommend it. Books I have really enjoyed about Somalia and can fully recommend are Infidel by Ayaan Hirsi Ali and We did Nothing by Linda Polman.

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This is the first book in ages that I have had the time to read through in only a few sittings. I don’t usually have the opportunity with work and life demanding attention, but with the Christmas holidays I found myself with the opportunity. I was interested to see what Niffenegger had come up with after The Time Travellers Wife (let me know if you’d like to know more about this one) which was a really enjoyable book.

The story is a little complicated but basically Elspeth, one half of a set of identical twins is dying of Leukaemia. Upon her death her will is executed leaving her apartment, money and possessions almost completely to her estranged twin sister’s twin daughters who she has never met. The will is full of conditions that don’t allow the twins parents to ever enter the apartment etc etc, which opens up the major mystery of the novel. Living in America at the time they discover their luck, the twins travel to London to live in their new apartment. They meet their neighbours, one the former partner of Elspeth who works in the famous Highgate Cemetary, the other an OCD sufferer whose condition keeps him from leaving the apartment to pursue his wife who has left him. They also meet Elspeths ghost who is trapped in the apartment.

Mystery, ghoulish encounters, human behavioural insights and a dash of romance give the novel a really unique, enjoyable quality and you can’t help but turn the pages a little faster to find out what happens next.

The major flaw however of this book was exactly the same as it was in The Time Travellers Wife. The author seems unable to give the reader what they want for an ending. And there is nothing more validating than to see Hollywood agree when they change the story for film to exactly what feels right. Now some of you might disagree but who can argue that seeing Kate die while Anna lives in the movie version of My Sisters Keeper (book by Jodi Picoult) felt better than the ending of the book? Or seeing Henry at the end of the movie (The Time Travellers Wife) time travel back to his wife after a reasonable amount of time? I just can’t get over the need to have the books I read resolve themselves. I find myself recreating the ending when the reality just won’t do.

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And it begins…

 Hi all,  I’m just about to post the first of the 52 reviews for 2010! But first, I thought I’d write down a few of the titles I read in 2009 that are well worth the read. I’ll try to review these through the year, but if you want to know more about any of them sooner, let me know and I’ll give you my thoughts.

The Tea Rose and The Winter Rose – both by Jennifer Donnelly (the third to come out this year) My all time favourite books.

The Red Tent – Anita Diamant

The Tomorrow when the War Began Series – John Marsden (7 books – movie to come out this year)

The Ordinary Princess – M.M. Kaye (Beautiful for young girls and girls young at heart)

We Did Nothing – Linda Polman (Fantastic insight into the UN)

Infidel – Ayaan Hirsi Ali (amazing true story)

Mao’s Last Dancer – Li Cunxin

Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel and Leah – Orson Scott Card (3 books, LDS author)

Anne of Green Gables Series- L.M. Montgomery

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society – Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows

Jane Eyre – Charlotte Bronte

And that’s it for now. xo

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I’m not entirely sure what to write about this book, I can understand how people just love it and I really, really wanted to love it…but didn’t. I love the idea of the book but I can’t help but admit I was disappointed.
Truth and Beauty is about the friendship between Lucy Grealy (Author of Autobiography of a face) and Ann Patchett (Author of this book among others). It details the intricacies of their friendship from aspiring writers to successful authors and everything in between.
Lucy had cancer when she was young leaving her with a disfigured face as well as breathing and eating issues and throughout her life she underwent over 30 corrective surgeries. Despite this, and likely because of it, Lucy was a celebrity everywhere she went, people were drawn to her and Ann was one of those people. They go through graduate school together, endlessly apply for writing residencies which they each in turn win but never at the same time and find their way through relationships and breakups, drug addiction and writers block.

I wouldn’t want to steer anyone away from reading this book, I think for many people its honesty as well as it’s insights into both the world of aspiring authors and the realities of friendships would be appreciated. However much of the content of the book to me was troubling. It’s such an honest account, but the honestly is almost brutal. Lucy is painted as an extremely needy, dependent wreck for most of the book, and although Ann herself seems to find this enduring you can’t help but read the subtext as slander. We all have our faults but to have them immortalised in a book, for no specific reason to me seems unnecessary and cruel. However it goes without saying that as an idealist, who loves the drama, but craves the happy ending, I am not the most impartial critic. If you like a well written book, biographies and true stories, not doubt you will find this a good read.

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I bought this book 4 years ago while visiting the birth place of L.M. Montgomery, beloved author of ‘Anne of Green Gables’, on Prince Edward Island, Canada. That trip was the fulfilment of a life long dream to visit the place that inspired the books that have had such an influence on my life and character. I not only love the Anne of Green Gables books and films (1st and 2nd only, I despised the 3rd for it’s blatant digression from the books) but have at times considered myself to BE Anne – a confession, you will understand serves to convey the depth of my love for ‘all things Anne’.

So alas, I have no answer for why these journals have remained untouched on my bookshelf for so long. Fancy sways me to believe they waited until this time in my life where they would have the most effect – and that they have.

For anyone who has a love for the Anne of Green Gables books these journals will expand that love, for those who don’t, it will inspire it. Each entry is a treasure, capturing the beauty of a time long lost, in surrounds so exactly and poetically described you feel as though you are there. But the value of these journals lies well beyond these descriptions. What ‘Maud’ captures, unknowingly through her honest dialogue with her journal, her trusted friend, is the passage from girlhood to womanhood. Seamlessly Maud’s entries glide from those of a young, energetic, passionate youth, to those of a strong though lonely, talented authoress. However the beauty of the works revelations lie in the more subtle details. Heartache, death, duty, necessity, travel and love are exposed as the experiences that force the passage. Once a carefree girl, eager for fun and full of joy she becomes lonely, depressed and unhappy. She isn’t completely defined by these traits, there is much about her that remains less depressing ie. her writing, her activites, her garden and her love of beauty but a transition has taken place. As women we all go through it but I admit in my life I ask myself ‘Why have I changed so much?’. I notice and can’t help but feel sad at the absence of elements of my former self. I felt great comfort from Maud’s journey, I learnt that while you lose some treasures of youth, you gain so much as you journey towards womanhood. Knowledge, inner strength, confidence and wisdom. Although at times she covets the joy of her youth, she herself says she would not return to it.

Many of the entries are quite heartbreaking. From the death of parents and childhood friends to the sadness of living with grandparents so different from herself with little desire to understand her. Her love life has your head spinning at times. In her youth she was much sort after and had many young suitors confess their love. As she grows she questions her ability to feel love and in course consents to marry a man, who she believes she can come to love, though quickly realises he repulses her completely. The depth of her turmoil over this situation is quite consuming. The modern reader can’t help but hope for a hint of passion in a book and through Maud’s brief relationship with the son of a family she boards with you get your fill! Being on the receiving end of such confidences makes you feel quite privileged. Remembering this isn’t fiction but a young women’s actually experiences.

I have truely enjoyed reading the journal of an author who has given me so much. And with many more volumes I hope to get to some of the others next year.

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All about the goal

So…I’ve decided to read 52 books in the year 2010 and review each one on here for the benefit of any faithful followers (and for a little writing practise)! I hope that I can help encourage you to read great books and steer you away from some not so great ones (lets hope there aren’t too many of those). Because I’m so excited to get going, I’ve reviewed a few books already but the challenge will official begin in the first week of January. If you have any suggestions for me of books to read, let me know! Enjoy xo

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