Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Library Loot: August 31 to September 4

Library Loot is a weekly event co-hosted by Claire from The Captive Reader and Marg from The Adventures of an Intrepid Reader that encourages bloggers to share the books they’ve checked out from the library. If you’d like to participate, just write up your post-feel free to steal the button-and link it using the Mr. Linky any time during the week. And of course check out what other participants are getting from their libraries!

My library loot looks bigger than usual this week. I promise you that it is only because I went to the library a day earlier than I normally do...or at least that is what I am telling myself!

Here's my loot for this week:

Wildflower Hill by Kim Freeman - I have seen a lot of really good reviews of this book and got to the point of feeling as though I was letting the country down by not reading this Australian set book written by an Australian author.

Too Hot to Touch by Louisa Edwards - I do enjoy sending the boy in to pick up books with covers like this. The look on his face is priceless.

The Soldier by Grace Burrowes - Really enjoyed the first book in this trilogy, and then got the third book fro the publisher which means I really need to get on and read the second book!

Animal Magnetism by Jill Shalvis - While I wait for the third Lucky Harbor book to come out I thought I would try one of Jill Shalvis' other series

Big Cherry Holler by Adriana Trigiani - the follow up book to Big Stone Gap.

Every Secret Thing by Emma Cole - yes, again.

Falling Free by Lois McMaster Bujold - I am intending to read the Miles Vorkosigan series. I have been given a list of the series in internal chronological order which is how I am intending to read it, although I have seen other lists that give a different order. Hate it when it isn't clear what order books should be read in.

Valley of Grace by Marion Halligan - requested this one after the MWF session I went to last Friday.

Teenage Dream by Katy Perry - It feels as though I have been on the hold list for this one for months and months!

Claire has the Mr Linky this week so head on over and share your loot!

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Teaser Tuesday: French Lessons by Ellen Sussman

Paris really seems to be calling me at the moment. The last two books I have finished have both been set in the City of Lights and have used the city really well to the point of making me wish I could go there. Add to that, today an author posted a picture of the apartment she is going to be living in for a few months, and someone I know having just come back, and I have a palpable longing to be there. Unfortunately, that is not going to happen for many years yet, so I will just have to be satisfied with reading more about the city or perhaps going to get crepes from the local creperie or buying a baguette and some cheese or something.

My teaser today comes from page 86 of French Lessons by Ellen Sussman. I am sure that you will be able to guess where they are!

All of Paris is spread before her, from the heights of Sacre-Coeur, down along the banks of the Seine, out to the farthest reaches of each arrondissement. The clouds swirl around her, at eye level, and every once in a while the city disappears and she's heaven-bound. Then a gust of wind pushes away the cloud and like magic, Paris sits at her feet.

Teaser Tuesday is hosted by Miz B at Should Be Reading. Head on over to find out all about it, and how to join in!

Sunday, August 28, 2011

MWF - Native Titles

Today I headed in to the city to go to my second Melbourne Writers Festival event for this year. Next Saturday I am spending all day at the festival so I suspect my next Sunday Salon post will also be about the festival.

The session I attended today was called Native Titles:
Can fiction reveal the truth of the earliest encounters between Indigenous and settler Australians more honestly than conventional history? Three award-winning novelists, Kate Grenville (The Lieutenant), Kim Scott (That Deadman Dance) and Rohan Wilson (The Roving Party) consider approaches to the relationships at the heart of our nation. With Stephen Romei.
Kim Scott
The reasons why I chose to attend this session are that I have read and enjoyed both of Kate Grenville's historical fiction novels which are set during the earliest days of British colonisation of Australia and her latest novel, Sarah Thornhill, has recently been released. I am really interested in hearing more from Kim Scott. His book, That Deadman Dance, has been very successful in terms of literary prizes including winning the Miles Franklin award this year and I intend to read it at some point, although I am not sure when that will be as my library still doesn't have it on the catalogue at all. I think I am going to have ask them to buy it. Again I walked away from the session thinking that I needed to read all of the books that were discussed, including Rohan Wilson's The Roving Party which sounds fascinating.

The focus of the panel today was discussion of the portrayal of the settlement of Australia by the British and the representation of the indigenous story. I found the composition of the panel itself to be quite interesting. Kim Scott is a member of the Noongar people, an indigenous Australian tribe and is writing from the indigenous viewpoint. He stressed the importance of indigenous Australians having a voice and how important this will be in the continuing healing process which would include being able to look back to find strength and sustenance from their own stories. Kate Grenville is a white Australian who can trace her family back to settlement and places an important emphasis on the fact that whilst she has Aboriginal characters in her works she does not, and she will not, enter the Aboriginal characters internal world.. Finally, Rohan Wilson is a white Australian who does write from an indigenous perspective in his novel. Part of the reason for this is that, unlike other states like WA where Kim Scott comes from, there seems to be no indigenous voice in Tasmania and he hoped to at least start a conversation about the issues, and he has had positive feedback from the indigenous community despite his own doubts as to the correctness of choosing this voice.

Once again, the session was very interesting. Each of the authors started with a reading from their latest book and then it was on with the questions, starting with why does the story of settlement and first contact need to be told and what are the advantages of using fiction.

Kate Grenville
Kate Grenville talked about coming to the realisation that her own forebears may well have been involved in many of the events that happened in the early days of the colony, particularly in relation to the taking up of land along the Hawkesbury River which would by definition have resulted in the displacement of the native Aboriginal tribes at the time, and yet in all the historical records of the time, there was no mention at all of them. She originally planned to tell her ancestor's story through non-fiction, but instead it became a fictionalised representation of the first contact story. When asked if she was done with the historical setting that started in The Secret River continued in The Lieutenant and now concludes the trilogy with Sarah Thornhill, Grenville did agree that there was a chance that there is more to come from her pen within this setting.

One of the themes that was touched on many times throughout the panel was the idea of the silence that is in the historical record. Kim Scott expanded on this idea by saying that he wanted to rewrite the history to give voice and agency to his previously silenced ancestors and to also emphasise more the shared history that we all have. For Rohan, the idea of the profound silence of minorities such as indigenous and women in the historical record was a motivating factor as well.

As a fan of the historical fiction genre, I was intrigued by the discussion that were held about the role of fiction in telling the story of history. At one point, Kim Scott talked about history itself being a narrative, and therefore we see limited viewpoints including who are the good guys and who are the villains ( which to my mind reflects the well known adage that history is written by the winners).  He said that fiction can attempt to create a narrative sensibility that informs story and gets readers to move in consciousness as well by creating a relationship between reader and writer and using that as a basis for illuminations. It was interesting to me that there were several times where I saw correlations between this session and the last one I attended, and this was one of those moments.

Kate's answer to this question was that she takes elements of what is real and shapes it to create a believable bigger story, illuminating human nature and a moment in space and time.

Rohan Wilson
The question of historical accuracy is one that often comes up for readers of historical fiction and each of the authors had examples of readers identifying errors. Rohan Wilson did however have a different perspective on the issue of accuracy. He agreed that it is important but he is more than happy to bend and shape the story as he wants. He is not a history writer, and fiction is not history. When he is writing it is about characters and story, aiming to create characters that can be represented in such as way that reader's disbelief is suspended. Personally I wonder if this is a differentiation that you might also be able to draw between the historical fiction genre itself and literary fiction with a historical setting, but I think it is something that I need to ponder a bit more yet.

Also touched on is how the past could shape the future, and the idea that we can work towards a better relationship in relation to the many issues that are still very real for indigenous Australians because really the story is not over yet. Definitely food for thought.

There was quite a bit more that was covered during the session, but I think that those were most of the main points!

It was heartening to see how full the festival bookshop was both before I went into my session and after it and the signing queue for Jonathan Franzen was huge! I had to leave pretty much straight away because I was on babysitting duties but I am looking forward to spending a bit of time browsing the shelves next week! I was also very pleased to meet up with Lisa from ANZ Litlovers blog and I am looking forward to having a bit of a longer chat with her later in the festival! You can read Lisa's take on this session here.

My next session is on Friday afternoon, and I am contemplating asking the boss for half a day off so that I can squeeze in at least one extra session on that day and then all day Saturday as well!

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Weekend Cooking: AWW Birthday Cakes

I am not 100% sure why but I have been spending a lot of time lately thinking about birthday cakes, especially in the context of those people who make amazing theme cakes. My sister is one of those people. Over the years she has made my son a Spiderman cake and a Lightning McQueen cake and for her children and those of her friends there have been Dorothy the Dinosaur cakes, giraffes and most recently a Dolly Varden cake.

Not too long ago we were talking about this. When I think back over my childhood I can only really recall one cake - my aunt made me a pink Dolly Varden cake when I was quite young. Between us we also remembered that there was a farmyard scene cake which featured a chocolate log in a sea of green icing and lots of animals. We are not sure if that was for my birthday or for someone else. I think it was in summer, so not my birthday, but I am not 100% sure. What I do remember is making myself sick by gorging on the green icing that covered the cake board.

One of the most influential publications when it came to kids birthday cakes, particularly during the 1980s had to be the Australian Women's Weekly's Children's Birthday Cake book. I would go so far as to say that the whole Australian Women's Weekly series would have proved pretty influential in the kitchens of Australia as a whole at the time. I know when I first started being interested in buying cookbooks I always gravitated towards these books. As an aside, is the Australian Women's Weekly is one of the big magazines published here, but it is only published monthly!

There was the original version of this book and then there was an updated version of the book published in 2002 with all new designs. There was, however, such a degree of sentimentality associated with the first version that this year they reprinted it!

The selection of cakes in both versions of the books vary from simple to jaw-droppingly complicated! I do wonder if there are people out there who have made some of the cakes but they do look amazing! One of the simple ones that we made years ago now (from the new book) was a lamington choo-choo - pretty simple to make really, it's just about putting it all together.

One of the cakes in the new version of the book is a Merry-go round cake which the editor helpfully suggests is "not difficult - it is however time consuming". (It looks difficult to me I have to say!).

Of the recipes in the old book, one I have seen people reminisce about quite a lot is the swimming pool cake, where you make the cake and then cut out a section out of the top and fill it with jelly to make it look like a pool and add in small people and beach balls to make the scene complete. I do question the choice of green jelly for the water, but I guess we don't really have blue jelly!

There are a couple of cakes that I don't necessarily think would work for me. For example, in the older book there is a fluffy duck, complete with yellow buttercream frosting (okay so far), popcorn, and potato chips (crisps) for the beak. Not sure that the combination works for me, but it would be impressive to see it carried into the room at a birthday party.

There are many different cakes which are presented in the books with themes varying from sport to numbers, from fairy tales to ideas using cupcakes. There are always step by step pictures showing how you get the shape of the cake that you are after and there are several patterns included in each of the book to assist with getting your cake just right. Some of these look a lot like putting a puzzle together, but I am sure that seeing the excitement on the faces of the recipients makes all the hard work worthwhile.

Whilst the books are labelled as kid's birthday cake books, there are a number that could be used for adults as well. There is a party pinata cake that looks totally awesome if anyone wants to make it for me next year! You take a pre-prepared round buttercake  and then put lots of Smarties/M&Ms, chocolate coins and other lollies on top of it. Then cover that with a chocolate shell that you have made by coating the inside of an appropriately sized metal bowl and then covering the outside of the chocolate "bowl" with more M&Ms and Smarties. According to the image, you need a new hammer to get into the cake, which could be lots of fun at a party!

As far as I know the AWW cookbooks are available in other countries around the world, but I am not exactly sure where!

My plan for this post was to scan in a few of the images for your enjoyment! However, it seems as though I have no idea how to use my scanner, so that might have to wait until another day!

Weekend Cooking is hosted by Beth Fish Reads and is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, fabulous quotations, photographs.

Friday, August 26, 2011

MWF: The Glue of Good Fiction

I was lucky enough to attend my first Melbourne Writers Festival event for this year today! I was a little bit cheeky and made the trip up to Fed Square during my lunch break, listened to the session and then rushed back to work afterwards. Then I had to leave early to pick up my car from the mechanics for the second day straight (long story) so it was a good day in terms of numbers of hours actually spent at work!

I haven't been to the Festival at all for a couple of years and the year I did go I just bought a couple of session tickets, but this year I have gone all out and bought a Paperback Pass which entitled me to 5 events and 2 free Friday events. Some time in the next couple of years I am hoping to start volunteering instead of just attending.

Here's the summary blurb of the session I attended:

As Sartre may have put it, drama is other people. Gail Jones, Elizabeth Stead, Jane Smiley and Marion Halligan discuss how relationships lie at the heart of their fiction, and how we cope with others - family, lovers, enemies, colleagues, neighbours, strangers. Chaired by Enza Gandolfo.

Jane Smiley
My main reason for wanting to attend this session was to hear something from Jane Smiley. There are other opportunities to hear her speak during the Festival, but none that suited my timetable and so when I saw her name on the list on a Friday session (that would cost me nothing) it was a no brainer. It's actually a bit weird that I wanted to hear her speak in the first place as I have only really had any exposure to one of her books and that was an abridged audio version of A Thousand Acres which I absolutely loathed. Apparently it was enough though! You will hear a similar tale when I talk about going to see Ann Patchett too. Didn't really like the book of hers that I had read, but still really wanted to see her festival session.

The other three authors on the panel are Australian authors and I haven't read any of them. I walked out of the session wanting to read something from all of them! I can see I am going to have to exercise a lot of restraint when it comes to requesting books from the library and/or buying them as a result of attending the festival. I am especially interested in picking up Marion Halligan's short story collection Shooting the Fox as one of the short stories that she talked about today sounds like a really fun read!

Marian Halligan
Each of the authors started by talking about what it is that they write about in the context of the session. For Marion Halligan this meant birth, death, love and betrayal and just about everything in between which means that she mostly writes domestic details. Jane Smiley indicated that she began by writing about children, and then that kind of grew into human/human relationship, human/animal relationship, political relations! To summarise, she said "Show me a relationship and I will write it".  Gail Jones thought that the focus of her work was time and memory and how relationships reach back into the past, especially how the dead are profoundly present in the lives of people especially during the period of grief. Finally, Elizabeth Stead indicated that she liked to write about people who are a little left of centre, a little disturbed, a little bit different. In effect she writes about loneliness which could well be interpreted as the lack of relationship.

There were a number of other questions asked including about relationships being the vehicle for exploring character and actions, and also about the title of the session itself which prompted Marion Halligan to say that she didn't see relationships as glue as such.

Another aspect of relationship that Jane Smiley touched on was a triangular relationship between the narrator and the reader as well as the author and narrator which was an interesting concept.

There was some discussion about there not only being emotional relationships, but also spatial relationships - almost like if we put this thing next to that thing and see what happens which prompted Gail Jones to comment that there is likely a lot more randomness in stories than the reader suspects.

The last point that was explored before the session was opened up to questions from the floor was that relationship between characters and place with specific examples of Marion's novel Valley of Grace which is set in Paris featuring all French people, but written wholly in English and Gail's books which feature Sydney. Elizabeth Stead also mentioned that there have been times when she started with the place and the characters grew from there whereas the reader may expect the process to be the other way around.

Elizabeth Stead
One of the interesting parts of this discussion for me specifically in the context of the book I finished reading today  was about characters who are living displaced lives and how their lives are very much charged by loss and by memories of the past. The characters also bring other places to where they currently reside through their memories and how the past shapes their current lives.

Questions from the floor touched on the difference between men and women when it comes to reading about relationship and a craft question about showing versus telling in the context of relationships. The answers to this question were quite interesting with Jane Smiley talking about how time has to pass and the question being how which will dictate whether the author shows or tells. I really liked Gail Jones answer as well which was basically she never really liked the writing rule about showing and not telling but rather prefers to look at who the narrator is and deciding what they could reasonably know when it came to deciding how to tell that particular aspect of the story.

Gail Jones
I was really impressed with Gail Jones. I had heard of her work before, especially her book Sorry which made a big splash when it came out not so long ago. She is quietly spoken, but seems to be extremely intelligent and made some really interesting points during the session.

One of the quotes that she shared came from Henry James - Experience is never limited, and it is never complete; it is an immense sensibility, a kind of huge spider-web of the finest silken threads suspended in the chamber of consciousness, and catching every air-borne particle in its tissue.

My next MWF session is on Sunday, and then I will be spending all day there next Saturday! Can't wait.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

My first blog tour failure...

I don't know about you, but I have a certain process that I go through when I sign up for a specific date for a book review. I save a place holder post so I remember the date that has been agreed. I add the book to my list with the due date being the day before the review so that I know the book will get read in time and generally that works just fine.

So what didn't work this time in this almost foolproof system?

Well, I forgot to make sure that I had received the book until I went to organise the books I was going to read this week and realised that I didn't have it!  I have turned the house upside down in case I put it somewhere I don't normally. Previously when I haven't received a tour book I managed to buy the ebook but unfortunately it isn't available to Australians (grrrrr to geo restrictions) and the book isn't out here until October so I couldn't even go to the shops to pick it up.

So, it is with a very guilty conscience that I have to say sorry to TLC Booktours because for the first time since I started doing blog tours a couple of years ago I don't have a review ready for a book I have committed to read. It is doubly disappointing for me because the reason I signed up for this tour is that I really wanted to try out one of this author's books as I have really liked the sound of all his other ones.

This is a poor substitute I know, but here are the details of the book that I was supposed to read:

Lucy Derrick is a young woman of good breeding and poor finances. After the death of her beloved father, she is forced to maintain a shabby dignity as the unwanted boarder of her tyrannical uncle, fending off marriage to a local mill owner. But just as she is on the cusp of accepting a life of misery, events take a stunning turn when a handsome stranger—the poet and notorious rake Lord Byron—arrives at her house, stricken by what seems to be a curse, and with a cryptic message for Lucy. Suddenly her unfortunate circumstances are transformed in ways at once astonishing and seemingly impossible.

With the world undergoing an industrial transformation, and with England on the cusp of revolution, Lucy is drawn into a dangerous conspiracy in which her life, and her country’s future, are in the balance. Inexplicably finding herself at the center of cataclysmic events, Lucy is awakened to a world once unknown to her: where magic and mortals collide, and the forces of ancient nature and modern progress are at war for the soul of England . . . and the world. The key to victory may be connected to a cryptic volume whose powers of enchantment are unbounded.

Now, challenged by ruthless enemies with ancient powers at their command, Lucy must harness newfound mystical skills to prevent catastrophe and preserve humanity’s future. And enthralled by two exceptional men with designs on her heart, she must master her own desires to claim the destiny she deserves.
And now for the details of people who are way more organised than me and actually read the book!

Monday, August 1st: One Book Shy of a Full Shelf
Wednesday, August 3rd: A Chick Who Reads
Monday, August 8th: Fiction State of Mind
Wednesday, August 10th: In the Hammock
Thursday, August 11th: Unabridged Chick
Monday, August 15th: Bewitched Bookworms
Tuesday, August 16th: Life in the Thumb
Monday, August 22nd: Stiletto Storytime
Monday, August 22nd: Unabridged Chick author Q&A
Wednesday, August 24th: Books, Movies, and Chinese Food
Thursday, August 25th: Adventures of an Intrepid Reader
Thursday, August 25th: Historical Tapestry

Monday, August 29th: A Buckeye Girl Reads
Wednesday, August 31st: A Musing Reviews

And again.....sorry, sorry, sorry!

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Library Loot: August 24 to 30

Library Loot is a weekly event co-hosted by Claire from The Captive Reader and Marg from The Adventures of an Intrepid Reader that encourages bloggers to share the books they’ve checked out from the library. If you’d like to participate, just write up your post-feel free to steal the button-and link it using the Mr. Linky any time during the week. And of course check out what other participants are getting from their libraries!

My loot this week:

Warriors 1 edited by George R R Martin and Gardner Dozois - I requested this book because I thought it was the book that contained a short story by Diana Gabaldon. Turns out that the hardcover contained the story, but the book has been split into 3 parts and published as Warriors 1, Warriors 2 and Warriors 3. Of course, the story that I really want to read is in Warriors 3 which my library doesn't have yet! There are a couple of authors in this collection that I wouldn't mind trying, but I think that I am going to return the book to the library unread at this stage.

Meet Rose by Sherryl Clark - this is the first book in the final girl's story as part of the Our Australian Girl series. This one is set in 1901 which is the year of Australian Federation (where we became a nation in our own right).

A Courtesan's Guide to Getting Your Man by Celeste Bradley and Susan Donovan - I used to read Celeste Bradley a lot, but haven't read one of her books for years. This one, which is a combination of historical and contemporary romance sounds like fun, so I thought I would give it a go.

Catch of the Day by Kristan Higgins - my trek through Kristan Higgins' backlist continues.

The Devil's Queen by Jeanne Kalogridis - I have had this book on request for the best part of 18 months. I finally deleted my request so I would have room for something else and two weeks later it arrived!

Poison Study by Maria V Snyder - I mentioned in my Sunday Salon post that I was inspired to read the third book in the Study trilogy by this author after meeting her last week until I realised that it has been more than 5 years since I read the second book! I therefore thought I might start back at the beginning.

Kings of Pastry (DVD) - This has been mentioned on a couple of Weekend Cooking posts, and it sounded interesting! It could well feature on yet another Weekend Cooking post soon!

What loot did you get this week? Share you link in Mr Linky below so that we can all have a look at the loot that you picked up this week!

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Teaser Tuesday: Empire Day by Diane Armstrong

This week my teaser comes from Empire Day by Diane Armstrong - a new to me Australian author. The book is set just after the end of World War II when many of the people immigrating to Australia came from European backgrounds rather then primarily British background that was previously the norm.

The story so far seems to follow the inhabitants of a Bondi street - there are the Australian families, the new arrived immigrants, all with secrets to hide from prying eyes. So far we have also got to see a few events from Sydney's history as well.

The teaser comes from page 172:

He opened the novel he'd bought with him, but the weak electric bulb in the bedside table gave very little light and he put the book aside. His mind kept wandering back to what he'd seen and heard at Bonegilla. As he turned off the lamp, it struck him that the lives of perpetrators and victims were closely intertwined in their new country.

Please note that this teaser comes from an ARC version and so may be different in the final version.

Teaser Tuesday is hosted by Miz B at Should Be Reading. Head on over to find out all about it, and how to join in!

And just because reading the book has reminded me of my own visit to Bondi earlier this year....

Monday, August 22, 2011

What's in a Name Challenge complete

Another challenge down! This time it was the What's in a Name challenge hosted by BethfishReads!

In order to complete the challenge you have to read books that fit certain criteria. Here are the books that I read for the challenge:

A book with a number in the title: 22 Britannia Road by Amanda Hodgkinson
A book with jewelry or a gem in the title: Provocative in Pearls by Madeline Hunter
A book with a size in the title: A Little Friendly Advice by Siobhan Vivian
A book with travel or movement in the title: Walk About by Aaron Fletcher
A book with evil in the title: Sylvester or the Wicked Uncle by Georgette Heyer
A book with a life stage in the title: The Saturday Big Tent Wedding Party by Alexander McCall Smith

The criteria that I had the most trouble with was the one with evil in the title. I have read a number of books that had witch in the title earlier this year but none of those witches were evil so I was loathe to use those to fit this category. If, however, I hadn't found something else to use then I might have resorted to that!

Thanks to Beth for hosting this challenge!

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Sunday Salon: Two author events!

Over the couple of weeks I have been lucky enough to go to two author events, both featuring well known international authors. The first one was Maria V Snyder who appeared at our local library (organised by our local bookstore) and the second was Kelley Armstrong who appeared at an event in a city bookstore!

In order to get to the Maria V Snyder event I had to leave work early (I know, such a hardship) but I just made it along with about 25 others. It was a very cold and rainy night, and after a couple of disparaging remarks about Melbourne weather (which she had obviously been fed by Sydney people *wink*) it was on to the talk. Most of Maria's talk was about where her ideas come from. She talking about her background as a meteorologist and her husband's job which indirectly led to ideas for the Study series, about learning to fence and blow glass so that she could be confident that she knew what she was talking about when she was writing and more! There was quite a lengthy question and answer session, including one question that had everyone in the room gasping "spoiler, spoiler, spoiler"...whoops!

This year I have read both Inside Out and Outside In in ebook form, but I already owned Fire Study and Storm Glass so I took them to get signed. Because I wanted to support the bookstore I also bought the other two books in the Glass trilogy to get signed. I loved that when the author signed them, she obviously has set greetings that she used for each different book that was relevant to the book. For example, in Fire Study her greeting was "The danger heats up".

Attending this signing made me really want to finally read Fire Study, which is the third book in the Study trilogy. I can't tell you how shocked I was when I realised that it is has been sitting on my bookshelf unread for 3 years and that it has been 4 and a half years since I read the second book! Whilst I still remember the basics, I think I am going to try and reread the first two books just to refresh my memory a little!

I really like the fact that the local library and bookstore are working together to bring these kinds of events to our local area. It actually works really well for a couple of reasons. From the bookstore's point of view it means that they have a room which can fit a number of people in without it being cluttered or crowded and I think it really looks good from the library perspective as well. I was glad to hear from the librarians that they are working hard at embracing modern technologies and trying new things!

A fun thing that the library does that I haven't seen done before is that they provide a small selection of drinks and snacks at the end of the event. This time they had some biscuits that I hadn't tried before and they were so delicious both Bree from All the Books I Can Read and I have been chatting about them on Twitter ever since, and we may have both bought more than one packet since! After the talk it was great to have dinner with Bree, Jacqui from Collins Werribee and Bookworm Rebel from Bookaliciousness! Lots of enthusiastic book talk ensued!

Another cold night saw about 30 people attending a talk and signing by Canadian author, Kelley Armstrong at Dymocks bookstore in Melbourne itself. With the demise of Borders, I think Dymocks is probably one of the biggest stores we have left.

Kelley started by telling us how we weren't really having winter - something along the lines of if there isn't 5 foot of snow to trudge through, it isn't really winter! All of us shivering Aussies would probably have to agree to disagree. I guess it is all about what you are used to!

This talk was once again strong on the question and answer component, but the author started with a run down on where each of her current series is going. Not too long ago it was announced that The Otherworld series is going on hiatus after the next book, which will be the thirteenth book in the series, and will be titled Thirteen. The spin off young adult series set in the same world will be continuing. I am a big fan of the Otherworld series, so I was really surprised to hear that Kelley didn't achieve New York Times bestseller status with any of those books, but rather it was the young adult books which achieved that level of success. I  also really liked the Nadia Stafford books that she wrote which are not paranormal, but rather feature a female hit woman, so it was interesting to hear her plans for a third e-book only release in that series. She also talked about plans to continue to publish collections of short stories that she has written about characters in the Otherworld series that have been previously published in various anthologies around the world.

There were lots of questions about various characters, and about writing. I was really struck by how many projects Armstrong was juggling. She talked about just doing copy edits, and just finishing writing, and writing the Nadia Stafford book during her time off, and that is on top of a trip to Australia and more! She talked about not being discouraged if you see your idea that you think is unique being written because even if someone else does have a similar idea it will likely still be a very different book to the one that you write. When asked what the best advice is for a struggling writer - just write!

I have to tell you two stories though. As with the Snyder signing, I like to support the stores that are hosting these events so I knew that I was going to buy a couple of books to get signed but I wasn't sure which one, not least because with the exception of the last couple of books this is one series that I have read only from the library. When I get ready for work every day I do the checklist - have I got the keys, my purse, train ticket. Check, check, check. Unfortunately after I had done my checks, the boy took some money out of my purse and left it on the cupboard instead of putting it back in my bag and I didn't realise until later in the day. I really need to say thanks to the staff at Dymocks who let me get my books signed and then put them on hold and I went and picked them up yesterday!

The last two books in the Otherworld series are ARCs that I had received, so I was a little worried about taking those for signing, but in the end it was all good! So now I have signed copies of the first two and the last two books in the series!

The second story relates to my always deplorable photography! I have learnt lessons from my previous attempts and so this time I chose to sit somewhere quite close to the stage (not that the room was huge, it was actually very intimate in terms of space) so that I could get some better photos than normal.

Before Kelley Armstrong got up to speak, the organiser asked everyone if they could please turn the flashes on their cameras off. I was very surprised that I actually knew how to do this. The only problem is, I actually have no idea how to turn it all back on again, and I wasn't the only one who tried! I have also changed one of the other settings so everything is a bit out of focus. Might need to let the boy play with the camera and try to get all the settings right again before I go to any other events. So here is a very blurry photo of Kelley and I (for posterity's sake only!)

With the Melbourne Writer's Festival kicking off next week, I am going to quite a few events over the next couple of weeks. Need to sort out the camera situation asap!

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Feeling sorry for myself

When the ex left 9 years ago today, I guess I was kind of hoping for this

or maybe even this (not the wedding, more the sentiment)

but instead in the intervening 9 years I am not only sat here by myself again on a Friday night, but there has not been one single person who has looked at me in that time and thought "hey, there's the person who I could look forward to seeing at the end of every day." That's 9 years without adult companionship of any description, and when I say any description, I mean nothing not even a single promising conversation that might lead to something new, let alone anything physical.

And yes, I know the right answer is that a woman is supposed to be able to be happy without having someone in their life, but now it just hurts that no one can look beyond the admittedly terrible exterior and see someone worth even having a conversation with.

So is it all bad? No. I didn't cry when he left because I was so relieved it was over.  My son seems to be pretty happy. I am managing to get him the best education I can, which in this case is in a private school, and I am doing that without any financial or emotional input from the ex of any kind. Since he left I have bought my own house, but the fact is that it is a total mess both inside and out, my money situation has deteriorated and I live in fear of the phone call or letter regarding money.

When we were together, home was a place where I was constantly denigrated about everything, especially about how bad a mother I was, so work was the one place where I could seem to be confident and good at something. I am not even sure that is true anymore.

I live on the periphery of other people's lives and that is as true online as it is in real life, no matter what I do  to try and change that. It just doesn't seem that I have the type of personality that makes me essential to anyone.

And when it comes down to it, this stuff is just stuff that we just don't talk about at all like the proverbial elephant in the room. And the worst thing is, I just can't see this changing any time in the near future.

Now I am going to regret posting this as it shows what my thinking is like behind the mask that I have firmly in place most of the time.

Friday, August 19, 2011

The Private World of Georgette Heyer by Jane Aiken Hodge

An international bestselling phenomenon and queen of the Regency romance, Georgette Heyer is one of the most beloved historical novelists of our time. She wrote more than fifty novels, yet her private life was inaccessible to any but her nearest friends and relatives.

Lavishly illustrated and with access to private papers, correspondence and family archives, this classic biography opens a window into Georgette Heyer's world and that of her most memorable characters, revealing a formidable, energetic woman with an impeccable sense of style and, beyond everything, a love for all things Regency.

The name Georgette Heyer is synonymous with a whole genre - Regency romance - and she has had legions of fans, both when her first book was published and in the years following her last book being published.

In addition to the Regency romance that she helped to define through her works, so much so that there have been plenty of plagiarists over the years, Heyer also wrote straight historical fiction and mysteries. In fact, Heyer was somewhat dismissive of the books which made her such a successful author, and of many of the fans who faithfully waited for the release of each new book. The book of her heart was a straight historical novel set not in the Regency but in medieval times. The book remained unfinished when she died, although was subsequently published under the title Lord John.

What about Georgette Heyer the person? She was intensely private shunning all attempts by her publishers to publicise her own books. Even though Georgette Heyer was her real name, she used it like a pseudonym and was much happier in her role as Mrs Ronald Rougier - wife, mother, opinionated and pragmatic. In this account, we get to hear about the author as she was writing about her own books, about her many battles with her publishers, and most notably with the tax man. We get to see her own thoughts in her letters to friends and publishers, but even then the woman who emerges remains somewhat enigmatic.

We do get glimpses of her humour, usually self deprecating, but also are continually reminded of her insecurities and her attitude regarding her own work. For example, she talks in a letter about going to an informal lunch at Buckingham Palace. She deems Prince Philip as being "far more aware of his "charm" than I am", but in the same letter to her friend said "Neither Queen nor Duke made any mention of Georgette Heyer's books for which - since I hate talking about my books - I was thankful. But they certainly ought to have done so, don't you think?"

This book was published originally in 1984, which was 10 years after the death of Georgette Heyer from lung cancer, and therefore the author was able to talk to many of Georgette Heyer's contemporaries and to access the few letters which were available to the public record.

Whilst it was interesting, there were times as I read this that I got a bit distracted by the view out the window. What this book did do is make me want to read lots more Heyer, and I can see myself picking this book up again and again to read Heyer's thoughts on many of her own books.

My intentions are to read Sylvester which I started a few days ago, and then in the not too distant future to read Venetia (the first Heyer I ever bought but still haven't read), then A Civil Contract, Frederica and The Unknown Ajax, not necessarily in that order.

As far as I can tell, being inspired to read more Heyer can only be a good thing, right?

Rating 3.5/5

Thanks to Sourcebooks for the review copy.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Library Loot: August 17 to 23

Library Loot is a weekly event co-hosted by Claire from The Captive Reader and Marg from The Adventures of an Intrepid Reader that encourages bloggers to share the books they’ve checked out from the library. If you’d like to participate, just write up your post-feel free to steal the button-and link it using the Mr. Linky any time during the week. And of course check out what other participants are getting from their libraries!

I haven't been reading or blogging much at all this week - so much so that this post is going up a day late. I think this is only the second time since I started doing Library Loot that I haven't had the post up on Wednesday!

The reason I haven't been around much? My sister fell over and broke her kneecap in half just over a week ago. This is the second time she had done that to herself. The first time was about 5 or 6 years ago. This time though it is a bit harder because my two nephews both need to be looked after as well. One is nearly 4 and the other is 10 months old which is harder because she can't even bend over to pick up the baby!

I have spent time over the weekend and then the last two days with them, trying my best to help out. As a consequence, I got to go the library yesterday for story time, which I haven't done before (as my son is a bit too old for story time) - toddlers everywhere! They all had a fabulous time though, and then after that I got to participate in the routine that my sister and the older nephew have which includes storytime and then pizza!

The books I borrowed from the library this week were:

Meet Poppy by Gabrielle Wang - this is the first book in the third part of the Our Australian Girl series. They are kids books, but I intend to post about them before too long so I am reading them through.

Where She Went by Gayle Forman - the follow up book to If I Stay.

Awakened by PC and Kristin Cast - The next House of Night novel.

Smokin' Eighteen by Janet Evanovich- The next book in the Stephanie Plum series. I am not sure why I still read this series. I think it is in the hope that one of these next books will recapture the magic of the early books.

Guards! Guards! by Terry Pratchett - The next book in my read through of the Discworld series from beginning to end.

Claire has Mr Linky this week so head on over to share your link and your loot!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Teaser Tuesday: Sylvester by Georgette Heyer

Today it would have been author Georgette Heyer's 109th birthday, and there are lots of ways to celebrate! For example, Sourcebooks currently have all the ebooks on special for $1.99. As for me, I am celebrating by sharing a teaser from Sylvester or the Wicked Uncle!

The teaser comes from page 26:

Seriously, Mama, although I have seen some love-matches that have prospered, I have seen a great many that most certainly have not! Oh! No doubt some husbands and wives of my acquaintance would stare to hear me say I thought them anything but happy! Perhaps they enjoy jealousies, tantrums, quarrels, and stupid misunderstandings: I should not! The well-bred woman who marries me because she has a fancy to be a duchess will suit me very well, and will probably fill her position admirably.

Famous last words I think!

Teaser Tuesday is hosted by Miz B at Should Be Reading. Head on over to find out all about it, and how to join in!

Friday, August 12, 2011

The Happiest Refugee: A Memoir by Anh Do

Anh Do nearly didn't make it to Australia. His entire family came close to losing their lives on the sea as they escaped from war-torn Vietnam in an overcrowded boat. But nothing -- not murderous pirates, nor the imminent threat of death by hunger, disease or dehydration as they drifted for days -- could quench their desire to make a better life in the country they had dreamed about.

Life in Australia was hard, an endless succession of back-breaking work, crowded rooms, ruthless landlords and make-do everything. But there was a loving extended family, and always friends and play and something to laugh about for Anh, his brother Khoa and their sister Tram. Things got harder when their father left home when Anh was thirteen -- they felt his loss very deeply and their mother struggled to support the family on her own. His mother's sacrifice was an inspiration to Anh and he worked hard during his teenage years to help her make ends meet, also managing to graduate high school and then university.

Another inspiration was the comedian Anh met when he was about to sign on for a 60-hour a week corporate job. Anh asked how many hours he worked. 'Four,' the answer came back, and that was it. He was going to be a comedian! The Happiest Refugee tells the incredible, uplifting and inspiring life story of one of our favourite personalities. Tragedy, humour, heartache and unswerving determination -- a big life with big dreams. Anh's story will move and amuse all who read it.

The subtitle of this book is "the extraordinary true story of a boy's journey from starvation at sea to becoming one of Australia's best-loved comedians" and that pretty much covers this book!

I was familiar with the comedy of Anh Do after watching him perform on late night TV shows for several years but it was only earlier this year that I recall having heard about the story of how he and his family came to live in Australia. The first time I heard any of the story was during a History Channel documentary about the history of Australia hosted by Tony Robinson (who is probably either best known as Baldrick from Black Adder or as the host of Time Team) where the focus of the episode was multiculturalism, particularly against the current political climate in relation to refugees here in Australia.

Fast forward a short period of time, and I watched the SBS series Go Back to Where You Came From (which I posted about here), and the timing seemed to be just right for reading an immigrant story, talking about the contribution that so many refugee have made to Australian life. And what a story Anh has to tell. His family were boat people, escaping from Vietnam in the late 1970s on a very leaky boat, surviving near starvation and much more. Instead of me recapping, I thought I would let Anh tell you some parts of his story:

I don't read a lot of autobiographies but I do think that a sign of a good one is when you can hear the voice of the person clearly in the pages, and this was a book where that really happened for me.

Particularly poignant for me were the sections which dealt with his school life, with his single mum struggling to make enough money to raise her three children and still send them to good schools, and then his eventual reunion with his dad. One thing that was conveyed very clearly through the book was the importance of family to Anh. If you want to make me cry, then mention children's relationships with their father, particularly if they are reunited after a period of separation! As an aside, the other time I am guaranteed to cry is about fathers at weddings...every damned time.

Anh tells about starting out as a comedian and as an actor, touching on his time on Dancing with the Stars and more, about studying to be a lawyer, meeting his now wife and more. His positive attitude shines through hardship, through hard work, through trial and through triumph.

If you need a book to touch you, to make you laugh and cry, this one might be just what you are looking for.

This book recently won Book of the Year, Newcomer of the Year and was joint winner of Biography of the Year at the Australian Book Industry Awards.

Rating 4/5


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