Monthly Archives: December 2015

Favourite Books of 2015

I’ve been lucky during 2015 to have read several books which will go into my list of favourites of all time, not just this year.

The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro may be my favourite book of the decade. The words are beautiful, the story is nostalgic and the main character’s tragedies are understated, but none the less heart-wrenching.

Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons made me laugh out loud over and over. I’m still wondering what the nasty thing was that Aunt Ada saw in the woodshed. This is an ideal book to read if you are worried your family are dysfunctional, because the occupants of Cold Comfort Farm make other families look like The Waltons.

Mrs Ali’s Road to Happiness by Farahad Zama is delightful. Mrs Ali is one of my favourite characters of the year and is the best husband-manager of all time.

I re-read A Tangled Web by LM Montgomery this year, which has been a favourite of mine since childhood. The mystery of who in the family inherits Aunt Becky’s heirloom jug drives me crazy after nearly forty years.

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce made me want to walk places. Across England. Along the Amalfi Coast. The Great Ocean Road. To the shops. (Realistically, just to the fridge).

The Messenger by Markus Zusak, and Laurinda by Alice Pung, have been my favourite Young Adult books this year, and both are by Australian authors. Both have great messages, are inspiring and have that familiar Australian setting that I love.

Barracuda by Chris Tsiolkas was my favourite Australian novel this year. The novel is door-stop size, and so is the story. Australians make heroes of their swimming stars, but it seems that athletes expect even more of themselves.

A God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson re-introduced me to the characters from Life After Life by the same author, in a whole new dimension. Both are great books. The idea of alternate realities is a lovely escape from real life.

Cop Town by Karin Slaughter was my favourite crime novel of 2015. This was set during a time when women had it a lot harder than they do now, and I came away from this book with a greater respect for the women who paved the way for me to have a career, a generation later.

The Selected Works of T.S. Spivet by Reif Larsen is hardest to categorise. This book has a delightful child as the main character, although he lives in an adult world. The beauty of the story, the illustrations and the characters make this a book I would like to own.

Happy reading to everyone in 2016.

 

 

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Books I Didn’t Finish 2015

I didn’t have many books I didn’t finish during 2015, although I did finish several bad books which I shouldn’t have.

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Moon Tiger, by Penelope Lively, has a lot of apostrophes. There were so many, in fact, that I couldn’t concentrate or get interested in the story. I expect all of Penelope Lively’s apostrophes, unlike mine, are in the right place, because this book won the Booker Prize. Regardless, I felt annoyed, distracted, and dismayed by what seemed to me to be an excessive amount of apostrophes, and I could not continue reading past the middle of the book.

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The Voyage, by Australian author Murray Bail left me unmoved. I loved Eucalyptus by this author so much that I have read it several times, but I couldn’t get past the middle of The Voyage. In the first section, the main character, Frank, travelled to Vienna from Sydney to try and sell his revolutionary new piano to the Viennese. The sticking point for me was, why try? Seriously. The Viennese have been making the best pianos in the world for centuries. Why didn’t Frank take his piano to America?

The story didn’t grab me and Frank annoyed me, so I stopped reading. Based on how good Eucalyptus is though, I probably should have persevered. But I didn’t, and I don’t intend to try The Voyage again. I do like the hat the woman is wearing on the book cover though.

I’ll probably read Eucalyptus again next year.

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I borrowed The Book of Love by Phillipa Fioretti from the library because I liked the cover. Unfortunately, though, I didn’t like the story. It went something like this. Lily and her boyfriend, whose name I have forgotten, own a second-hand bookshop. After the boyfriend accidently purchased a rare book of ancient erotica, he disappeared with the book, leaving Lily to deal with a hot Russian bloke, who is trying to find the book to return it to the rightful owner. I only got about a third of the way through The Book of Love, so I don’t know or care what happened to Lily, the boyfriend, or the hot Russian. I cared a little about what happened to the rare book, but not enough to skim through to the end. I’ve just read back over my summary of the plot and it sounds really good, much, much better than it was.

The best thing about The Book of Love was that the person who previously borrowed the book left their library print-out inside the book. They had borrowed two other books with The Book of Love; ‘A Summer Fling,’ and ‘The Way Back Home.’ I have a mental picture of the previous reader being a middle-aged woman who wears fluffy cardigans, is a little overweight and who has a husband who snores. Maybe she has a little white dog too.

Happy reading in 2016 to everyone.

 

 

 

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I Will Marry George Clooney (By Christmas) by Tracy Bloom

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I Will Marry George Clooney (By Christmas) by Tracy Bloom was a light and mostly entertaining read, apart from the heroine’s issues with her horrible teenage daughter.

The title of this novel was the only reason I picked the book up. This title would have worked equally well using any number of other actors,* but at the time this book was written, George Clooney was probably the most well known bachelor in the world. Now, of course, he is married and not nearly as interesting as he used to be.

Michelle, the 36 year old single mother of the afore-mentioned horrible teenage daughter, works in a chicken factory. She gave up her dream to be a chef when she fell pregnant with her daughter Josie, who is now 15. Michelle has never disclosed to her parents, her best friend or her daughter, the name of Josie’s father. Who Josie’s father is, is a complicated matter. To set you straight from the beginning, it wasn’t George Clooney. Michelle obviously has a bit of a crush on George Clooney, or at last the character he played in a movie called One Fine Day.

Josie is a pain in the neck. She and Michelle constantly butt heads, very often over Josie’s attachment to her loser boyfriend, Sean. (My advice to Michelle would be to pretend to love Sean as a future son-in-law, in a type of reverse psychology thing, as then Josie would have realised Sean was a loser much sooner than she actually did).

Michelle is horrified when Josie announces that she intends having sex with Sean at Christmas, when she turns 16. Michelle makes a deal with Josie that if Michelle marries George Clooney, then Josie will abstain from giving Sean this particular present.

Josie ridicules Michelle’s likelihood of marrying George Clooney, but agrees to the deal. (I’m with Josie on this one, as short curvy women who work in chicken factories don’t seem to be Mr Clooney’s type). However, Josie spends most of her time ridiculing Michelle and it gets a bit tiresome after a while. (My next piece of advice to Michelle would be not to buy into Josie’s ridicule, as it only encourages her to continue behaving badly).

Michelle pursues George Clooney by organising a charity event for Not On Our Watch, which is actually a real charity founded partly by George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon for the purposes of providing relief and humanitarian aid to the victims of human rights violations. Michelle sends an invite to the charity event which is being held on a day when George Clooney is in London for a movie premiere. The event raises a significant amount of money, however George Clooney does not attend Michelle’s fundraiser. (Don’t think too badly of him. Obviously he couldn’t attend, because Michelle is fictional).

During the course of the story Josie’s father turns up, and Michelle, Josie and an old boyfriend of Michelle’s drive to Lake Como in Italy to hand over the cheque to George Clooney. The characters also manage to resolve some family issues.

I probably wouldn’t read another book by this author. The heroine’s delusion about marrying George Clooney was funny but not strong enough to carry the whole novel. Plus, Josie’s behaviour was terrible. Her character would seriously put would-be-parents off having children. However, if the author writes I Will Marry Johny Depp I may rethink my decision.

*How about, I WILL Marry Colin Firth Tomorrow. That’s true, I would. Or I would if I knew him and he wanted to marry me too and I wasn’t already married. I hope he isn’t already married too, because then it would get messy. I would also consider I WILL Marry Brad Pitt if He and Angelina Jolie Get a Divorce, although I wonder what the magazines would make of that. I don’t think photos of me alongside Angelina Jolie would do me any favours at all. Probably my ego couldn’t cope with the criticism which would likely come my way from stealing gorgeous Brad from the beautiful Angelina. I WILL Marry That Gorgeous Fellow Who Was in that Movie With Whats-Her-Name, You Know the One? might be more suitable. We’ll see.

 

 

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In the Unlikely Event by Judy Blume

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In the Unlikely Event is the first book I’ve read by Judy Blume since I was a teenager, reading Then Again, Maybe I Won’t, Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret and Deenie over and over again. (I ran out of books in my school library, so read and re-read favourites).

In the Unlikely Event tells the stories of a number of characters living in Elizabeth, New Jersey during the early 1950s when, over the course of a few months, there were three separate plane crashes in the city. The author grew up in Elizabeth and lived through these actual events.

I didn’t enjoy the book as much as I had hoped. This might sound as if I’m a hopeless optimist, looking for a happy ending while reading a book about characters dealing with the trauma of planes crashing into their town, but in my defence, I didn’t realise until the end of the book that the place and events of this story were real. I read Judy Blume books as a teenager to feel better about myself, to know that I wasn’t the only person who found being a teenager difficult.

In the Unlikely Event left me feeling slightly bored.

Firstly, there were so many characters, I couldn’t remember all of their stories. If I can’t remember their story, I won’t care about them. And if I don’t care about the characters, why read the story? Even though the telling of the story is shared by all of these characters, by the end of the book, I still wasn’t sure who they all were. Less characters telling the story would have improved the book.

Secondly, too many characters were killed just as I was getting to know them. This happened so often that eventually, every time a new character was introduced, I wondered how long it would be until they died in a plane crash. I did not want to care about any of the characters by the middle of the book, in case they were killed too.

Thirdly, there was a lot going on. There were single mothers, plane crashes, romances, infidelity, marriage break-ups, (yes, those last two themes are related), plane crashes, anorexia, secret marriages between people of different backgrounds, trauma, heartache, family expectations, threats of expulsion from school, and more plane crashes. This book actually left me feeling bored and tired.

The character who had the most appearances was Miri, the teenage daughter of a single mother. Miri witnessed the first crash and was also affected by all of the other crashes, (as were most of the people of Elizabeth), fell in love for the first time during the course of the story. Miri was a likeable character, who dealt with her circumstances admirably.

Miri’s mother, uncle, best friend, boyfriend, grandmother, parents of friends, aunt, brother of boyfriend, girlfriend of boyfriend’s brother, and hosts of other random characters, all had a shot at telling the story too, and mostly, they were good people.

Miri’s family is Jewish and I enjoyed reading about her family dynamics and the Jewish culture. The time the story took place was also very interesting. I didn’t realise that so many people truly worried about political conspiracies and Communists and aliens studying earthlings in preparation to take over America (!). Miri’s friends and schoolmates were particularly susceptible to worrying about these types of concerns. (Obviously I’m from a different time and place, but to me these worries seem ludicrous. I find it very difficult to believe that so many people took this stuff seriously).

I expect readers who are interested in plane crashes, or who remember the actual plane crashes in Elizabeth, would enjoy In the Unlikely Event more than I did.

 

 

 

 

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Golden Boys by Sonya Hartnett

goldenGolden Boys is the first novel I have read by Australian author Sonya Hartnett, who has written loads of books for Young Adults, children and several books for adults. She has been shortlisted twice for the Miles Franklin Literary Award, Australia’s best known awards for fiction writers, and not reading any of her work before now has been a massive oversight on my part.

Golden Boys is set in Melbourne in the 1980s and although I grew up in the country rather than the city, the setting of this story feels as familiar to me as my own backyard. The atmosphere of the story in the first few pages reminded me of that lovely feeling as a child at the beginning of the school holidays, with weeks and weeks of summer stretching out ahead.

The story starts with Colt and Bastian Jenson, moving into a working class suburb, where they meet a tribe of children who have grown up in the neighbourhood. The locals include hordes of Kiley children, a bully; Garrick Greene, and Avery Price, who is unloved and unwanted by his own family but is everyone else’s pet.

Colt and Bastians’s father, Rex buys his children everything they want, and plenty of stuff that they don’t want. In a neighbourhood where money is tight, Colt and Bastian have toys and skateboards and board games and slot cars and a BMX bike and a swimming pool, all of which Rex encourages the other neighbourhood children to play with too. The Kileys, Garrick and Avery are very quick to ingratiate themselves with the Jenson family, where they enjoy barbecues and swims in the Jenson’s pool.

Many working class families in the neighbourhood are poor because, like the Kileys, the father drinks away his pay packet before the money makes it to the household bills. The Kileys are a sad example of an unhappy family. Joe Kiley regularly beats his wife when he is drunk, and the Kiley children are well aware that their parents don’t particularly love them or each other. Freya, the eldest girl of the Kiley family, enjoys the attention of Colt and Bastian’s father, and wishes her father was more like the charismatic Rex Jenson, who dotes on his sons. Colt Jenson, however, wishes that his father would disappear, for reasons that emerge as the story unfolds.

Rex is a dentist and Colt and Bastian attend private school, which immediately makes them different to the rest of the neighbourhood. At first, the boys are a sensation in the neighbourhood, but as the story goes on and Rex gains a reputation among the neighbourhood children for touching his son’s friends inappropriately, Colt and Bastion become pariahs.

There is a lot going on in this story, and although I really enjoyed the storytelling, the themes are quite dark. The children in this book learn at a very young age that life is not fair and that they shouldn’t expect it to be.

Golden Boys is completely matter-of fact about communities accepting and ignoring what goes on in their neighbours homes, of not wanting to get involved, not offering assistance to those who need it, in the name of minding their own business.

None of the adult characters in Golden Boys are particularly good people, although the men are depicted as worse than the women. The men are cowardly, drunkards, wife-beaters, or child-molesters. The women are either uncaring or victims. The children’s morals teeter between doing what is right and accepting things as they are. I wondered what would become of them as adults, would they try to right the wrongs of the world or would they do as their parents did? I’ll never know, because the book finished before they grew up, but I suspect they did the best they could sometimes and did badly at other times, just like real people.

Despite the uneasy feeling Golden Boys left me with, I am looking forward to reading many more books by Sonya Hartnett.

 

 

 

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Royal Wedding by Meg Cabot

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Royal Wedding by Meg Cabot is the latest instalment in The Princess Diaries series and is aimed at adults who grew up reading and loving the adventures of the main character, Mia, an ordinary teenage girl who turned out to be the heir to the Genovian throne.

In Royal Wedding, Mia is all grown up at 26, and still madly in love with her childhood crush, Michael. Mia and Michael’s romance is decidedly adult, which makes this book unsuitable for younger readers. (Mia’s favourite game is playing ‘Fireman’ with Michael). I expect my teenage nieces would enjoy The Princess Diaries books, but I wouldn’t want them to follow up with Royal Wedding for a few years yet.

Mia is now a fully fledged Princess, with plenty of royal duties to keep her busy. The paparazzi make her life a living hell, constantly rating her popularity on a Royal Rating website. The story is told via Mia’s journal, which she writes as a way of managing her stress.

Mia’s grandmother, Princess Clarisse, is a heavy drinking, smoking, manipulative, strong-willed tyrant. I can’t remember if I ever read The Princess Diaries, but I certainly watched the movie of the same name which starred Julie Andrews as Princess Clarisse, and Julie Andrews’ version of Princess Clarisse, although stern, was kind and loving. I could not reconcile Princess Clarisse’s character in Royal Wedding with my memory of Julie Andrews in the movie role.

Most of the characters from The Princess Diaries feature in Royal Wedding, Lily, Mia’s best friend from school and Michael’s sister, is studying to become a lawyer, Tina is about to finish medical school, Mia’s mother is now a widow and a single parent to 12 year old Rocky, Mia’s half-brother. Mia’s father, Prince Phillipe Renaldo, continues to get his name in the papers for all of the wrong reasons.

I didn’t love Royal Wedding, but I have a feeling that Honey-Bunny, who was a teenager when The Princess Diaries was published, and grew up reading the subsequent books in the series, is Royal Wedding‘s target audience, will love this book.

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The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce

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The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce is another contender for my favourite novel of this year.

Harold Fry is a recently retired English man in his 60s, who, one morning at breakfast, receives a letter from a work mate he hasn’t seen in twenty years. The letter is from Queenie Hennessy, who wrote to tell Harold she is dying.

After a struggle to find the right words, Harold writes back to Queenie, then lets his wife Maureen know that he is going out to post the letter.

Walking to the letter box, Harold is overcome by the inadequacy of the words in his letter to Queenie, so he decides to walk to the next letterbox to post his letter in an attempt to give more of himself to Queenie, and from the next letterbox he decides to continue to the town’s Post Office.  As Harold walks he remembers Queenie and their friendship, all the while telling the story of the community he lives in as he walks past local landmarks, (the good butcher, the bad butcher who makes his wife unhappy, the neighbours, and so on).

When Harold stops at a garage to get something to eat, he tells the girl behind the counter that he is on his way to post a letter to a friend who is dying. In response, the girl tells Harold the story of her own aunt, who also had cancer. She tells Harold that if a person has faith, they can do anything, words which Harold mulls over as he continues his walk. Inspired, he phones the Hospice where Queenie is being cared for and leaves a message for her to say he is going to save her, that she is to continue living, because he is going to walk to her. Harold also phones Maureen to tell her of his plan to continue on to Queenie’s hospice.

Maureen is sceptical and non-supportive of Harold’s plan, although she has no control over his decision.

As he walks, Harold reflects on his unhappy marriage to Maureen, his poor relationship with his son, David, on his childhood, his working life and of course, his friendship with Queenie. Harold is a good man, but over the years, he and Maureen have been divided, rather than unified by their troubles.

Harold continues to phone Maureen at regular intervals to tell her of his travels. She misses him at home and also spends the time away from Harold reflecting on where they went wrong in the marriage.

The descriptions of the places Harold walked through give me the urge to put on a pair of yachting shoes, dump all of my possessions and go for a longish walk of my own. His pilgrimage starts in his home town of Kingsbridge, in the south of England and Queenie’s hospice is in Berwick, the most northern town in England. If you are imagining a map of England, Harold’s walk starts at the bottom left of the country and finishes at the top right, near Scotland.

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry is an emotional journey for Harold, as well as a physical journey. The story is also an emotional one for the people he meets on his way to Berwick, most of whom are touched by his story. The ending is predictable, but still enjoyable.

I’m looking forward to reading The Love Story of Miss Queenie Hennessy, which sounds like a companion piece to Harold’s story.

 

 

 

 

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