Thursday, 18 August 2016

Book review: The Windy Season by Sam Carmody

The Windy Season
Sam Carmody
Allen and Unwin, 2016 (I own a copy courtesy of the publisher)

When Elliot Darling goes missing from a small West Coast fishing town named Stark, his family face a long and uncertain wait to find out what happened to him.  Only his brother, Paul, seems to go on searching for Elliot, and this search sees Paul move to Stark.  There, he takes on work as a deckhand on his cousin's fishing boat, alongside a philosophical German named Michael.  The town itself is in decline, with families who have depended on fishing to make their livelihoods for generations now facing smaller and smaller hauls each time they go out.  At the pub each night, Paul is faced with surly, sometimes frightening men, hardened by the life in Stark.  This is a world where methamphetamine, bar fights and biker gangs are not out of the question...  Paul's coming of age against this backdrop is a plot worthy of early Tim Winton, but is written with a hopeful tone which makes The Windy Season a joy to read.

Paul is a fully-developed and original character.  It is through his interactions with people, particularly through his childhood memories of Elliot, that we begin to see a picture of his world, from his home and childhood in Cottesloe, to his conflicted feelings about his parents and particularly his father, right to the filthy and roiling deck of his cousin's boat, where Paul struggles to hold onto his stomach.  His relationship with backpacker, Kasia, reveals much about Paul's lack of experience in matters of the heart, and the lost way in which he wanders about the world without his brother to guide him.  Over the course of the book, Paul is forced to find out what kind of man he will be, if Elliot's brother is not to be the only way he will define himself.  It is not an easy journey for him to take.

The story is told through Paul's eyes, interspersed with short segments in first person, which show a gang of bikies slowly closing in on our main characters.  While I found the change of point of view from third to first person a little jarring, these segments did give some perspective on the novel and its events.  Without giving away any spoilers, I enjoyed what these interludes revealed, but I also think the novel could have worked perfectly fine if these sections were taken out.

All this aside, I devoured this book in a single sitting, hardly moving for the entire day after cracking its spine.  The writing was sharp and fresh, and it was easy to see why Carmody was shortlisted for this piece in the Australian/ Vogel award the year that the prize was won by Christine Piper for After Darkness.  If the two books are anything to judge the future of Australian writing by, we are in for exciting things indeed.


Saturday, 6 August 2016

What Elimy Read in July

July was an interesting reading month, one which saw me exploring different genres and formats.  I managed to read nine books in total, four of which were library books and one of which was an e-audiobook which I checked out using the Borrowbox program through my local library.  I was planning to make another video this month, but I just haven't felt up to it, so I figured it's best to get on with this wrap up and move on.  



The Things I Didn't Say by Kylie Fornasier

This #LoveOzYA title is about a young woman named Piper, who struggles with a condition called selective mutism.  This means that she finds it impossible to speak to anyone other than her family and closest friends.  After a big fight with her best friend Cassie, Piper changes schools and has to deal with being the 'weird' new girl.  She attracts the attention of charming golden-boy, West, and the two form a connection- all without Piper being able to say a word to him.  I enjoyed this book and it was a quick, sweet read, but at times I found the characters and their high school drama a little Americanised, even though the book is set in the NSW Blue Mountains.  I kept thinking about those early 2000s era teen movies- there's nothing wrong with those, but the depiction of Australian high school life just didn't ring true for me.  I also found the start to the book a little slow, and the build up to the big reveal about Piper's fight with her friend was all tension for no real payoff.  



Trinity by Conn Iggulden

This is the second novel in Iggulden's Wars of the Roses series and while I find the focus on military and political aspects a little hard to follow at times, I do enjoy reading about the time period.  It backs up my Philippa Gregory novel obsession nicely.  In fact, I have become so sucked into this world that I actually started working on a short story set in the Wars of the Roses this week.  Who knows if I will finish it, but that's a topic for another blog.  This novel focuses on the alliance between the Duke of York and the Earls of Salisbury and Warwick, and follows the battles of the war up until the point at which Margaret of Anjou has York's head mounted on the wall at Ludlow wearing a paper crown.  (And hey, that's not a spoiler because it really happened.)  I still don't know how I feel about Iggulden's manipulation of facts to ensure interesting characters appear at places they wouldn't have been in real life, but I really enjoy this series and I am keen to get my hands on Bloodline (book 3) and Ravenspur: Rise of the Tudors (book 4) soon.  I am taking a quick break from them for now because they take FOREVER for me to read and I really need to work on whittling down my enormous TBR pile.  



The Khufra Run by Jack Higgins

This was our book club book for this month... yeah, really.  Written under a pseudonym in the 1970s, it was the book which launched Jack Higgins' career as an action writer, and it has all the subtlety of an old James Bond film with none of the finesse.  A war-scarred Vietnam veteran and his heroin junkie friend are running a smuggling operation out of Ibiza when they fall afoul of a corrupt Algerian general.  A buck naked nun runs out in front of the protagonist's jeep and tells him about a lost treasure at the bottom of the Khufra marshes- which he must help her recover so she can donate all of it to a children's hospital.  Yeah.  Nah.  I'm not into this kind of book at all.  I was particularly annoyed by the proliferation of hot, sexually available women who all seemed to throw themselves at the protagonist whenever he met up with them.  What's the male version of a Mary Sue?  It was an interesting reading experiment, but I'm in no hurry to repeat it.  Good for a laugh at book club and not much more.  



Vinegar Girl by Anne Tyler

This is the third book released as part of the Hogarth Shakespeare project, whereby The Bard's plays are updated for a modern audience.  Vinegar Girl updates The Taming of the Shrew, and follows a young woman named Kate Battista, who is asked to marry her father's promising lab assistant so that he won't be deported.  It was a quick, charming read and I really enjoyed it.  If you're looking for serious depth, perhaps try a different Anne Tyler novel, but if you're after something really lovely to read in the garden on a sunny winter's day, this is it.  Plus it's got a stunning jacket, not that this should be a factor.  

Gillespie and I by Jane Harris

I picked up the recommendation for this book from a video posted by Simon of Savidge Reads.  He said something along the lines of "If you like historical fiction" you must read this book and so I immediately went searching.  It's set in Scotland around the time of the national exhibition, and follows a woman as she befriends and insinuates her way into the family of an up and coming artist named Ned Gillespie.  The narrative switches back and forth between the past and the present day (which is the 1930s for our elderly narrator) and as time goes on, we realise that perhaps she's more calculating than she seems.  This was a great recommendation, and was almost a perhaps amalgam of the increasingly popular psychological thriller ala The Girl on the Train and the historical genre I so adore.  

A Country Road, A Tree by Jo Baker

I am sure anyone who read Longbourn will have a special place in their hearts and on their bookshelves for Jo Baker.  When I found out, belatedly, that she'd had a new novel come out without much fanfare, I immediately requested a copy via my local library.  The novel follows Samuel Beckett, who would later become a great playwright, through Paris and the French countryside as he becomes involved with the resistance efforts during the second world war.  I worried that I would hate this novel, as a) I don't really understand Beckett plays (though I loved seeing Godot when Ian McKellan was in it) and b) there was no sense of whimsy to the premise the way there had been with Longbourn and The Mermaid's Child- no possibility for a magical plot twist.  However, I was so pleasantly surprised by this book.  I frequently had to stop and write down her arresting turns of phrase in my journal because the writing in this book is marvellous.  I recommend this to anyone, Beckett fan or no, and I am very keen for more from this wonderful author.  

The Book of Speculation by Erika Swyler

This was the e-audiobook.  I listened to it on my drive to and from work last month.  It was nice to have a story read to me, but it's an incredibly slow way to read compared to my usual speed.  The story follows Simon, a librarian, who is sent an old, rare book by a mysterious antiquarian bookseller.  Simon begins to unravel a mystery which suggests all the women in his family-- circus mermaids and fortune tellers-- drown on a particular day in July. When his sister, Enola, announces she is coming home to see him in his house by the ocean, Simon realises he must reverse the curse before it is too late.  I really enjoyed this book, but I found having it read to me by some random American voice quite distracting, so I doubt I'll experiment with audiobooks too much more.  I kept thinking while I was listening "gee I wish I could follow along on paper."  This book ticked all the boxes for me- it had mermaids, circuses and libraries.  I think perhaps it would have felt a little more put together without the interference of the actor's voice but we might never know for sure now.



A Chinese Affair by Isabelle Li

I reviewed this collection earlier in the month and you can read my review here.  



Still Life with Teapot by Brigid Lowry

Very interesting book, this one.  You can read my review here.  




So that's what I read in July.  Have you read any of these titles?  Let me know what you thought in the comments below, or send me a tweet-- I'm on Twitter as @BatgirlElimy.  And if you have any awesome books you'd like to recommend, I'm always keen to hear them.  

Until next time, Happy Reading!

Elimy

Friday, 15 July 2016

Book Review: A Chinese Affair by Isabelle Li

A Chinese Affair (Margaret River Press, 2016)
Isabelle Li
(I own a copy, courtesy agent)



Isabelle Li's short story collection, released this month by local powerhouse, Margaret River Press, introduces a new voice to a burgeoning Australian short fiction scene.  These sixteen stories follow characters who have some connection to China, and are navigating the cultural divide between Australia and China, and the temporal divide of past and present.  Li's writing is skillful, and she deftly changes voices, tenses, points of view and even formats to experiment with what her short fiction can do.  Characters often appear as the lead in one story, only to turn up in another role a few stories into the book, reinterpreted again and again from many different points of view.

The collection uses Chinese folklore and superstitions, as well as looking deeply into the role of language and translation.  One of the most prolific characters in the collection, Crystal, works as a translator and a writer, translating Chinese books for an English-speaking audience.  The literal and the exact meanings of words are played against one another to produce different meanings.  On another level, the absence of language is also used to create meaning in Crystal's world, and many of her stories hinge on secrets and on not telling.

There were moments where I was distracted from the true story because I was focused on trying to work out which of the characters had appeared in stories before, and I suppose I had some trouble working out whether all the characters were meant to be linked the way that they would be in a novel in short stories, but there were pieces in this book that really sang.  Highlights were the titular story, 'A Chinese Affair' , 'Pebbles and Flowers' and 'Lyrebird'.  It's certainly obvious that Isabelle Li can write, but there were one or two others in the collection that I didn't connect with quite as deeply.  This did not spoil my enjoyment of the overall book and I devoured the collection in a matter of days.

This is an accomplished collection which absorbs the reader into a rich space and transports them from China to Sydney and back again, over and over.  Isabelle Li will be a guest at the inaugural Australian Short Story Festival held in Perth October 21- 23 2016.

Tuesday, 12 July 2016

Book Review: Still Life with Teapot

Still Life with Teapot (Fremantle Press, 2016)
Brigid Lowry
(I own a copy courtesy of the publisher)



I first came across Brigid Lowry's work when I read Guitar, Highway, Rose which I probably found in the treasure trove that was my primary school library.  While I have fond memories of that book, it wasn't until I picked up Lowry's book on writing, Juicy Writing, that I became a fan.  Juicy Writing was far from a technical manual on how to write-- rather it was a manifesto for how to be creative, how to have fun with words, and how to kick start the ideas that would otherwise lie unrealised in your brain.

So when I saw that Brigid Lowry was to publish a book on writing, zen and creativity this year with Fremantle Press, I was ecstatic.  Still Life with Teapot is part memoir, part anthology and part pillow-book, chronicling the writing life of this remarkable woman.  It incorporate's Brigid's own personal history and philosophy as well as the tenets of her zen faith to create a marvellous, heart-warming book that will appeal to anyone who does anything creative, whether it be writing novels or arranging flowers.  At times, the recollections are sad; Brigid brings in family loss and the breakdown of a marriage to the conversation, but demonstrates in the assorted creative pieces peppered through the book that writing and art can be cathartic and healing in their own ways.

People who saw me reading this book on public transport probably thought I was losing my mind, as I frequently chuckled at Lowry's free-spirited take on life.  This was a book which inspired me to embrace creativity in whatever form it came, and to seek out new experiences which would foster my writing.

I highly enjoyed it and gave it four and a half stars.

Monday, 4 July 2016

What Elimy Read in June

I can't believe another month is over.  After the nightmare (okay, so it wasn't that bad) that was May, June was like a dream, and it flew by.

I got lots of reading done, most of it in the last two weeks.  For the last week of June I was enjoying a lovely home holiday, during which I managed to pass 50 000 words on my work in progress and make some important decisions about where this draft has to differ from the previous one.  While I'm not the biggest fan of doing strict research, I am getting a lot better at it, and I took pride this month in straightening out some of the anachronisms I'd accidentally introduced into my work.  I have to say, I am really enjoying overcoming the many, many hurdles that keep popping up as I work on this manuscript.

But this isn't a post about my writing... perhaps if anyone has writing related questions they can pop those in the comments below and I can do a writing update based on things you want to know.

Without much further ado, here it is: another video.





Books mentioned;

The Wasp Factory by Iain Banks (did not like!)
The War of the Roses: Stormbird by Conn Iggulden (loved!)
Eliza Rose by Lucy Worsley (loved!)
A Feast for Crows by George R R Martin
The Sidekicks by Will Kostakis
My Year of Meats by Ruth Ozeki
The Woman Next Door by Liz Byrski
The Paper House by Anna Spargo- Ryan


You can see longer reviews for some of those titles on my blog if you are interested.

In the meantime, let me know what you've been reading and loving.

Happy reading, writing or whatever.