Friday, 30 January 2015

Reading Round-Up: January

In an effort to de-clutter my life, I'm making a commitment to read more of the books on my TBR pile, and each month, I'm going to update this blog with my progress in the form of a reading round-up.  A bit of background: I'm a bookseller, so reading a lot is part of my job.  A large number of new books is published every month in Australia, and while it would be totally unreasonable to expect me to read ALL of them, my customers do expect me to be fairly familiar with the wares I'm peddling.  As I've discovered I just can't read a few chapters and give up (I like to know what happens), this means I read on average 2- 3 books a week!

Here are the books I read in January, and a few thoughts I wanted to share on each.

The Lord of the Rings (Trilogy) by JRR Tolkein

Can you believe I have never read the Lord of the Rings before???  I have seen the films, although I barely remember them, as in an act of protest, I  attempted to sleep through them all when my friend tried to make me watch them.  This year, a close friend and I were discussing how we'd never read the books, and decided to read them together.  I was surprised by how much I enjoyed them!  In particular, I liked the language use.  It was reminiscent of old fashioned storytelling, and I cried at the end of the books, which hardly ever happens to me.

Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

Great fun!  This book is perfect for teens or adults.  It's about twins, Cather and Wren, who go to University and begin to drift apart due to their changing interests and social circles.  Cather, the protagonist, writes fanfiction and has a massive online following, but she uses her fictional world to hide from the things in the real world that worry her.  Issues of gender and sexuality are dealt with in a way that is accessible to teens as young as fourteen, but the story is sophisticated and will not bore an adult audience.  Rainbow Rowell is a talented writer and it shows.

Summer's Gone by Charles Hall

Summer's Gone will be launched at the Perth Writer's Festival on February 21 2015

First Impressions by Charlie Lovett

The Silkworm by Robert Galbraith

Robert Galbraith, AKA JK Rowling is fast becoming one of my favourite writers.  The Cormoran Strike mysteries infiltrate whole new worlds for the crime writing scene, including the inner circles of the publishing world.  While in some reviews, this book has been described as viewing writers and publishers cynically, but to some extent, the dark underworld uncovered by the investigation is no  less gritty than any other crime plot might be.  It's simply because it's a writer writing about writers that we believe we are being given some sort of insider knowledge.  The mystery itself is complex but not unsolvable, and definitely believable, and what impresses me most is the harmony and control displayed in the subplots involving Robin and Strike's working relationship.

Orfeo by Richard Powers

I'm still making my mind up on this one.  The composition of the novel was brilliant, and Powers's wordplay is stunning, but at times the memory based plot was a little confusing.  I disliked that there were no chapters, until toward the end I realised what the little bold quotes actually were, and their significance to the text.  The novel was a long love letter to music, but it was also an expose on the escalation of our reaction to terrorism and the media circus's role in creating fear.  Peter Els is a sympathetic character, despite the whole nation baying for his blood, and that is a remarkable feat in this day and age!

GOAL FOR JANUARY:  10 books.


Monday, 26 January 2015

Book Review: First Impressions by Charlie Lovett

First Impressions
Charlie Lovett
Text Publishing, 2014 (I own a copy, courtesy the publisher)

When Sophie Collingwood's beloved bibliophile Uncle Bertram dies in an accident at his home, Sophie is devastated, and becomes convinced that something isn't quite right.  But was it foul play, or has Sophie simply read too many Agatha Christie novels?  When she accepts a job at a local antiquarian book dealer, in order to fund her quest to reclaim Bertram's book collection from the dealers who bought it after his death, she is drawn into a mysterious quest for a rare second edition of a book no one appears to ever have heard of.  Not one but two customers are looking for the book.  One, Winston Godfrey, is charming and quickly becomes Sophie's boyfriend.  The other, George Smedley, threatens Sophie and adds fuel to the theory that her Uncle was murdered.  As she gets further into her investigation, Sophie realises that the manuscript she seeks is worth more than she thought, and could possibly let loose a scandal that would change the literary perception of Jane Austen forever.

First Impressions is a novel about the comfort of reading, and the particular compulsion that drives readers to collect and love their books.  It is, in short, a book for book lovers.  For those who love Jane Austen, never fear-- this is not one of the legions of dreadful Austen paraliterature that seem to be springing up everywhere, but in fact a charming, if slightly corny story about the lifelong benefits Jane Austen can have on someone's life.  The book is told in alternating chapters, one half following Sophie and her search for the book, and the other following a semi-historical narrative of a twenty year old Jane Austen and her relationship with a visiting clergyman staying nearby to her Steventon home.  Sophie's narrative shares more than a few similarities with the plot of Pride and Prejudice, not least the arrangement of her two love interests.  Eric Hill is the rich Darcy-like figure who at first disdains Sophie and then pursues her, whilst Winston Godfrey at first seems fun but is revealed to be a cad, much like Wickham.  Like Lizzie Bennet, and indeed Jane Austen herself, Sophie's closest confidant is her older sister.

Lovett's previous novel, The Bookman's Tale was a similar mystery of literary importance which involved a quest for the authenticity of Shakespeare's work, and was a novel which I found more than a little clunky.  In Pride and Prejudice, Mr Darcy famously says, "My good opinion, once lost, is lost forever," yet even he can change his mind.  My reaction to this, Lovett's second novel, reminded me strongly of this quote.  I was hesitant to read this novel, in case it was disappointing, but I was too drawn in by the plot, and I'm so glad I read it.  The main character, Sophie, is charming and strong; the depiction of Jane Austen is gentle and unobtrusive to the Austen fan; and the story, over all is comforting.  My one gripe was the 'dastardly' qualities of the bad guys.  There was too much of the sinister caricature in the book's villain, and he failed to hit home in the way he was probably intended.

So if you're looking for a lovely book to read in a verdant country garden with a pot of tea, this is it.

Four stars.

Friday, 23 January 2015

Ways to Kill Your TBR

*TBR = To Be Read, i.e the teetering pile next to your bed of books you intend to read.

Since I became a bookseller, my TBR pile has gotten a little out of control.

Ok.  A lot out of control.  Here's the evidence.

Buying and receiving books is wonderful, and going about it the right way supports the industry I see myself as a part of.  By paying for books, rather than illegally downloading them, I am doing my part towards ensuring that it remains economically viable to continue publishing books at all, and making sure that authors I love actually make a little money for the books they write.  But as a bookseller and a reviewer, I also receive what are known as ARCs, or Advanced Reading Copies, which are unproofed, bound copies of books used for marketing purposes.  And while I tried to keep up with reading all of these in time for the releases of the books they related to, two years on it's become pretty clear that I cannot.

I'm not the kind of person who can stand to read fifty pages of a book and discard it, regardless of quality.  If a story hooks me, or if there are questions I want answered, I'll read to the end.  There have been very few books that I have ever left unfinished, and the only example that springs to mind is The Man Who Loved Children by Christina Stead (I'm sorry, don't kill me).  But when I think of all the books that I have struggled with at first and then ended up loving, I realise that my way of reading suits me just fine.  I would have missed out on books like The Narrow Road to the Deep North, which I told myself I would give up on by page 50 if it didn't start to grab me (luckily it did), and therefore never have been inspired to challenge myself to write with more courage about the prisoner of war camps in my own book length project.

But one of my new year's resolutions this year is to reduce clutter.  I recently listened to a lecture given by Clive James after it was recommended to me on the Facebook page for this blog (thank you SS), and in it, Clive James jokes about the number of books in his apartment, and about how one of these days he will add the volume that will send his apartment crashing through the six apartments below.  I don't live in an apartment, thank goodness, but one of these days I will move out of home, and I'll be faced with the task of choosing which books to take with me.  So I've started a challenge: to kill my TBR, and here are a few ways I am going to go about it.

1. Use the library.  Not useful for new books, as the public library system in Western Australia takes forever to get new books into the system and even then you have to wait.  But immensely useful for classics, older books etc.

2. Try to get through the books I have been sent for review FIRST, as well as books which have been leant to me.

3. Aim to read ten books every month.

4. Read every day, even if it's just for ten minutes.

5. Curb the amount of time I spend on social media waiting for something to happen.  (I would add watch less TV to this category but I actually don't tend to watch a lot.)

6. Participate in a book club with my friends.

7. Be ruthless... if I REALLY don't like a book, or if a bookselling proof is old and I haven't gotten to it yet, give it away.  But try to read any book I've paid for.

I plan to keep this blog updated with how I'm going.  I sat down and did a shuffle of those books in the retaining wall at the end of my bed two nights ago and I managed to root out about seven that I would never read.

As far as reading ten books in January goes, I'm half way there, and if I read small books I might just make it.  Better get back to the one I'm reading now though!

Have you got a lot of books in your TBR?  I want to hear about it.  You can send me pictures of your TBR on Twitter or Instagram too: I'm @BatgirlElimy on Twitter, and @incredibleramblingelimy on Instagram.

Bye for now!

Monday, 19 January 2015

Book Review: Summer's Gone

Summer's Gone
Charles Hall
Margaret River Press, 2015 (I own a copy, courtesy the publisher)

My father has always said that if you remember the 1960s, you probably weren't there.

Yet Charles Hall's novel, Summer's Gone, recalls the pinnacle of a young man's life during the late sixties and early seventies in such vivid detail, that it's like being transported back in time.

The book follows Nick, a young man from Perth who credits his love of folk music with a lie he once told his beloved Uncle Clem about loving the genre.  This was the moment he most equates to the butterfly flapping its wings which will later cause a tsunami half way around the world.  After spending a summer with Clem, and being given the gift of a banjo, everything changes for Nick.  He and his workmate Mitch start a folk band, and they soon meet sisters Alison and Helen who are singers, and form a quartet.  From then on, nothing else matters but music and love.  Alison and Mitch shack up, and are the more chaotic and promiscuous pair, while Nick and Helen develop a deeper relationship that is almost akin to love.  Yet it's not perfect-- it soon becomes clear that Helen has some hangups about being left by her old boyfriend, and her inability to relax her morals (and literally relax) cause some bedroom difficulties.

But the story itself begins years later, with Nick walking through the door of their St Kilda flat with a copy of a Beatles record in his hand and finding Helen's body on the floor in a pool of blood.  He's convinced he's responsible for her death, and the question becomes how does their perfect summer track to this tragic end?  And what will happen next?

As a narrator, Nick has a certain self-conscious quality which makes his a compelling tale.  At times, he is self-congratulatory, and at others, self-effacing.  Most of the time, he can be deliberately obtuse, particularly when he is getting to parts of the story where he is ashamed of his behaviour.  While educated, his speech can be colloquial and laconic, but as more of his memories are revealed, this is revealed as a coping mechanism, and a blokey response to the many hurts in his life-- while he experiences much disappointment and loss, Nick's response is not to break down but to push on, and run away, and this is represented in the way he tells his tale.  At times, the monologue style of the narration can make it hard for the reader to feel the real emotional impact of things, and a tendency to tell rather than show spoiled the tension of a few of the early moments in the text, such as Nick and Alison's first kiss.  Yet by the end of the book-- when the truth of what happened to Helen is discovered, for example-- the raw honesty of Nick's experience made tears brim in my eyes.

This is a novel that is born out of experience, and I think the biographical note on Hall is well worth reading before you start the book.  His descriptions of Perth in the 1960s are reminiscent of Robert Drewe's The Shark Net, and peppered with just enough concrete details to be realistic and entertaining-- such as the bedsit full of elderly ladies with cats whom Nick lives with in Claremont.  There is an impressive degree of realistic detail in several key scenes, such as on page 61, when Helen and Nick attempt to go to bed together for the first time, and in the scenes during which Alison and Nick hitchhike across the Nullabor Plains.  That sort of portrayal of a days long journey could only have been pulled off by someone who had done the trip.  I am convinced that Hall must actually have encountered the Nundroo Camel.

There is another saying about the past, and that is that 'The Past is a different country.'  That's certainly the case, but this portrait of longing for days gone by, coupled with the beauty of the Australian landscape makes the past come alive.  Another stunning book from Margaret River Press.

Four stars.

Friday, 16 January 2015

Books I am Looking Forward to Reading in 2015

This week, the Perth Writers Festival program was launched, which for me, was like the Myer Christmas Catalogue being put out.

In previous years, heading along to the Writers Festival has represented various degrees of my involvement with the writing community.  The very first time that I went along, I was invited by a writing mentor of mine and her daughter, and we got on a bus to get there (which was also a new experience for me).  I thought it was amazing.  I had never known that such a thing as a writers festival existed.  It was like going to classes, but fun.  All that separated me from writers I loved and ones I would love was a few rows of chairs.  The next year (at least I think it was the next year), Craig Silvey was a guest, and I got my mum to drop me off for his session.  The room was long and flat and there were so many plastic chairs in the room that it was hard to move or see, but there he was, my favourite writer!  Afterwards, I stood in line for a long time to get my books signed, and my face went red and I blathered like an idiot.  And my friend Elisa laughed (but kindly.)

Fast forward to last year, when I planned out my writers festival as a weekend long event, where there was something for every session.  Me and my backpack full of books traipsed around UWA for three days and by the end of it I was full of ideas.

Last year's PWF yield...

Well, it's nearly that time again, which prompts me to write this list of the books I am keen to read in 2015.

Some of them are Writers Festival inspired, others have been recommended by other bloggers and book-tubers, and others are from last year but have sat on my shelf for a while.

1. The Mime Order by Samantha Shannon

If you haven't read The Bone Season, do.  It's urban fantasy of the Cassandra Clare style, with love (but not the couple you expect), danger, and clairvoyance.  Samantha Shannon has also kept an amazing blog about her journey to publication and it's a great resource for writers.

2. The Last Illusion by Porochista Khakpour

** Writers Festival Attendee**  Porochista Khakpour is an Iranian-American writer whose novel blends Iranian folk myth with one of the greatest tragedies of the last century-- September 11.  After reading an amazing review of this book in the Guardian's online books page, I can't wait to dive into this magical realist fable.

3. Almost Famous Women by Megan Mayhew Bergman

A book of short stories about women at the edge of history, this one was recommended by Jen Campbell, author of The Bookshop Book, on her youtube channel.  It sadly does not yet have an Australian publisher, to my knowledge.

4. The Anchoress by Robyn Cadwallader

**Perth Writers Festival**  I know nothing about this book except that the publisher's notes tell me it might be a little like Burial Rites, which I loved.

5. A Time of Secrets by Deborah Burrows

Deborah Burrows' is a local author whose novels about wartime in Western Australia have captivated my interest in the period.  I can't wait to see what she does with her research on intelligence gathering in Melbourne.  This one comes out early March!

6. The New and As Yet Untitled Kate Morton Book

Seriously, I would read Kate's shopping lists.  I wish I had written The Shifting Fog, because it is magical.

What books are you looking forward to in 2015?  Let me know in the comments, and I'll talk to you again soon.


Friday, 9 January 2015

Praise be to the gorgeousness that is Lauren Foley- Writer, who has tagged me as a Liebster Award participant!

For those of you who don't know what that is, it's kind of like blogging chain mail, except not as annoying, and no one threatens to set ghosts on you at midnight and kill you.

Basically, it's a really cool way to get to know the bloggers your favourite bloggers are already reading, and pass on the love.

So thanks to Lauren for this lovely New Year suprise!

The Rules
  1.  Post the award on your blog.
  2.  Thank the blogger who presented this award and link back to their blog.
  3.  Write 5 random facts about yourself.
  4.  Nominate 5 bloggers (they should have less than 3000 followers)
  5.  Answer 5 questions posted by the presenter and ask your nominees 5 questions.

Five Random Facts About Me...

1.  I am ridiculously scared of heights.  As in, I can manage to be afraid of the second floor of your house.  And if your stairs have gaps in them... forgeddaboutit.

2. I like to sing to my dog, Buddy.  My favourite song is "Buddy man, Buddy man, does whatever a Buddy can!" to the tune of the Spider Man song, but any song that can have its lyrics adapted to be dog related will do.  

3. When I grow up, I would like to be Zooey Deschanel.  

4. I have been trying to read Middlemarch since April 29th last year.  

5. I used to do Tae Kwon Do and I almost got my black belt.

The Answers to the Questions On Your [Lauren's] Mind

1. The best book you’ve ever read and why?

This is like trying to pick which limb I would least like to lose!  (To quote Neil Gaiman.)  I have many favourites, but I would have to say Craig Silvey's Jasper Jones, if only because it moved me so much that I spent a year of my life studying and writing about it, as well as because it's an excellent book which interacts with all the Australian mythology that has come before it.  

2. Pick an author, you’ve read all their books, rank them.

Kate Morton:  The Shifting Fog, The Forgotten Garden, The Secret Keeper, The Distant Hours (Best to worst... not that any of her books are bad.)

3. What’s your favourite word in a language other than your 1st language?

Someone once told me that Wagelpudden meant Jelly in German.

4. A poem you think should be set to music. Which style?

Ashamed to say that I don't really know any poetry!  That's one genre I will definitely be getting into this year.  I guess TS Eliot's Lovesong of J Alfred Prufrock done like an Enya song would be interesting.

5. If you could be a painting which one would you be and why?

Frederick McCubbin, Girl in Forest Mount Macedon, 1913

It came up a lot in my honours, and the colours are beautiful... even if she probably is lost and about to die of exposure.

The Chosen Few!  (No pressure to actually do these, but here are some blogs that deserve love)

My Questions Five:

1. Who would play you in a movie about your writing career?
2. What is the song you secretly sing to in the shower?
3. What is your drink of choice?  (Alcoholic or otherwise)
4. Which Hogwarts house would you be in and why?
5. What is your Favourite Place in the whole world?

Monday, 5 January 2015

Welcome to my Bookshelves: Meg Caddy

I first met Meg Caddy while I was a young writer in residence at the Katharine Susannah Prichard Writer's Centre in the Perth Hills.  As well as being a former YWiR herself, Meg is an award winning short story writer, and runs the young writer's groups at the KSP centre.  She was shortlisted  for the Text Publishing prize in 2013 and her debut novel, Waer, will be published sometime in the near future.  She blogs at

Books and Bears

Books and bears. Writing and reading books, making and collecting bears.  These things are pretty prominent in the ‘home’ circle of the Venn Diagram that is my life. Books and bears have always been not-so-minor obsessions. My first stories were about teddy bears. As such, when Emily asked me to do a guest-blog, I figured both bears and books had better feature in some way.

Big Bear is first on the list, because he is always first on the list. He is my most precious bear. He belonged to my Mum, and she passed him on to me. He’s old and very wise, which is why he sits in the Dickens section of my bookshelves.

Old Ted belonged to the son of an elderly friend of the family. He sits with reference books and Ancient History (fitting?). I use a lot of these books for writing, especially the Dictionary of First Names and Breverton’s Complete Herbal.

Josie-bear was given to me by my friend (wait for it) Josie. She is an English bear, and she sings when you press her foot. She sits with Text Publishing books, and the cookbooks I keep in my room.

 My friend Simon sent me Agatha Christie books in the mail, one by one, until they took up most of the shelf. If I could grow a moustache, I would wear a Poirot moustache. Pollyanna and Bertie don’t have moustaches, but they would if they could.

Pirates and fairytales. I’m obsessed. My Honours thesis is on pirates, I’m writing a YA novel about pirates, and I’ve recently started to do some twisted modern fairytales. Midge, Little Ted, Patch, Amethyst and Percy just about fit onto this shelf.

And speaking of dissertations and university, this is Scholar Bear. Mum bought him for me as a graduation present, so I thought it fitting he should sit with a bunch of my uni books and research books.

Snowy is a sophisticated, seasoned traveller. He sits with my Juliet Marillier books. I have been very lucky to be mentored by Juliet a few times across the years. She is wise and wonderful, and I revisit her books time after time. I should mention that the Elizabeth Haydon books are also on this shelf, but they are scheduled to be moved soon.

Stitches has a wonderful tale of travel and escape – far too long for this blog post, but suffice to say he is an adventurer at heart. As such, he’s in with the Tolkien, Anne Bishop, and Mary Gentle section of my shelves. The books stacked in top are ones I have borrowed.

The Twins are personalised bears from the school I worked at during my GAP year. Terry Pratchett, Isobelle Carmody, and Joe Hill suit them very well – a mish-mash within the fantasy genre, but all books that I love.

Lucky and Ted (just to clarify, we now have Little Ted, Ted, and Old Ted, which says a lot about why I really need that Dictionary of First Names…) sit on the shelf with some of my favourite spec-fic books, including the intricate worlds of Glenda Larke and the witty swashbuckling of Lee Battersby.

There are more books and more bears, but I have a book to write and bears to sew, so I’m wrapping it up for now. I’ll leave you with a snap of the whole family!

Thursday, 1 January 2015

Goals and Resolutions for 2015

I just re-read my post about my New Year's goals from this time last year... I was pretty down on the idea of New Year's Resolutions, but I'm always pro-goal setting!  I sat down and assessed how I did, and I won't bore you with the analysis, but while nothing super super major happening in 2014, it was a pretty excellent year.

Here's hoping 2015 will be even better!

Here are my new goals:

1. De-clutter my life... accumulate less stuff, including books.  This includes keeping my bathroom clean.

2. Read 110 books (I would try to read more than last year except that this year I will be attempting to get my Graduate Diploma in Professional Writing and Editing as an external student through Deakin Uni)

3.  Take more photographs!  Notice things worth noticing, make memories and be more present.

4. Submit stories and writing to 12 journals and competitions-- again, same as last year-- but this year, take the negative responses less personally.

5. Cook more, and use all my lovely cookbooks.