Well, it has been quite a few months, hasn’t it? I knew I’d neglect this blog during most of May and June as that is always the busiest time of the year for me. I thought I’d get right back on to it but the summer here in London has been glorious which has kept me outside a lot, and a house move and bathroom reno have not helped the situation much.
So, again I look to the bloggers who always post regularly with great admiration – I know it’s not a competition but I do envy those who keep their blog going all year round.
However, I have been reading my usual four or so books a month. I’ve read some amazing books and to catch up on reviews they are going to have to be short and snappy. I’m sure the authors will understand 🙂 Hopefully I can still do justice to them all.
Two main trends have emerged in my reading these past few months – I’m mostly reading crime fiction, and I am drifting further and further away from the recently published books with all the hype. Neither of these are necessarily a bad thing!
Now for two belated comments on prizes:
This is the first time I have ever read a full shortlist and I was so lucky that there was not one weak link in the list. I picked Jorn Lier Horst’s The Caveman as my winner. I managed to get this prediction out on Twitter before the prize was announced and lo and behold it was the winner. It’s a fantastic crime novel so I was thrilled.
I was hugeley excited when A.S Patric’s Black Rock White City made the shortlist, and even posted about why it should win. I was worried it may not have been the version of Australia the judges were looking for but luckily it was. Congratulations A.S Patric – one year on and your novel still affects me.
Pick of the Month/s
Out of all 13 books in the image above – The Caveman by Jorn Lier Horst. I couldn’t put it down and it introduced me to a new author who had 4 other books for me to read!
13 short and snappy reviews coming your way!
I also hope to get my Japanese Lit challenge underway.
I had a great time watching Follow the Money. How much more Scandi can you get – a crime story about big business, alternate energy sources and wind farms. This makes me want to read Gunnar Staaleson’s We Shall Inherit the Wind which is a crime novel with a wind farm setting.
My favourite character in Follow the Money was Nicky. Would anyone disagree with this? How fantastic he was from Jutland like my Department Q hero, Carl Morck.
Jorn Lier Horst, where have you been my whole life? After binging on Jussi Adler-Olsen’s Department Q series last year, I’ve been searching for a new series to be obsessed by. Now I have met William Wisting. My sincerest apologies to Karin Fossum – The Drowned Boy was next on my reading list but I fear I will be sidetracked by Lier Horst and Norway for the next few weeks…
I only read four books this month but they were all wonderfully enjoyable so I don’t feel left wanting as I do some months. I had hoped to finish my Australian Women Writer’s Challenge this month but am still one book short of the Franklin level (10 books). Hopefully this will be rectified next month!
AWW Bingo Challenge
I was really excited this month to launch the Australian Women Writer’s Bingo Challenge. With the help of Elizabeth, Sue and a few others in the team, I’ve put together two Bingo Cards that keen AWW readers can try and fill in before 31 October. Books from 1st January can be included and there will be prizes for both Australian and international participants. Looks like I now have a target of 18 AWW titles to read in order to fill in both cards!
Miles Franklin Longlist
This is the first year in a while that I like the sound of most books on the Miles Franklin Longlist. I am pleased by this as I must say that the Stella Prize Shortlist didn’t necessarily excite me this year although there were a few on the longlist that I still want to read. Anyway, while I have only read two titles on the MF Longlist I was so thrilled to see AS Patric’s Black Rock White City selected that I wrote a post about how fabulous the novel is and how I feel it would be an incredibly deserving winner. As the SMH summarises the novel brings European modernism to the Australian suburbs. Go Graffito!
Bookish and Non-Bookish Posts
I had great fun this month with Book Spine Poetry – I wish I had time to write more!
I was so excited after my 12 month and final laser eye surgery check that I decided to write a post about my experience and the wonderful service I received. It meant I had to branch out and create a new ‘other’ category for my blog. Fittingly, I then discovered that this was the 200th post I published! (Thank you Accuvision for my wonderful vision and my ‘new pair of glasses’ – cryptic!).
Operation Read My Own Books
As it is most likely I will be moving house later this year, I am
forcing myself making an effort to read read some of the many novels on my bookshelves, particularly those that I have already moved with twice in the last decade.
I did make a very small dent in the pile but as I loved The Women in Black so much I plan to keep my copy so I can read it again. I never hold on to books so this is really challenging my instinct to run it down to the charity shop!
Pick of the Month
If you can’t guess, it is Madeleine St John’s The Women in Black. I loved every page!
I hope to read some of the crime novels I’ve not yet read on the Petrona shortlist. Curling up with one will make perfect Bank Holiday Monday reading. In fact, there are some on last year’s shortlist that tempt me too. Any recommendations?
A Spring Betrayal by Tom Callaghan
This was one of the rare times I have been bit cheeky and contacted the publisher for an advance review copy as I adored the first in the series and couldn’t wait until the publication date! What follows is my honest review.
Inspector Akyl Borubaev’s Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan is a lawless post-Soviet metropolis rife with corruption and vice. Several children’s bodies have been found buried together – all tagged with name bands. In his search for the truth behind the brutal killings, Inspector Borubaev has no one to turn to outside his sometime lover, the beautiful undercover Uzbek agent Saltanat Umarova.
A Spring Betrayal is the second book in Tom Callaghan’s Kyrgyz-set crime series. It is quite the action packed police drama in an unfamiliar setting and I enjoyed reading it. I particularly love the setting as it combines untouched natural beauty with drab Soviet poverty.
The disservice Tom Callaghan has created for himself is that his first novel A Killing Winter is so spectacular it would be hard for anyone to surpass, including himself! The first novel provided a laser sharp insight into the social problems that plague Kyrgyzstan and while A Spring Betrayal looks at problems associated with orphanages, international adoption and child exploitation it misses the bullet that made my heart sad in the first novel.
As you can see, I am now starting to write like a melancholic Kyrgyz, just as Callaghan does so well. I don’t know much about Kyrgyzstan but Callaghan seems to capture the mood of a nation perfectly. His writing is filled with precision and in one turn of phrase he can hauntingly describe an example of child abuse and exploitation that really affects the reader. The author also writes so well that you stop questioning why Borubaev and Saltanat are ‘off the grid’ and on their own mission for so long, the safe houses and weapons stashes as it is full of action and short-ish chapters that often end on a cliffhanger.
In this novel there is more action over social substance and in some ways it is more insular with the intense focus on Borubaev and Saltanat’s hiding and mission. Both of these points indicate to me that the author may have been on more of a timeline and couldn’t distill everything he felt about Kyrgyzstan and its people into this novel. I also felt there were too many references to the first novel and Borubaev’s lamenting for his wife became a little repetitive and shallow towards the end.
As a stand alone novel A Spring Betrayal is great but I couldn’t help comparing it to the earlier novel.
Will I read book 3 in the series? Absolutely. Original, interesting crime.
A few of my favourite bloggers (Cleopatra, Fiction Fan and Cathy at 746 Books) have inspired me to create my own book spine poetry.
I have used the titles of six books on my TBR pile for my Australian Womens Writers Challenge.
A Descant for Gossips?
Cat and Fiddle!
The Railwayman’s Wife:
The Distant Hours
Playing Beatie Bow.
The Women in Black by Madeleine St John
At the very end of the Ladies’ Frocks Departments, past Cocktail Frocks, there was something very special, something quite, quite wonderful; but it wasn’t for everybody: that was the point. Because there, at the very end, there was a lovely arch, on which was written in curly letters Model Gowns.
First Impressions: I loved the introduction by Bruce Beresford. And then – after reading the first chapter I wondered if it was possible to read the whole book in one sitting as I was already in love with it.
Highlights: Where do I begin? It is a genuinely Australian novel written in the style of Austen and the Brontes yet it also has a European feel with Slovenian Magda and her ‘these people know nothing!’. An absolutely lovely novel. I bought my copy on my most recent trip to Australia. The staff member at Readings Malvern helped me pick out a stack of Aussie novels to bring back to London with me. We jovially disagreed on whether we enjoyed some recently published novels but she was so enthusiastic about this novel I took her word for it and am so glad I did! I don’t want to give away any of the story so just read it for yourself.
If I was an editor: I can’t suggest any improvements whatsoever. A perfect novel.
Overall: I don’t hold on to books after I read them but suspect I will keep this one as I will want to read it again.
My Brilliant Career by Miles Franklin
Written with all the high spirits of youth, My Brilliant Career is the unforgettable tale of Sybylla Melvin, a headstrong country girl – passionate, endearing, stubborn, honest – and her fraught journey from rags to riches to rags.
First Impressions: I was surprised at the bold and contemporary nature of Sybylla’s voice! Definitely not what I was expecting for a novel written in the 1890s!
Highlights: I loved Sybylla’s grit and fearlessness. I’m sure her unwillingness to accept the lot of women would have caused outrage in her day. I liken this novel to an Australian mixture of Pride and Prejudice, Emma and Great Expectations. I would have loved this book had I read it in my teens yet it is one of those few novels that would be rewarding for both adults and YA readers.
As an YA reader I probably would have enjoyed the romances (and Sybylla’s fiesty responses) more but now I must say that as an adult I found her stay at Barney’s Gap as a governess to the M’Swat children the most entertaining. Sybylla’s condescending attribution of incorrect spelling to people who she feels are inferior to her reached its pinnacle in these chapters. For instance her use of the word ‘choones’ to describe the songs taught during piano lessons had me giggling. Overall I can say that I loved this novel so much that I almost missed my tube stop. Oh, I will also add that the introductions that Text Classics include (this time by Jennifer Byrne) are wonderful.
If I was an editor: I find it hard to accept that such a unique and spirited heroine such as Sybylla has been (almost) forgotten. I’m not going to come out and say that all school students should read My Brilliant Career (and the thought probably makes many English teachers groan) but it is such a fun story that captures an era in time. Why are these sorts of novels shunned in most schools? Is it still the cultural cringe perhaps? Maybe it can’t compete with the many contemporary issue-based YA novels currently being published but perhaps it could be encouraged as an option for some? It seems a shame that such a wonderful Aussie novel is out of favour.
Overall: A 2016 Sybylla would be a star on social media!