Wednesday, December 31, 2014

book list 2014

Just because my blog has been pretty quiet this year doesn't mean you won't get my annual list of books finished for the first time this year! All 78 of them. This year I think I read more non-fiction than usual (and later I might check the stats to see if that's true). There was an interesting selection, with everything from deciphering Linear B, the history of the crossword, pop music in the 20th century, memoirs of people who fled Nazi Germany and books about Sydney (personal and historical). The other theme is really recent books- so many books I read this year seem to have been written in 2013 or 2014. I think I might try to balance that with some older books next year. Other than that, my top picks of the year:

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, which I reviewed in detail earlier, but suffice to say it was one of the first books I read this year and still a favourite. In short: it's a great book about the way the world is today, and race and gender and globalisation and all that stuff that is pretty crucial to who we are.

The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton which I reviewed on another blog was just a beautifully structured and written story. It sucks you in with wanting to know what happened, and then it makes you feel it. Really well worth reading.


Zoo City by Lauren Beukes. One of the last books I read this year, and a really terrific one. I'm really loving urban fantasy at the moment, and this is a great example of the genre. Set in a run-down urban suburb of Johannesburg, with a noir feel and magical animals, it was exciting and sad and unputdownable. Highly recommend.


It's so hard to pick just one- the Robert Galbraith books surprised me a bit by being really good. They have some fun characters and it's nice to see a traditional private eye in a modern setting, somehow that seems rare? But it would be remiss of me not to mention the Amelia Peabody books by Elizabeth Peters, which I've started reading my way through. Following a female Egyptologist in the late 19th century, who seems to get herself and her family involved in a large number of mysteries that need to be solved, these are just a lot of fun. A bit silly maybe, but definitely fun.

And the full list (linked if I've written about it, short review included for some)...

The Glass God- Kate Griffin I love all Kate Griffin's London urban fantasy books, and this is no exception
The Riddle of the Labyrinth- Margalit Fox Fascinating account of the decoding of Minoan writing
Murder and Mendelssohn- Kerry Greenwood Can't go wrong with a Phryne Fisher, and this one is a bit of a return to form after some less good ones
The One Hundred Year Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared- Jonas Jonasson
Cluetopia- David Astle A book about the crossword and its history by noted crossword maker DA
Paths of Glory- Jeffrey Archer Bought it as sort of a lucky dip, dragged in places- about the climbing of Everest
Travesties- Tom Stoppard
The View from Castle Rock- Alice Munro
Untold- Sarah Rees Brennan Really enjoy this fantasy series
The Enchanted April- Elizabeth von Armin I think Stuck in a Book reviewed this highly- and it is a lovely story about women who holiday in Italy and are deeply affected by it
A Presumption of Death- Jill Paton Walsh A continuation of Dorothy Sayers' Peter Wimsey books
The Attenbury Emeralds- Jill Paton Walsh
The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loanna- Umberto Eco
Salvage- Keren David
Old School- Tobias Wolff
The Man Within- Graham Greene Not Graham Greene's best I think, but apparently his earliest
The Imperfectionists- Tom Rachman
Crocodile on the Sandbank- Elizabeth Peters
The Curse of the Pharaohs- Elizabeth Peters
The Drowner- Robert Drewe Good to read some Australian fiction- I thought this was a bit overwrought in places, perhaps, but overall interesting
All the Birds, Singing- Evie Wyld
Faulks on Fiction- Sebastian Faulks A book of essays on British fiction that I found myself wildly disagreeing with a lot
Jackdaws- Ken Follett Another lucky dip book! About a team of British women sent into occupied France as saboteurs in WWII
The Magic Toyshop- Angela Carter Read for book group. I love Angela Carter but she can be hard, this has all the pain and fairytale magic and darkness you might expect
The Mummy Case- Elizabeth Peters
Skios- Michael Frayn Recovering from some dark reading with something funny, but this also turned out to be a bit dark, or at least somewhat pessimistic about humanity
The Goldfinch- Donna Tartt Read for book group. Enjoyed it, but felt it dragged in the middle.
The Deeds of the Disturber- Elizabeth Peters
Unnatural Causes- PD James
Trafficking in Old Books- Anthony Marshall A collection of columns that makes for a charming memoir of second-hand bookselling in Melbourne
Bluebeard's Egg- Margaret Atwood
The Silkworm- Robert Galbraith
The Diary of Mary Berg- Mary Berg A diary of a young Jewish girl in the Warsaw ghetto in WWII
The Last Camel Died at Noon- Elizabeth Peters
Not Meeting Mr Right- Anita Heiss A bit bland for chick-lit I thought- but would still be interested in reading more by her
The Sittaford Mystery-Agatha Christie
Love and Vertigo- Hsu-Ming Teo
The World of Yesterday- Stefan Zweig
Murder on the Eiffel Tower- Claude Izner
The Visitors- Sally Beauman Picked this up because the surname was the same as the book I was looking for. Fitted right in with my Egyptology at the turn of the century reading
Glow- Ned Beauman Really recommend this one- very compelling thriller involving drugs, seperatist groups, evil corporations and non-24 sleep syndrome. And good writing
The Snake, The Crocodile and the DogElizabeth Peters
Yeah, Yeah, Yeah: The Story of Modern Pop- Bob Stanley To add to my knowledge of pop music after my blog obsession (talked about here)
Questions of Travel- Michelle de Kretser Controversial book group book- I thought it was fine, most hated it
Bone Clocks- David Mitchell I love David Mitchell, and this is perhaps the most David-Mitchell book yet
On Such a Full Sea- Chang-Rae Lee
Razorhurst-  Justine Larbalestier
That Deadman Dance- Kim Scott Well worth reading- Indigenous writer writing about European settlement and first contact in Western Australia
Colourless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage- Haruki Murakami
The Secret Place- Tana French
Gentlemen Prefer Blondes- Anita Loos
The Hippopotamus Pool- Elizabeth Peters
Amsterdam- Ian McEwan
The Thin Man- Dashiell Hammett
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn- Betty Smith
A Tale for the Time Being- Ruth Ozeki
Seeing a Large Cat- Elizabeth Peters
Persepolis 2: The Story of a Return- Marjane Satrapi
Seconds- Bryan Lee O'Malley
Rynnosseros- Terry Dowling
Girl Defective- Simmone Howell
The Girl who Saved the King of Sweden- Jonas Jonasson
The Beacon- Susan Hill
Strawberry Hills Forever- Vanessa Berry
It's Not You, Geography, It's Me- Kristy Chambers
Zoo City- Lauren Beukes
The Name of the Wind- Patrick Rothfuss
Leviathan- John Birmingham

Happy New Year!

Wednesday, October 01, 2014


No blog post at all for August is a pretty poor effort (and now September as well! eek!) but I have a good excuse, honest! I was away on holidays for a couple of weeks, and between planning and packing and traveling and unpacking I've been kept pretty busy. So what did I do on my holidays you ask?
View from the Empire State Building

Well, I travelled to North America for the first time, and I got to see New York, Vancouver and Whistler (as well as a friend who I rarely get to see- which was a treat). I stayed in New York with a couple of friends from uni, and met up with my school friend in Canada (where she now lives).
On a mountain in Whistler

It's a bit hard to sum up travel quickly, as I've discovered anew after getting back and trying to answer the inevitable question: "how was your trip?" It was great, New York was very big, Canada had lots of mountains, you know the deal. And in any case I feel like I've shared so many photos on social media that no-one really wants to hear any more about it.

But for my blog which is mostly about books, I thought I would write a bit mostly about New York but partly about books. We went to bookshops (Strand Books was amazing!) and libraries, and saw books for sale in museum bookshops (the wonderful Tenement Museum had a lovely selection- and has made me want to read A Tree Grows in Brooklyn), but beyond that, it seemed that W.H. Auden was following me around.

WH Auden's (very temporary) house

I love Auden, but I was not expecting to stumble across him on our Lonely Planet walk guided walk through Brooklyn, which led us past a house which proclaimed "W.H. Auden (POET 1907-1973) lived in Brooklyn Heights from 1939 to 1940". It's a brief stay, really, that's now immortalised, but was it this house he returned to after September 1, 1939? Apparently he wrote 'New Year Letter' there, but it's not one that I've read. Which is a pity, because I don't think Auden's read enough. My friends don't seem to know him. Not even 'Funeral Blues', famous for appearing in Four Weddings and a Funeral, nor 'Death's Echo' which is one of my favourites (it is bleak but also beautiful). I recommend them all! But when I tried to explain what Auden wrote the lines that kept running around my head (though always jumbled) were the first lines from 'Lullaby':
Lay your sleeping head, my love,
Human on my faithless arm;
They tumbled round my head until we visited the Morgan Library (a beautiful private library from the early 20th century- built for JP Morgan) and there among the rare books on display was WH Auden again. A hand corrected copy of his first printing of his first book of poems. Just a couple of traces of Auden to stumble across, but ones that made me happy.
Auden in the Morgan library

And I can't finish this post on my trip without a photo of the fabulous Metropolitan Museum of Art. Happy travels!
Just a temple taken from Egypt to America

Thursday, July 17, 2014

number ones

I've been on a bit of a kick lately of reading about pop music and number one singles. I've been finding it fascinating, so I'm sharing some links here here on the off-chance that you do, too. Down the internet rabbit-hole we go...

It all started a few years ago when I stumbled across a music column in The Vine by Tim Byron, reviewing the latest Australian number one single. Usually, the column looks at what makes a song so popular- what are it's hooks? Themes? Cultural context? And what makes the song- it's influences and so on. Tim Byron is a music writer but also apparently a psychology lecturer, and he often seems to have interesting things to say about the singles, and treats them with a certain respect. Which is one of the reasons why I was so interested when he mentioned his new podcast...

90 percent hits is a podcast (and blog- their tumblr is well worth checking out) about all the number one singles in Australia in the 1990s (the period that my generation looks on with particular nostalgia). It's made by Tim Byron, Casey Atkins, Tim Coyle and Danny Yau. They talk about the songs, and also their personal reaction to them/memories of them. I must admit I still haven't finished the podcast, but it's definitely hit 1999. The podcast (and the column) reference some other blogs that inspired them...

Like Popular by Tom Ewing, which reviews all the UK number one singles (see the chronological list/archive here). The reviews start in 1952, and as I write this go all the way to 1998 (I'm only at 1967). The posts tend to be pretty short, always including a score out of 10, but the commenters are often pretty well informed and have interesting tidbits to add. This blog seems to be the one that inspired them all (it started in 2003!) including...

No Hard Chords, a blog by Sally O'Rourke  looking at all the US number one singles from the Billboard Hot 100. I really like the writing in this blog, it gives some nice background to the hits. It's covered 1958-1967 so far, but the last post was written over a month ago so I'm a bit worried there may be no more, still the one before that was written in January, so there's still hope! 

Last is the one I haven't really gotten to yet (maybe because it would take a bit longer!) is Then Play Long, which reviews every UK number 1 ALBUM (by Marcello Carlin and Lena Friesen). I've only read the entry on U2's The Unforgettable Fire, which was linked from a round-up of music writing in The Vine (another Tim Byron column), but that was a great mix of personal essay and music writing, so I would be interested to read more.

I've still got a lot of blog reading to do, clearly, but this has inspired me to read up on my pop music history- any good book recommendations?

Monday, June 30, 2014

today's post brought to you by the letter...

Simon posted a fun meme over at Stuck-in-a-book the other day- he assigns a random letter and you have to pick some of your favourites that start with that letter. And my letter is N! Let's do this.

Favourite book...

number9dream - David Mitchell
Image from Google Books

This book made me really fall in love with the writing of David Mitchell- and still my favourite. Although Cloud Atlas is also amazing! And I can't believe it but it took me a while to think of it...


Favourite author...

E. Nesbit
Image from Wikipedia

I grew up with Five Children and It, The Phoenix and the Carpet and so on, but most of all with The Railway Children. My siblings and I read the book, and watched the movie, multiple times. E. Nesbit will always have a special place in my heart!

Favourite song...

No Light, No Light - Florence and the Machine

Because I love Florence and the Machine! Though I have to say it was a toss up between this and No Aphrodisiac by The Whitlams. 

Favourite film...

I'm going to cheat and say Star Wars: A New Hope, one of my all-time favourites.

Favourite object...
Image used under a CC2.0 license by Stewf

Nightstand! If I didn't have one, where would I store my books?

Well, N ended up being harder than I thought! But lots of fun.

Thursday, May 08, 2014

library haul

Just stopped in to return some books to the library the other day, and ended up taking an armful home with me- I couldn't resist posting about them. I've added to the haul with a book from the library where I work (is it excessive being a member of 2 libraries? I don't even care). So here's what I've got lined up:

The Cuckoo's Calling - Robert Galbraith
Well, if I'm honest I've read this one already. I didn't blog straight away and it was just too good not too finish. Though I had no real desire to read J.K. Rowling's first book after Harry Potter, The Casual Vacancy, I'd heard good things about her pseudonymous foray into fiction. I really loved the set-up to this book- I feel like there aren't enough private detectives in modern mysteries and Cormoran Strike is a good one, complete with personal demons and dingy office. I also loved his secretary, Robin, and I think these characters really made the book. Though for some reason I found myself hoping that romantic tension didn't develop between them. Anyway, parts of the solution were maybe slightly lacking, but it was a good journey there with plenty of clues to follow along. Looking forward to the sequel!

A Curtain of Green - Eudora Welty
The one I'm currently reading. A collection of short stories from this famous Southern writer. I haven't read anything by her, but I've heard her name around a lot so I thought it was time to fix that. Apparently this is Welty's first short story collection, published in 1941, so I suppose it's a good place to start. I'm finding it a strange book so far.

Orkney - Amy Sackville
I just have this thing for books set in remote Scottish islands, and I feel a special interest in the Orkneys since visiting there a couple of years ago (or since before visiting really, that's why I chose to go there at all). I'll just include a gratuitous holiday photo, why not. Anyway based on that alone I picked this up, and the blurb also sounded somewhat familiar- it's the story of a professor and his former student who have come to the Orkney Islands for their honeymoon and "alone beneath the shifting skies of this untethered landscape, the professor realises how little he knows about his new bride." There is also a definite suggestion of selkies or mermaids, which just adds to the intrigue. 
Approaching the Orkney Islands by ferry
Mr Fox - Helen Oyeyemi
I read The Opposite House a while ago, and found it fascinating but uncomfortable. I think it was well written but it was a bit of a hard read. So I am approaching this optimistically but with caution, in case it bites. Lovely cover, though, and I knew I'd heard something intriguing about it. Googling it just know to jog my memory I see it's inspired by/a retelling of Bluebeard, so I suppose it was the fairytale connection. And foxes. 

Lion in the Valley - Elizabeth Peters
What's not to like about a series of murder mysteries whose protagonist is an Egyptian archaeologist in the 19th century? I started reading the Amelia Peabody series a little while ago and they are a lot of silly fun. Unfortunately this is the fourth in  the series, and I've only read the first two, so I will need to hunt down the third one first I suppose.

The Child that Books Built - Francis Spufford
This was recommended to me by a colleague, it's the only non-fiction book in the bunch and it's a book about children's literature and being a child who grew up reading. At least, that's the impression that I get. The blurb tells me it's about the author going back and rereading childhood favourite books and reflecting on them, and that sounds like a great premise right there. 

Anyway, that's such a bounty of reading coming up, I'm reinspired (I was feeling a bit of a reading slump for a while there). If anyone is still reading this blog, I'd love to hear what you've got lined up to read next, or any recommendations for future reading?

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

writing elsewhere

So this blog has been a bit neglected lately, much as I try to at least update it monthly, BUT this time I've written something elsewhere on the Internet. It's for Kate's blog Women on the Shelf, which is a blog about books written by women. There are a whole lot of different things by different contributors, and I've written a review of Luminaries by Eleanor Catton. Spoiler: I loved it.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

americanah - chimamanda ngozi adichie

I've been meaning to write about this a while, but have been wondering how I can do it justice. The first thing I read by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie was this short story online- 'Jumping Monkey Hill' (which I found on A Striped Armchair), and I think it was a good introduction. There are a lot of the same themes that crop up in her novels (at least the two I've read) and especially in Americanah- she takes on race and colonialism and identity, as well as the idea of authenticity. The real greatness in her writing, I think, is that it tackles these themes in a thought-provoking, confronting and not at all tired way. I read Purple Hibiscus last year and enjoyed it, would highly recommend it, but for me Americanah is a stand-out book.

Americanah is the story of two Nigerian high-school sweethearts- Ifemelu and Obinze- who are separated when Ifemelu moves to America for college and Obinze is unable to get a visa to follow her. Instead, he ends up spending some time in the UK before returning to Nigeria. In America, Ifemelu starts a successful blog on race in America from the perspective of an outsider. But her time in America starts to make her question her identity as well. 

When I was looking at reading books from Africa from my reading around the world challenge, most of the books I could find were written by expats for a Western audience, and this is no exception. What interests me is that Adichie is so aware of this, and it's a big part of what she is writing about here, in a way that challenges you to think about your position as a reader as well as the role of the writer. It's a very global story, moving between countries and showing a range of perspectives. It's also very self-reflexive- it's easy to draw parallels between the character of Ifemelu and Chimamanda Adichie herself, as American-educated Nigerians. Though Ifemelu often feels like the main point-of-view character the presence of Obinze creates an alternative- they are both quite reflective as well, so that no character or opinion seems to go unquestioned. With this questioning and the global nature of the story it feels so contemporary, and there's a lot here to cause reflection on the state of the world, or to relate to.

I also really loved the characters themselves, and I was hoping things would turn out well for them and their relationship despite all the hurdles this book throws at them, which made for a satisfying read. I really wish I still had the book with me to quote from, because it is all around fantastic and I feel I have been raving rather than providing a balanced review. What can I say? Trust me and read Americanah.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

book haul

I'm more of a library borrower than a book buyer generally, so you don't see many of these posts, but on the weekend I finally got around to using a (very old) book voucher at Gleebooks, and I thought I'd share the results!

Bad quality photo- but beautiful books
The Man Within - Graham Greene
Honestly the only reason I picked this was 1) it cost the right amount to use up the last few dollars of my book voucher, 2) I really loved my Graham Greene reading last year and 3) I was in a bit of a hurry by this point. I actually know nothing about this book, so that could be interesting. The back cover suggests its a courtroom drama about smuggling? Intriguing...

Broken Homes - Ben Aaronovitch
The latest in the Peter Grant series- urban fantasy/crime books set in London. The main character is a policeman and apprentice wizard. I've mentioned these before, here and briefly here (I thought I'd written something longer somewhere, but my search doesn't seem to be working properly, so I can never be sure). Basically, I think these are fun but occasionally flawed by things like drastic shifts in tone, strange editing and a hero who is sometimes just too oblivious. Still, for the most part pretty good (and I'm still buying them as they come out, so they must be doing something right).

The Luminaries - Eleanor Catton
Last year's Booker prize winner, and my next book group read. I thought buying it was a better bet than trying to get my hands on it at the library. I must admit to being a bit daunted by the size of it, but encouraged since Ronni recommended it very highly (though sadly she hasn't written about it, I don't think). As far as I know it involves murder, possibly conspiracies, a New Zealand family in the 19th century, maybe a family saga? Or maybe just historical? Not sure- will find out (hopefully I will make it to the end).

The Late Scholar - Jill Paton Walsh
I read the first paragraphs of Alex's review over at Thinking in Fragments and was so excited to see that this was a continuation of Dorothy L. Sayers' Peter Wimsey novels and apparently pretty well done that I knew I wanted to get my hands on it. Just now I've had a closer look and noticed that it is the 4th in Walsh's Peter Wimsey books, but although it might have been a good idea to start at the beginning (so to speak?) I am pretty excited to read this.

I'm sad that I still haven't managed to get my hands on Sarah Rees Brennan's Untold, but hopefully soon! In the meantime I have plenty to keep me busy...

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

2013 favourites

Now I'm back from my beach holiday, back at work, and 2014 is officially underway, it's finally time to write about some of my favourite books and authors from last year. And I'll try to keep it brief!


Graham Greene
I read Greene's The End of the Affair in 2012, and I liked it but wasn't sure whether I loved it or not.  But I read Our Man in Havana this year pretty much fell in love with it (thanks for the recommendation litlove!). This inspired me to read more Greene, so I read The Quiet American next. Despite this being a more serious book, they both have certain similarities- not least that they both touch on espionage, politics, love and Catholicism. Really enjoyed both of them, will look out for more in future!

Robin McKinley
Having heard recommendations for Robin McKinley (particularly Sunshine and Beauty) for years, but only got around to reading them last year, after another recommendation for Sunshine. And it was worth it! I really enjoyed it, though I don't know that I can explain why- except that the characters are great, it's vampires are suitably menacing and its romance somewhat unconventional. I went on to read Rose Daughter and then Beauty (both retellings of Beauty and the Beast) which I enjoyed, though I liked Rose Daughter best. I think Beauty suffered a bit from being read too soon after Rose Daughter, since they are quite similar, but I also really liked the sisters in and their relationship in Rose Daughter.


Unspoken - Sarah Rees Brennan
I wrote about this earlier- but I just wanted to reiterate how much I enjoyed it! It's one of those books that just taps into certain tropes that I love- mainly angsty Gothic heroes. But it's also written with a lightness and sense of humour, and the heroine and her friends are great (strange how hard it is to find books, especially fantasy books, with a good set of friends! Sometimes you get sick of lone wolves). I'm just sad I still haven't managed to read the sequel...

Among Others - Jo Walton

Again, I wrote about this when I read it, but writing out this list reminded me of it again. It plays with the fantasy genre in an interesting way, and it's sure to induce some nostalgia in anyone who grew up reading fantasy or sci-fi (especially sci-fi, as it's a massive roll-call of sci-fi classics). Occasionally the main character grated on me a little, but that might just be a function of the diary format (and maybe I was jealous of the number of sci-fi classics she had read) but her story was really interesting and I really liked this book all up.

Literary fiction

In the Skin of a Lion - Michael Ondaatje
I've read other books by Ondaatje before, but I wasn't prepared to love this as much as I did. The language was just gorgeous, I liked the way the book moved forward in fragments and the picture it created of life in early 20th Century Canada.

Beloved - Toni Morrison
Another book I've heard of, and heard recommended, forever, but I have always been scared to read it. I picked it up from a library shelf one day because I was looking for something to read, and I'm glad I did. Yes, there are definitely some traumatic events in this book, but it is well worth it. Some great characters and great writing, the way that people speak, the way that the text skirts around memories for so long before addressing them head-on... And another reminder of the trauma and inhumanity of slavery.

Clear Light of Day - Anita Desai
An understated story about family and Partition in India. Maybe not so much of a rave review as the others, but I just thought this was a really good book.

Crossing to Safety - Wallace Stegner
I had to read this after reading Book Snob's rave review, and it was indeed a lovely book. The story of two couples and their friendships from the 1930s onwards, it just has a sort of honesty and gentleness. It also feels like quite an American book to me, but a part of America that  I often forget exists.

The Sisters Brothers - Patrick DeWitt
Just a rollicking good read- a Western with a little bit of sadness and a large sense of humour.


I actually read some good non-fiction this year, too much to list almost! The Beast and the Blonde was fascinating and thought-provoking, Sidetracks: Explorations of a Romantic biographer was a fun read that introduced me to some Romantic figures and non-fiction writing methods I didn't know, Victorian Honeymoons was just a great topic which delved into speculation in a satisfyingly human way, and Carnet de Voyage was a very personal and beautifully drawn graphic non-fiction work about travel and writing. But maybe top for me was Blue Nights by Joan Didion- a memoir which could be rambling and self-serving perhaps but always took me along with it and was just lovely writing.