Monday, July 9, 2018

Author Interview: Liz Byrski

Fresh after the publication of A Month of Sundays, I was able to ask author Liz Byrski a few questions about the book and her writing. Heartfelt thanks to both Liz and to Lucy Inglis for organising the interview!

I find that location can be almost like another character in the book sometimes, or at the very least that location can be either help or hinder a level of sharing with characters. Did you set the book in the Blue Mountains predominantly because of a special connection you have with the area?

I think the setting is very important because it can help to determine the tone of the novel, but I have no special connection with the Blue Mountains.  I wanted the location to be beautiful and to be close to some small towns, where there would be cafes, bookshops, arts and crafts shops or markets.  And I envisaged the women sitting near a wood fire, reading, talking, listening to music, and going for walks in the sun and the rain.  I also wanted them to be able to wander away from the house and savour the natural environment.  I have never been to the Blue Mountains, but I thought it might work so I watched a film about the area and did some online research.  It felt right and now it sounds so gorgeous I want to go there. 

Ros, Simone, Judy, and Adele are all such complex and unique characters. I know it’s like picking one of your children, but I have to ask: did you find you identified more strongly with one character while you were writing? Or perhaps all of them contain elements of you?

You’re right!  I always feel that there are bits of me that go into all the characters.  But it’s Ros with whom I have the strongest connection in this book. It’s about age I think, and her strong feminist position which stems from the second wave feminism of the 1970s.  Also, she can be irascible, and she loves time alone, being quiet, reading and thinking, and then she often says things she regrets.  I do that -  too often my mouth is ahead of my brain!

Did you find any of your characters wanted to write themselves or take the story off on a tangent that you hadn’t prepared for?

Well my characters always go off on their own tangents!  I don’t have a plan and in this case I just put the characters in that house in the mountains and waited to see what might happen.  Strange things do emerge, but I am just open to experimenting and sometimes characters take me to surprising places.  At other times they drive me mad by seemingly wanting to stay stuck!

I loved the character of Clooney in the story – was he based on any dog in particular, or just a dreamed up companion?

Clooney was based on my late beloved dog Toby whom I sadly had to have put to sleep last year.  Clooney is a spaniel, but Toby was a smaller dog, a shaggy black and white Maltese/Schnauzer cross.  Clooney’s character is based on Toby – especially the part where he is sneakily getting treats from everyone, and hassling people to take him for walks.

This story revolves so perfectly around the friendship and support networks women have (or need to have) when dealing with the ups and downs that life inevitably throws out. What got you started on the desire to write a story about a book club meeting for the first time?

I wanted to write a book about women, books and reading, and I wanted it to demonstrate and celebrate women’s relationship with books.  Most book clubs are women’s clubs, we buy, borrow and read more books than men, and I do believe that to some extent we learn about the sort of women we want to be by reading books by and about women.  We also loan our books to our friends, talk about them and re-read them.  I think this is a special relationship -  women + books + women friends.  It’s valuable to so many of us.  Books are a comfort and a challenge, they teach us lessons in life, and help us to understand ourselves and each other.  So, a book group or club seemed to be a good way to go.

Yoga seems to pop into the story pretty regularly, particularly with Simone: is yoga something you have seen benefits with yourself? (I love yoga for multiple reasons, so it was wonderful to see it included in the story.) 
I used to practice yoga but sadly let it slip some years ago.  I am considering going back to it but am also attracted by the idea of learning Tai Chi -  not sure which it will be yet.  I think yoga has enormous benefits for body and soul and I do think it is really valuable for older people -  like me!

And finally, some quick questions!

What are your current favourites:
... reading?
Best book so far this year The Only Story by Julian Barnes, currently reading a non fiction book Among the Bohemians: Experiments in Living 1900-1939  by Virginia Nicholson.  Loving it!
...drinking? I don’t drink alcohol, but I do love my coffee!
...eating? I am on a new eating regime - predominantly vegetables, and vegetable proteins, with occasional egg or fish.  Nothing processed and no bread. I feel really well on it and it has helped to kill off my cravings for bread and sugar.
...loving about the current season?  Not much!  Although in Sydney last week wend it was lovely to have a walk on a cold but very sunny day.  We walked to the Opera House and back and It was glorious.  Since I got back to Perth it hasn’t stopped raining.   I’m a spring and Autumn person really.

Sunday, July 1, 2018

Book Review: Cicada by Shaun Tan

Title: Cicada
Author: Shaun Tan
Publication Date: July 1st 2018

Synopsis: 'Cicada work in tall building.
Data entry clerk. Seventeen year.
No sick day. No mistake.
Tok Tok Tok!

Cicada works in an office, dutifully toiling day after day for unappreciative bosses and being bullied by his coworkers. But one day, cicada goes to the roof of the building, and something truly extraordinary happens...

A story for anyone who has ever felt unappreciated, overlooked or overworked, from Australia's most acclaimed picture book creator.'

My thoughts: Shaun Tan has long been on of my favourite artists, and I adore his books. I have a vague recollection of him coming to a Primary School event of mine and reading his lovely book The Red Tree to me and my classmates, but that could have been some strange dream. Though he did used to live really nearby to my house...

Anyway, Tan manages once again to completely rip open my heart and then give it back to me with a tiny little piece of hope to mend it, like using kintsugi on a bowl or cup. I don't really want to say much about the story, because the synopsis does a pretty good job, I just urge you to have a read and then have a think about what Tan could be addressing, what it all means, and maybe to swoon over his art. At least a little.

Highly recommended (but not for kids, I don't think... more for adults this one. Tok Tok Tok!)

[I received a review copy of this book from Hachette in exchange for an honest review. Thank you!!!]

You would like this book if: You like Shaun Tan's other work and are familiar with the things he addresses; you love beautiful art with deep messages and a little humour thrown in. Oh, and a little heartbreak.

Rating: 10/10

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Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Book Review: A Month of Sundays by Liz Byrski

Title: A Month of Sundays
Author: Liz Byrski
Publication Date: June 26th 2018

Synopsis: " For over ten years, Ros, Adele, Judy and Simone have been in an online book club, but they have never met face to face. Until now...

Determined to enjoy her imminent retirement, Adele invites her fellow bibliophiles to help her house-sit in the Blue Mountains. It's a tantalising opportunity to spend a month walking in the fresh air, napping by the fire and, of course, reading and talking about books.

But these aren't just any books: each member has been asked to choose a book which will teach the others more about her. And with each woman facing a crossroads in her life, it turns out there's a lot for them to learn, not just about their fellow book-clubbers, but also about themselves.

My thoughts: It probably comes as no surprise that I am a fan of book clubs and tales of people reading and talking about books. They fill me with joy, and I certainly got a lot of joy out of this read. However, I also found myself tearing up at moments, completely anxious at others, and generally extremely invested in the stories of each of the characters.

This story somehow both gently tugs you in and also doesn't hold back any punches - I felt like I had been kicked in the gut a few times whilst reading, but also like this was the coziest read I could have found for a rainy and cold afternoon or two. Occasionally I did find that things felt a little too convenient, but the character focus made it easy to overlook that.

Ros, Adele, Judy, and Simone are all extremely different characters, but they also hold a lot of similarities (aside from their love of books) that slowly come out as the story progresses. Sometimes, when books are separated into different characters' points of view, I can find myself only wanting to read about one character, and feeling like it was a slog to get through the others, but not in this case. Each character brought something fantastic to the table to read about, and I was eager to know about each of them equally. (Though, if I were pressed, I would say Simone was probably my favourite, though I think I am most like Adele...)

This book is a fantastic foray into the personal lives of four women, and shows us that everyone has their hang-ups, their traumas, and their own saving graces. And the fact that all of this is built around books? Sign me up to read it again.

[I received a review copy of this book from Pan Macmillan in exchange for an honest review. Thank you!!!]

You would like this book if: You enjoy books about book clubs; you enjoy cozy reads that still pack an emotional punch.

Tea to drink while reading this book: I feel that a good English Breakfast tea with some milk would be a perfect accompaniment. Particularly if it's raining outside, too!

Rating:  8/10

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Monday, June 4, 2018

Book Review: Pick Three by Randi Zuckerberg

Title: Pick Three
Author: Randi Zuckerberg
Publication Date: May 15th 2018

Synopsis:  'Work. Sleep. Family. Fitness. Friends. Pick Three.

In an increasingly demanding world, we've been told that we can do it all - maintain close friendships, devote ourselves to work, spend time with family, stay fit, and get enough sleep. But who can everything - and do it well - every day? Imagine eliminating the pressure to be perfect. Now you can achieve balance over weeks and years. Randi Zuckerberg has the solution: Pick Three.

In this motivational handbook - both a business how-to and self-help guide - the New York Times bestselling author of the "well-balanced" life, arguing that the key to success is learning to be well-lopsided.'

My thoughts: I was intrigued by this idea of only 'picking three' out of the five possible options that Zuckerberg presents us with. I went in with curiosity, but also with a bit of trepidation, as I wasn't sure that the five things Zuckerberg had chosen as her 'main focuses' actually fit my life. As I read, though, I found that Zuckerberg is actually pretty comfortable with people choosing their own five, and she also addresses many different lifestyles that perhaps only allow people to choose two, or combine two together, or the thought that goes into what is perhaps available to people and how they may only have four out of her five to choose from. I really appreciated that Zuckerberg was open and honest, and that she interviewed so many people for her book to give a vast array of choices that people make in their lives.

Having said that, I did feel like parts of this book were definitely not addressing me - someone with a chronic illness. To be fair, I didn't really expect it to. But when you're presented with a 'pick three' formula and find that you have to acknowledge that most days are getting chosen for you rather than by you, it can be difficult to adapt to such a formula. But, overall, Zuckerberg's thoughts, and the thoughts of those she interviewed, were extremely well presented, and actually got me really interested in a few things - like the science of sleep, for example.

She also somehow managed to make me feel motivated about fitness during the relevant chapter - which is a decent feat, if I'm honest. Using the style of open-minded writing and addressing the fact that some people want fitness in completely different ways to others, Zuckerberg really managed to make me feel interested in different styles of fitness, and even to consider different goals. The way she has organised her own fitness goals was so helpful in reminding me that everyone is different, and sometimes fitness is a going concern for someone, and sometimes it's not.

Ultimately, I think I got a decent amount out of this book, and I think I will be pushing it into the hands of a few other people I know who struggle with the idea of being 'well-balanced'. I definitely recommend it as something to try out if you're interested.

[I received a review copy of this book from HarperCollins in exchange for an honest review. Thank you!!]

A favourite line from the book: 'In many of the books I've read that tout the perfect work-life balance, the author often seems to set their reader up for failure by assuming everyone enjoys the same level of privilege as they do. I'm not going to assume that. I know some people are born lucky; they get to pick their passion with the wind at their back.'

You would like this book if: you wish to know how to be 'well-lopsided'; you're interested in the formula of Pick Three.

Tea to drink while reading this book: 

Rating:  6.5/10

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Saturday, June 2, 2018

Reading // May 2018

books read:
~ My Lady's Choosing: An Interactive Romance Novel by Kitty Curran and Larissa Zageris (review)
~ Brazen: Revel Ladies Who Rocked the World by Penelope Bagieu (review)
~ A Court of Wings and Ruin (A Court of Thorns and Roses #3) by Sarah J. Maas
~ A Court of Frost and Starlight (A Court of Thorns and Roses #3.1) by Sarah J. Maas
~ Please Look After Mom by Kyung-Sook Shin
~ Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari
~ When the Moon was Ours by Anna-Marie McLemore (TBR)
~ This One Summer by Mariko Tamaki and Jillian Tamaki (review)
~ The Running Sky by Tim Dee (TBR)
~ Remarkable Birds by Mark Avery (TBR)
~ Provenance by Ann Leckie (TBR)
~ The Girl of Ink and Stars by Kiran Millwood Hargrave (TBR)
~ Tales of Little Brown Mouse by Alison Uttley (TBR)
~ Jane Seymour: The Haunted Queen by Alison Weir (review)
~ The Tea Dragon Society by Katie O'Neill
~ Pick Three by Randi Zuckerberg (review)
~ Cicada by Shaun Tan (review)

currently reading:
~ Too Like the Lightning (Terra Ignota #1) by Ada Palmer (TBR)
~ Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik (review)

Phew, writing all the books out that I read this month too some work! My fingers are sore - also, it's cold and I get a lot of joint pain lately, so that could be part of the reason...

Anyway, I am really pleased with how much I read this month! I am actually surprised. I knew I was reading a lot, but didn't think it was this much! You may notice that quite a few of the books have TBR in brackets next to them - these are books that have been sitting on my physical TBR shelf waiting to be read. I finally made the decision this month that I would always try to be reading at least one review book and one TBR book at one time (yes, I am a serial reader), because I am often really excited to get to my TBR books but just never make the time to get to them - and I really want to! Super pleased to have read six TBR books this month - hopefully that will continue into June!

Okay, honourable mentions for the month. Please Look After Mom was a book I heard about on Booktube and decided to pick up from the library randomly - it was actually really immersive and I loved the writing style, and I really feel that I don't read enough translated work, so definitely want to check out more by this author.
The Running Sky was delightful - a birthday present from last year from a dear friend - and reminded my why I love Nature Writing so much. Looking forward to the Wainwright Prize shortlist announcement in July!
Jane Seymour: The Haunted Queen was a surprise love of the month - I love some historical fiction in the colder weather, and got swept away with this one. Definitely want to read the others in the Tudor Queens series.
And finally, The Tea Dragon Society by Katie O'Neill absolutely has my heart. I loved every minute of this webcomic, and I kind of want to read it again already. So sweet and wonderful and diverse and beautiful and ARGH. Just loved it so much. (Psst! You can read it here!)

Oh, I will just mention Cicada, too, because I adore Shaun Tan's work and this was no different. His art is beautiful, his messages are heartbreaking and yet hopeful, and receiving Cicada for review is one of the highlights of my book reviewing life to date. I feel so lucky to be able to review books.

What are you reading lately? Interested in any of the books I mentioned?

Love to all who read.

Friday, June 1, 2018

Book Review: Jane Seymour: The Haunted Queen by Alison Weir

Title: Jane Seymour: The Haunted Queen
Author: Alison Weir
Series: Six Tudor Queens #3
Publication Date: May 8th 2018


Eleven days after the death of Anne Boleyn, Jane is dressing for her wedding to the King. She has witnessed at first hand how courtly play can quickly turn to danger and knows she must bear a son...or face ruin.

This new queen must therefore step out from the shadows cast by Katherine and Anne - in doing so, can she expose a gentler side to the brutal King?

Acclaimed, bestselling historian Alison Weir draws on new research for her captivating novel, which paints a compelling portrait of Jane and casts fresh light on both traditional and modern perceptions of her. Jane was driven by the strength of her faith and a belief that she might do some good in a wicked world.

History tells how she died. This spellbinding novel explores the life she lived.'

My thoughts: I was just flipping back through this book to think over my review, and my immediate thought was that my experience of reading this book was so wonderful. A lot of people say that they love reading historical fiction during the colder months, because you can really disappear into it a little more (plus historical fiction books tend to be quit chunky, and you have more time to pour into them). I absolutely agree with this - as the weather has been getting colder and rainier her in Perth, I have been craving bigger stories, and bigger books to sink my teeth into.

Jane Seymour delivers on this quite well. I was surprised at how much of her story Weir wanted to tell - the book basically spans the entirety of Jane's life, but with little attention paid to her childhood (as Weir says in her Author's Note, there isn't a lot of information on the earlier years of Jane's life). Jane's romance with the King doesn't really even appear until about halfway through the book. Part of me wanted to be disappointed and frustrated at that, but the majority of me was just fascinated at Jane's story, and how quickly she becomes embroiled in court life, and all the machinations and schemes that are in play.

I think one of the most beneficial things that a historical fiction tome can do is get someone interested in the time period that it is written about, and Weir managed that with me quite readily. Despite my parents being English, I have not often shown much interest in British history or their royals. But Jane Seymour:The Haunted Queen has piqued my interest. (I think my parents are quietly thrilled with this - they have other books that they would love to push into my hands now!)

While I did really enjoy my experience of reading this, I did find some parts a little bit dull, hence the slightly lower score, but I think Alison Weir writes wonderfully and manages to evoke the place and time of the book so well. I will definitely be going back to read the earlier books in this series, and I eagerly await the next one, too.

{I received a review copy of this book from Hachette in exchange for an honest review. Thank you!!}

A favourite line from the book: 'There were carpets on the floor - Mother would have gone into spasms at the thought of people walking on them; her two Turkey rugs adorned tables, and woe betide anyone who got dirt on them.'

You would like this book if: you love creative non-fiction; you are interested in the lives of the Tudor Queens; you want some interesting historical fiction to disappear into.

Tea to drink while reading this book: I don't think tea was really 'in Vogue' at the time of this novel. Perhaps a good glass of wine or ale would suit better?

Rating:  7.5/10

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Book Review: Julian is a Mermaid by Jessica Love

Title: Julian is a Mermaid
Author: Jessica Love
Publication Date: June 1st 2018 from Walker Books

Synopsis: "The day Julian sees three mesmerising women dressed up as mermaids, everything changes.
All he can think of is becoming a mermaid himself.

But what will Nana think?"

My thoughts: This is an absolute gem of a book. Gorgeously illustrated (I would be happy to have ANY of these illustrations up on my wall, and I really don't hang many things on the wall...), with a very sweet storyline and wonderful characters. There is minimal text within the book, as the illustrations do a lot of the work to.. well... illustrate what is going on, so it's very nearly a silent picture book, but not quite. What text is included is simple and flows well with everything else.

I may be a little outside of the realm of picture books, but I have never actually seen a picture book trying to deal with a topic such as gender-diversity or cross-dressing. And Jessica Love absolutely nails it. As someone who identifies as gender-fluid, I saw a part of myself in this book that I never really felt I had growing up. While I usually review picture books and then pass them onto people with young kids who can enjoy them... I think I will be keeping this one for myself. At least for a while!

{I received a review copy of this from Walker Books in exchange for an honest review. Thank you so much!!}

You would like this book if: You love beautifully illustrated and produced picture books, with supportive and lovely topics.

Rating:  10/10

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