We are Pirates – Daniel Handler

We Are Pirates - Daniel Handler

We Are Pirates – Daniel Handler

My girls are Lemony Snicket fans – I must admit I have a bit of a soft spot for the movie – so when I heard there were books for grown-ups (I don’t want to say adult books) I was super keen to read it.

Here is the blurb …

Mega-bestselling author Daniel Handler (aka Lemony Snicket) gives us his long-awaited and most ambitious novel yet: a dark, rollicking, stunningly entertaining human comedy.
A boat has gone missing. Goods have been stolen. There is blood in the water. It is the twenty-first century and a crew of pirates is terrorizing the San Francisco Bay.
Phil is a husband, a father, a struggling radio producer, and the owner of a large condo with a view of the water. But he’d like to be a rebel and a fortune hunter.
Gwen is his daughter. She’s fourteen. She’s a student, a swimmer, and a best friend. But she’d like to be an adventurer and an outlaw.
Phil teams up with his young, attractive assistant. They head for the open road, attending a conference to seal a deal.
Gwen teams up with a new, fierce friend and some restless souls. They head for the open sea, stealing a boat to hunt for treasure.
We Are Pirates is a novel about our desperate searches for happiness and freedom, about our wild journeys beyond the boundaries of our ordinary lives.
Also, it’s about a teenage girl who pulls together a ragtag crew to commit mayhem in the San Francisco Bay, while her hapless father tries to get her home.

I found it a little confusing at first and I went back and re-read the start, but once it all fell into place I really enjoyed it. To me it seemed to be a modern fable, the children, the old man and the black man would go on an adventure, discover something about themselves and the world around them (that it is fundamentally a good place) and return and get on with their lives – better people for their new self-knowledge, but no this convention is completely turned upside down! Let’s just say not everyone makes it back as a better person. There’s brutality, despair and the breaking up of the team. This might make it sound very dark, but it is a witty and original novel (that’s got to be a good thing) with some surprising elements (well I was surprised).

More reviews …

https://www.washingtonpost.com/entertainment/books/review-we-are-pirates-a-witty-adult-novel-by-lemony-snicket-author-daniel-handler/2015/01/27/443cacf8-a34b-11e4-b146-577832eafcb4_story.html

https://www.theguardian.com/books/2015/feb/27/we-are-pirates-review-lemony-snicket-but-for-adults

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The Mayor of Casterbridge – Thomas Hardy

The Mayor of Casterbridge - Thomas Hardy

The Mayor of Casterbridge – Thomas Hardy

I read this at school. I think it was one of the reasons I never read Hardy again (until late last year) or it could be because of my very creepy english teacher.

I vaguely remember waffling on in an essay about how an event can be like a stone in a pond – the ripples just keep moving outwards (very metaphorical).

I was much more sympathetic this time round to all of the characters, but Henchard in particular.

Here is the blurb …

In a fit of drunken anger, Michael Henchard sells his wife and baby daughter for five guineas at a country fair. Over the course of the following years, he manages to establish himself as a respected and prosperous pillar of the community of Casterbridge, but behind his success there always lurk the shameful secret of his past and a personality prone to self-destructive pride and temper. Subtitled ‘A Story of a Man of Character’, Hardy’s powerful and sympathetic study of the heroic but deeply flawed Henchard is also an intensely dramatic work, tragically played out against the vivid backdrop of a close-knit Dorsetshire town.

And here is the Wikipedia plot summary.

This was different from the previous Hardy novels that I have read. First, there wasn’t a main female protagonist (no Fancy Day or Bathsheba Everdene). It was all about Henchard and how his character flaws bring about his downfall – although the poor man couldn’t get a break (even the bird is sacrificed!). Hardy can be cruel to his characters.

You could also argue that it is a fight between the old ways (Henchard) and the new (Farfrae) and the passing away of a way of life in rural England, but ultimately it is a tragedy –  Henchard is brought low by his own impulsive actions; selling his wife, trying to keep that a secret and rash business decisions.

Here is the cliff notes on The Mayor of Casterbridge

The Thomas Hardy page at Victoria Web and The Mayor of Casterbridge page.

I am really glad we (my Victorian group and I) have embarked on this Thomas Hardy marathon – just Tess to go.

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Excellent Women – Barbara Pym

Excellent Women - Barbara Pym

Excellent Women – Barbara Pym

I really enjoyed reading Jane and Prudenceso when I was off for a resort holiday I thought I definitely need to read a Pym novel. I love them – all that talk about clothes and hats and food and the tea drinking …

Here is the blurb …

Excellent Women is one of Barbara Pym’s richest and most amusing high comedies. Mildred Lathbury is a clergyman’s daughter and a mild-mannered spinster in 1950s England. She is one of those “excellent women,” the smart, supportive, repressed women who men take for granted. As Mildred gets embroiled in the lives of her new neighbors–anthropologist Helena Napier and her handsome, dashing husband, Rocky, and Julian Malory, the vicar next door–the novel presents a series of snapshots of human life as actually, and pluckily, lived in a vanishing world of manners and repressed desires.

These women – single, a bit frumpy,  in distressed circumstances – are expected to do all of the drudgery (make the tea, do the flowers even paint walls when the vicar proves to be inept). It is a quietly funny novel, but with an underlying feel of loneliness or unhappiness.

More reviews …

https://www.theguardian.com/books/2008/apr/05/featuresreviews.guardianreview30

Excellent Women by Barbara Pym

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The Tidal Zone – Sarah Moss

The Tidal Zone - Sarah Moss

The Tidal Zone – Sarah Moss

I read about this book here – and as I tend to enjoy everything recommended by dovergreyreader, I decided promptly to download it to my kindle.

Here is the blurb …

Adam is a stay-at-home dad who is also working on a history of the bombing and rebuilding of Coventry Cathedral. He is a good man and he is happy. But one day, he receives a call from his daughter’s school to inform him that, for no apparent reason, fifteen-year-old Miriam has collapsed and stopped breathing. In that moment, he is plunged into a world of waiting, agonising, not knowing. The story of his life and the lives of his family are rewritten and re-told around this shocking central event, around a body that has inexplicably failed. In this exceptionally courageous and unflinching novel of contemporary life Sarah Moss goes where most of us wouldn’t dare to look, and the result is riveting – unbearably sad, but also miraculously funny and ultimately hopeful. The Tidal Zone explores parental love, overwhelming fear, illness and recovery. It is about clever teenagers and the challenges of marriage. It is about the NHS, academia, sex and gender in the twenty-first century, the work-life juggle, and the politics of packing lunches and loading dishwashers. It confirms Sarah Moss as a unique voice in modern fiction and a writer of luminous intelligence.

This novel is beautifully written – a compelling page turner about modern families, working and non-working parents, the over-whelming fear, panic and guilt that come with an ill child. It also to some extent explores different life/work choices.

This novel explores what it is like to be a parent in today’s world – where paying the mortgage and supporting a family are harder than ever before, the unrelenting grind of domesticity, a world where you are judged by your job (or lack of one).

More reviews …

https://www.theguardian.com/books/2016/jul/09/the-tidal-zone-sarah-moss-review-novel-nhs-parental-anxiety

http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/books/book-review-the-tidal-zone-by-sarah-moss-parenting-through-a-prism-of-trauma-a7134981.html

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The Good Life – Hugh Mackay

The Good Life - Hugh McKay

The Good Life – Hugh Mackay

A bit of a departure from my normal fiction reading – this was recommended by a friend and I took a long time reading it. I read a little bit at a time taking copious notes.

Here is the blurb …

“No one can promise you that a life lived for others will bring you a deep sense of satisfaction, but it’s certain that nothing else will.”

Hugh Mackay has spent his entire working life asking Australians about their values, motivations, ambitions, hopes and fears. Now, in The Good Life, he addresses the ultimate question: What makes a life worth living?

His conclusion is provocative. The good life is not the sum of our security, wealth, status, postcode, career success and levels of happiness. The good life is one defined by our capacity for selflessness, the quality of our relationships and our willingness to connect with others in a useful way.

Mackay examines what is known as the Golden Rule through the prisms of religion, philosophy, politics, business and family life. And he explores the numerous and often painful ways we distract ourselves from this central principle: our pursuit of pleasure, our attempts to perfect ourselves and our children, and our conviction that we can have our lives under control.

Argued with all the passion and intelligence we have come to expect from one of Australia’s most prolific and insightful authors, The Good Life is a book that will start conversations, ignite arguments and possibly even change the way we live our lives.

I think reading it a little at a time really helped me to absorb Mr Mackay’s message, which ultimately distills down to ‘do unto others as you would have done to yourself’. It is very readable with the occasional real life example.

Here are some quotes …

If you adopt a rigid world view – religious, anti-religious, political, economic, academic,  aesthetic or otherwise – you tend to see everything through the filter of your convictions, and, not surprisingly, you see what you are looking for.

Fundamentalism, religious and otherwise, is like a steel trap that imprisons the soul and inhibits freedom to wonder.

The integrity of any theory lies in its falsifiability – that is, its openness to the possibility of repudiation in the light of more evidence, fresh insights or a more creative interpretation of data whose significance was not previously understood.

Certainty is the enemy of reason and reasonableness. It fuels our complacency and arrogance, wrapping us in a cocoon of self-confidence, perhaps even self-righteousness.

Intelligence is not an achievement to be admired, or a goal to aspire to; it is mainly an accident of birth, plus or minus a bit of training and encouragement. We all have it, and some people have more than others, but intelligence in no way predicts the kind of person we are likely to become, the level of contentment we are likely to attain or the influence, good or bad, we are likely to exert on the lives of others.

The thing to nurture in our children – is not only the maximising of our intellectual potential, but the maximising of our potential for goodness.

[…] those who plug away, year after thankless year, doing their best to be faithful partners, loving parents, good neighbours and responsible citizens. These are the unsung heroes…

Painful as it can be to admit, an overly busy life – rushing here, rushing there – can be a highly effective insulation from engagement with the very people who made need you to stop running, listen to them and take them seriously enough to spend time with them.

Self-absorption is not a recognised path to goodness.

At its heart, that’s all morality is about; co-operation, mutual respect, a sense of community, a spirit of egalitarianism …

[…] we can nurture the goodness in us by associating with people whose goodness we recognise and admire, avoiding the close company of those whose self-interest infects everything they do and may infect our own thinking in the same way.

Here are some of the things I learnt while reading …

Power, wealth, status and fame have the potential to corrupt us in three ways
1.  Encourage a sense of entitlement based on an assumption of superiority
2.  Fuelling our greed.
3.  We judge people by the same criteria we use to measure our own success.

Each life has the meaning we ourselves choose to invest in it.

This book is well worth reading, but read it a chapter at a time and give yourself a bit of time for reflection before moving on to the next chapter.

Another review …

http://www.smh.com.au/entertainment/books/the-good-life-20130517-2jrtb.html

 

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Salt Creek – Lucy Treloar

 

Salt Creek - Lucy Treloar

Salt Creek – Lucy Treloar

I can’t think of when I first heard of this novel – a review in The Australian perhaps? It has been short listed for the Miles Franklin award, so I might have read about it in that context.

Here is the blurb

Some things collapse slow, and cannot always be rebuilt, and even if a thing can be remade it will never be as it was.

Salt Creek, 1855, lies at the far reaches of the remote, beautiful and inhospitable coastal region, the Coorong, in the new province of South Australia. The area, just opened to graziers willing to chance their luck, becomes home to Stanton Finch and his large family, including fifteen-year-old Hester Finch.

Once wealthy political activists, the Finch family has fallen on hard times. Cut adrift from the polite society they were raised to be part of, Hester and her siblings make connections where they can: with the few travellers that pass along the nearby stock route – among them a young artist, Charles – and the Ngarrindjeri people they have dispossessed. Over the years that pass, an Aboriginal boy, Tully, at first a friend, becomes part of the family.

Stanton’s attempts to tame the harsh landscape bring ruin to the Ngarrindjeri people’s homes and livelihoods, and unleash a chain of events that will tear the family asunder. As Hester witnesses the destruction of the Ngarrindjeri’s subtle culture and the ideals that her family once held so close, she begins to wonder what civilization is. Was it for this life and this world that she was educated?

I have been suggesting this novel to a lot of people – I found it extremely interesting from a historical point. Despite being Australian (an educated in Australia), I know very little about interactions between indigeneous australians and early (mostly white) settlers. I found it fascinating particularly how the settlers usually bring disease and disaster with them (although they feel they are ‘civilising the natives’).

There is a menacing feel to this novel – we know something happens because Hester (who is narrating the story) is living in England. The family structure is destroyed and they scatter to various parts of the globe. The scenes set in the Coorong are the best – you can feel the isolation, the coldness and the threat of brutality as well as the beauty of an (originally) unspoiled landscape.

More reviews …

http://www.theaustralian.com.au/arts/review/salt-creek-review-lucy-treloars-novel-on-a-colonial-family-struggle/news-story/576ba5a589f435cfa3fb3358e9cf8200

http://www.smh.com.au/entertainment/books/salt-creek-by-lucy-treloar-a-colonial-familys-fragility-and-fractures-20151030-gkmsbi.html

 

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The Scarlet Letter – Nathaniel Hawthorne

The Scarlet Letter - Nathaniel Hawthorne

The Scarlet Letter – Nathaniel Hawthorne

Have you ever had one of those days, weeks, months when everything is hard work? That’s where I am right now – hence the lack of posts. Books are being read and enjoyed, but the ability to sit down and write about them seems beyond me and then by the time I do find the motivation I have forgotten most of what I thought in the first place.

Anyway, The Scarlet Letter has always been one of those books I thought I should read, but somehow never got around to it. My historical book group chose it and I was quite pleased to be finally forced to read it. It was quite hard to find a copy I think I eventually got one from the book depository (I like the penguin editions because I can read the introduction and get a better idea about the book).

Here is the blurb …

Set in the harsh Puritan community of seventeenth-century Boston, this tale of an adulterous entanglement that results in an illegitimate birth reveals Nathaniel Hawthorne’s concerns with the tension between the public and the private selves. Publicly disgraced and ostracized, Hester Prynne draws on her inner strength and certainty of spirit to emerge as the first true heroine of American fiction. Arthur Dimmesdale, trapped by the rules of society, stands as a classic study of a self divided.

And here is the link to Wikipdeia.

I wasn’t really sure what to expect the story (or at least the plot) is very much part of popular culture – I even watched Easy A, but the writing and style were an unknown quantity.

I hated the first section, about working in the Customs House, but once the story got going I was hooked. I was amazed at how modern it felt – Hester was a woman born out of time she wanted the freedom to live her life on her own terms. Dimmesdale just annoyed me – a dithering coward who couldn’t face up to the consequences of his actions and allowed Hester to bear the ‘shame’ alone. It really highlighted for me the tyrannical effect religion can have on some people. And the effect strict, joyless communities can have on the individual members of the group – not a lot of christian charity going on.

I think this is well worth reading – you just need to push on past the Custom House chapter (although I believe some editions don’t have that chapter, so maybe find one of those).

Here is an article from The Atlantic.

 

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The Golden Age – Joan London

The Golden Age - Joan London

The Golden Age – Joan London

I went to a talk at my local library given by Joan London. There was a book signing afterwards, so, of course, I had to buy a copy. It then languished on my book shelf for several months before I finally decided to read it – it was great I enjoyed all of the Perth references.

Here is the blurb …

This is a story of resilience, the irrepressible, enduring nature of love, and the fragility of life. From one of Australia’s most loved novelists.

He felt like a pirate landing on an island of little maimed animals. A great wave had swept them up and dumped them here. All of them, like him, stranded, wanting to go home. It is 1954 and thirteen-year-old Frank Gold, refugee from wartime Hungary, is learning to walk again after contracting polio in Australia.

At the Golden Age Children’s Polio Convalescent Hospital in Perth, he sees Elsa, a fellow-patient, and they form a forbidden, passionate bond. The Golden Age becomes the little world that reflects the larger one, where everything occurs, love and desire, music, death, and poetry. Where children must learn that they are alone, even within their families.

Written in Joan London’s customary clear-eyed prose, The Golden Age evokes a time past and a yearning for deep connection. It is a rare and precious gem of a book from one of Australia’s finest novelists.

I found this story fascinating – the social history, medical practices in the ’50s, damaged people recovering from the horrors of World War 2, music, poetry, love and families. This novel is beautifully written – understated, but creating quite an impact. It is a quiet story about a forgotten part of Perth’s history, but covers an enormous amount of human experience and emotion.

More reviews …

https://www.australianbookreview.com.au/abr-online/current-issue/122-september-2014-no-364/2103-joan-london-s-new-novel

http://www.theaustralian.com.au/arts/review/joan-londons-the-golden-age-is-written-in-the-poetic-language-of-love/news-story/684eedcee2f3a10b50de778191e566ff

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What days are for – Robert Dessaix

What days are for - Robert Dessaix

What days are for – Robert Dessaix

I have never read anything by Robert Dessaix and I am not sure if I would have sought him out on my own, but this was a gift, so I gave it a go and I am very glad I did.

Here is the blurb …

Witty, acerbic, insightful musings from Robert Dessaix, one of Australia’s finest writers.
One Sunday night in Sydney, Robert Dessaix collapses in a gutter in Darlinghurst, and is helped to his hotel by a kind young man wearing a T-shirt that says F**K YOU.
What follows are weeks in hospital, tubes and cannulae puncturing his body, as he recovers from the heart attack threatening daily to kill him. While lying in the hospital bed, Robert chances upon Philip Larkin’s poem ‘Days’. What, he muses, have his days been for? What and who has he loved – and why?
This is vintage Robert Dessaix. His often surprisingly funny recollections range over topics as eclectic as intimacy, travel, spirituality, enchantment, language and childhood, all woven through with a heightened sense of mortality

This book has a lovely conversational style – I always enjoy hearing people’s stories and when it is as eloquent as this, then it is a joy to read.

More reviews …

http://www.smh.com.au/entertainment/books/robert-dessaixs-new-memoir-what-days-are-for-20141111-11jfde.html

http://www.theaustralian.com.au/arts/review/robert-dessaixs-what-days-are-for-is-an-illuminating-memoir/news-story/b9a96a866b7ecb01654a14059f130b16

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The Burgess Boys – Elizabeth Strout

The Burgess Boys - Elizabeth Strout

The Burgess Boys – Elizabeth Strout

I came across this novel in a second hand book store in Albany. As I loved Olive KitteridgeI had to get this one (and it was only $5!).

Here is the blurb …

Haunted by the freak accident that killed their father when they were children, Jim and Bob Burgess escaped from their Maine hometown of Shirley Falls for New York City as soon as they possibly could. Jim, a sleek, successful corporate lawyer, has belittled his bighearted brother their whole lives, and Bob, a Legal Aid attorney who idolizes Jim, has always taken it in stride. But their long-standing dynamic is upended when their sister, Susan—the Burgess sibling who stayed behind—urgently calls them home. Her lonely teenage son, Zach, has gotten himself into a world of trouble, and Susan desperately needs their help. And so the Burgess brothers return to the landscape of their childhood, where the long-buried tensions that have shaped and shadowed their relationship begin to surface in unexpected ways that will change them forever.

With a rare combination of brilliant storytelling, exquisite prose, and remarkable insight into character, Elizabeth Strout has brought to life two deeply human protagonists whose struggles and triumphs will resonate with readers long after they turn the final page. Tender, tough-minded, loving, and deeply illuminating about the ties that bind us to family and home, The Burgess Boys is Elizabeth Strout’s newest and perhaps most astonishing work of literary art.

I have been battling my way through The Scarlet Letter (although that has picked up now I am passed the Customs House chapter) and I decided to have a break and read something that I wanted to read and not something that I had to read for one of my various book clubs. The Burgess Boys had been sitting on my book shelf for a few months and I decided to leap in. I read it in a couple of days. What Ms Strout does well is make unsympathetic characters sympathetic (almost). These characters are hard on themselves and each other – they’re strong on duty. Susan, in particular, seems to deny herself any of life’s comforts – her home is cold and unwelcoming. Although she seems to thaw a bit in her interactions with her elderly lodger. Jim has escaped Maine and does not want to be dragged back (and in fact his presence just makes thing worse for Zach). However, Jim’s seemingly perfect life starts to unravel and it is his much belittled brother and sister who come to his rescue. Bob seems a bit lost – couldn’t take the pressure of the court-room and divorced – he is kind though although not particularly pro-active. Zach’s crime is the catalyst that sets things in motion for the Burgess family but also for the Shirley Falls community. This is a beautifully written story about family and community, about compassion and treating people with kindness and respect.

More reviews …

https://www.theguardian.com/books/2013/jul/13/the-burgess-boys-elizabeth-strout-review

http://www.npr.org/2013/04/03/175951129/burgess-boys-family-saga-explores-the-authenticity-of-imperfection

 

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