30 December 2021

In 2021...My Life In Books

In 2021...My Life in Books - image by Shelleyrae Book'd Out

Celebrating my life in books was so much fun last year I decided to do it again in 2021 thanks to Shelleyrae from Book'd Out.

The idea is to complete each of the prompts below by selecting a book you've read during 2021.

2021 was the year of: The Emporium of Imagination by Tabitha Bird
In 2021 I wanted (to be have): The World at My Feet by Catherine Isaac
In 2021 I was: A Voice in the Night by Sarah Hawthorn
In 2021 I gained: Silence by John Biguenet
In 2021 I lost: The Lost Girls by Jennifer Spence
In 2021 I loved: Christmas in Suburbia by Warren Kirk
In 2021 I hated: Dust by Michael Marder
In 2021 I learned: How to Behave Badly in Renaissance Britain by Ruth Goodman
In 2021 I was surprised by: Gory Details by Erika Engelhaupt
In 2021 I went to: The Last House on Needless Street by Catriona Ward
In 2021 I missed out on: The World of PostSecret by Frank Warren
In 2021 my family were: Elsewhere by Dean Koontz
In 2022 I hope: Everything is Beautiful by Eleanor Ray

If you'd like to do this challenge, please consider yourself tagged. Feel free to leave your answers below or come back and provide a link to your post so I can check out your 2021 in books.

27 December 2021

Review: The Sentence by Louise Erdrich

The Sentence by Louise Erdrich book cover

* Copy courtesy of Hachette Australia *

A book set in an independent bookshop in Minneapolis, with a ghost? Sign me up!! Louise Erdrich is a native American author and Pulitzer Prize winner and The Sentence is my first time reading any of her work.

All Souls' Day is a day for commemorating and honouring the dead, and The Sentence begins on All Souls' Day in 2019 and takes us through a year of bookshop employee Tookie's life, ending on All Souls' Day in 2020. Tookie is a likeable native American character although her backstory didn't seem (to me) to chime with the direction of the story. Here's a sample of her voice though:
"I have a dinosaur heart, cold, massive, indestructible, a thick meaty red. And I have a glass heart, tiny and pink, that can be shattered." Pages 251-252
The reader accompanies Tookie as she navigates this troublesome year, but there's no real sense of an overarching purpose to what we're reading. The issues are up to the minute current, however the 'year in the life' seemed to be the only unifying story arc.

Having said that, there are many quotable moments in The Sentence and there's much here for book lovers to get excited about. Daily tasks in the bookshop, interesting and compelling customers, reading references we can all relate to (many of us have our own 'hard stack' and 'easy stack' of books waiting to be read), book lists (catnip for readers) and the overall power of books and stories for people navigating the Black Lives Matter movement or enduring isolation and lockdowns in the midst of a pandemic.

I loved Tookie's description of one of her customers she refers to as Dissatisfaction:
"By way of the fact he was impossible to please, Dissatisfaction was one of my favourite customers. He was always in a hurry and wanted me to drop everything. He is one of the cursed, a Tantalus, whose literary hunger perpetually gnaws but can never be satiated. He has read everything at least once. As he began reading capaciously at the age of six, he is now running out of fiction. I love the challenge of selling books to him and tried first, as usual, to interest him in history, politics, biography. I knew he would not accept anything but fiction, but this was a chance for him to vent anxiety over what he might read next. He snarled and swatted aside my factual offerings." Pages 97-98
Despite these gems, overall, I guess I felt disconnected from this free form narrative. I generally prefer more structure to my plots than 'here's what Tookie experienced in a crazy year we've all recently experienced from a thousand different perspectives'. Naturally Tookie's perspective is different from my own, but perhaps I just couldn't engage with Tookie on the deep level many other readers seemed to have reached while reading The Sentence.

I really think books like The Sentence will improve with age and distance from the events it covers. Readers in 20-30 years who don't have a living memory of the murder of George Floyd, the Black Lives Matter movement and the beginning of the pandemic will be reading with interest, while I read in recognition.

You can seize this book at Booktopia.

My Rating:

20 December 2021

Review: Never by Ken Follett

Never by Ken Follett book cover

* Copy courtesy of Pan Macmillan *

Carpe Librum readers will know I'm a fan of Ken Follett's historical fiction Kingsbridge series which began with The Pillars of the Earth, but the author has also written many successful thrillers across his illustrious writing career. Never is his first contemporary novel in over a decade though, so naturally I was keen to check it out.

Never by Ken Follett is a political thriller about the beginning of World War III and a whopper of a book coming in at 815 pages. In a complex plot that doesn't blame any one country for the escalations, the narrative is populated by various characters located around the world. The actions of these characters inform the plot and the tension slowly builds as each person narrates their role in a much bigger series of events. Major powers are involved and the situation realistically begins to snowball out of control.

Never could be called an espionage thriller or a spy thriller, but it also serves as a timely warning that despite a leader's best intentions, international politics is a dangerous game. In typical Follett style, the author had me looking up new-to-me words throughout the novel, (bellicosity on page 5 and vituperation on page 145)* but not so often as to spoil the rhythm of the book.

I'm not a huge fan of political thrillers, but I always enjoy Ken Follett's deeply layered storytelling and detailed character arcs and put my complete trust in him from page one. Fortunately I was rewarded by the close of this expertly researched - yet very long book - with a surprisingly enjoyable ending. Highly recommended.

* Bellicosity is an inclination to fight or quarrel, a warlike or hostile manner or temperament. Vituperation is verbal abuse or language that is full of hate, or angry criticism.

You can seize this book at Booktopia.

My Rating:

19 December 2021

Guest Review: Spacecraft by Timothy Morton

Spacecraft by Timothy Morton book cover

* Copy courtesy of Bloomsbury Australia *


It happens to the best of us.... we pick up a book with the hope of being transported, yet it completely fails to take off. We're coming to the end of my series of Object Lessons reviews thanks to Bloomsbury Australia, and in this installation, guest reviewer Neil BĂ©chervaise shares his reading experience of Spacecraft by Timothy Morton.

Neil's Review

For those who have enjoyed the complexities of Edmund Husserl’s early twentieth century Phenomenology and Jacques Derrida’s Deconstruction from a half-century later; for those who delighted in the antics of The Muppets and then in Star Wars, Star Trek, et al, Morton’s near-encounters with spacecraft may be an inimitable intellectual challenge. Those, on the other hand, who entered the pages of Spacecraft expecting to be informed and engaged may be rather disappointed.

Morton’s passion for the philosophical underpinnings of space science fiction allows him to wander at warp speed from Han Solo and Chewbacca to Princess Leia, Kermit and Miss Piggy; from a depthy deconstruction of the infinity contained within Dr Who’s most definitely finite TARDIS to the garbage which is the Millennium Falcon.

Considerably more excited by the potential for the space through which spacecraft might travel or, borrowing from Einstein’s relativity theories in which space might travel past the spacecraft, Morton’s exploration manages to introduce the sexual implications of an object being drawn into a largely incomprehensible body. Touching on the nipples of the spacecraft, the gunnery turrets and the control centres, Spacecraft explores political imperatives - fascism, Marxism, imperialism – as he draws on Blake’s Marriage of Heaven and Hell and Beckett’s Endgame to illustrate the philosophical machinations of his apparent heroes, the authors and their on-screen characters.

Timothy Morton’s Spacecraft added little to my understanding of spacecraft as I thought I understood them. Instead, it offered a complex polemic that will be quite familiar to disciples of Derrida, Foucault and Irigaray in which the intension of the author may always present a challenge for the reader.

Spacecraft will probably appeal to those who have sought to make sense of that complexity which is space by studying the film and television depictions of a world from which all boundaries have been removed, all identifiable positions contested and all relativities absorbed into a commercial singularity most easily understood from the viewpoint of a droid, or maybe a muppet.

As Morton observes in his closing fusillade:
“It’s something to think about now that we are literally ‘after the end of the world,’ [because] “America never was a country, never did achieve escape velocity from slavery and property.” Page 111
As one reviewer has observed, Timothy Morton’s Spacecraft takes the best part of a whole day to read – but it is not until the end that the political angst is fully revealed. And by that time, the spacecraft has departed – or maybe it has been left behind, garbage, until it is reclaimed for another purpose, perhaps.

You can seize this book at Booktopia.

Neil's Rating:

15 December 2021

Australian Women Writer's Challenge 2021 Wrap Up and Wind Down

I've been participating in the Australian Women Writer's Challenge since 2014, however this year it was announced that the challenge is wrapping up permanently. From 2022 onwards, the focus will shift to lesser-known Australian women writers of the 19th and 20th Century which is largely outside my reading choices but I wish everyone well in their reading adventures.

Needless to say I'll greatly miss striving to meet my challenge requirements every year and engaging with all of the lovely reviews and reviewers participating in the challenge each month. Fortunately the Facebook group will continue to celebrate the works of contemporary Australian women, so I'll try to engage more regularly over there.

I'd like to thank the many volunteers across the years who gave freely of their time to host, edit and wrap up the various categories of the challenge for eager readers and participants like me who greatly enjoyed the regular content hitting their inbox. A special thanks to Theresa Smith who has become a friend to me over that time and whose dedication to AWW I have admired.

In 2021, I was attempting the Franklin level of the 2021 Australian Women Writer's Challenge and needed to read 10 books and review at least 6 of them in order to complete the challenge. I'm pleased to say I successfully completed the final year of the challenge (phew!) and here's what I read: 
Australian Women Writer's Challenge 2021 logo

9. The Emporium of Imagination by Tabitha Bird
10. The Lost Girls by Jennifer Spence

Additional books read for the challenge:
11. Nineteen Days by Kath Engebretson
15. Modern Slow Cooker by Alyce Alexandra

Last year I read 21 books for the challenge, so this number is a little down on previous years. Time permitting, I'd like to try and read The Dictionary of Lost Words by Pip Williams and Adrift in Melbourne by Robyn Annear by the end of the year, but we'll see how I go.

Carpe Librum!

14 December 2021

Review: Hunger - A Memoir of (My) Body by Roxane Gay

Hunger - A Memoir of (My) Body by Roxane Gay book cover

Does it make sense to follow the review of a recipe book with a memoir about body image and being overweight? Maybe it does, or maybe it doesn't, but I can promise it was a sheer coincidence that my reading choices overlapped in this way.

In Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body, author Roxane Gay reflects on the struggles she has with her weight, stemming from a vicious sexual assault at a young age. The author shares intimate details about her mental and physical health, fat phobia and the daily hassles and humiliations she endures due to her size.
"This is no way to live, but this is how I live." End of Chapter 59
As a reader in Australia who struggles with their weight, I was hoping to gain some insight or new angle on weight gain and body image from a bestselling author, professor and social commentator. However, Roxane Gay's experiences as a tall (1.91m), bisexual American woman of Haitian descent are nothing at all like mine. I realised half way through that I had entered into this memoir with a fixed agenda instead of the intention to learn about another person's battles and demons.
"The bigger you are, the smaller your world becomes." Chapter 62
Roxane Gay is raw and unapologetic in an endearing way and bares her soul in this memoir. Her struggles with confidence and self worth were well written yet hard to read and as a society, there is much we should be ashamed about. After finishing Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body, it's clear we have a long way to go in learning how to treat one another.

You can seize this book at Booktopia.

My Rating:

08 December 2021

Review: Modern Slow Cooker by Alyce Alexandra

Modern Slow Cooker - 85 Vegetarian & Vegan Recipes to Make Your Life Easy by Alyce Alexandra book cover

I love my slow cooker, and when looking for some inspiring new recipes, discovered Modern Slow Cooker - 85 Vegetarian & Vegan Recipes to Make Your Life Easy by Australian bestselling author - who has her own line of kitchen accessories - Alyce Alexandra. I'm not a vegan or a vegetarian but 85 slow cooker recipes that make my life easy? Yes please, I'm salivating already!

The first recipe I tried from this collection was the Harissa-Spiced Creamy Carrot Soup from page 53. I love soup, and prior to reading this book, I hadn't tasted or even heard about harissa paste. Alyce Alexandra explains that it's:
"... a concentrated fiery concoction made from blended peppers, oil and spices. While it is traditionally used in North African and Middle Eastern cooking, [the author] finds a small amount does great things for almost any cuisine." Page 34
I followed the recipe precisely, but the flavour was a little intense for my untrained palate and I'd be using far less next time. I'm not a good cook, but the carrot soup was tasty and lovely with crusty bread.

There was great variety in the recipes on offer and next up I'm going to try a sweet recipe. If it works, I'll be sharing it with the family at Christmas time. No spoilers though 😉 

What's your favourite slow cooker recipe? For another slow cooker recipe book by an Australian author, check out my review of The Easiest Slow Cooker Book Ever by Kim McCosker.

You can seize this book at Booktopia.

My Rating:

06 December 2021

Review: The Plot by Jean Hanff Korelitz

The Plot by Jean Hanff Korelitz book cover

* Copy courtesy of Allen & Unwin *

Jake is a creative writing teacher suffering from self doubt and writer's block following the enormous success of his debut novel. When one of his students has a killer idea for a book, Jake is jealous and waits for the inevitable sensation when the student's bestseller hits the shelves. Years later, Jake learns his student died unexpectedly before finishing his novel (not a spoiler, it's in the blurb) and he faces a moral dilemma.

What follows from there forms the basis of The Plot by Jean Hanff Korelitz and it's an exciting thriller for writers, published authors, aspiring authors, librarians, booksellers, storytellers, readers, bibliophiles and creative types.
"Stories, of course, are common as dirt. Everyone has one, if not an infinity of them, and they surround us at all times whether we acknowledge them or not. Stories are the wells we dip into to be reminded of who we are, and the ways we reassure ourselves that, however obscure we may appear to others, we are actually important, even crucial, to the ongoing drama of survival: personal, societal, and even as a species." Page 61
Interspersed amongst the goings on are excerpts of Jake's bestselling book, offering us a neat view into his dilemma and eventually the origin of the trouble that eventually follows. Because of course there's going to be trouble.

The Plot will definitely appeal to readers and I enjoyed seeing the many authors mentioned throughout the book. The list of shamed writers on page 76 was a highlight:
"Then he would be relegated to the circle of shamed writers forever and without hope of appeal: James Frey, Stephen Glass, Clifford Irving, Greg Mortenson, Jerzy Kosinski..." Page 76
Of course, then I had to stop reading so I could go and find out the juicy details of the literary scandals attached to the authors mentioned, only being familiar with James Frey.

The Plot is an exploration of the role writers have in telling a story, the duty and responsibility of authors to tell a story well lest the spark of inspiration drift away to alight on the pen or keyboard of a more disciplined and deserving writer.

It's clear to me that the author Jean Hanff Korelitz has given a lot of consideration to the nature and creativity of the writing process, the elusive source of inspiration and the troubling loss of it and the moral dilemmas and complexities of plagiarism and theft.

An entertaining read for booklovers, highly recommended.

You can seize this book at Booktopia.

My Rating: