29 December 2023

Non Fiction 2023 Reader Challenge Completed

Non Fiction 2023 Reader Challenge Completed logo by Book'd Out

I love participating in the Non Fiction Reading Challenge hosted by fellow Aussie book blogger Shelleyrae at Book'd Out and this year I signed up for the Nonfiction Nibbler level of the challenge. For this, I was required to read and review 6 books from any of the categories listed below.

I successfully completed the challenge, so here's what I read:

Black - The History of a Colour by Michel Pastoureau
The Dirt on Clean - An Unsanitized History by Katherine Ashenburg
This Mortal Coil - A History of Death by Andrew Doig
The Secret History of Christmas by Bill Bryson

On Writing - A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King
And Away... by Bob Mortimer
What Lies Beneath - My Life as a Forensic Search and Rescue Expert by Peter Faulding

Crime & Punishment
The Widow of Walcha by Emma Partridge
Badness by Gary Jubelin

Storm in a Teacup - The Physics of Everyday Life by Helen Czerski
Thinking with Your Hands by Susan Golden-Meadow

Built to Move - The 10 Essential Habits to Help You Move Freely and Live Fully
Bizarre - The Most Peculiar Cases of Human Behavior and What They Tell Us about How the Brain Works by Marc Dingman

Maphead - Charting the Wide, Weird World of Geography Wonks by Ken Jennings

RecipeTin Eats Dinner by Nagi Maehashi

Social Media
Copywrong to Copywriter by Tait Ischia


Sorry, Sorry, Sorry by Marjorie Ingall & Susan McCarthy
Care Packages by Michelle Mackintosh
Fierce Love by Susan Scott

The Arts
Andrew Lloyd Webber's The Phantom of the Opera Companion
Almost Lost Arts by Emily Freidenrich
The Book of the Raven - Corvids in Art & Legend by Angus Hyland & Caroline Roberts

Published in 2023
Shoes - An Illustrated History by Rebecca Shawcross
Corners of Melbourne by Robyn Annear
Retro Sydney 1950-2000 by Nathan Mete
You're All Talk by Rob Drummond

I was happy to read from every category in the challenge except for sport. Did you read any stand out non fiction this year or have any recommendations? Let me know in the comments below and feel free to sign up for the challenge with me in 2024.

Carpe Librum!

22 December 2023

Review: You're All Talk by Rob Drummond

You're All Talk by Rob Drummond book cover

* Copy courtesy of Scribe Publications *

I've always been fascinated by language, accents and linguistic diversity. I have an Australian accent and my favourite accents to listen to are the Kiwi and South African accents. All I need to do is Google 'Anna accent Downton Abbey' or 'Peaky Blinders accent' and I can easily lose half an hour or more in my day.

In You're All Talk - Why We Are What We Speak by Rob Drummond, the reader is introduced to the broad range of accents from a UK central perspective with various distinguishing features highlighted to demonstrate the language differences in accent and dialect. Drummond gives us a history lesson as to how the different accents developed and changed around the world, and how they continue to evolve and change today.

The author is a Professor of Sociolinguistics and academic linguist and he explains why accents shift between locations and within classes in the UK and the stigma associated with some accents while others are considered more refined or cultured. Linguistic criticism and judging people by their accents was covered, as well as the practice of expressing accents in writing; Uncle Tom's Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe comes to mind here.

Adopting accents to signify a shared group identity was fascinating and the author draws on the nature of gay talk (gay voice) and Valley Girl speech as two clear examples of this.
"Speech features become associated with specific groups through those groups repeatedly using them. Not because there is anything intrinsically feminine/middle-class/gay about them, but because that's the association that develops when particular people use them again and again. And when this association has been made, these features can be used by others to help create that identity for themselves." Page 79
I'm still pondering this many days later. The differences in vowel sounds across accents is touched on, and how the American accent evolved to pronounce the 'r' in words (which is called a 'rhotic' accent by the way) and it's not what you think! I loved learning about the glottal stop and worried when I read about accent reduction. The inclusion of foreign accent syndrome brought to mind an old 60 Minutes episode and sent me off hunting that down.

One of my favourite takeaways from You're All Talk was without a doubt learning about vocal fry:
"Creaky voice or 'vocal fry' is another speech feature that is often associated with young, especially American, women. Combined with uptalk, it provides the toolkit for what is often referred to as 'Valley Girl' speech, and is a feature that is often heavily stigmatised." Page 14
The author suggests listening to a video of Kim Kardashian talking and I quickly found a montage of her using vocal fry and that was it! Now I can't un-hear it and regularly notice it appearing in male and female speakers in the content I'm viewing.

Drummond touches on too many aspects of the way we speak and why to mention here. I haven't been able to share even half of my favourite snippets (there were 17!!), but if any of these topics interest you, you'll love this book.

You're All Talk by Rob Drummond is highly recommended for non fiction readers interested in language and communication and why we speak the way we do.

My Rating:

20 December 2023

Review: The Island of Sea Women by Lisa See

The Island of Sea Women by Lisa See book cover

* Copy courtesy of Simon & Schuster *

After reading Lady Tan's Circle of Women by Lisa See earlier this year and identifying it as a real contender for my Top 5 list, I was lucky enough to receive two of the author's backlist titles for review, the first being The Island of Sea Women.

Set on Jeju Island in Korea from 1938 - 1975, the novel covers the events through the occupation by the Japanese, the Korean War and eventual establishment of North Korea and South Korea.

Our main character is Young-sook and the book follows her life in a dual timeline beginning with her childhood years growing up and learning how to do water work with her best friend Mi-ja. A small part of the book takes place in 2008 and provides the contemporary timeline.

Starting with little to no knowledge about Jeju Island, I was interested to learn about the matriarchal society of the haenyeo, where the women divers support their families by diving for various items - like mollusks, octopus, seaweed - to sell and eat. In contrast to the west, the matriarch is the head of the family and the father looks after the children at home while women divers go to work in the water fields or dry fields depending on the season.

Despite this interest, much of the content includes the conflicts and associated atrocities during this period. I found the unrelenting nature hard going at times and I needed to take a break part way through the book.
"We stayed alert for Japanese soldiers. Korea had now been a Japanese colony for twenty-eight years. We hated the Japanese, and they hated us. They were cruel. They stole food. Inland, they rustled livestock. They took and took and took. They'd killed Grandmother's parents, and she called them chokpari - cloven-footed ones." Page 13
I'm used to reading historical fiction where an heir is needed to secure a family legacy or royal line, but in this culture, a son is valued because they can perform ancestor worship when you die. Far from a son being required for reasons of succession, female babies are prized for their income earning abilities and male babies are celebrated as they represent a comfortable afterlife.

In the words of one of the characters:
"You are nothing but someone's servant if you don't have a son who can perform ancestor worship for you one day." Page 61
The political situation and escalation of violence with accompanying poverty and starvation is interpreted through the eyes of the haenyeo, and it was often a helpless situation for Young-sook and her family.
"This meant - although none of us understood the practicalities - that the USSR would oversee Korea above the line as we transitioned to independence and formed our own country. We thought we were free, but so far the only difference in our lives here on Jeju was that the Japanese flag was lowered, and the American flag was raised. One colonizer had been replaced by another." Page 154
In my view, there was too much time spent covering the ever changing political situation to the detriment of character development and character growth. An estrangement was the most interesting focal point of the novel and without giving away any spoilers about whether (or not) there was any reconciliation, the ending was satisfying and realistic.

The Island of Sea Women by Lisa See is recommended for readers who enjoy their historical fiction supported by a detailed knowledge of the political and military background at the time to add validity to the story and highlight the horrors of the past. An interest in Korea will enhance your enjoyment.

I'm looking forward to reading The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane in the new year!

My Rating:

17 December 2023

Historical Fiction Challenge Completed 2023

At the beginning of the year I signed up for the Renaissance Reader level of the 2023 Historical Fiction Challenge which required me to read 10 historical fiction books. As a comparison, last year I read 14, but this year I smashed my goal by reading a total of 22 historical fiction novels.

Here's what I read throughout the year 2023:

1. The Whispering Muse by Laura Purcell
2. The Death of John Lacey by Ben Hobson
3. The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro
4. The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow
5. The Miniscule Mansion of Myra Malone by Audrey Burges
6. Homecoming by Kate Morton
7. One Illumined Thread by Sally Colin-James
8. The Book of Eve by Meg Clothier
9. The Becoming of Mrs Mulberry by Jackie French
10. Lady Tan's Circle of Women by Lisa See

Additional books read for the challenge:
11. Doomsday Book by Connie Willis
12. The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
13. The Murder of Harriet Monckton by Elizabeth Haynes
14. Newes from the Dead by Mary Hooper
15. The Invisible Hour by Alice Hoffman
16. Miss Austen by Gill Hornby
17. The Widow of Pale Harbour by Hester Fox
18. Bone Rites by Natalie Bayley
19. The Armour of Light by Ken Follett
20. The Turn of Midnight by Minette Walters
21. The Frozen River by Ariel Lawhon
22. The Island of Sea Women by Lisa See

Have you read any books on the list? I read a combination of new and backlist books from a variety of eras and genres and next year I'll definitely be signing up for the challenge again, although I'm thinking of attempting the Medieval level of 15.

Either way, I'm sure there'll be some exciting new titles coming out in 2024 to tempt me in addition to the many older books still waiting on my bookshelves or hiding in the library. Want to join me? Visit Marg at The Intrepid Reader for details.

Carpe Librum!

15 December 2023

Review: Kill Your Husbands by Jack Heath

Kill Your Husbands by Jack Heath book cover

* Copy courtesy of Allen & Unwin *

Australian author Jack Heath is back in the charts and on my reading schedule with Kill Your Husbands this month. Heath is known for writing gritty and gruesome crime novels - like the Timothy Blake series - as well as killer adventure books for kids, but this latest novel feels like a shift into a new writing style as he ventures into contemporary psychological thriller and domestic noir territory.

Kill Your Husbands focuses around three couples and I'll admit it took me a while to cement the different personalities, their individual relationship dynamics and variously intersecting backstories. Once I was able to do that, it became even harder to figure out what the hell was going on.

Setting out for a short digital detox getaway in New South Wales, a couples swap goes wrong when one of the party ends up dead. Moments of laughter like this break up the tension in this whodunnit:
'I'm told he was a bit of a larrikin.' 'You mean a dickhead.' Kiara gives a slight nod. Page 218
I didn't warm to any of the characters as their various egos, undercurrents of jealousy and envy along with the competitive nature of their friendships was sickening to read. All six characters in this isolation thriller were flawed and unlikeable and as a result I wasn't invested in their survival.

There were some interesting character insights, but these weren't the sort of people I would ever have as friends or regularly choose to associate with.
"It hadn't seemed very funny at the time - kind of mean, actually. But fifteen years later, he found himself laughing along, not because it was clever but because it was a shared memory. The past was like that, tragedy becoming comedy. Sometimes he heard a song from his youth on the radio, and even though he'd hated it back then, he'd sing along. The act of remembering gave him joy." Pages 62-62
I think Kill Your Husbands has all of the juicy elements of an international bestseller, (I'm thinking Ruth Ware level here) however I'll admit to being a Heath purist; if there's such a thing. For me that means I prefer to read his 'shock and awe' style of writing, the way he's able to make characters say and do things no author - I read - is doing. Heath has the skill to make me laugh while making me recoil and writing plots that make my jaw drop. 'That' wasn't here in Kill Your Husbands, and while some readers will appreciate the 'gore left at the door' approach, I genuinely missed it.

Jack Heath is an 'auto-read' Australian author for me and I suspect he'll attract a wider reading audience with Kill Your Husbands which can only be a good thing for readers. It's rare that an author can adapt to so many writing styles and I'm excited to see when he next releases a book 'for me'.

My Rating:

11 December 2023

Review: Fierce Love by Susan Scott

Fierce Love by Susan Scott book cover

In 2007 I read Fierce Conversations by Susan Scott and remember being impressed with the knowledge imparted and trying to absorb and implement as many of the key points as I could into my day to day life. Not since reading How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie had I read a book that made an immediate impact on the way I communicate with others.

I noticed the author Susan Scott released a new book last year called Fierce Love - Creating a Love that Lasts, One Conversation at a Time and I was hopeful for a brand new set of skills I could incorporate into my life a mere 16 years later.

Choosing to listen to the audiobook narrated by the author herself, unfortunately Fierce Love didn't have anything new to teach or show me.

This time there were no breakthroughs, a-ha moments or epiphanies. I did really enjoy this reading highlight from Chapter 16 though when the author quotes from Robert Brault:
"Life becomes easier when you learn to accept an apology you never got." Chapter 16, It's Not You, It's Me
Despite that little nugget of insight which I definitely need to work on, I think I would have been better off with a re-read of the original - and easily the better - Fierce Conversations.

If you haven't read Fierce Conversations by Susan Scott, I recommend starting there for the greater reading experience.

My Rating:

06 December 2023

Review: The Frozen River by Ariel Lawhon

The Frozen River by Ariel Lawhon book cover

* Copy courtesy of Simon & Schuster *

The Frozen River by Ariel Lawhon is an historical fiction novel set in Maine in 1789 inspired by the life of Martha Ballard. Martha was an 18th century midwife who left a diary of her work with patients, much in the way Tan Yunxian did in Lady Tan's Circle of Women by Lisa See.

If you've noticed I read another historical fiction novel set in Maine recently (The Widow of Pale Harbour by Hester Fox set in 1846) you'd be right, but these were very different books in subject matter, plot, writing style and character arcs.

Martha Ballard is a very likeable character and an excellent midwife and healer. Called on to assess the body of a man pulled from the icy Kennebec River - the frozen river of the title - Martha believes the man has been murdered.

The writing was incredibly visceral and evocative, which was offset by tender moments in the chaos like this:
"Only when the hangman cut the rope and let [character name removed for spoilers]'s body drop to the ground with a heavy thud did Ephraim turn me in to the wide shelter of his chest." Page 79
There's something in those five words that still moves me; the 'wide shelter of his chest.' Martha's work means she knows the villagers well and her medical expertise is readily called upon. The narrative focuses on the investigation of the man's death which leads to speculation it may be connected to a rape case in the town.

The character arcs and village goings on reminded me of Ken Follett's ability to launch into village life, establish characters and draw us in until we find ourselves deeply invested in their choices and decisions. Martha's relationship with her husband Ephraim was moving and I found myself caring about all of the characters and wanting them to safely navigate their problems, succeed in their endeavours and in other cases, see justice carried out.

This is my first time reading any of Ariel Lawhon's books, but I'm so glad I was sent this unsolicited copy, because now I'm a new fan. If you enjoyed Gulliver's Wife by Lauren Chater, Tidelands by Philippa Gregory or more recently, Lady Tan's Circle of Women by Lisa See, you'll love this. (I just realised these three books are also published by Simon & Schuster, looks like S&S is becoming my 'go to' for historical fiction).

Highly recommended!

My Rating: