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Dewey’s 24 Hour Readathon // October 2016

IT’S READATHON THIS WEEKEND YOU GUYS.

This’ll be the first time I’m participating in Dewey’s. The last couple I’ve had something on so I haven’t been able to participate. BUT I’M GOING TO DO IT THIS TIME. What is Dewey’s? You can check out all the details on the official website (you should sign up while you’re there), but basically it’s, wait for it, a 24 hour readathon. Whuuuut?

Yes. For 24 hours you just. have. to. read. (and snack.) Thrilling, right? This one has an official start and finish time so everyone reads together. SOOOO if you’re in Australia, please come read with me! It starts at 11pm Saturday night Sydney time, so it’ll be a slightly earlier starts for those of you in Brisbane and the westerly states. I’ll be having midnight mac & cheese which I’m really excited about.

Here’s a picture of my potential reading stack:

deweysstack

I’ve got a few books on the go at the moment so I’d like to make a dent in those – War & Peace in particular – but I might dip in and out of some newbies as well. I’ve got a bunch of comics for when I want some lighter reading, as well as an audiobook to listen to while doing some crafting (I have a baby blanket that needs to be finished by next weekend, so this seems like a good time to work on it). So I’ll pretty much just be dipping in and out of books at my leisure, rather than aiming for any particular goals. It’s going to be super relaxed and excellent.

I might not be updating much on here – I’ll probably just do a big wrap up post at the end – but I’ll be on many of the other social medias if anyone’s joining in on those. Here’s where I’ll be:

  • Twitter (quite a bit)
  • Instagram (a little bit)
  • And my new favourite place, LITSY (a lot)!! I can’t link to my profile for this, but if you want to be friends on there, just leave your username below, or search for me – I’m @heather_reads on there.

So if you’re not doing anything this weekend, or you are doing something but don’t really want to do it, come and join a bunch of other readers for the Readathon. Here’s a direct link for the sign ups for your convenience.

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Book Review – ‘The Birdman’s Wife’

birdmans-wife-9781925344998_hrTitle: The Birdman’s Wife
Author: Melissa Ashley
Genre: Fiction (historical)
Release Date: 1st October, 2016
Rating: ★★★★★

“Artist Elizabeth Gould spent her life capturing the sublime beauty of birds the world had never seen before. But her legacy was eclipsed by the fame of her husband, John Gould. The Birdman’s Wife at last gives voice to a passionate and adventurous spirit who was so much more than the woman behind the man.
Elizabeth was a woman ahead of her time, juggling the demands of her artistic life with her roles as wife, lover, helpmate, and mother to an ever-growing brood of children. In a golden age of discovery, her artistry breathed wondrous life into countless exotic new species, including Charles Darwin’s Galapagos finches.
In The Birdman’s Wife a naïve young girl who falls in love with an ambitious genius comes into her own as a woman, an artist and a bold adventurer who defies convention by embarking on a trailblazing expedition to the colonies to discover Australia’s ‘curious’ birdlife.(Simon & Schuster)

So I need to first get out of the way my gushing over the cover. While I’m happy to have read this book, my one regret is that I read it in digital format; as soon as next payday rolls around I’ll be taking myself off to get a hardcopy of it. There are some of Elizabeth Gould’s illustrations in the book and after seeing photos of it on Twitter, I really feel like I missed out. So if you’re going to read this, you must get your hands on a physical copy.

The inside of the book was just as lovely as the outside. Melissa Ashley’s writing is beautiful and really evoked a sense of time and place both in London and in Australia, the latter in particular:

“I recall the Australian eucalypts stretching their coppery limbs towards the sun, the cedars boasting girths the width of a coach. I remember the parrots of that great continent, painted every hue of the rainbow, whole clouds squawking past, and a sky so huge you could see it curve at the edges.”

The narrative felt natural and not at all forced, and it made it easy for me to settle in and block the world out for a little while. This was an especially big thing for me, as the narrative is from a first person perspective which I sometimes find difficult to read, mostly because the voice doesn’t always seem real. But this was never an issue when reading The Birdman’s Wife.

I found the life of Elizabeth Gould completely fascinating and she truly was an admirable woman. She was an artist, wife, mother, and convention breaker in a time when her expected place was in the home. Although this is a fictionalised account, it doesn’t change the fact that it’s a real shame that Elizabeth is less well-known than her husband. While it was quite fortunate that she married a man who recognised that she had talent and he enabled her to put that talent to use, the reality was that they were a team and without her artwork and dedication he may not have been successful as he was.

The book gets quite detailed in relation to the collection and taxidermy of the birds, which I personally found interesting, but it may not be everyone’s cup of tea. I actually thought it provided a great contrast between Elizabeth and John: she taking the less destructive route of recording the birds through art (that being said, her drawings were largely based on specimens collected by John); while he was the embodiment of the typical Georgian/Victorian attitude towards conservation, i.e., they hadn’t given it a lot of thought at that point – at least not to the extent that we think about it today. That’s not to say that he killed needlessly, but he certainly had more of a focus on collecting than observing.

I had a great time reading this book. Not only was it a pleasure to read, but it catered to my love of nature and my growing interest in natural history. The Birdman’s Wife is probably the worst nightmare for the little birds I share my home with, but I really enjoyed learning about taxidermy practices, as well as Elizabeth’s own methods for painting (particularly the mixing of colours). It’s also worth reading the author’s note at the end, as Ashley tells the story of how her book came about and the things she did as part of her research, including spending some time as a trainee taxidermist to learn all the ins and outs of the occupation. It really was just as interesting as the book itself.

Many thanks to Simon & Schuster and NetGalley for providing me with a review copy.

Teaser Tuesday // ‘The Pigeon Tunnel’

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by Jen at Books and A Beat. Anyone can play along! All you have to do is grab the book you’re currently reading, open to a random page and share two sentences from that page. But make sure you don’t share any spoilers!

thepigeontunnelThis is my most anticipated book of 2016. I have literally been waiting nearly a whole year for it and I even waited a bit longer for my local bookstore to order in a hardcover for me, because I wanted it to be extra special (nothing says “extra special” like a hardcover). It arrived last week and I actually nearly maybe started crying on page 2 because I was so excited to be finally reading it and what I was reading was just everything I had hoped for.

Anyway, I’ll try and save some gushing for my review (which I’ll tell you now is going to be less review than gushiness) and share a couple of sentences from page 2. I know I’m meant to pick random sentences but I don’t even care. So here you go:

“The month is May, so we get a whole year’s weather in one week: yesterday a couple of feet of fresh snow and not a single skier to enjoy it; today an unobstructed scorching sun, and the snow nearly gone again and the spring flowers back in business. And now this evening, thunderclouds of Payne’s grey getting ready to march up the Lauterbrunnen valley like Napoleon’s Grande Armée.”

What are you reading this week?

Bookish (and not so bookish) thoughts // 7 October, 2016

‘Bookish (and not so bookish) thoughts’ is hosted by Christine at Bookishly Boisterous – go say hi!

1. Luke Cage. Such a great show. And there’s a bad guy who’s also a cool guy which means I love him and feel incredibly conflicted about it.

2. According to a horrible person mentioned in this article, women can’t write about science properly and literary prizes are moving towards being too “female-friendly”. What a jerk.

3. My favourite thing from the internet this week:

4. I read this interesting article about translating literature that gave me some things to think about for my own translation project (which, if you were wondering, hasn’t moved very far as yet).

5. Megalolamna paradoxodon: we’re gonna need a bigger boat.

6. A new Ice Age? Will there be sloths? (Note: that link will not take you to news about a new installment in the delightful film franchise.)

7. I discovered a new bookshop last weekend called Book Face. It’s at the shopping centre near my mum’s house and not the most conveniently placed to my own home, so I don’t get there often. As a result I had no idea that this magical new shop had been open for a couple of months. Also my mum purposely didn’t tell me as she knew I’d spend money in there. She’s a bad parent, but she was right.

8. And if you missed the new Bruno Mars single that graced us with its presence yesterday, here it is:

Six Degrees of Separation // Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

Six Degrees of Separation is hosted by Kate at Books Are My Favourite and Best. It goes like this:

On the first Saturday of every month, a book is chosen as a starting point and linked to six other books to form a chain. Readers and bloggers are invited to join in by creating their own ‘chain’ leading from the selected book.”

Then you head on over to Kate’s blog and link up. Easy.

sixdegreesbooks

This month’s chain [which accidentally turned out to be one filled with unread books and similar titles] starts with Jonathan Safran Foer’s Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. I’ve had a digital edition of this book sitting on my iPad for approximately forever and I’m yet to read it. Another book that I’ve had sitting around forever and haven’t read (one of many), is The Railway Man’s Wife by Ashley Hay.

I have the suspicion that I purchased this book thinking that it was actually The Railway Man by Eric Lomax; that’ll teach me to not pay attention when going on a spending spree.

I’ve wanted to read The Railway Man for a while now, probably ever since the movie was first on at the cinema – I wanted to see the movie too but didn’t because I hadn’t read the book yet (and we all know you should watch the movie first). But since making that promise to myself I’ve seen the film but not read the book. Whoops. The last book I did this with was Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn.

Why haven’t I read this yet? Too much hype, you guys (but I did cave to the hype and watched the adaptation at the cinema). Another too much hype film/book combo is another “Girl” – this time The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins.

One book that I reaaaaalllly want to read but haven’t yet, also features a train: Strangers on a Train by Patricia Highsmith. And since I want to stretch the final link of this chain to breaking point, I’m going to link this book to George RR Martin’s A Game of Thrones (the only book in this chain I’ve actually read).

Some of you may or may not know that I catch the train to and from work every day. A couple of weeks ago the lady I was sitting next to was reading A Game of Thrones while I was reading War and Peace. Just two strangers on a train reading hefty books.

Book Review – ‘We Eat Our Own’

weeatourownTitle: We Eat Our Own
Author: Kea Wilson
Genre: Fiction (literary with a smidge of horror)
Release date: 6th September, 2016
Rating: ★★★½

“When a nameless, struggling actor in 1970s New York gets the call that an enigmatic director wants him for an art film set in the Amazon, he doesn’t hesitate: he flies to South America, no questions asked. He quickly realizes he’s made a mistake. He’s replacing another actor who quit after seeing the script—a script the director now claims doesn’t exist. The movie is over budget. The production team seems headed for a breakdown. The air is so wet that the celluloid film disintegrates.
But what the actor doesn’t realize is that the greatest threat might be the town itself, and the mysterious shadow economy that powers this remote jungle outpost. Entrepreneurial Americans, international drug traffickers, and M-19 guerillas are all fighting for South America’s future—and the groups aren’t as distinct as you might think. The actor thought this would be a role that would change his life. Now he’s worried if he’ll survive it.
Inspired by a true story from the annals of 1970s Italian horror film, and told in dazzlingly precise prose, We Eat Our Own is a resounding literary debut, a thrilling journey behind the scenes of a shocking film and a thoughtful commentary on violence and its repercussions.” (Simon & Schuster/Scribner)

There were a bunch of things that piqued my interest in this book, but in particular it was the words “horror”, “thrilling”, “shocking”, and “violence” in the blurb. Basically what I was expecting was horror type gore, set against a backdrop of political unrest and drugs, in the most perfect setting (the jungle) imaginable for a bloody book. I got most of that, but not enough of what I really wanted, which was the shock and thrill of a horror.

Despite my expectation of bloody horror, I would say that the book probably fits more into the literary fiction category. While there were moments of shock, thrill, and violence, they were too far and few between to have any real lasting impact on me as a reader. Having said that, if I’d have gone into the book with different expectations I might have had a very different experience. But the dark part me that enjoys gore really liked the bloodier parts of the book and by the end I wished there had been more.

Even though I didn’t quite get what I wanted, I enjoyed the actual reading of We Eat Our Own. The behind the scenes aspects of the film were interesting and I enjoyed seeing how the two makeup artists had to improvise in the steamy surrounds of the jungle, when they had next to no equipment and the plans for the shoot could change at the drop of a hat, if the plans were even known at all.

Another highlight was the use of a second person narrative (along with some transcripts and the more common third person narrative). The use of this narrative was probably my favourite thing about the book as it isn’t something I see a lot, which made the reading experience different from usual. It helped to immerse me in the story and feel closer to the events taking place; this in turn helped to build tension throughout and promised for a big ending. But the conclusion fell a little flat for me, and what I think was meant to be a big twist would have been more a twist if it hadn’t happened.

Although the narrative was interesting and pulled me through the book, I found it hard to engage with any of the characters on an emotional level – put plainly, none of them were very likeable people and I didn’t care much either way what happened to them either way. The only character I felt slightly invested in was the Italian director, Ugo, because so much of the outcome was dependent on him and the direction he takes the film. I spent a lot time wondering whether he was named after the character Ugolino, who appears in Dante’s Divine Comedy and eats his own children in order to not starve. In We Eat Our Own, Ugo’s willingness to do whatever it takes to achieve his vision sees him metaphorically, rather than literally, eat his own children; his children being the film crew and the actors. I’m probably clutching at straws with this connection, but I like it so I’ll go with it.

Maybe I ruined We Eat Our Own for myself by wanting it to be something it wasn’t, but as far as debuts go, this is a solid one from Kea Wilson, and I will absolutely be looking out for her work in the future. There’s a lot to like about this book and even though it didn’t all work together for me, I’m confident that if I’d gone into it with a different set of expectations I would have appreciated it a lot more.

UPDATE 7th October, 2016: For those interested in reading about the true events that inspired this book, you can check out this article.

Many thanks to Scribner and NetGalley for providing me with a review copy.

 

The round up // September 2016

IT’S OCTOBER. That’s all I’ll say about how fast the year is going.

September was kind of a blur. I spent the first two weeks of the month on leave and I think not paying attention to the date for those two weeks made the month go by that much quicker. But it was still a reasonably productive month. I got the internet situation sorted in my new house, had some furniture delivered, got my little garden sorted, caught up on a bunch of NetGalley reviews, and just generally had a nice time.

Some reading things from September:

  • local-girl-missingI had an ok reading month. My favourite read was definitely Heather Rose’s debut novel The Museum of Modern Love (my review).
  • I read the first two books of my Bookabuy subscription (last month’s book and this month’s). The first, In the Month of the Midnight Sun, had loads of promise but it didn’t really deliver (my review). The second was a new thriller by Claire Douglas called Local Girl Missing and IT WAS SO GOOD. I practically read it in a day. I can highly recommend it if thrillers are your thing.
  • I also made my first foray into the world of manga and read the first volume of Death Note. It was excellent. I will be reading more.

japanesemapleI also got a new bonsai. This is the second one I’ve bought this year (the first one all the way back in April AND IT’S STILL ALIVE) and it’s just the most beautiful little thing. It’s as Japanese Maple so if I can keep it going until autumn I might get to see it looking like this.

I don’t have any big plans for October aside from spending the first weekend of it eating and watching tv (the grand finals of two of Australia’s major football codes fall are both on this weekend which is basically amazing). It’s a long weekend as well so go Australia. For the rest of the month I have zero plans. I’m sure it’ll be great.

Did you read anything good in September? Any big plans for October?

Bookish (and not so bookish) thoughts // 30 September, 2016

‘Bookish (and not so bookish) thoughts’ is hosted by Christine at Bookishly Boisterous – go say hi!

1. I spend a lot of time thinking about my bookshelves. Currently my books are sorted alphabetically by author (then publication date if I happen to have more than one book by an author). But my dream is to have them divided into genre sections – like in a proper bookshop. If this is your dream as well, maybe you’d be interested in labelling your shelves?

2. Since it took an eternity to get the internet on at my house, I missed out on two of my uni study periods. The next one starts in December and goes across Christmas, and since I hate studying then I wasn’t going to enrol. But then I worked out during the week that if I don’t get cracking on my degree, I’ll still be studying in 2020. So I’m now gunning to finish my final before I head off to Scotland in August, 2019. That’s going to be a big year.

3. This coffee.

4. The latest season of The Bachelorette started in Australia last week and I wasn’t going to watch it but then I changed my mind. There’s a model who looks like Harry Potter but a model (he also writes poetry because of course he does). If you want a laugh, you should watch this recap of the first episode:

5. After killing three redback spiders in my yard a couple of weekends ago and imagining that all the spiders were coming to get me, last weekend there was a spider on my bed. So I’m not paranoid at all: the spiders really are coming to get me.

6. This amazing cloud formation called The Morning Glory is happening in Australia soon. It’s super rare.

7. Last Friday, September 23rd, marked 7 years since a huge dust storm hit Sydney, turning the city and much of the state of New South Wales red. There are some spectacular photos here.

8. More of that thing I love – news in the world of human evolution. “Startling new research from a multi-university study in Europe not only confirms Aborigines and Papua New Guineans are linked to the oldest peoples in the world but most carry genetic traces of a new mystery early human.” Yep, there’s a mystery early human. I’m so excited by this.

9. ‘The Lion King’ being remade into a live action film? No thanks. Who thought we wanted that?

10. A win for the pangolins of the world.

11. More evolution news: research shows that humans are predisposed to kill each other and they’ve estimated that “around 2% of human deaths at the origin of our species were down to such lethal spats.” This is probably the most interesting article I read this week – I highly recommend it.

12. And now, this:

Book Review – ‘Twenty-Four Hours in the Life of a Woman’

twenty-four-hours-in-the-life-of-a-woman-734x1024Title: Twenty-Four Hours in the Life of a Woman
Author: Stefan Zweig (translated by Anthea Bell)
Genre: Literary Fiction
Release Date: 4th February, 2016
Rating: ★★★★

“‘The less I felt in myself, the more strongly I was drawn to those places where the whirligig of life spins most rapidly.’
So begins an extraordinary day in the life of Mrs C – recently bereaved and searching for excitement and meaning. Drawn to the bright lights of a casino, and the passion of a desperate stranger, she discovers a purpose once again but at what cost?
In this vivid and moving tale of a compassionate woman, and her defining experience, Zweig explores the power of intense love, overwhelming loneliness and regret that can last for a lifetime.(Pushkin Press)

I’m starting to get to the point with Stefan Zweig that any comments I make about his work should be preceded by a disclaimer that goes something along the lines of, “In my eyes, he can do no wrong.” So if you read any further, you should keep in my mind that I am blinded my love for him and his ability to write people – not just write about them, but actually write them.

For those familiar with Zweig’s work, there isn’t really anything new here and there are many of the usual markers of Zweig’s work: a framed narrative, a character reflecting on the past, regret, passion, obsession, and his usual observations on the nature of humanity.

“Most people have little imagination. If something doesn’t affect them directly, does not drive a sharp wedge straight into their minds, it hardly excites them at all, but if an incident, however slight, takes place before their eyes, close enough for the senses to perceive it, it instantly rouses them to extremes of passion. They compensate for the infrequency of their sympathy, as it were, by exhibiting disproportionate and excessive vehemence.”

But half the joy of reading Zweig is for the writing itself and the way he explores all his usual themes. So although the novella is typical Zweig, it’s still incredibly enjoyable to read the way he explores the usual things with different characters. There was one passage in which hands are front and centre, and I read it over and over again because it was so beautiful.

“I simply cannot tell you how many thousands of varieties of hands there are: wild beasts with hairy, crooked fingers raking in the money like spiders; nervous trembling hands with pale nails that scarcely dare to touch it; hands noble and vulgar, hands brutal and shy, cunning hands, hands that seem to be stammering …”

For those who haven’t read Zweig before, this would be a pretty good place to start to ease you into his world. At only 92 pages it’s a physically quick read, but it also moves quickly in terms of the plot – you could easily polish it off in one sitting. It’s probably not the best of his work that I’ve read (my current favourite is A Chess Story, until something comes along that I like better), but it’s still a wonderful example of his writing and certainly wouldn’t put you off reading more of his work.

Many thanks to Pushkin Press and NetGalley for providing me with a review copy.

 

Bookish (and not so bookish) thoughts // 23 September, 2016

‘Bookish (and not so bookish) thoughts’ is hosted by Christine at Bookishly Boisterous – go say hi!

1. Having had to use one quite a bit recently to assemble furniture, I wondered why the allen key is called the allen key. Some guy with the surname ‘Allen’ was the first one to patent it (but not necessarily invent it) and that’s why it’s called an allen key. This is a lesson for those who want to be famous for a thing: you don’t need to invent first, just patent first.

2. The abomination that is this truly hideous sandal/ugg boot hybrid. Hands off our ugg boots. And oh, how about some bedazzled Crocs?

3. I love interesting/relatively unknown/useless tidbits of information, so this tweet about St John’s Ambulance was right up my alley. I even went and did some further reading about it here.

4. Does anyone else hate Apple iOS 10? My phone now has more functions than I can poke a whole tree at. I especially hate the new “Raise to Wake” function, which meant that literally just picking up my phone would wake the screen. You can turn that off like this. I’m probably really late on this, but oh well.

5. My mum and I found and killed three redback spiders in my yard last weekend. I still get creeped out thinking about them. I won’t lie, I hate spiders. My ex always told me I was arachnophobic, but I think my fear of spiders is perfectly rational, thank you very much.

6. THIS IMPORTANT TWITTER NEWS. And I can confirm that it is in effect:

7. I need a go-to drink. Now taking suggestions (opinions on the Rusty Nail welcome).

8. 2016 has been a weird and sad year. This week we farewelled Brangelina, the greatest of celebrity portmanteaus.

9. I loved this Book Riot article about what it means to be human, and how that is looked at in science fiction. This is something I’ve been thinking about for a while after reviewing a bunch of films about artificial intelligence, so I like that I now have a bunch of new books on the topic to investigate.

10. Some more delightful global warming news.

11. Some genuinely delightful news about the screen adaptations for Stephen King’s ‘The Dark Tower’ series. I guess it’s time for a reread.

12. Here’s a clip of a (possibly drunk or scared) Kiwi (the bird, that is, not the fruit or a person from New Zealand).

kiwi-after-a-night-out-partying-imgur