Monday, February 9, 2015

Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty - but to tell the truth I loved it

Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty

I read The Husband’s Secret by Liane Moriarty last year and loved it.  Liane Moriarty has the curious distinction of being a New York Times Bestseller author multiple times but is almost unknown – though that is gradually changing – in Australia.  I really enjoyed The Husband’s Secret, and started Big Little Lies thinking in my cynical way, “oh yeah”, story about school mums set in a fictionalised version of the Northern Beaches in Sydney, a sort of Desperate Housewives at the school gates, but then I just got sucked in, started rooting for the various characters and was engrossed by the whole thing.  I love the fact her books do so well in the US because they are very identifiably set in Sydney and there is a real feel to the setting – but I guess they are universal characters and from a personal perspective I find it so reassuring that if you write great characters and scenes, you can set your book wherever you like and people will want to read it – and that about sums up Liane Moriarty or the two books I’ve read, great stories that you’ll find yourself sneaking off to read another chapter of – always my mark of readability ever since I used to hover round my mother’s  side of the bed, desperate to get my paws on the next chapter of ‘The Famous Five’ that she used to read out aloud to us.

So if you are Australian, go and read, buy, borrow this book – Liane Moriarty deserves to be more well known here – and besides I’ve decided I love her sense of humour and I want her as my new best friend!

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Venetia by Georgette Heyer - Bridget Jones without the Angst

Venetia by Georgette Heyer

Where else is a girl going to go when in need of the ultimate relaxation?  Georgette Heyer is the literary equivalent of hot chocolate on a snowy day.  Shut out the social media and harsh electric light of modern day and take yourself to the sofa with a Heyer heroine.  My parents-in-law had a bookcase full of Georgette Heyer’s books in their spare room and a book lying illicitly on the bed, ignoring the shrieks of my children was always my biggest treat.  Georgette Heyer’s Regency rooms, chick lit in flounces, are being republished in new editions by Sourcebooks Casablanca and having borrowed ‘Venetia’ from my local library, I read it with relish before handing it on to my 15 year old, who equally lapped it up.  I do worry about getting her hooked on feisty females who always manage to land the bad, dangerous man with masterful traits who is of course not as bad as he is painted – in Bridget Jones terms, the heroine ends up with a reformed Daniel Cleaver rather than Mark Darcy.  Feminist considerations aside, I do love Georgette Heyer and my spirit always lift when I find someone else who is a fan.

Venetia, is surprise, surprise about one of the afore mentioned feisty female types who is forced to draw upon her own resources and charms when the blackest of black sheeps returns to the neighbourhood in the shape of her next door neighbour, albeit we are talking neighbouring estates rather than two up two downs. 

There used to be a UK advertising slogan, that went along the lines of “if you want a lot of chocolate on your biscuit, join our club” – the biscuit being in this case of course “Club”, and if you want an undemanding enjoyable read, with lots of romance and fun upon the page – then this is an author for you.

Bereft By Chris Womersley - Near Gothic tale of murder and retribution in country NSW

Bereft By Chris Womersley

Just as a footnote, bereft is one of those tricky words that I always have trouble spelling, and this book with its complexity and twisting story deserves the title, aside from the layers of grief and loss that the word conveys.  The book is a haunting, evocative story of a the aftermath of a particularly traumatic murder in 1909.  Twelve year old Sarah Walker was murdered in a tiny remote inland Australian town, ‘the fly-speck town of Flint’, the chief suspect was her older brother, Quinn, who fled the scene upon discovery and to all intents and purposes disappeared off the face of the earth.  Ten years later In the aftermath of the First World War, he returns unannounced to Flint to revenge Sarah and to expose the truth.

He hides in the hills around the town, evading authorities and slipping into his old home to see his dying mother.  In his wanderings he meets Sadie, another twelve year old who has been left adrift by life, and who seems uncannily to channel Sarah’s voice.

This book deservedly did really well for Chris Womersley and it has been a book that has been on my reading radar as a book I wanted to read since it came out so I am really pleased to have read it at last and it was worth the wait. 

Winner ABIA Literary Fiction Book of the Year

Winner of Indie Award for Best Novel

Shortlisted for The Age Book of the Year

Shortlisted for 2011 Miles Franklin Award

Shortlisted for ASL Gold Medal for Literature

Shortlisted for Ned Kelly Award for Fiction

Shortlisted for CWA Gold Dagger

Longlisted for Dublin IMPAC Award

Thursday, January 29, 2015

The Best of Friends By Joanna Trollope - Never a good idea to fan old teenage love into life

The Best of Friends By Joanna Trollope

As you can see a bit of a Joanna Trollope binge – and like all binges left me feeling a bit bloated and I wish I hadn’t done that – or in this case hadn’t read Joanna Trollope’s back to back – too much of a good thing.

The Best of Friends is about two couples where a husband and wife from the two different marriages have been best friends since bonding as teenagers.  When Gina’s marriage unravels she turns to her old friend Laurence and his wife Hilary for support – I’m going to put a row of dots here mentally as you can of course guess what happens next – though not necessarily the ending.  I have to say my sympathies are completely with Hilary and I will be treating any longstanding female friend of my husband’s who reappears in emotional need with grave suspicion – but maybe I am just an embittered reader of too many ‘Aga Sagas’.

Much though I do like her ability to conjure up a cocoon of a world I will leave it a bit before hitting another Joanna Trollope.  Like Lisa Genova, she is someone I have heard speak, on a cold, dark, wet (but not stormy) night in the Rye Reading Room in New York State, where she talked about her new novel of the time ‘Brother and Sister’ dealing with adoption and the search for birth parents.  She was another author who was really engaging about both the subject matter and the novel – one of the comments she made that has stayed with me is that usually when she does these talks people want to talk about the book, but when she did this particular tours, there was a large section of the audience who wanted to talk about adoption and finding parents and who would quiz her as if she was an expert, a real demonstration of the emotional dramas swirling for so many people around adoption and birth parentage.

Second Honeymoon By Joanna Trollope - Hush can I hear the patter of large feet on the stairs?

Second Honeymoon By Joanna Trollope

Joanna Trollope is another one of those authors that I pick up with assurance, although I think her first majorly acclaimed novel – the breakthrough book as it were, The Rector’s Wife, was a complete tour de force and perhaps because with that book she almost created a genre of middle class, middle aged women issues (though with men definitely getting a leading role at times) I have never quite found another one of her books or heroines that hits me in the same way as The Rector’s Wife and Anna.

Second Honeymoon looks at the issues of what happens when the last of your children leaves home – we’ll be throwing a large party for sure.  However Edie and her husband Russell find themselves at odds as their last son moves out, Edie feels deprived of purpose and meaning, Russell (more my kind of guy) can’t wait to rekindle time with Edie and a new life.  In the spirit of the times, and economy, it isn’t long before offspring are back with them – now there’s a thought to send chills up the spine.

Joanna Trollope is any easy read for me, but I do find myself getting irritated by characters and wanting to shout at them – perhaps the offspring are too realistically depicted, a worrying thought.

Love Anthony By Lisa Genova - the working of the brain is such a many splendored thing

Love Anthony By Lisa Genova

From brain surgery in my last read, to an exploration of the different ways in which brains are wired in individuals.

I live near a fabulous local bookshop, Pages & Pages in Mosman, run by the aptly named Page family.  Amongst the many book related activities they conduct is a monthly bookclub and a couple of years ago, the American writer Lisa Genova came along to talk to the group about her first book ‘Still Alice’.  She was an inspiring speaker, both on the topic of early onset Alzheimer's,  and on how she effectively self published, self publicised this book before being picked up by a mainstream publisher.   Both ‘Still Alice’, which has just been made into a film and her second book about partial paralysis called ‘Left Neglected’  resonated with me.  I didn’t have quite the same reaction to this book in that I didn't buy into the fictional plot to quite the same extent, but I did enjoy it, and was fascinated by glimpses of the life of an all year dweller on Nantucket.  More than anything, 'Love Anthony' reinforced for me what amazing reservoirs of love are demonstrated by parents of autistic children, or indeed any child who falls outside the expected norms of childhood and society.  Easy to love an engaging toddler who holds out their arms to be picked up and whose face lights up as you walk in the door, harder to love without reserve a child who doesn't respond in the same way.

Lisa Genova has a Ph.D in neuroscience and so writes with an easy familiarity and authority that engages and educates seamlessly, she is someone whose books I would pick up automatically in a bookstore, knowing that it is going to be a worthwhile read.  

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Do No Harm - Stories of Life, Death and Brain Surgery. The brain as you have never thought of it

Do No Harm – Stories of Life, Death and Brain Surgery
By Henry Marsh

First up, I thought this book was fabulous, thought provoking, moving and all those good blurb words that it thoroughly deserved, but it should also come with a government health warning.  Husband keeled over reading the description of brain surgery in Saturday by Ian McEwan and I would be wary of handing over this book to him as I would anticipate he would hit the ground within seconds of reading the opening sentence, “I often have to cut into the brain and it is something I hate doing.”

Henry Marsh looks back over his career as a Neurosurgeon and in a series of individual chapters highlights the other side of surgery, the part the patient never sees, the discussions, analysis, involvement, detachment and skill of the surgeons.  I found his accounts mesmerising, he is very hard on himself, and includes many examples of where things go wrong and the surgery results in distress or tragedy for the patient, there is far less of the work he and his fellow surgeons do every day to transform lives and restore hope.  Having had quite a lot to do with surgeons over the past couple of years, it certainly gave me some ideas about questions to ask before surgery, but it also made me realise the off load there is for a patient, or patient’s relative, in putting your trust in the doctors – and correspondingly what a burden it is for them in shouldering that trust and faith and expectation of a positive outcome.

I wouldn't say the NHS and changes over the last 20 years in public health in the UK get much of a positive write up from Henry Marsh and anecdotes of his run ins with senior management did make me laugh, albeit it with a note of hysteria in my laughter, and I think this book should be compulsory reading for all NHS management.

Do No Harm is a book that will stay on my shelves and I know I will come back to it in future years for a refresher of Henry Marsh's humanity and honesty.