An avid reader calls it as she sees it on books, publishing and the written word in general.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Australian Women Writers' Challenge - the finish line

Given it’s only a few days until the end of the year I thought it was worth checking in with a post on the Australian Women Writer’s Challenge. The goal was to read ten books by Australian women writers in 2012 and review four of them, and I’m happy to report that I’ve ticked all off the list.
 Read but not reviewed:
  • Cooking the Books by Kerry Greenwood (crime – Corinna Chapman solves mysteries while cooking & eating fantastic food)
  • On Passion by Dorothy Porter (non-fiction – poetic musings on the nature of passion in its many guises)
  • Nothing but Gold by Robyn Annear (non-fiction – life in the Victorian goldfields of 1852)
  • The hospital by the River – a Story of Hope by Catherine Hamlin (non-fiction – a pioneering doctor’s work with fistula patients in Addis Ababa)
  • Her Father's Daughter by Alice Pung (non-fiction - Pung revisits the family history mentioned in her first book but with a deeper, darker perspective)
  • The Fine Colour of Rust by P.A O'Reilly (fiction - a wry look at life as a single mother in a country town)
Once again, kudos to the organisers of the challenge. It has been a great experience to participate - occasionally sobering, when trying to find books by Australian women writers, but also hugely enjoyable to discover some great writing. Cheers!


Friday, November 16, 2012

BOOK REVIEW: The Tomb of Zeus by Barbara Cleverly

This has been a difficult and frustrating review to write. Not because the book is particularly difficult or frustrating; in fact, I romped through The Tomb of Zeus in a couple of hours. No, my problems stem from a persistent feeling that the book was somehow unsatisfying. Yet I can’t put my finger on exactly why that was so.


This is the second of Barbara Cleverly’s books that I have read, after I bought her first novel, The Last Kashmiri Rose about six months ago. I never reviewed it because I had that same nagging feeling that somehow I couldn’t be entirely wholehearted in my praise, but I couldn’t identify the problem either. So I let it go. But after reading The Tomb of Zeus and having the same issue, I have decided that most likely it’s not my mood, it’s not the fact my reading was interrupted or I was too hot or cold or suffering a virus. These are good books but something about them fails to come up to my (admittedly high) standard of a great book.

To start with the obvious – it’s not the setting. In both books Cleverly’s research is meticulous and she has chosen an interesting corner of the world to explore in Crete in the 1920s. I studied archaeology and read quite a bit on Arthur Evans’ discovery of Minoan Crete pursuant to that, and nothing in the book struck any false notes. Cleverly manages well to paint a picture of the life of British expat archaeologists in that era, and does it without layering the historical details too thickly. The research is clearly there and well done but it sits lightly behind the story.

I don’t think the problem lies with the plot either. A tidy murder mystery, it sees intrepid female archaeologist Laetitia Talbot investigating a suicide that may be murder. There are the usual closed circle of suspects centring around the students and family occupying the villa, as well as gradual revelations that all is not as it seems.  It’s fairly standard stuff but original enough to be interesting, if perhaps a little far-fetched at times.

And that’s perhaps getting closer to the heart of the issue. Even a far-fetched plot can be made convincing in the context of the novel – look at Agatha Christie. Yet somehow, the book just fails to convince. This is particularly the case in relation to the characters. While they are not stereotypes, it feels very much like they have been dreamed up in service to the plot. I know that this is what all authors do, but the best go beyond it, and at any rate the reader should not see the joins and seams of a novel. Gunning, in particular, seems to exist solely as support and love interest for Laetitia. I should also mention that the references to their previous love affair seem rather unconvincing and the lack of detail made me wonder if I had missed an earlier book in the series (I hadn’t).

Laetitia herself as a character also fails to arouse much interest in the reader. I didn’t dislike her, but I didn’t like her especially either. I have the feeling that she is a close alter-ego of the writer and in this regard, Joe Sandilands in The Last Kashmiri Rose was far more interesting. The act of having to imagine herself into a man’s skin may have given Cleverly the psychological distance she needed to develop the character further. As it is, Laetitia can be summed up as “feisty woman in a man’s world” – and really, not much more.

It’s perhaps a little unfair to judge a book for not being brilliant, and additionally to give rather vague reasons for doing so. My frustration largely results from the fact that I feel this could have been a great book, one that I thoroughly enjoyed. All the ingredients are there, they just needed some additional maturing and some additional spice. Instead, I’m left with the feeling that the novel is just a tad underdone, and it’s a shame. An entertaining enough read but not one to linger long in the memory.


Tuesday, November 6, 2012

BOOK REVIEW: A Drink Before The War by Dennis Lehane

I’ve heard people describe “muscular prose” before, but I never really understood it until I read Dennis Lehane’s A Drink Before the War. The first book in a series now numbering six, it’s satisfyingly  hard-edged crime fiction with a distinctive voice.

The book, Lehane’s first, dates from 1994 and chronicles the seedy side of South Boston, with gangs and violence an everyday occurrence. There’s humour, but this is no comedy; it tends to be of the unrelentingly black variety. Eighteen years and a hemisphere away, I’m in no position to judge if this is an accurate portrait of the times, but it certainly feels authentic. The prose itself is terse, descriptive, at times poetic but painting a sharp portrait of tough times.  If I have a minor complaint, it is that in setting the scene Lehane occasionally gets carried away and has his protagonist phrasing thoughts that are rather too poetic, but as the plot picks up pace this ceases to be a problem.

The narrator, Patrick Kenzie, is a P.I. in the hardboiled tradition. He struggles to pay the rent, probably drinks too much, and has an unrequited crush on his partner, Angie Gennaro. In turn, Gennaro still seems to love her husband, referred to by Kenzie as “The Asshole”, who beats her up on a regular basis. This is one of the things I loved about the book; as in life, human relationships here are seriously complicated. Everyone’s a bit messed up. Even at the end, Lehane avoids tying things up in a neat bow and questions and doubts remain.

The plot itself is tense and satisfying. There is some explosive action as Kenzie and Gennaro go on the run from rival gangs, but the violence never seems exaggerated or cinematic. The “War” of the title erupts, but seems like the kind of thing that could be ripped straight from the newspapers, particularly those of the era.

This is the kind of gritty, well-written, fast-paced book that gives crime fiction a good name. South Boston in the nineties is not a world I’m familiar with, but I enjoyed a visit and I’ll be back for the rest of the books.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

On Comfort Reads and Rex Stout

There are some books that you turn to when your nerves are jangled, when worries press heavily on you or when everything suddenly seems too hard. I think of them as “comfort reads.” No doubt everyone has a different book, but for me it’s the collected Sherlock Holmes. I’m not sure whether it is the orderliness and logic of the solutions, the sense that Holmes and Watson exist in their own little time bubble on Baker Street where nothing ever changes, or the fact that I have been reading and rereading them for years – whatever it is, it works like nothing else to soothe and calm me.

But to my surprise, I recently found another author who has the same effect. Rex Stout is an amazingly prolific and amazingly successful author of the past who has now faded into near-obscurity. His mysteries featuring the obese Nero Wolfe and the wisecracking Archie are my new addiction, and I now take every opportunity to visit that New York brownstone filled with familiar characters, from Fritz the chef to Theodore the orchid man. Happily, as Stout wrote 72 in the series, there are plenty of opportunities.

Let me be clear – the plots are varied, occasionally verging on silly (the special golf club devised to fire a splinter into the wielder’s heart was something of a lowlight). It’s not about the plot. Like all comfort reads, it’s fundamentally about the characters. Both Wolfe and Archie are a product of their time in having quite appalling attitudes towards women, but otherwise they are both fascinating nuanced characters. Wolfe in particular is a study in contradictions, so obese he can barely move but possessed of huge mental agility, wise but at the same time sometimes petty, and generally inclined to favour orchids over people. In contrast, Archie is charming, fun, and owes a lot of his “jaundiced private detective” shtick to Philip Marlowe. The other thing which anchors the books is the relationship between these two. Their mutual attitude verges on dislike much of the time, but Stout makes clear that both harbour a deep affection towards the other (if both would probably die rather than admit it).

But they key to a comfort read is predictability. You know that the characters are not going to grow, they are not going to evolve, they will never move out of that comfortable brownstone. Loose ends will always be tied up neatly. Archie will have fun along the way, and drink large amounts of milk (something I’ve never quite understood). Wolfe will be irritable then finally solve the case, with help from Archie. It’s like visiting a place you’ve been many times before, but always enjoy, and enjoy more because you know what to expect.

Ultimately, a comfort read doesn’t have to be great literature. There is a place for books which make you feel warm and cosy inside and convince you that the world isn’t such a bad place after all. And that is what both Conan Doyle and Stout do.


Sunday, October 14, 2012

AWW BOOK REVIEW: True Stories: Selected Non-Fiction, by Helen Garner

I’ve just had one of those moments. You know the ones, where you close the final pages of a book and immediately have the urge to write fan letters to the author. Or, in my case, shout their name from the hilltops (or in my blog). It feels rather redundant in the case of Helen Garner, who hardly qualifies as undiscovered, but I can’t help myself. I’ve just finished True Stories, and the final story is such an indescribably beautiful piece of work that it made me cry.
It’s true, not all the pieces in the collection approach the level of the last piece. Some seem rather slight, and one extended piece devoted to a country landscape had me flicking inmpatiently over pages of description of paddocks. But it’s a collection both easy to read and entertaining, and Garner’s wry postscripts at the end are characteristically amusing. The pieces are arranged roughly chronologically to form a kind of incidental memoir, with Garner as naïve teacher growing into seasoned journalist and then accomplished writer.  But between these there is literary criticism, comments on writing scripts for films, and many other interesting diversions.
The final piece that moved me so much is a description of the maternity ward of a hospital, and events taking place there over a couple of days. While it’s true that the setting is already rich in drama, it’s Garner’s understatement that lets the beauty shine through without seeming overdone. The obstetrician who has worked herself to exhaustion has a coldsore on her lip, daubed with cream.  Like the best of Garner’s work, she creates a window we peer through to see a world just like our own.
When I grow up I want to write like Helen Garner. Enough said.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

BOOK REVIEW: Death Comes to Pemberley by PD James

Logically, if you take two things you like and combine them, you should end up with something you like even more. You only need to look at the stratospheric popularity of YouTube mashups to see this rationale being played out.  The “literary mashup” genre has also taken off recently, from Pride and Prejudice and Zombies to Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter, Laurie R King’s Mary Russell series and others. From what I can see, the key ingredient is an enduring literary classic colliding with an unexpected genre.
So two of my favourite things – PD James crime and Pride and Prejudice – should add up to something even more fabulous, right? Unfortunately, I have to report that this theory doesn’t always work. I don’t have any problem with someone playing with a literary classic (in fact, I was quite enthusiastic about the idea) but it seems that adapting someone else’s work is a fraught and troublesome exercise. A balance needs to be struck between being faithful to the original and building upon it, and the modification that will invariably follow from that exercise. To my disappointment, it’s a line that Death Comes To Pemberley seems to fail to walk with any degree of success.
To start with the positive – the short recap of the events of Pride and Prejudice at the start is an unmitigated delight. James does have a few pithy comments to make on the original, such as Elizabeth musing on whether she would have married Darcy if he was not rich. These were the parts of the book that I enjoyed the most.
The plot itself starts out well but quickly descends into implausibility. This wouldn’t be such an issue if the characters themselves weren’t so wooden. James has a fair head start by dealing with characters that readers already know and love, but unfortunately, she has failed to make them her own. At best, they give the impression of actors in a bad movie reading aloud their lines with little conviction. By the end – death for a crime novel – we don’t really care whodunit at all. The court case at the end goes on for far too long and we spend too much time in the head of Darcy, who is so honourable as to be completely uninteresting (I believe the scientific term is “stuffed shirt”). If nothing else, the book proves Austen’s sense in telling the story from Elizabeth’s perspective!  
The Sunday Times quote on the cover describes PD James as “The greatest contemporary writer of classic crime” and it’s hard to argue with that assessment. But ultimately, as James herself admits in her introduction,  mixing a crime story with Ms Austen’s world was always going to be a big ask. Perhaps there’s a fundamental incompatibility or perhaps the problem is that James was simply too respectful of the original and not bold enough. Whatever the cause, it’s hard to deny that Death at Pemberley is one of the less successful examples of the mashup genre.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

BOOK REVIEW: The Bitter Seed of Magic by Suzanne McLeod

I am so tired of sexy vampires. Particularly ones whose entire personality can more or less be summed up as ‘mysterious’. If they are in a rather bland love triangle where the heroine is torn between the good guy and the sexy vampire bad boy, I begin to lose the will to live.

So it’s not good news that The Bitter Seed of Magic by Suzanne McLeod features such a vampire and such a triangle. I picked the book up looking for light entertainment, and it is in fact the third in the serious (I confess, I read books out of order, so sue me – that’s what happens when you’re taking your choice from what’s on the library shelves). But unfortunately, I didn’t find in particularly entertaining, and just now when my eye caught the quote on the cover calling it a “Fresh, unique and urban paranormal fantasy at its best [sic]” I nearly choked on my coffee. Although on second thoughts the lack of grammar and punctuation in that quote is probably something of a giveaway, either as to the quality of the recommending publication or the quality of the editing.

Which brings me to the editing of the book. I accept that writers have tics, in fact we all have writing tics (you may have noticed one of mine is overuse of the em-dash and brackets – probably punctuation overuse in general, actually.) McLeod suffers from the same problem with the em-dash, which I noticed but sympathised with. The one tic that did drive me absolutely bonkers when reading this book was the italics. To give you an idea, I opened it at page 5 and found no less than seven italicised words. One instance is, fair enough, a foreign phrase of two words. The rest? Thought, crack, human, looked and look. Apparently McLeod italicises anything that may have some magical significance, then italicises some more for emphasis. But this is the type of thing that a competent editor is supposed to fix, and I simply cannot understand why no-one addressed this. It made me consider putting the book down a few pages in, although I did eventually get used to it (sort of).

It’s a shame in some ways because sexy vampires and stereotypic character relatonships aside, there is some good world-building here. It’s fundamentally an urban fantasy with strong celtic elements, as well as a few vampires and witches for good measure. The main character, Genevieve, is likable enough, although she does seem to have a disturbing tendency to throw herself into bed with other members of aforesaid love triangle. It seems a little odd, possibly because the sexual tension between them also seems rather forced. I can’t put my finger on exactly why, but perhaps it’s something to do with the fact that McLeod doesn’t provide reasons for Genevieve’s actions other than that the men are, of course, sexy (and supernatural). In fact, the lack of convincing backstory is another conspicuous hole in the plot.

Ah, the plot. Let me just say, I was pretty sure my brain was going to explode out my ears at some point, and not in a good way. I would bet you whatever you like that McLeod is one of those writers who makes things up as she goes along, because the way everyone turns out to be related to everyone else at the end seems implausible to say the least. It rather suggests that having dug herself into a rather deep and complicated hole some fancy footwork was required to get herself out again. And unfortunately, by that point I’d lost track of whom was related to whom and it didn’t all make that much sense anyway.

My verdict? It could have been better, but bad editing has ruined what was in any case a not-very-original book. One for the sexy-vamp-fans only.


Saturday, August 25, 2012

Australian Women Writers' Challenge - update

It doesn’t seem that long ago that I was signing up to the Australian Women Writers’ challenge, although it was way back in January. My full-of-enthusiasm initial post is here. Now that we’re more than three quarters of the way through the year, I thought it would be a good time to review progress (read – work out whether I need to panic).

There have been a few difficulties along the way. It turns out that funnily enough, not many databases allow you to search by gender or even nationality. When you find a book online or in a bookstore, it’s relatively easy to work out if the author is a woman or not, but trying to find if they are Australian often necessitates trying to deduce from the publisher name or searching for clues in the biography.

So how am I tracking against the goal of reading at least ten books by Australian women writers and reviewing four? I’ve listed them below with genre and a potted summary.


·         Sharp Shooter by Marianne Delacourt (urban fantasy – Stephanie Plum gets psychic)

·         The Spare Room by Helen Garner (literary fiction - heartbreaking story of caring for a cancer patient)

·         A Few Right Thinking Men by Sulari Gentill (historical crime – murder amidst the political intrigues of 1930s Sydney)

Read but not (yet) reviewed:

·         Cooking the Books by Kerry Greenwood (crime – Corinna Chapman solves mysteries while cooking & eating fantastic food)

·         On Passion by Dorothy Porter (non-fiction – poetic musings on the nature of passion in its many guises)

·         Nothing but Gold by Robyn Annear (non-fiction – life in the Victorian goldfields of 1852)

Yet to crack the spine:

·         Diving Belles by Lucy Wood

·         A Beautiful Place by Malla Nunn

So in summary…not quite panicking yet but still more work to do! One more review and four more to read.

One other thing worth mentioning is that the Australian Women Writers’ project recently passed the milestone of over 1000 reviews. That’s an absolutely mind-boggling number and a huge credit to Elizabeth Lhuede and team. I’m proud to be part of such a worthwhile project which is really no chore at all, discovering writers I didn’t know before and fantastic books. I've also been really impressed by the sheer diversity of books reviewed, in all genres, new, old, and classic. So a big congratulations to the good ship AWW Challenge and all who sail in her!

Sunday, August 19, 2012

On Book Covers

Book covers are not something that I pay much attention to any more. On my ereader they tend to render in boring black and white, something to be skipped along with the acknowledgements and the content pages. Perhaps I would pay more attention if they popped up whenever I closed the book (like they do with a Kindle) but on the other hand, once the ereader goes into its case there is nothing to see anyway.

Then recently I saw this cover for Gold by Chris Cleave and I went – WOW. It stopped me in my tracks.

What a killer cover. I’m not entirely sure why I find it so arresting, but it must have something to do with the bright colours and simple design. I like it because it’s not too literal – the obvious thing for a book called Gold would be to have a gold cover (der) or because it’s about two Olympic cyclists, a picture of a gold medal, bike, or at least something vaguely sporty. Hell, for all that the cover tells you, it could be a non-fiction history of precious metals. Instead, the cover makes you curious, and you pick up the book to find out what it’s about. 

The really funny thing is that this seems to be the Australian cover only – the UK cover is a rather strange-looking picture of two girls in silhouette.

There’s no way I’d be picking up that book. I’d think it was some kind of regency romance (been there, don’t want to go back). So they have this dynamite Australian cover, and someone apparently decided, no, the annoying literal one which is gold and has a picture of the two main characters is a much better option. That’s publishers for you.
So apart for my obsession with Gold (which I haven’t yet read), what’s to take out of this? Perhaps the book cover is not dead. Perhaps we’ve just got bored with them because, frankly, lots of them are just not very interesting. Perhaps in the future we’ll see a renaissance in book covers, especially as colour ereaders become the norm. What do you think?

And for the pleasure of your eyes, I’ll leave you with this link from Readings showcasing the best covers of 2012. Enjoy!

Saturday, August 11, 2012

AWW BOOK REVIEW: A Few Right Thinking Men by Sulari Gentill

After you’ve closed the cover it can take a few days to pull free of a really fascinating story. You find yourself musing on the plot, the characters and the setting, and daydreaming about it in absent moments. For all my love for the crime genre, this doesn’t usually happen with crime novels – the main reason that they are my preferred weekday read. However, Sulari Gentill’s historical crime novel A Few Right Thinking Men absolutely captured my imagination.

So what was so unusual about this book? First off, there is the setting. I’ve always thought that Australian history was under-utilised as a setting for historical crime novels, and the thirties are probably one of the least-known eras of Australian history. I would have thought that they are a period not exactly ripe with dramatic potential, except that Gentill so clearly proves me wrong. The rising tensions between the communists and early fascists, played out in the context of a squattocracy with conservative leanings and a bohemian fringe with communist sympathies, make for a gripping backdrop. It’s extra fascinating because you can recognise a cultural discourse that still continues today between left and right in this country.

But of course a setting is nothing without a plot and characters, and these are especially key for crime novels. On the point of characters Gentill really excels. The main character, Rowland “Rowly” Sinclair, is a member of a wealthy squatting family, turned artist. He’s rejected the values he grew up with and almost succeeded at becoming a through-and-through bohemian – except that he still feels the tension of trying to fit in with the artists who have come to live in the family manor. His relationship with his family is hardly easier, as he tries to maintain his independence while not irreparably damaging the relationship. A part of him still seems to long for the gracious country lifestyle of his brother Wilfred, although the two brothers disagree on almost everything. When a murder in the family brings politics into the mix, Rowland and Wilfred seem likely to end up on different sides of the brewing conflict.

In terms of plot, this is perhaps not a classical crime novel. While it starts out with a murder, it soon devolves into an examination of the murky politics of the time. The murderer is discovered in the end, but the book avoids the trap of tying up all the loose ends with a too-neat bow.  However, I do wonder if the plot suffers a bit from the paradox Gentill identifies in her comments at the back of the book: “I found I didn’t need to fictionalise the events of the era…the facts were fascinating and ludicrous enough.” The truth may be stranger than fiction, but ironically it is sometimes less believable than pure invention. While the setting was impeccably drawn and Gentill’s historical research meticulous, I think that the book may have benefited if she took more creative licence with the facts. A final confrontation with Campbell, in many ways set up as the villain of the piece, would have given weight to the ending.

The thing I enjoyed most about the book, the thing that kept me thinking about it for days, was that it gave me an insight into Sydney in the thirties that I’ve never had before. You can read a list of facts, even a historical document, but to get that sense of what it was to be there – that idea of how people thought, acted, the politics of the day, the class divisions at work – you need a book like A Few Right Thinking Men. This is where fiction has a huge advantage over non-fiction, yet the best books still manage to educate as well as entertain. The phrase “bringing history to life” is overused to the point of cliché, but this is truly what Gentill manages. It’s a fantastic achievement.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

On literary novels with plots (and fancy words)

It’s always hard to go against the tide of critical acclaim and declare that in your opinion, the emperor has no clothes. Although Chad Harbach’s The Art of Fielding has been generally well-reviewed, on Brian Platzer lays into it in rather devastating fashion. In effect, he accuses it of being a genre wolf dressed up in literary sheep’s clothing, a rather original and interesting accusation with several layers. As I haven't read the book myself I'm not in a position to agree or disagree, but I think it's particularly interesting to unpack some of the layers of that accusation.

First off, of course, I need to make the point that I strongly disagree with Platzer’s disdain for genre novels. As any readers of this blog will know, I have broad reading tastes, and in my opinion, genre authors such as Anne Holt or Donna Leon are at least as talented as more “literary” authors. Further, Platzer’s scorn for page-turning plots probably reflects the fact that he’s never tried to write one – I suspect they are harder than they look.  And honestly, what’s the problem with a literary novel with a plot? It reflects a point of view that I thought long-discredited, that a “worthy” novel can’t possibly be enjoyable to read. Surely there are many authors who have proved that point of view to be wrong. The recent Miles Franklin win by Peter Temple's Truth was a fine example, as are many books by such literary stars as Kate Grenville or Alex Miler. The idea still rears its ugly head occasionally of course, like the controversy over the Booker shortlist afew years ago deemed too “readable,” but I would suggest it’s gradually dying out as the publishing industry realises it needs to cater to readers and not the other way around.

So after completely disagreeing with Platzer on this point I then found myself in the strange position of agreeing with him on another. I’m sure he phrased it better (and I do recommend you go read the article) but in sum, he pointed out that fancy words and literary allusions do not literature make. I wholeheartedly agree. While I wouldn’t touch the hot potato of what can and cannot be deemed “quality literature” (this blog does have a lot of quotation marks, doesn’t it?) I do think that authors sometimes think that the more obscure the vocabulary, the more literary prizes the book is likely to win. Or perhaps that’s unkind; I’m not really suggesting that authors write with literary prizes in mind, rather than they are unconsciously influenced by the way that they think a literary novel is supposed to sound.

My view is the exact opposite. In a really good novel, I think the language should be clear as glass, and a reader should not notice it at all. Stopping to wonder about the meaning of a word or unusual word choice jolts you out of the novel. Looking at the literary novels on my bookshelf, the writers I admire all write simply – if you asked me about the way they wrote, I wouldn’t be able to tell you about anything except the story. Siri Hustvedt, Alex Miller, Salman Rushdie and Helen Garner have all written prize-winning novels without needing fancy words, and their work is  somehow the more powerful for its simplicity.

One final thought – for all that I disagree with many of his points, Platzer did a fine job of writing a well-supported, thoughtful negative review of The Art of Fielding, a topic I discussed on this blog recently. Most importantly, it gave me a good idea of whether I would or wouldn’t like the book (a definite no – any book that uses the word “synecdoche” during a sex scene will definitely be struck off my reading list). As a review, there is much to admire in the article. And having ended up reviewing a review I had better finish on that particularly meta note.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

BOOK REVIEW: I Don’t Know How She Does it by Allison Pearson

There are plenty of “should”’s in the so-called Mommy Wars, as well as plenty of “can” and “can’t”. Women can have it all. Women can’t have it all, or they can but not at the same time. Women should demand equality. Women should accept reality and take a lesser position while their children are small. No wonder your head starts to spin as soon as you get to a certain age and contemplate the effect that having a family might have upon your career.
Before you run away and hide under your doona I should point out that I don’t have any of the answers, and I don’t claim to. Many of these arguments have merit and ultimately women will make choices based on their own career and family circumstances. That’s why I appreciate contributions to the debate which don’t contain “should”, “can” or “can’t”, but really say “Here’s how I dealt with it, maybe it might be helpful to you in the future.” Anne-Marie Slaughter’s recent (and controversial) article in The Atlantic fell into this category (despite the deceptive title). I would put Allison Pearson’s I don’t know how she does it in the same category.
It’s old news now, but the book was certainly controversial when it was published in 2002. In my view, that’s due to Pearson’s effort to portray honestly the struggles that women face. It may be fiction, but it’s fiction pretty clearly based on fact and as we all know, the truth can be shocking. Even those of us without children will recognise elements of Kate’s high-stress workplace, and the difficulty of carving out time for family. We might hear an uncomfortable echo in Kate’s efforts to explain to her husband how she really couldn’t refuse to take on extra work, and her frustration at his failure to keep things running smoothly at home.
Of course, there are elements of humour as well. The book opens with Kate “distressing” shop-bought mince pies so that they look suitably home-made. Pearson writes with a light touch and a good dollop of absurdity – which is even more funny because it’s generally only just beyond too-close-to-home.  Take for example her thoughts on being late: “It is possible to get away with being late in the City. The key thing is to offer what my lawyer friend Debra calls a Man’s Excuse. Senior managers who would be frankly appalled by the story of a vomiting nocturnal baby or an AWOL nanny… are happy to accept anything to do with the internal combustion engine” (that is, the car broke down).  The dinner party with the arty childless friends is also gold.
If you don’t like Kate’s tart voice or have no interest in the predicament of working mothers, you probably won’t enjoy this book. On the other hand, if you are (or might someday become) one of those working mothers, you’ll find a lot to like and a lot to laugh at. Most of all, I enjoyed that this was a book that dealt honestly with the difficulties involved in balancing work and family life without trying to provide answers. It’s definitely not a self-help book, although it’s perhaps not entirely fiction either – really, this is a book which broke out from the crowd and created its own genre. I hope one day it will be a valuable historical document of the struggles which women used to face (and face no more) but in the meantime, it’s worth reading for the guilty laughs if nothing else.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Holiday reading

I had the best of intentions, truly. I was going to get ahead of schedule and write some blogs to be posted while I was away soaking up the sun. But funnily enough, things didn't quite work out like that in the mad last minutes before heading off. I have similar good intentions of posting while away (if my patience holds out while pecking letters on a tablet keyboard) but I recognise this may be somewhat optimistic. So instead, I will post my holiday reading list. Hopefully, this has the double benefit of making you salivate while imagining all the juicy reviews to come, while simultaneously obliging me to actually write said reviews. You'll notice it is an interesting combination of high brow (which I really only have the energy to tackle on holidays) and low brow (because they are called 'airplane novels' for a reason).
So far I have made my way through:
Tiziano Terzani, Goodnight Mister Lenin - fascinating book about the effect of the fall of the Soviet Union from a writer who deserves to be better known
Helen Garner, The Spare Room - absolutely stunning, why did no one tell me how brilliant this book is before now?
Allison Pearson, I don't know how she does it - Food for thought, if somewhat depressing for a woman of my age.
Kerry Greenwood, Cooking the Books - Always fun spending a couple of hours with Corinna Chapman (though probably not advisable when hungry)
I am also planning to revisit a few old friends, like Pride and Prejudice and The Road to Coorain. Not to mention the $180 worth of ebooks waiting for attention on my ereader (yes, there was a small online shopping spree at before I left). In summary, I'm hoping to catch up on enough reading to keep the blog turning over for a while!

Friday, July 20, 2012

AWW Book Review: The Spare Room by Helen Garner

For anyone who has had a loved one die of cancer, Helen Garner's The Spare Room is likely to be a painful read. Without knowing the background, I would guess that Garner must have witnessed the difficulties of dealing with a terminally ill person at first hand to have captured such a level of excruciating detail. This book is one of the few I have read which rings absolutely true, crisp and clear in every detail without unnecessary flourishes. Despite the weighty subject matter, it reads easily and it's only at the end that you realise what a small and perfect miracle of a book this is. Garner is truly a master of her craft.

The premise of the book is simple. Helen's friend Nicola, in the final stages of cancer, comes down from Sydney to stay in her spare room while receiving treatment. As so many do, Nicola pins her hopes on alternative therapies and refuses to admit that she is dying. Helen's desire to help her friend is gradually worn down by Nicola's desperate neediness. It's a dilemma familiar to anyone with a seriously ill family member or friend - how to cope when your own needs conflict with the needs of the ill person, and how to deal with the guilt of taking time for yourself.

There's little I can say about this gem of a book, no criticism or suggested improvements. In my view it's a modern classic and deserves to be better known. I do believe that seeing your experience depicted in fiction can be healing and it says something about the quality of this book that I would recommend it to those who have dealt with a terminally ill friend or family member. Perhaps not at the time, or immediately afterwards, but down the track when wounds are not so fresh it can be immensely comforting to know you are not alone. In the end, all any of us can do is our best, even if we tend to expect more of ourselves. This is the heart of the story told so quietly and powerfully in this stunning book.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

On negative reviews

This post was kicked off by something Neil Gaiman had written on his Tumblr site. He kindly made it rebloggable so I am posting it here in full:
 I think authors are allowed to point out errors of fact in a negative review, if they really have to and it’s important to them (errors of the “I understand that the reviewer feels this is the worst account she’s ever read of the Thirty Years’ War of 1618–1648. I would like to point out that one reason for this is that my novel is actually set during the Hundred Years’ War, which occurred from 1337 to 1453…” variety.) And otherwise we should swear loudly to ourselves, probably startling our cats, then we should keep our mouths shut, and go and write other things.

Because I think it’s a good thing that people don’t like everything we do.

I mean that.

I do not write books that everyone will like. Human beings like different things. If human beings did not like different things — if there was unanimity of opinion on what was good and what was bad, what books were enjoyable and what weren’t, then the odds are that I would starve. My books and stories are not to everyone’s taste, which is why I am so pleased that all people do not share the same taste.

Some people like what I do. Some people don’t. The ones who like what I do are the ones who keep me fed, and to them I am grateful; and the ones who do not, well, fair enough. There is no letter that I could write to a website, nothing I can ever say that would make someone like a book that they do not like.

(Occasionally time can do that, and experience, and life, and people will come to me and tell me how much better American Gods got during the ten years between them reading it at sixteen and at twenty-six. But that’s a different thing entirely.)

Opinions are true. But they are only opinions. Once you’ve written a book, it belongs to everyone, and they are all allowed to have opinions, and the spectrum of opinions is the spectrum of humanity.
Sometimes I write things I am not satisfied with, and every now and then I run into people who think that thing I did that I didn’t like was the best thing in the world. I feel more uncomfortable around them than I ever do reading a scathing review.
This kicked off some thoughts of my own about this blog, and what I am trying to do with it. Because while, like everyone else, I had a chuckle at the 'Hatchet Job of the Year' award, I'm still on one level deeply uncomfortable with something that could be read as unjustified vitriol in any other context. Perhaps it's my training as a lawyer, but I try to keep things professional (even thought I am not, in fact, a professional book reviewer).

So how do I manage books that I don't like on this blog? In three ways.

1. Don't review them.

This goes back to the principle of, "if you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all." Most of the time, if I can't say anything interesting, or constructive, or in fact anything positive at all about a book, I won't review it here.

2. Make sure criticism is justified

Criticism needs to be supported, usually by examples. In addition, it's helpful to the reader, because it gives them an idea of whether they are likely to agree. If i say "I hated this book," the reader is left in the dark as to why. If I say "I hated this book because the characters were flat, the plot dreary and the whole thing morally dubious" it at least gives them some clue. If I am able to say "I hated this book because the characters ranged from dumb blonde to stereotypical soccer mum, nothing happened in the first 100 pages and the characters never left their apartment," even better.

3. What would I say if I met the author in person?

This is the "don't say behind someone's back what you wouldn't say to their face" principle. Given the nature of the internet, it's entirely possible that someone will end up coming across a review of their book - if not now, then years down the track. In general, I tend to have more sympathy for writers who have obviously done their best, even if the results have some flaws (see, for example, my review of Sharp Shooter by Marianne Delacourt). I reserve my sharpest criticism for those who should know better, like Annie Proulx with Bird Cloud). And yes, that was a very critical review, but believe me, I agonised over whether I should go that far. I tried to imagine other readers' who might enjoy the book and couldn't. I finally decided that I was happy to stand behind the statements I made in that review.

All of the above notwithstanding, the biggest laugh I've had this year came from this review of Fifty Shades of Grey. I was laughing so hard I had tears in my eyes, and other people in the office were looking at me very oddly. If you haven't yet - go read it.

In summary? Try to not let the anonymity of the internet lead you to say things you wouldn't say in other contexts. Be nice. And if you have to go for the hatchet job, be sure they really deserve it!

Monday, June 11, 2012

BOOK REVIEW: Damsel in Distress by Carola Dunn

Damsel in Distress can be summed up in four words as, “Famous Five Grow Up.” Apart from the fact that there aren’t actually five of them and the growing up seems to happen in some respects but not others, those who fondly remember Blyton’s jolly adventures are likely to find Dunn’s novel right up their alley. I can’t say that I count myself in their number. Much as I would like to enter into the spirit of the thing, I can’t help harbouring suspicions of anyone who can use the word “spiffing” apparently without irony.

The plot could come straight from Blyton, if you add twenty years or so to the main characters’ ages. Phillip, Daisy’s likeable but somewhat dimwitted pal, falls for an equally likeable but equally dimwitted American heiress. The heiress is kidnapped in mysterious circumstances. Phillip calls his investigator friend Daisy for help and together with a further bunch of pals, they scour the surrounding countryside with the idea of rescuing the damsel in distress. It’s probably not giving too much away to suggest that the result is a daring rescue and just desserts all round.

You may at this point have some inkling of why I referred to growing up in some respects but not others. There are token nods to class issues, as well allusions to the fact that some of the characters may, at some point, but let’s not dwell on this for the sake of delicacy, be having sex. However, the sheer improbability of the plot is hard to overlook. Somehow, I was left with the impression that Dunn just adores these characters so much that she can think of nothing better than a thin device to have them all together having jolly good fun solving a mystery in the English countryside.

 I wonder if the fact that Dunn appears to be American has anything to do with her frothy view of English rural life – as Agatha Christie could tell you, there are plenty of dark secrets behind the bucolic idyll.  But comparing Daisy Dalrymple to Miss Marple is like comparing Edward Cullen to Dracula. If it came to a fight, I know who I’d be backing.

There’s nothing wrong with a light read, and perhaps it’s simply that Damsel in Distress is not my preferred form of escapism (for the record, I always preferred Mr Galliano’s Circus to the Famous Five and would have happily given up both for a new Swallows and Amazons novel). Others may find it more plausible, and the characters more likeable, and be less inclined to laugh at the (no doubt historically accurate) vocabulary (but seriously, are there people out there who can read “oh right ho, pip-pip” without at least suppressing a smile?). I might as well go with the theme and use a very English metaphor - it’s just not my cup of tea.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

BOOK REVIEW: The Happiest Refugee by Anh Do

You might think that a memoir of persecution in Vietnam, of desperate flight on a leaky boat and a struggle to build a new life in Australia, is hardly laughing material. The Happiest Refugee would prove you wrong. Not only did Anh Do and his family live through those harrowing experiences, but he grew up to be a comedian.

One of the most unique things about The Happiest Refugee is the style of the writing. It gave me the eerie sensation that I wasn’t reading a book at all, but rather listening to Anh Do tell the story, or perhaps  watching him on stage. In fact, to some extent the whole book feels like an extended version of a comedy routine, often digressing from the story to cover some incidental event and leading up to a punchline. You get the impression that making jokes is so much a reflex, Do can’t help himself. There are no poetic descriptions of the shadows of leaves on water here, no more than you would hear them down the local pub – Do gives it to us direct. I found this distinctive voice to be one of the strengths of the book, although some may find it an uncomfortable reading experience.

The events covered in the book are in any case dramatic enough without needing further ornamentation. His family’s escape from Vietnam, the attacks by pirates on their boat and the difficulties of adjusting to a new country provide plenty of material. In addition, Do provides the book with a strong emotional core by delving into his relationship with his father, one that is conflicted at the best of times. His journey from hero-worship of his father, to effectively throwing him out of the house as a teenager, to a reconciliation many years later, binds the book together and Do’s honesty is impressive. It must have been tempting to avoid writing about issues that are clearly still sensitive but Do holds little back.

Because of its simple style, The Happiest Refugee is likely to appeal to reluctant readers as well as fan’s of Do’s comedy. I have the feeling that male readers may enjoy it more than female (who may prefer Alice Pung’s Unpolished Gem which deals with similar territory) but the awards it has won show that it also has wide appeal. Do should be congratulated for a dramatic tale told simply and well, and in a distinctive voice that is all his own.

Friday, April 6, 2012

BOOK REVIEW: Christmas in the Country by Carola Dunn

It happened quite by mistake, while I was searching for a historical mystery recommended in The Age newspaper a few weeks ago. I rather like novellas so when I saw that the author had written a Christmas-themed book consisting of two novellas I thought it would be a good introduction to her work. Like a plum pudding or a hot cross bun, a Christmas-themed mystery goes down well at any time of year.
Unfortunately, I must have taken a wrong turning at some point, and rather like Alice through the looking glass or the children tumbling through the back of the wardrobe, I found myself in a strange and mysterious place. I found myself reading a Regency Romance.
Rather like a tourist in a strange country, I was quite charmed and delighted by the strangeness of it all. Look, the heroine’s father is a country squire! They are going to a ball! She’s wearing a fur muff! In fact, starting with the muff, there was an entire new vocabulary to learn, most of it consisting of various terms for clothing. I have no idea what a “striped lutestring” or “peach sarsnet” are, except that the heroine was considering wearing them, before she decided on the “deep-rose velvet carriage dress, trimmed with black satin” and accompanied by a “Parisian bonnet of black velvet lined with rose sarsnet and embellished with a wreath of roses about the crown.” As you can no doubt guess by now, it appears that the world of regency romances (at least in terms of their readers) are a firmly male-free zone. The repeated descriptions of clothing might have been enough to send me to sleep, if I hadn’t had so much entertainment trying to figure out what the words actually meant and whether sarsnet was actually a kind of net or not.
The other characteristic of the regency romance (from my highly scientific venture into the genre) appears to be the obsession of the female characters with a state known as “being compromised.” As you can tell from the passive construction, this is a dreadful fate that happens to women at the hands of handsome rapscallion types. It apparently represents a kind of social death. Unfortunately, it also appears to be rather difficult to avoid, as simply being alone with a man in a secluded setting could qualify. Therefore, the characters are generally doomed to cast lustful glances at each other from afar, or restrain themselves to polite conversation about the weather. That is, until some crisis precipitates them into each others’ arms and they begin planning the wedding.
As you may have gathered by now, I found the whole thing rather hilarious. I am clearly not qualified to make any comments on the quality of the books in general – Dunn’s works may be fine examples of the genre or otherwise. I could make some comments about how the fetishisation of this period in history with its impossible restrictions on women’s lives represents a worrying trend, but in order to do that I’d have to take the whole thing seriously. I can’t quite seem to manage that feat. If this rings people’s bells, I wish them good luck with their genuine Valenciennes lace and Yule logs. One visit to the land of regency romance has been more than enough for me.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

BOOK REVIEW: The Anti-Social Behaviour of Horace Rumpole by John Mortimer

The iconic characters of fiction tend to wear their years lightly, remaining the same even as the world around them moves with the times. I’ve just been paying a visit to one such old friend in the pork-pie-munching, Chateau-Thames-Embankment-swilling shape of Horace Rumpole. The old warhorse of the bar has been forced to confront some of the modern realities of life in The Anti-Social Behaviour of Horace Rumpole, but he continues to treat life with the same sort of stoic grumpiness that  distinguished his earlier episodes. And of course, the same irritants are there to play their usual part – the mad judges on a power trip, the syncophantic members of his chambers, and the well-worn relationship with his wife, Hilda.

As a barrister, John Mortimer had a detailed knowledge of the workings of the Criminal Bar and the book will not cause any of the lawyers among us to flinch. In fact, criminal barristers may even recognise themselves and their colleagues in the sharply-drawn cast that surrounds Rumpole ( I am fairly sure Horace Rumpole is unique). Mortimer also has a fine turn of phrase, accompanied by a sly wit. My favourite: “I was seated alone in my favourite corner of Pommeroy’s Wine Bar, sharing a bottle of Chateau Thames Embankment with myself.”
The Rumpole series is never going to keep you on the edge of your seat, or make you re-evaluate our existence. It features no blood or sex and little that is sensational. Still, if you are looking for well-written, well-plotted crime fiction, featuring one of the great characters of recent years, you could do far worse.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

AWW BOOK REVIEW: Sharp Shooter by Marianne Delacourt

 Cover lines which refer to bestsellers are a risky strategy, creating expectations which the novel itself may find hard to meet. Marianne Delacourt's Sharp Shooter raised my eyebrows with the cover line 'Introducing Tara Sharp, a new, kick -arse crime fighter for fans of JANET EVANOVICH.' (yes, capitals in the original). It's a bold move to refer to the woman who basically invented the kooky-crime-romance genre, although I presume the marketing department is to blame rather than the author. Unfortunately, while Sharp Shooter is a competent light-crime novel, it suffers in the comparison.

One area where Evanovich is particularly strong is keeping up the pace. In contrast, Delacourt introduces all her characters at a leisurely speed and with little urgency before the story actually begins. It’s not until page 39 and Chapter 7 when fledgling 'paralanguage agent' Sharp is hired by a dodgy lawyer with mafia connections that things start to get interesting. The first six chapters consist of background and introduction and if I hadn't been reading with a view to writing a review, I would have been tempted to put the book aside. In particular, I didn’t find Sharp engaging as a character in these early chapters. There was a great deal of what I thought was rather laboured slapstick (for example, I found the episode where she spills her drink on a potential client painfully unfunny.) Still, sense of humour is a personal thing and other readers may not have the same reaction.

Once the story gets going the book improves markedly and I liked the fact that it is set in Perth, obviously a city that Delacourt knows well. I think she also succeeded in maintaining a genuine Australian tone throughout, avoiding the risk of transplanting an essentially American story. The love interest is plausible and Tara Sharp also becomes more likable as the story progresses. Some of the more annoying minor characters fade out of view (the wise teacher speaking in broken english is one I particularly wanted to strangle).

One other aspect of the book that seemed rather underdone was the supernatural element. Sharp's ability to read auras is certainly an original plot device, but seems to me to be rather useless. As far as the story goes, an experienced reader of body language would end up with exactly the same information, and we hardly need descriptions of their auras to work out who are the bad guys. Instead, the aura reading becomes something of a sideshow, an alternative method of describing a character (eg. “Grassy green aura” instead of “tall with blue eyes”). It also makes the comparison with Janet Evanovich even more puzzling – while her new series does include a supernatural element, her hit Stephanie Plum series does not.  

Still, even taking the above into account, I did think it was competent and relatively entertaining, with a number of good points. It’s possible than fans of Janet Evanovich will like this book, if they are looking for something in a similar genre. I do think it could have done with some further thinking and editing, but then I’ve thought that about the last few Janet Evanovich books as well. I think it’s unfortunate that that cover line created such high expectations, because read on its own merits this is a competent and enjoyable Australian contribution to the light-crime-paranormal genre.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

BOOK REVIEW: Fear Not by Anne Holt

Some books don’t just have a theme, they have a Theme. In such books, subtlety is not usually a strong point. Neither is character, as all become slaves to the author’s desire to explore (god forbid) a Burning Issue Of Our Times.
Other, much rarer books, fall into a different category. You close the covers and muse on the contents. After a while, a connection between characters suggests itself, then another. You realise there is a pattern of sorts, a common thread. Yet the book seems so perfect, so the characters so convincing, you can’t quite comprehend that the author might have started with a theme in mind. Surely, it must be some sort of coincidence.
I am happy to report that Anne Holt’s Fear Not fell into the second category. The most obvious theme is that of gay relationships. A series of murders appear unconnected, until it becomes obvious that the victims were gay or advocates of gay marriage. So far, so simple. It’s the deeper theme that raises this far above the standard crime novel. That theme is long-term relationships, or the ways in which people adapt to that period when romance seems a distant memory and in its place, the  everyday chore of adapting your needs to another being. Gay relationships or straight, Holt explores the various facets of love and the ways in which relationships survive or fail in periods of stress.
I have to admit, I was initially unconvinced by the multiple-viewpoints of the story. Compared to the striking 1222 (which I previously raved about here) it seemed diffuse, harder to understand the story and to find a way in. Yet by the end, I would compare this book favourably with the other. While 1222 was a superb thriller/mystery , Holt’s ambitions here seem to be wider, and the book is richer as a result. Like certain of the Donna Leon novels, she uses the crime as a vehicle for exploring an aspect of society, while never losing the narrative drive.
Anne Holt is rapidly progressing up the list of my favourite writers. Beautifully written and acutely observed, her novels are distinctly Scandinavian but also universal. Mystery or thriller fans of all stripes – or just anyone who appreciates a good story – will find much to enjoy in Fear Not.

Monday, February 13, 2012

BOOK REVIEW: Last Chance to Eat by Gina Mallet

It was the pomegranate on the cover that drew me in. I’d recently tried these slightly sour, jewelled fruits for the first time, and the title Last chance to eat – the fate of taste in a fast food world suggested that there would be more of these treasures within the covers. I wasn’t disappointed. Before reaching the end I’d encountered devilled kidneys, clotted cream and Thames Mud (chocolate mousse) – thankfully, not all in the same dish.

It’s difficult to describe what genre Last Chance to Eat falls into. It’s about as far removed from the glossy cookbook food-porn as the dishes it describes are from trendy molecular gastronomy. While it does contain recipes, they are provided more as an illustration of the author’s nostalgia than anything else. Gina Mallet was blessed with a childhood rich in food experiences and an interestingly eccentric family, and the book weaves tales of both around a broader narrative of the role of food in our society. The book is certainly entertaining and easy to read, written in an almost journalistic style with plenty of headings and subheadings.

Yet despite the fact that I enjoyed the book, I felt somewhat ambivalent upon turning the final page. For me, one key element was missing , and that was any discussion of potential solutions to the problems that Mallet describes. The entire book centers around the problem  that food has become industrialised, that we have lost our eye for quality produce, that we have taxed the earth until it no longer produces the bounty that it once did. Clearly, this is a problem and Mallet is correct to call it out. However, I don’t know what she thinks we should do about it. It seems odd that having spent so much time thinking about and researching this book, her few comments on the way forward seem to be throwaway lines, not properly thought through.

In the end, I think I’d categorise this book in “Nostalgia.” It’s not that Mallet doesn’t have scientific backing for her claims. In fact, she’s done an admirable job of summarising all the evidence and translating it into a readable form. Still, it feels to me like only half a book. I admit that it’s a big problem and I truly don’t expect someone to come up with all the answers – but Mallet’s failure to try means that the book only looks backwards, never forwards. Unfortunately, the constant refrain of “things were better then,” leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Welcome to 2012 and Australian Women Writers 2012 Challenge

Sorry for the lapse in blogging recently – next time my life turns into utter chaos, I’ll try to schedule some blog posts in advance. Then again, it’s probably one of those things you can’t plan and should stop trying. At any rate, I have been reading over the break and I have plenty of new books I can’t wait to blog about.
First up, I want to announce that I’m joining the 2012 Australian Women Writers Challenge. Partly because, like most of us, I have a vaguely guilty feeling that I don’t read enough Australian fiction. Also because, I’m a sheep at heart and I love being part of a great big (and growing) group! I’m going for the Franklin-fantastic (read 10 and review 4 books) but I’ll probably try and review all 10, because I’m also going to try to stick to my roughly one blog a week, and that’s a lot of reading to do!
I’m going to focus on genre primarily, probably mostly crime. I already have a few books on my list – the latest by the divine Kerry Greenwood, Death and the Spanish Lady by Carolyn Moorwood, which I saw reviewed and looks interesting.  Otherwise, I’ll be seeing how I go. Some of it is going to depend on which books I can download as an ePub, so if the message hasn’t got through by now PUBLISHERS PLEASE MAKE YOUR BOOKS AVAILABLE IN EPUB!!
Apart from that, I have a new obsession with Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe series, I’ll probably write a long love letter to Barbara Hambly and I may even tackle some of those free classics sitting on my ereader. It’s going to be a good year! Hope you can join me.