Top Five Halloween Reads.

As much as I don’t really celebrate Halloween here in Australia (apart from perhaps watching The Rocky Horror Picture Show, lets be honest, I’ll take any excuse) I thought it might be a bit of fun to pick out five of my favourite creepy reads to share with you all. The only problem will be choosing which one to pick up to read? Also open to suggestions…hint, hint. Would love to hear your favourite Halloween reads in the comments below!

 

First up is perhaps my favourite creepy read of all The Shadow of The Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon. This novel is gothic fiction set in Spain around the civil war and involves our hero of the novel, Daniel, being introduced by his father to the Cemetery of Forgotten Books where he must choose one book to take and protect. His choice , written by author Julian Carax turns out to be an endangered species with a mysterious figure destroying all copies of Carax’s novels in existence. This book is haunting, immersing you within the story and the characters and I guarantee you, you will not see the twist coming. Definitely worth picking up – Halloween or not.

 

My next pick is a short and sweet novella by author David Mitchell. Slade House is a horror story set in the same realm as his novel, The Bone Clocks. The iron door in Slade Alley opens once every nine years. Those who are invited in are never seen again. The novella spans five decades, following Slade House and its occupants over the years. A great little read I would highly recommend, followed by The Bone Clocks of course as it is a nice introduction into Mitchell’s work. I recently listened to this on audiobook too and very much enjoyed the visualisation.

 

One could not write this list without including a Gillian Flynn novel and Sharp Objects is my pick. While Gone Girl will forever be my first and favourite read, Sharp Objects, weaves an incredibly creepy and memorable story. The characters are great and are given such great range. I enjoyed the twist in the ending and found myself immersed in Flynn’s work once again.

 

A recent read The Passage by Justin Cronin ticks all the boxes. Apocalyptic end of the world: check, vampires: check, plenty of horror and gore: check. I recently began this trilogy and can’t wait to conclude it. To say this story is simply a horror post-apocalyptic vampire story does not do it justice. This story is much more with complex, rich characters and intricate storylines touching on some important themes. Another one I would highly recommend Halloween or no, just be prepared for an epic read as all three books are mammoth.

 

Last on the list is a book I read years ago and barely remember myself (perhaps the answer to which book I should read?) is The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides. Most of us will have either read this story or watched the movies at some point, but for those of you who haven’t experienced either this novel centres around the five Lisborn sisters. Girls locked away by their mother and the story told from the boys entranced by them. Haunting and macabre with the ending this book will draw you in.

 

Tell me what you think of my list. How would you change it? What am I missing? Most of all have a great Halloween!

 

Processed with VSCO with hb2 preset

Advertisements

Meet The Author: Hannah Kent

A few Friday nights ago I was lucky enough to attend one of Hannah Kent’s stops on her book tour for The Good People. Her first novel, Burial Rites, was a huge success and in my opinion, an incredibly enjoyable read. Her second novel, The Good People, is no exception, in fact I may slightly prefer it. With Adelaide being her hometown I was especially excited to hear her speak and gain some insights that she had to share with us. Here are ten thoughts I had during the night:

 

  1. Wow, Hannah is an incredibly eloquent speaker, such a pleasure to listen too.
  2. She seems really lovely too, I may have a bit of a girl crush.
  3. Listening to her speak about her researching process is fascinating. It is clear from her notes and acknowledgements that there was quite a large amount of research conducted to write the stories but hearing to hear her speak of it is another thing. Months and months of research into every aspect of life back in those days. What clothes were made of, what they ate, all the legends behind the fairy stories. I could go on forever but this dedication to the background research shows in the way the book reads and how immersed you become in the story. So much attention to detail, the story almost tells itself. I absolutely love her way of completely transporting you to another time and place.
  4. How Hannah found this story was fascinating! While researching Burial Rites the newspaper from Iceland had a very small article mentioning the story of Nance Roache back in Ireland. Just a few lines was enough to capture her attention and to set in motion this incredible second novel. It is amazing how chance can work like that!? Especially to read it now as a fully developed concept.
  5. I just love her dedication to truth in her story. That Hannah was in Ireland sitting there, trawling through old newspapers from back in the day just to find out more information is impressive. What impresses me is that her novels tell the story as truthfully as possible, only adding embellishments and colour where her research fails her. The Good People is much more based in fiction than Burial Rites, purely as there was only a small news article to go by.
  6. Hannah has mentioned a few times her childhood reading included a lot of Enid Blyton’s work. Her stories were a huge part of my childhood too and I can still remember the hours spent reading The Folk of the Faraway Tree and The Wishing Chair. I can see how these childhood loves helped draw her attention to a society steeped in superstition surrounding Folklore to create the adult version of a fairy story.
  7. Question time with Hannah. Okay, I want to ask if she has her next story ready to go yet. Is it too lame to ask that?
  8. Yessssss, someone else asked. Six or seven different ideas for the future. I’m intrigued already. Bring on the next one!
  9. What made my night: an audience member asked her if she believed in fairies. Her answer: she doesn’t not believe in fairies. I love this answer! There are too many unexplained occurrences in this world to not believe in the occult or to put people down that have different beliefs. I may be a person of science but I can’t begin to explain everything in the world and I love the openness and the willingness to admit that cannot explain it all.
  10. Well, that was a lovely night, topped off by having my book signed. Is it wine and cheese time yet? (Spoiler alert: it was, and it was delicious!).

 

Processed with VSCO with hb2 preset

Wine Wednesday 26/10/16

Wine Wednesday comes around again all too quickly. Not that I’m complaining, what better way to brighten hump day than with a glass of wine and a great book? Probably a glass of wine, great book and some cheese but sadly, no cheese today. Now I know you are dying to know what wine we have to look forward to today. What I have for you is a bottle of 2014 Cracklin Rosey Rose from Bendbrook Wines in the Adelaide Hills. Bendbrook is a boutique winery growing vineyards outside of Macclesfield. What sets boutique wineries apart from larger commercial ones is that their wines are truly unique reflecting the weather and growing patterns of each year. Commercial wineries keep control juice, which they keep each year to keep a continuity of taste in their wines year after year. Boutique wineries, like Bendbrook, use grapes only grown from that season creating a different wine each year. The Crackling Rosey is grown from shiraz grapes found in a hidden valley that don’t ripen with the others, so are instead picked early to make rose.

 

Such a unique wine and what to pair it with? Well only a unique book from one of my favourite authors, Sara Gruen. When the name Rosey comes to mind there is only one I picture in my head and she is large, wrinkly and grey. Water For Elephants is the story of Jacob, who after a personal tragedy comes to work as a vet for a circus back in the 1920’s. He develops an unlikely friendship with Rosie, an elephant acquired by the circus. This book is powerful and will touch your soul. I only recently reread it and was reminded of the story envelops you into the harsh world of circuses back during prohibition. This story is unlike others you will read and I definitely recommend it over the movie for the extra depth to the story and the peripheral characters.

 

Crack open a bottle of Cracklin Rosey while cuddled up on the couch with this unforgettable book. Alternatively, if you are in the region, pack up your copy and take a drive into the Adelaide Hills up to Hahndorf. Visit the Bendbrook cellar door up on the main street. The quaint cellar door is run by the owner, lovely friendly people you can sit and have a great chat with. Of course pick up a bottle of your favourite. I do recommend the Crackling Rosey, a nice crisp rose that isn’t overly sweet and is a little too easy to drink. Read your book over a glass of wine there or visit any number of the beautiful cafes, pubs, restaurants in the Hahndorf area. Bonus points if you head up in Autumn when the days are crisp and the streets filled with leaves.

 

Do you have any idea how much an elephant drinks?

 

Processed with VSCO with hb2 preset

Skylarking – Kate Mildenhall

Just to add to the theme of reading books based on real events, particularly following Hannah Kent’s The Good People, comes Skylarking. This is very loosely based on an event the author stumbled across while camping on the east coast of Australia. Skylarking follows the story of best friends Kaye and Harriet. The girls are living in Australia in the 1880’s, daughters of lighthouse keepers living in a small community. The story follows the growth of their friendship over the years with the girls sharing everything. Eventually Harriet, two years Kate’s senior, starts to leave her behind complicating their relationship until finally one moment changes their lives forever.

 

I found this an incredibly easy and enjoyable read, finishing it in only a day. The story sucked me in from he beginning. I have always loved lighthouses and the rugged Australian coastline so found the setting incredibly romantic and interesting. The thought of living in a time when it was so undiscovered and wild is so intriguing to myself and I just fell in love with the setting. Mildenhall describes this time and place beautifully down to the depiction of the complex relationship with the indigenous Australians, who were at the time treated so abhorrently.

 

What perhaps kept me so immersed in the story was the character of Kate and her intricate relationship with Harriet. I found her character so relatable even in present times. Who hasn’t felt like the didn’t quite measure up to someone else in their life? As if this other person (friend, sister, cousin) was the most perfect, beautiful, charming, captivating soul that you could never compete with. The feelings of inadequacy, of envy, of jealousy. But then the conflicting feelings of love, admirations, even captivation yourself that you hold for that person. This novel plays upon those feelings that we have all experienced. That continual battle of love and hate with someone and how each of those emotions can escape and shape your actions at different times. I found this feeling, this accurate portrayal intriguing and found myself connected to their relationship.

 

Mildenhall employs the use of one defining event, that is a mystery to the reader to keep the pace of the plot. References to this event and how it changed everything are made throughout the novel keeping the reader interested. You start to formulate your own hypotheses about what happens and as simple as the outcome is I had completely different ideas of where the story might go. As much as this plot device is obvious I found it worked and I was curious to see what happened to our characters.

 

Overall I found this book a very enjoyable read. The relationship of Kate and Harriet was fascinating but the other supporting characters were just as interesting. Some were mysterious and you wanted to know more and some were also just as relatable, seeing a little of yourself in them. I do recommend this read for something easy and light but so very consuming. I give Skylarking three fish of the sea, an important part of their life.

 

Processed with VSCO with hb2 preset

Wine Wednesday 19/10/16

Wine Wednesday. My favourite day of the week is here again. Have you got your glass ready? White, red, sparkling, whatever floats your boat. I sure do. This week I’m taking a one I stumbled across by chance. One day driving home from visiting my family in the country I decided to have an adventure. The first part of this adventure was stopping of n a national park in a place called Alligator Gorge. I wandered about in the gorge, which was particularly green and wet at the time of year which was late winter. It was a morning of beautiful solitude. I continued on to the second half of my adventure, solo wine tasting in the Clare Valley. Stopping at an adorable little bakery for lunch (and amazing thai chicken pie, if you are at all interested) I also discovered they had a cellar door. Their cellar door served a purpose of stocking wines from smaller wineries in the area that did not have their own cellar door. They had their own set of rules though: the wineries had to be family owned and run, owners who are involved in the winemaking process. I fell in love with a bottle of 2012 Volunteer Cabernet Sauvignon from Bundaleer Wines. I know, just for something different, another Cab Sav. Bundaleer Wines is located in the Southern Flinders Ranges in South Australia, well in the bush you might say. This particular wine is named for volunteers that helped fight a bushfire raging in the vicinity in January 2013. The volunteers helped fight the fire threatening their vineyard and in thanks named this wine in honour of their hardwork.

 

The book I have chosen to pair with this incredibly smooth and drinkable red has many parallels with the story of the wine itself. The Dressmaker by Rosalie Ham is a hilarious and touching story of Tilly Dunnage, who returns to the small town she was exiled from as a child to look after her crazy mother. Both this story and the wine are set in rural Australia. Bush life is beautiful and harsh and there are plenty of interesting characters to be found. In fact you will find more than enough within the pages of the Dressmaker. Another parallel that is defining in both the winery and the book is the threat of fires. Two immense fires have burned in both of these. Luckily for my sake, the vineyard was saved and I have this delicious wine to drink and as for the fate of Dungatar in the Dressmaker, well I’ll let you find that out for yourself when you read the book. Plus this wine is super smooth for a Cab Sav, much in the same way Kate Winslet was playing the role of Tilly in the movie.

 

I do have to admit that this is a rare circumstance where the movie lives up to the expectations of the book, so definitely give it a watch, however, do make sure you read this novel. It is enchanting, heart breaking and hysterically funny. This book is best read after a nice road trip up to Melrose in the Souther Flinders Ranges, head to the North Star Hotel which is a cellar door for Bundaleer Wines, taste their range. Buy your favourite (guaranteed to be this  Cab Sav or their Sparking Shiraz) and read this book with a glass of wine in hand while immersed in the magic of the Australian bush.

 

Processed with VSCO with hb2 preset

The Good People – Hannah Kent

The second, highly anticipated novel by Hannah Kent was recently released and I immediately went out and sourced a copy (not difficult with Adelaide being her home town). I wanted to finish it before attending a stop on her book tour to hear her speak so found myself some time to sit down and get into this book. The Good People is set in Ireland in the 1820’s and centres around three women in a small community. Nora Leahy, a woman widowed at the beginning of the novel, who is also struggling to look after her crippled grandson after the death of her daughter. Mary Clifford, a fourteen year old servant girl who has been hired to help look after Micheal, the impaired grandson. Lastly Nance Roach, the local wise woman who has the knowledge of healing afflictions using herbs and of the good people, the fairies. Nance is sought out by Nora in her desperation to return her grandson to her, for Micheal wasn’t always a cripple and the people of the valley start to believe something more sinister is going on.

 

This book was another piece of exemplary work by Kent and dare I say I slightly favoured The Good People. Kent has a talent for taking the reader and absolutely immersing them into another world, in another time. Her research method is thorough and it is clear she has an absolute understanding of the climate, the beliefs and the everyday life of the time she is writing about. Her small references to items of clothing, details in the scenery all make you feel as if you are there. Much the same as she wrote about Iceland, it instills a longing in you to see this scenery for yourself, to recreate some of that feeling of magic that you picked up from the story. In fact I’m already looking forward to seeing where she will take us next.

 

Kent’s stories are very character and detail driven, rather than plot-centric. The characters she creates in this novel are memorable, complex and so intriguing. Nora, Nance and Mary are each very different characters. Characters with unique background, completely different lots in life and react in different ways to the situation they find themselves in. I found each of them quite intriguing and relatable. Mary, as the lost, younger servant girl doing the best she can in an unfamiliar environment. Trying to stand up for what she believes in but finding herself caught in the middle of a grave situation. Nora is clearly a woman consumed by grief. In a hard life where just surviving is a daily battle she also has to deal with the grief that is unexpectedly losing both her husband and her daughter in the same year. It is understandable to see how she finds herself lead down the path the novel takes. Nance was most fascinating for me. The wise woman with the knowledge. Fairies, superstitions and herblore are all interesting concepts that I loved exploring throughout the novel. Not to mention her self-belief and conviction in those beliefs were so interesting to experience.

 

I know I have been deliberately vague about the plot. There isn’t much to the story and don’t want to spoil it, instead go out and read this book. I would highly recommend giving it a read, particularly if you were a child who grew up loving fairy stories. Here we have a grown up, real-life story of fairies and the havoc they can wreak on lives. I found this novel engaging, easy to read and so fascinating and already look forward to Kent’s next novel. I give The Good People four fires to keep the mischievous fairies at bay.

 

Processed with VSCO with hb2 preset

The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August – Claire North

This is a book I picked up purely by chance after seeing it recommended by staff at a bookstore. I have never heard of it before or seen it pop up on bookstagram. The premise of this book (seriously, the name is too long to repeat) is what drew me in, particularly after reading Life After Life recently. This book follows a similar idea, the protagonist Harry August lives his lives over and over again. Each time he dies he starts again and gains all the knowledge from his past lives. Eventually he discovers that there are other kalachakras in the world and that they make up the Cronus Club. Described as a literary thriller, in Harry’s eleventh life he receives a message on his death bed that the world is ending. What follows is his decisions and contributions into protecting the future of the world.

 

I thoroughly enjoyed the concepts of this book. The theme of multiple lives or even time travel and alternate realities leads to a lot of thought on ethics and morality – something I enjoy considering in fiction as there is so much range. Should you be going through these lives letting history play out as it was meant to be? Do you try and change it for the better? Stop wars, save lives. When do these good deeds backfire? The list is endless. Harry makes some interesting decisions that the reader will not predict throughout his many lives. Whether they are entirely ethical always is another story and I enjoyed following his actions and their subsequent consequences.

 

This book may be a little confusing at times for people as the story is not necessarily chronological. After the first couple of lives the story jumps between his first fifteen lives, back and forth. It can be a little difficult to keep track of but ultimately it works with the novel as different aspects of Harry and his motivations are revealed as they become relevant.

 

There are a host of characters that weave in and out of his many lives. Some are other kalachakras. Others include the people of his early life, parents, adoptive parents and other family members. Then there are love interests and other singular characters an of course the villain that is required. Each of the time plot lines are interesting and may seem a little irrelevant at times but they all contribute to the feel of the novel and who Harry becomes across his hundreds of years.

 

The twist halfway through the book increases the pace and I found myself moving through the second half of the novel quickly. In particular the ending of the novel is quite satisfactory, although came up quite quickly for me and I hadn’t realised I was on the final pages until I turned the page and there was no more. The conclusion leave you much to ponder and I thoroughly enjoyed how thought-provoking, yet easily enjoyable this book was.

 

I would highly recommend this book for something different. Particularly if you are a fan of multiple life spans/alternate realities/time travel. There are some great concepts that North has explored. Harry was also particularly enjoyable as a protagonist as he was far from a perfect or even highly skilled being. Despite his hundreds of years he was still thoroughly human in many ways and in that way quite relatable. I give The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August three bolts of electricity, which play an important role in this novel.

 

Processed with VSCO with hb2 preset