Guilty Pleasures.

An age ago I was tagged by someone to list my guilty bookish pleasures. I have thought long and hard about this one and how I would answer it. It turns out to be a semi-complex answer, which deserved a full blog post.

Initially this idea stumped me. What did I consider a guilty pleasure? A guilty please is termed as something that one enjoys despite feeling that it is not generally held in high regard. I’m as far from a book snob as you could possibly be, so nothing really came to mind as something that I wouldn’t hold in high regard. I’m a firm believer of reading whatever it is that makes you happy, whether that is slogging your way through Russian literature, reading the most recent Mills & Boon book or reliving your childhood with old favourites, you should never feeling guilty about what makes you happy! I would only advocate for occasionally stepping outside your comfort zones and trying something new and different, you never know what you might unexpectedly enjoy!

 

Eventually it came to me, there are some types of books I generally prefer to not read out in public, at my favourite coffee shop or on the beach. Lets be honest here, as readers we all have that secret enjoyment of reading a book in public with the idea that someone might casually glance over and be intrigued by what it is that we are reading. That you might come off all cool and mysterious if it is something unusual, out of the ordinary, intellectual or indie. Lets admit, we are all guilty of it. Conversely, I would never look at a stranger, see what they are reading and judge them negatively for it (positively yes, the saying that seeing someone reading a book you love is seeing a book recommending a person is very true, read a favourite of mine and I’ll fall in love with you) so I don’t know why I still avoid reading a certain genre in public, betraying it as my guilty pleasure.

 

Long introductions aside, I came to the conclusion that my guilty pleasure are young adult fantasy series. I love these books, they are addictive, predictable in some aspects (love triangles, always), are often filled with kickass women who are positive role models and completely transport you to another time and place. I never fail to become hooked on these books and devour them particularly if I am feeling tired, exhausted and want something to read with a familiar feel, a comfort blanket of sorts. Tamora Pierce, Sarah J, Maas, Claudia Gray are just a few that I look to in these times. I never get sick of rereading them either (my copies of the Songs of the Lioness quartet are actually falling apart form so much love).

 

Please don’t mistake me for insinuating that these books are not held in high regard. In the bookstagram community some of the most passionate fans are those than read young adult fantasy fiction and I would be quick to defend this genre to those than look down on it. There are positive role models and some great life lessons to be gained from these pages. Plus, you should never apologise for what gives you happiness! In response to this revelation, I pledge you this: Next time I pick up a YA fantasy (I have Empire of Storm and A Million Words with You on my self ready to go) I will go out in public to my favourite coffee shop and read it with pride.

 

What is your guilty pleasure? And will you stand with me and publicly declare your affection?

 

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The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet – Becky Chambers

The Long Way to a Small Angry Plant has been popping up across my bookstagram over the last few months. I found myself wanting it even more when I couldn’t locate a copy easily. Cue, ordering myself a copy online immediately and waiting impatiently for it to arrive. This is a science-fiction novel about the crew of the Wayfarer, recently joined by Rosemary, a naive young woman who finds herself working with a host of different species and an unusual mix of personalities. The crew find themselves travelling long-distance through space for the job of a lifetime with many snags along the way, both internal and external.

 

I finished this book in little over 24 hours. This was an extremely pleasant and easy to read book. I found the plot easy to follow with lots of lightness along the way despite the many conflicts cropping up. After reading someone likening it to Firefly, I found myself picturing Ashby as the captain of the Firefly and very much enjoyed his interactions with the rest of the crew. Each of the characters are unique, both in personality and in body with a hodgepodge of galactic species described. Rosemary is the young, fresh worker with a secret holding her back. Naive, insightful and ready please she is a competent narrator for much of the book. Kizzy and Jenks are the crazy techs you can’t help but fall in love with, fighting like siblings they are quirky and entertaining. Sissix is the sexy reptilian pilot who is mysterious and intriguing. Not to mention all the others, the characters in this novel are a real highlight and their complex relationships in the confined space of the air craft make much of this story.

 

Chambers manages to add some food for thought among the light and engaging characters. Ethics, morals, conquest and societal norms are all themes that are dealt with within this novel. The various species and their quirks that Chambers has created are unique and fascinating and they demonstrate these themes impeccably. These themes can be easily compared to society now with such an emergence and focus on the LBGT communities, not to mention the cross-cultural differences that have been around for centuries. No matter how you choose to think of it, or how you make your own links with society today, there are some clear lessons in diversity and acceptance that we can all take with us. I found myself pondering some of these in the shower post finishing this book (where I do my best thinking, I swear). Having read a few futuristic novels of late, I also found myself pondering how long before we, as humanity, find ourself in this situation in the future. A hundred years? A thousand? Less? Who knows, but it does make you wonder about how we conduct ourselves as a species living on this earth.

 

The bigger, contemplative questions of life aside, this was a great read. Something you can pick up and superficially enjoy, yet with a little meat under the surface. This is a great example of science fiction and I for one am glad Chambers worked so hard to self-publish this novel. I also look forward to picking up A Close and Common Orbit, the second book in this series in the near future. I give The Long Way to a Small Angry Plant three aliens, most likely out there are more advanced than us on earth anyway.

 

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1Q84 – Haruki Murakami

Probably the biggest book I’ve attempted this year, I finally finished Murakami’s masterpiece 1Q84. This epic monster tells the stories of Aomamme, a gym instructor with a secret life and Tengo, a maths teacher with a gift for writing, although, he is yet to find his story. Both living their lives when they are unwittingly transported to 1Q84, a similar but different reality. Slowly the story reveals how their lives are inextricably intertwined and you find yourself wondering if they will ever make it out of 1Q84.

 

To be honest the less said about the plot of the book, the better so this review may be short and sweet. The best description is that it is uniquely Murakami. The concepts are strange and unusual rife with magical realism. The particulars are best discovered by the reader in context as they are written. Safe to say it is a very engaging story and I found my attention never strayed despite the novel being over 1300 pages in length. While I wouldn’t say I was unable to put it down, I had a healthy interest in it and despite the length I did read it quite quickly.

 

This was only my second Murakami novel and I certainly dove right in. I can say that the way he writes speaks to me and I’m looking forward to reading much more of his work (I may have already received Kafka on the Shore in the mail today). His tone and character’s point of view are unique and are probably what draws me in. The insight as to how the characters think and self-analyse feels very familiar and relatable and i enjoy their inner monologues. Whether it is a hint of magical realism or the full-blown antics of 1Q84 I find they add an interesting dimension to the novels setting them art from many other authors.

 

My only small issue with the novel was that the ending almost felt anticlimactic in the end for me, although it in no way ruined my opinion of teethe book and to be honest seems to fit with Murakami’s understated style of writing. Overall it was a highly enjoyable read leaving me wanting more of Murakami, although I do admit that I’m glad the rest of his books appear to be much more manageable in length. Definitely worth a read, particularly if you are a Murakami fan. If you haven’t tried his work before I might suggest trying another of his more manageable novels first, to ensure you enjoy his style before committing to this monster. Nevertheless, I highly recommend 1Q84 and give it three goats from Fuka-Eri’s tale that begins it all.

 

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Wine & Words Wednesday 23/11/16

Wine & Words Wednesday is here again, lets all put down our glasses (just for a second, I promise) and do a little happy dance. Right, pick them up again, have a sip and settle in for today’s instalment. I know you’re wondering what we have in store today and I promise I won’t disappoint. The wine I will be discussing today is Shut The Gate’s 2015 Single Vineyard Barbera. This wine was described as challenging and to be honest I like a challenge when it comes to wine so bring it on! First things first, the winery. Shut The Gate is located in the Clare Valley region (surprise, surprise, it’s no secret this is my favourite region) and is a small winery focusing on single side vineyards with unique flavour profiles. Their cellar door is a beautiful historic cottage with so much character and filled to the brim with boxes of wine and an abundance of local produce. Just after walking in the door I was immediately in love and feeling at home. Seriously, this place is my new favourite winery and a must visit if you are ever in the area. Barbara is an Italian red wine grape variety and Shut The Gate’s variety was described as tasting like medicine. A very delicious and unique medicine! To be truthful it is an interesting wine. One to be drunk slowly sipping over a meal, something along the lines as a crispy duck soba salad (cue mouth-watering). Something to be enjoyed, savoured, played with in your mouth and in all honesty I can’t wait to drink this one.

 

What am I pairing it with you ask? Well take a look at the stunning label, taking note of the beautiful illustration. Then in the top left hand corner is the inscription “for freedom”, no other novel (well duology) makes me think of freedom than The Power of One and Tandia by Bryce Courtenay. This freedom is double edged. The Power of One follows the story of Peekay and his emancipation from his personal struggles brought on by a traumatic boarding school upbringing. We watch as Peekay journeys through the trials of his life while working towards his goal of becoming welterweight champion of the world. His idea of setting himself free from the judge, his childhood tormentor. Peekay is a unique character who I keep coming back to, year after year, rereading these books. Tandia spends more time focusing on the steps towards the emancipation of the African people in a very racist South Africa. In these books I fell in love with the simplicity and eloquence of the African culture and their unique superstitions and ways. These books only give a small insight into the persecution and victimisation they endured but the spirit described is a beautiful thing and I find myself drawn completely into this world every time I read these books, which lets be honest is usually a yearly occurrence.

 

Take a Sunday drive through Clare to Shut The Gate, buy a bottle of this deliciously challenging Barbera and sit in the sunshine in their beautiful garden with a pile of local produce and let yourself be transported to South Africa in a very different time and place. I can assure you that you cannot go wrong with either choice, book or wine. Until next time my wine and book loving friends, I salute you with my (almost empty) glass of red.

 

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Redeemable – Erwin James

I received Redeemable as part of the Sensei Subscription pack brought to you by Books on the Rail. A monthly package is sent out with a book, four books on the rail stickers and this month an adorable bookmark. Books on the Rail also run a bookclub on the rail to discuss the months read – sadly I’m not a Melbournite and will be unable to attend. I would highly recommend getting on board, particularly if you are from Melbourne. Redeemable is the story of Erwin James, who had a tough upbringing after his mother died in a car accident and his father turned to violence and alcohol eventually leading him to a life of crime. First appearing in court a month shy of his eleventh birthday this book details how he ends up in prison serving a life sentence for murder. There he meets a prison psychologist who helps his turn his live around. This was an incredibly honest and thought provoking tale, which I am glad to have had the opportunity to read.

 

Seriously, my subscription to Books on the Rail has already paid off. I had never heard of this book before I received it and probably never would have or even picked it up if I had heard of it. Non-fiction is not my usual go to but I’m finding I’m continuously surprising myself and loving these books. One of the main takeaway points from this tale is that of empathy. Being able to place yourself in someone else’s shoes and see things from their perspective. The lesson that Atticus Finch famously teaches young Scout. This is an ability I highly value in those around me and is an important lesson for us all to take on into our own lives. This is in part what draws me to not only reading but reading such an unorthodox mix of books. I cherish the ability to put in myself in so many different shoes, all different shapes, sizes and colours . This book does this in such an eloquent way, taking you in to a life you can only being to imagine and understand.

 

James is careful in his writing. He in no way writes this to garner sympathy, or pass off the blame of his actions to his traumatic upbringing. In fact he is very careful to explain that he was responsible for his actions and that he in no way can atone for what he has done, particularly for the hurt he caused his victims families. I think it is respectful that he doesn’t discuss the murders that he received his life sentence for. He isn’t using their story to get attention, he is using his own. The way he describes his life and his lessons is with no nonsense, a sense of honesty and integrity. A lesson to those out there that life is a series of choices. That you can make many mistakes that take you down a path but you can always change that. There is much to be learned from this novel and I implore you to give it a go.

 

There isn’t much more to say about this piece of work other than to pick it up and see for yourself. I finished it in two days despite attending a music festival at a winery leading me to feeling quite tired today. I was consumed by the story and couldn’t put it down. In the words of James himself he “went from being a prisoner who wrote to being a writer in prison” and has gifted us his life lessons in Redeemable. A worthy read I give Redeemable three typed pages of James’ columns.

 

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Into The Wild – Jon Krakauer

Without quite realising it I stepped outside of my usual comfort zone and picked up a nonfiction read with this selection. Into The Wild is an expansion of a magazine article written by Krakauer looking into the death of Chris McCandless, an idealistic young man trying to escape into the Alaskan wild to live of the land. Unfortunately not all went to plan and McCandless was found starved to death by hikers in August 1992, four months after he first set foot in the Alaskan wild. This was an extremely sobering read, yet highly intriguing looking into McCandless’ years on the road and some attempt to understand the psyche of this young mind and his obsession with the Wild.

 

Having quite a personal interest in the idea of disappearing into the wild for a period of time, on your own at one with nature. Living on the road by simple means, I have always enjoyed novels along the lines of Wild, On The Road, loving the concept and longing for the day I can set out on my own adventure. Into The Wild tells the extreme, opposite side to this story. McCandless was on the extreme end of the spectrum, giving up his worldly possessions, burning his money and abandoning his beloved car. His ideals were also extremist following ideas laid down by Leo Tolstoy and Jack London. Having such resolute ideas in uncommon and reading his thoughts as laid out by Krakauer was fascinating.

 

This gives he reader much food for thought. In some ways you can understand his ideas and actions, yet conversely lament the outcome in particular the effect it has on his family, who lost touch with him two years prior to his untimely death. I appreciate the lengths Krakauer has exhausted to tell as complete a story explaining McCandless’ actions and intentions as much as possible. He was a fascinating soul and I enjoyed the comparison with other individuals throughout history who followed similar paths of solitude into the wild that ultimately ended with premature death.

 

A definite must-read for those who have an interest in this area. This account is haunting and consuming, leaving the reader with much to contemplate upon completion of the novel. This review is short and sweet as there isn’t much to reflect on this story that can be shared, a personal reflection feels more appropriate. This is definitely a book I will revisit with a hope to take more in the next time I peruse the pages. I would urge you to give it a go, if only to put yourself in another shoes so different to the norm. I give Into The Wild four bowls of rice, the bulk of McCandless’ diet in much of his adventures.

 

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Ultimate Summer Reads.

The lazy hedonistic joy of being on an Australian beach in summer negated the words. – Christos Tsolkias

 

Summer time is only a stone’s throw away. Time to start prepping the summer books list. Summer in Australia means plenty of time for lying on the beach, paperback in hand, sandy feet and salty hair. What more could one ask for? Perhaps some ice cream delivered to your free hand? To make the summer as enjoyable as it can be needs forethought and planning into the one thing that can make or break it: your book list! Enter me with a list of my top five summer reads. Each novel serves a different purpose, because in life balance is important and we all need a little diversity.

 

First up is the all important and cliched read: the light, fun and easy read. It is summer, your are relaxing, blowing off steam and need the perfectly enjoyable book that you can zone out to. My absolute favourite book (and very aptly named) is The Last Summer by the amazing Ann Brashares, who brought us the all important Sisterhood series. The characters are warm and loveable, the story has its highs and lows but will ultimately leave you satisfied. Can you really ask for anything more?

 

Next up we need a little comedy. The sun is shining, you are soaking up the excess vitamin D, feeling joyful. A laugh out loud book is only going to compliment this feeling. I’ve picked the funniest book I own, that has caused me to make a fool of myself anytime I was smart enough to read it in public. But no worries, LOLing on the beach to this book is only going to increase the good vibes of the public and maybe excite a little curiosity as to what is so damn funny. How To Talk To A Widower by Jonathan Tropper is in the vein of his other novels, a typical person going through a tough time in their lives but what sets it apart is his ability to tell such truths in such a humorous way you can’t help but love it!

 

Okay, so we are Aussies on the beach right? An Australian author is a necessity! We have so many amazing authors so pretty much anyone will do, however, my pick is the debut novel by Kate Mildenhall Skylarking. This is an easy to read book that is set on the Australian coastline around a lighthouse settlement in the 1800’s and is based on the true story of two girls, Kate and Harriet. The fun of this book is lying on the coastline, imagining what it might have been like over a hundred years ago. Isolated and just settling, the beauty would have been astounding.

 

 

Another requirement for a beach read is suspense. You need at least one good, edge of your seat mystery in the pile. Black Water Lilies by French author Michel Bussi is the most memorable mystery I have read this year. The book opens with a great epilogue that will hook you in and continues to weave a tangled web of murders in Monet’s famed garden. The twist is great and will leave you impressed at how you don see it coming until the last second, despite how simple the answer is. Definitely give this one a go!

 

Last, but not least, you do need one book to challenge you. One book that makes you think critically, even if just to impress others with your super serious grown up read. But seriously, one book to get you thinking will give you something to do when you are lying on your back, sunnies on, tanning the front of you because you need to even it up (and it is just too hard to hold a book up for that long). My pick for this category is Black Rock White City by A. S. Patric, double points because he is an Aussie author. This novel deals with themes of refugees, the Australian culture and war all set in the backdrop of a Melbourne hospital. Oh, and there is a little mystery on the side. This book one the Miles Franklin Award this year and is definitely a worthwhile read for any Australian.

 

There it is, my summer reading list. What do you think? Yay? Nay? What have I missed? What is on your summer reading list? What do you recommend?

 

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